Based on the 2006 census figures, only about 8% of Nigeria’s estimated population of 160 million people were born before the country’s Independence on October 1, 1960. Half of the country’s population is under 15 years of age and as much as 75% are under the age of 35. So, what do these data show? They show that Nigeria is evidently a nation of young people who have not lived long enough to have personal experiential knowledge of the nation they have learnt to call their own. The other side of the coin is that the plurality of today’s Nigerians were born and reared after things have already fallen apart – to borrow Prof. Chinua Achebe’s epic novel’s title. The talk of struggle for self-rule, which culminated in Independence of 1960, would sound like ancient historical narrative to tens of millions of Nigerians. But a struggle there was, nonetheless, whether the majority of contemporary Nigerians are keenly aware of that fact or not. Great sacrifices were made by the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and his contemporaries who, on occasions, had to face jail terms for daring to ask for self-rule on behalf of the indigenous peoples subjected to colonial rule in Nigeria by imperial Britain since 1914 or even earlier. Independence finally came in 1960, but not before some indigenous freedom fighters had lost their lives, livelihoods and sometimes, their ancestral lands in the endeavor.
So, Nigerians were granted self-rule from British colonialism in 1960. But then, it has become clear that, as soon as the external colonialism gave way, an internal variant of same colonial rule stepped in to replace it. Some say that it was a predetermined handover from a foreign-based overlord to a local home-based one. Research into historical archives by political activist movements have been able to unearth well-chronicled pronouncements by both the British colonial masters and the Sokoto Caliphate ruling order in the North which corroborate the fact the latter was presaged to become the replacement for the former soon after the formalities of Independence were fully orchestrated. And by gosh, that’s exactly what has happened, but in slow motion. Slow motion because the full handover from external to internal rule was never completed until May of 1966. The 1st Republic’s interregnum, which was predicated on regional constitutional federalism, stood in the path of this direct handover. But the military takeover of Nigeria’s national governance and subsequent arbitrary abrogation of constitutional federalism in preference for a unitary command-style centralized rule as its replacement finally closed the handover loop. Power to rule over Nigeria was, once more, re-centralized at expense of the periphery in May 1966.
Self-Determination Trumps Self-Rule Any Day
1885 Precolonial Map of the Lower Niger Territory
Today’s reality is that the preponderance of Nigerians affirm that their inalienable right to self-determination is still denied to the indigenous populations of former British-colonized Nigeria despite the fact that self-rule was granted to Nigerians more than half a century ago. The question is who would be responsible for preventing the indigenous peoples of today’s Nigeria from asserting their self-determination in deciding their own fate by themselves in current scheme of things? There are enough blames to go around. When all is said and done, however, everyone has a stake, one way or the other, in enabling and entrenching the status quo. But what should matter more here are not the past, but the present and future. Self-rule may be granted, but the right to self-determination is taken by whoever deserve it. Self-rule is usually granted to the underlings when the cost of imposing external rule over the subject population outpaces the benefits derived from such an imposition. Self-determination, due to its very nature, can only originate from within the victimized and exploited population.
There is no shortage of Nigerians who are absolutely bewitched by the status quo in spite of its many shortcomings. Even among the subject populations, there are many who regard the subject of self-determination as a luxury which is better put off for a later time. It is noteworthy that the top political elite of the subjugated and exploited ethnic nationalities of the Lower Niger territory, for example, are often the most enthusiastic defenders of the status quo which is propped up and sustained through the rapacious exploitation of their kinsfolk and ancestral lands. The Stockholm syndrome is clearly at play here where the victims are the chief exonerators of and empathizers with their oppressors. Individuals and groups sucked into this syndrome’s vortex are the least likely to develop any enthusiasm for self-determination. For most part, the elite class belonging to the subjugated and marginalized Lower Niger indigenous peoples are contented with the crumbs which they are often able to pick up from under the masters’ dining table at Abuja. They attribute whatever they are able to get in their lives to the largesse of the “oga” at the very top who usually do not belong to the indigenous populations inhabiting the territory. The indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger must plead on their knees before even a measly mussel is given to them to eat, even from the food cooked in their own mothers’ kitchen. Ownership of oilfields of the Niger Delta, which is mostly concentrated in hands of the Sokoto Caliphate and its protégés, is emblematic of the overbearing dominance with which the geopolitical North controls the unitary Nigeria of our era.
