BULLETIN #36: “niger, Conflicts, And Us”: “niger, Conflicts, And Us”: Yoruba Referendum Committee’s Response To Hakeem Baba Ahmed

By Femi Odedeyi
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The Yoruba Referendum Committee acknowledges the Northern Elders Forum’s intervention in the evolving political and military situation in the Niger Republic, deviating from the general trend anchored on specious reasoning by various leaders and interests, all tending towards providing an excuse for the military coup.

Situating the intervention within the context of global politics, its consequences, and Africa’s capacity and capability to address the problem, the NEF concluded that “the military cannot be the answer to Africa’s search for good leaders that should lead it out of its massive restrictions. The Western world preaches democracy during the day and exploits us in the night. If Africa will develop, it cannot do so the way the Western world, Russia, or China wants it. Africa’s challenge is to see through the falsehood that we are owed any good by the rest of the world. We can grow and develop, but we have to do it our way.”

To which the Yoruba Referendum Committee responds as follows:

(i) We agree that the military cannot be the answer, not simply because it is the military but because of Africa’s experience with the military, especially when its colonial origins enabled it to truncate Africa’s march towards development in the immediate post-colonial period. Looking towards the military in this period will therefore be akin to doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. This is further proven by the military rulers of Burkina Faso, who have begun a process of what they described as “depoliticization” of governance. This is meant to ensure that government bureaucracy is depoliticized. Yet, in Nigeria, in the First Republic, in the Western Region, the Civil Service was adjudged a shining example and the head of the Civil Service, at the time, Chief Simeon Adebo, was seconded to the UN on the strength of the performance of the Region’s civil service, the achievement which was negated by military rule. What the military rulers of Burkina Faso are proposing as “revolutionary” had been the practice about 60 years ago under a civilian and democratic administration in Nigeria.

(ii) With the above, the question to be answered is how to prevent the military from its self-imposed mission as the solution, especially when the military is not an external force but a part of the body politic with a specific mission of defending the territorial integrity of the country. This is the crux of the problem.

(iii) If, as NEF says, we cannot do it the way the “Western world, Russia, and China want it,” it follows that this can be possible and feasible only when we do not define the problem according to their terms. Hence the question of defending the “territorial integrity” of any country in Africa translates into utilizing the ways of the West because the territory was created by the West and controlled by its Nation-State paradigm. We note that the Nation-State is a Western notion, forged through the various wars against the “divine right of kings” which led to the abolition of the monarchies and eventually the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and which brought about the Nation-State paradigm because the emerging States at the time, especially those which eventually became the colonial powers, that is, Netherlands, England, Germany, France, Portugal, and Spain, were made up of people of the same Nationality, hence the State and its apparatus of administration/government reflected the Nation or Nationality.

(iv) On the other hand, Russia and China are different because their multinational nature is foundational to their existence, recognized, and constitutionally guaranteed. The Russian Federation is described as consisting of “republics, krays, oblasts, cities of federal significance, an autonomous oblast and autonomous okrugs, which shall have equal rights as constituent entities of the Russian Federation whose multinational people are the “bearer of sovereignty and the sole source of power in the Russian Federation,” China describes itself as “a unitary multi-national state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities,” whilst recognizing “Regional autonomy in areas where people of minority nationalities live in compact communities; organs of self-government are established for the exercise of the right of autonomy. All the national autonomous areas are inalienable parts of the People's Republic of China.”

(v) Therefore, grouping Russia, China, and the Western world into a “foreign” category and in the process making it become the prism of our engagement with them, often lining up behind one or the other as the military regimes in West Africa are doing, without addressing the foundational nature of their State formation but merely reinforcing the Nation-State paradigm, thereby denying the realities of the West African(African) States as Multi-National societies. This shows that, aside from global politics and foreign intervention in African affairs, a major problem in Africa is the denial of our multinationalism, multilingualism, and multiculturalism, which has led to the architecture of the State as a direct competitor of, and in opposition to, the aspirations and expectations of the people/citizens, which flows from and endorses Nation-State paradigm. Nigeria also provides a good example when it describes itself as “a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory,”as if the people occupying the states do not exist. Hence, defending territorial integrity often translates into attempts at suppressing ethno-nationalism by a dominant nationality through the instrumentality of the military.

