To say Nigeria as a nation totters on the brink, is to be economical with the truth. Never in the history of Nigeria as the nation faced such deep-rooted schisms as it currently faces. Not even in the tumultuous years of the 1960s prior to the first military coup, and the tribal/ethnic motivated counter coup of July 1966.
Infact, the remote and immediate causes of the bitter 1967-1970 Civil War pales in comparison. As I read posts online of late, whether on main stream media or in less ethical, uncensored social media banter, a heavy sigh weighs my heart.
It’s clear: as a nation, Nigeria faces an Existential Threat. I write both as a Nigerian and a Midwesterner/Bendelite.
In spite of the avalanche of provocations, ethic sabre-rattling, the mindless slaughter of fellow citizens even in their own homes, backyards and farms by persons perceived to be nomadic Fulani herdsmen, I still truly believe that Nigeria can and will work as a nation.
It is a historical fact that we are a nation patched and cobbled together by the insensitivity of the British Colonialists. But our country can still work to achieve a “nation”.
However, to do this and give all her federating ethnic nationalities a sense of belonging, the Rules of Engagement and Terms of Association must change. It must change to truly reflect contemporary realities.
There appears an impending conflagration in the horizon. If things remain as they are, one do not need a soothsayer to opine that Nigeria may not remain as it presently is. Things are spiraling out of control, and our present crop of leaders appears to be out ideas, and this is worrisome!
Every ethnic group is grandstanding and I wonder: whither these sabre-rattlings? However, I believe Nigeria can be salvaged and it is our collective responsibility to salvage Nigeria. But we must insist on a more equitable Nigeria. This is imperative.
As an Edo man from the old Midwest Region/Bendel State, I am more worried. Our Midwest people, (present-day Edo & Delta States) hypothetically, are caught in betwixt!
The Midwestern Region of Edo and Delta States is sandwiched between the Old Eastern Region (present day Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu and Rivers States) and the Western Region (Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Lagos States); as well as the entire Northern Region with Kogi State as gateway.
Strategically, we will be caught in the “eye of the storm” should things go awry. This is why the BenDel people must be ready for it. A little history and geography will suffice at this juncture.
In 1963, barely two years and nine months after independence, a referendum for the creation of the Midwestern region was held on July 18, 1963. The Results of the Midwest Plebiscite (or Referendum) is a case study in democracy in this country.
The total number of eligible voters, being persons whose names appeared in the Federal Electoral register of 1959 was 654,130. Of this number the percentage that voted in the affirmative was 89.07%, well in excess of the required 60% (or 392,478) for the creation of the Midwestern region.
The region that was born on August 9, 1963 as a result of the July 13th plebiscite remains the only major administrative unit of Nigeria created by due constitutional process. By the 8th of August 1963, the Western Region Assembly affirmed the outcome of that exercise and by the next day 9th August 1963, the Midwest Region was born.
In contrast, the present 36-State structure as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were created by military fiat and decrees without due reference to the peoples of Nigeria via a due process of plebiscite as prescribed by all constitutions of Nigeria since independence.
The Midwest Region was just about three years old when the Military interrupted our developing system of governance. By that singular act, the Midwest Region became the largest collateral damage of military adventurism in Nigeria.
The present Constitution and the system of governance have been imposed on the citizens of the various ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria, albeit without their knowledge and consent, by military decrees and fiats!
Consequently, of the four equal federating units prior to the treasonable military interventions in the affairs of Nigeria since 1966, the Midwest Region has remained the most marginalized and maligned to date.
Whereas the former Northern Nigeria was subsequently split into 19 States and spread across 3 geopolitical zones; the old Eastern Region was split into 9 States and spread across 2 geopolitical zones;
the former Western Region was split into 6 States in a monolithic geopolitical zone; only the former Midwest Region remained as one State till lately (1991) when it was inequitably split into 2 States and subsumed and compressed into a geopolitical zone, where it makes up a mere one-third of that geopolitical zone!
The Midwest Region was one out of four equitable Regions, then made one out of twelve States, then one out of nineteen States and so on till now that it is just two out of 36 States by a skewed military fiat.
The entire geographical area of the two states of Edo and Delta, which forms the territorial area of Midwest Nigeria, covers a total of 35,500 square kilometres.
It is noteworthy that there is no State in the Southwest except Oyo, that is larger than either Edo (6,873 sq miles/17,801 sq Kilometers), or Delta (6833 sq miles/17,697 sq Kilometers).
More so, The Midwestern Region of Edo and Delta States is larger than all the south-eastern states combined! Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States combined, is 11,346 sq Miles (29,386 sq Km) as against the MIDWEST States of Edo/Delta, which is 13,706 sq Miles (35,757 sq Km).
The combined States of Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers (which were the “minority parts” of the old Eastern Region) now has 80 Local Government Areas, while the combined States of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu & Imo (which were the “majority parts” of the old Eastern Region) now has 95 Local Government Areas.
In sharp contrast, The MIDWEST REGION (Edo/Delta States combined) now has only 43 Local Government Areas as against the Old EASTERN REGION that now have a whopping 175 Local Government Areas. It is needless to recount or compare the inequalities in this regard with the old Northern and Western Regions. Marginalization cannot be better illustrated.
In economic terms, The Midwest Area that contributes more than 11.8% of Nigeria’s GDP, has only 2 States (or less than 6% of 36 states), and only 43 Local Government Areas (or about 5.5% of 774 Local Government Areas) in Nigeria.
With a combined nominal GDP of about $40bn, (in spite of the 13% “derivation” debacle), the Midwest Region (now Edo and Delta States) has an economy larger than some Nation States in Africa like that of Senegal and competes favorably with Ghana & Ivory Coast among others.
That the military “de-federalized Nigeria” and foisted a unitary system on its hapless citizenry is a truism. Thus, the Federation of Nigeria as presently constituted must be deconstructed, and then reconstructed along lines of equity and justice.
There must be a structural dismantling of the “cobbled” federal arrangement and Nigeria must retrace her steps to the original negotiated Union at independence in 1960 and as modified in 1963. That is the best way Nigeria can work!
As politicians gild their loins in preparation for the 2019 general election, we of the Midwest will insist that they commit to a restructured Nigeria. Only then, will they be assured of our votes.
The Midwest peoples will not be canon folder or the collateral damage of a continued skewed Nigeria.
- Dr Don Pedro Obaseki, MBA, PhD.
(Dr. Obaseki, a former Governorship aspirant in Edo State, is the Convener of the Midwest Movement)