“Independence” without the Right to Self-Determination Is Meaningless
Using just only the distribution of Niger Delta oilfields as a template, it is clear that the indigenous populations of the Lower Niger have woefully failed to utilize their God-given right to determine their own fate by themselves, particularly in the exercise of ownership of the natural treasures that are buried underneath their ancestral lands. Even within a supposedly “independent” Nigeria, a multitude of stakeholders inhabiting the Lower Niger have remained subjugated by the status quo which is dominated from faraway Abuja, to the exclusion of the true owners of the land. To many indigenous inhabitants of the Lower Niger, they have nominal “Independence” which is worthless to them because huge obstacles have been placed in their pathway to self-determination. The greatest of those of these obstacles is the subsisting 1999 constitution which was crafted to be a mere compilation of all the decrees and edicts promulgated by the Nigerian military without due consultations with and the mandate of constituent stakeholders that make up the country. This 1999 Constitution is the antithesis of the right of indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger and elsewhere countrywide to exercise their self-determination. This errant constitution attempts to legitimize the arbitrary seizure of lands belonging to indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger and all the resources therein through the now infamous Land Use Decree which is totally embedded into the “accepted” laws of the Nigerian nation state.
The Right to Self-Determination is the Ultimate “Uhuru”
It is the sacred duty of each generation to confront, fight against and overcome the major challenges of its time. Our fathers’ generation saw themselves as being suffocated by external imposition by a non-African culture through military conquest that was followed by protracted colonial rule. The African man’s dignity and humanity were perceived to be at stake then. Our predecessors had no choice but to drop everything else, closed ranks and forced imperial Britain to grant its former subjects in Nigeria self-rule in 1960. This hard-won freedom lasted only five years before the agents of forcible imposition re-entered, once more, through the backdoor in May 1966 and re-imposed another variant of colonialism, the type driven from within the Nigerian geopolitical space. Historical documents abound which corroborate the fact that the Sokoto Caliphate, which had been allowed to hold sway in the Old North throughout the colonial era, was prepositioned to oversee this new variant of homegrown colonialism that has the indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger at the bottom rung of societal relevance. Past attempts to throw off this yoke of internal subjugation and enslavement had resulted in a murderous 30-month Civil War, seizure of the lands and properties of constituent citizens, including those of the Lower Niger and brazen imposition of a centralized command governance mantra which has fostered official corruption, mediocrity, lassitude and religious extremism since demise of the First Republic.
Any people forcibly disconnected from their own ancestral land have been stripped of the most basic right to their self-determination. This is the core dilemma confronting the indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger, in particular and all other ethnic nationalities that abound elsewhere in Nigeria’s geopolitical Middle Belt and beyond. Self-rule which is decoupled from the right to self-determination is not only worthless, but such also breeds societal inequities, annihilates patriotism within the citizenry and engenders widespread socioeconomic retardation that is clearly evident in today’s Nigeria. The issue with Nigeria is not corruption as we are being indoctrinated to believe. Root of the problem is planted in the foolish choice to run a modern nation state where the citizens have their hands tied securely behind them. The society becomes rudderless and therefore, its citizens cannot perform optimally, even in self-help, when they are denied their inalienable right to self-determination.
In final analysis, self-rule does not get a people on their path to self-actualization and resultant socioeconomic advancement without their inalienable right to self-determination assured beforehand. Since May 1966, indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger and elsewhere in the Nigerian hinterland, have been deprived of their right to determine their own fate by themselves at the very moment when the 1stRepublic’s region-based constitutional federalism was unceremoniously scrapped and replaced with a unitary governance mantra which is now being blamed for the myriad of woes that have combined to paralyze Nigeria of this era. Self-rule can be granted by the oppressor, but the right to self-determination has to be earned by whoever deserve it.
The indigenous inhabitants of the Lower Niger are keenly aware of the hollowness of self-rule which came with “Independence” of 1960 as long as their God-given right to determine their own fate by themselves is actively being impeded and trampled upon by their supposed fellow citizens who consider it their birthright to operate an internal colonial government at the center of official power in Abuja. The struggle for “Independence” was the existential battle which our parents fought valiantly and sacrificed immensely for half a century ago. Our generation’s struggle today is to make the granted self-rule whole and meaningful, once more, through restoration of the right of indigenous inhabitants of the Lower Niger.
This is exactly what the scheduled Lower Niger Referendum is set out to accomplish in real time. Let’s, therefore, join hands today in order to make it to happen and thereby empower ourselves to regain our collective “Uhuru” for this and future generations of our people.
For additional information, visit http://www.lowernigerreferendum.de/
Visit Lower the Niger Congress (LNC) official web site at http://lowernigercongress.org/ and tell your friends/contacts about the LNC movement.