(vi) In 1883/1884, Europeans gathered in Berlin and arbitrarily drew maps that have now become the Nation States in Africa and upon whose existence their sovereignty rests. Therefore, the first step in addressing the preponderance and/or resurgence of military coups lies in correcting the 1883/84 anomaly. If Europeans can carve out territories according to their whims backed by their military forces, nothing should stop Africans from reversing it as a means of addressing the problems caused by Europe.

(vii) Hence, NATIONALITY REFERENDUMS in Nigeria as the precursor to the construction of the Federal Multi-National State as proposed by the Yoruba Referendum Committee is also applicable to West Africa because conflicts in West Africa are within the context of the Nation-State which discarded the Nationalities as foundational to State formation because of their inherent cultural and social aspirations play no part in its formation. This has played out over and over, and in the case of current experience in West Africa, these ethnonational conflicts are often tagged as “terrorism,” “jihadism” etc. The Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and the resurgence of a similar rebellion in Niger with the new military coup, the crisis in Cameroon, and the Central African Republic’s experience are prime examples.

(viii) It is understood that war and violence have generated their own momentum, becoming the norm; yet we believe a start can be made by and from Nigeria which can also become the beacon for the rest. This is why the Yoruba Referendum Committee is advocating Nationality Referendums in Nigeria as the route toward peaceful and non-violent resolution. As we have noted, the Bill for Yoruba Referendum includes provision for “a Division of the Federal Armed Forces in the Region, 90% of which personnel shall be indigenes of the Region. The Divisional commander shall be an indigene of Oduduwa Region.” This can be adapted by any Nationality in West Africa, within their own contexts.

(ix) The implication of this provision is that a military coup against the Federal Multi-National State will be impossible without the concurrence of all the Divisional Commanders and by extension, the Divisional Army. This will enable the Nationalities to become the primary defenders of their security unlike the current situation where they are helpless against terrorists and jihadists despite the efforts of the National armies. We are convinced that if this is adopted, it would make coup plotting redundant as every Nationality in Nigeria, nay in the African region, would see no reason to take arms up against other nationalities. For, as is well-known, most coups on the continent usually have ethnic coloration in addition to other factors. Otherwise, it will be an unwanted war of all against all.

(x) Ethiopia provides an example. The attempt at dissolving its Federal Multi-National State derisively described as “Ethnic Federalism” and substituting it with “Ethiopianism” has not only led to the current war situation but has also elevated the atrocities committed by the various parties to the level of terrorism which is experienced as a daily occurrence in West Africa, even if these atrocities are not described as such. The reality on the ground in Ethiopia shows the necessity to address the “National Question” as was done by the post-military administration, which, again, points to the fact that the prevention of military coups depends on the ability of the various National groups to provide the doctrines and architecture of their own security and therefore their political preferences, all of which point to the architecture of State as a Federal Multi-National State. We also note the current “Ethiopianism” is a return to “Ethiopia Tikdem,” the Ethiopian military (the Derg) slogan for its State and from which a coalition of Nationalities in Ethiopia fought a bitter civil war to overthrow the Derg and constitute the Federal Multi-National State.

(xi) “Doing it our own way,” therefore, demands recognition of ourselves as part of a multinational society which must inform on our architecture of State. The Yoruba Referendum Committee has taken the step of providing the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti State Houses of Assembly with the Bill for a Referendum to be passed into Law as part of their responsibility to conduct the Referendum. It is our hope the Northern Elders Forum will take a cue from this move and apply it to the North, within its context.

Editorial Board
Yoruba Referendum Committee