Xtras

THE POLITICS OF SECESSION

By Prince Tony Ogbetere.

Both The statutes of the United Nations and the African Charter of Human and People’s rights guarantee that “All peoples shall be equal; they shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights. Nothing shall justify the domination of a people by another.”

These statutes hold that all peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen. Colonized or oppressed peoples shall have the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination by resorting to any means recognized by the international community.

Realistically these rights are ONLY guaranteed as long as you remain a citizen of any of the member states of either the United Nations or the African Union. The day you cease to be the citizen of a member state, technically these rights can no longer be guaranteed by either the UN, or the AU. In other words, it is only within the confines of member countries that you can be “equal and enjoy same rights as others, have right to self-determination and NOT be dominated by another”.  That is the reason why for many years, the territories of Palestine, Tibet, Hong Kong, Catalonia and others who have sought to secede from their mainland countries have NOT been recognized by the United Nations and therefore cannot enjoy these rights despite enjoying some form of regional autonomy in their geographical territories.

A few countries have secession clauses in their constitutions freely inserted there after deliberate discussions and negotiations. An example is the old USSR. That is why it was easy for all of the old Soviet Republics to break away from the USSR after the communist Republic collapsed. However many countries do NOT have the secession clause inserted in their constitutions and this makes secession attempts in such countries, classical cases of treason. Such secession attempts DO NOT receive the support of the UN, EU or AU as the case may be because those organizations are duty bound NOT to interfere with the territorial integrity of member nations except the leadership of such nations ask for help. The international organizations do not also intervene except there are serious and incontrovertible cases of human rights violations. Such interventions are also NOT guaranteed as was seen in the Rwandan situation.

In Nigeria, most people don’t know that it was Nnamdi Azikiwe who opposed Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello against the provision for secession in our constitution. When the 1954 constitution conference started, Chief Obafemi Awolowo tabled a motion to the effect that in the new constitution, provision should be made that any region or state which feels like seceding should do so. Nnamdi Azikiwe was opposed to it. If Azikiwe had not opposed Awolowo and if he had not won the day, there would have been no justification to fight Ojukwu for secession and definitely no need for this second round of Biafra agitation.

This non secession argument which Azikiwe won convincingly caused the British colonial masters to state expressly in the constitution that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. Therefore contrary to some shades of opinion across Nigeria, it was NOT the military or the Northern region that inserted that clause into the Nigerian constitution. It has been there from the fifties and it has remained so till date. Therefore when ex-President Goodluck Jonathan insisted that the unity of Nigeria should NOT be discussed in the 2014 Confab, he was simply defending the constitution of Nigeria that he swore to defend when he became president. When President Mohammadu Buhari echoes the same sentiment, he is simply doing the same thing. It is an impeachable offence for any president of Nigeria to endorse the secession plans of any segment of the country except the National assembly reviews and amends the constitution to allow that happen. The only way any section of Nigeria can secede is either by an amendment of the constitution or war.

If the constitutional option happens, both the UN and the AU will immediately recognize the new nation without any qualms. But even if the seceding section succeeds in leaving Nigeria, there is no guarantee that it will be recognized. For example, Somaliland has its own currency, a reasonably effective bureaucracy and a trained army and police force but it has yet to receive official recognition from a single foreign government in the years since it declared independence in 1991. To the outside world, it is an autonomous region of Somalia, subject to the Somali Federal Government (SFG) in Mogadishu. South Korea, despite being independent since 1948, is not recognized by any UN member state. The same thing applies to Armenia, Cyprus and some others. Even Israel, which was founded in 1948, is not recognized by 31 UN members.

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