As much as many may try, it is not possible to make sense of the current political realities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by any conditions that preceded the Civil War (1967-70). This is not a case for perceived discontinuity but exceeding and sudden transformation. Nigeria only became a full state after the beginning of the Civil War, considering her acquisition and use of state power via centralisation. This is because during and after the war, Nigeria ceased to be an intended ‘uniform federation’ and opted since the administration of General Yakubu Gowon to be a two-tier state; the federation and its colonies. Nigeria is truly an “auto-colonial state” today, a fact obscured for 50 years.
The Niger Delta and Bornu regions of Nigeria are colonies within the nation-state. These regions are very different in their geographical locations, terrain, religion, culture, resources, politics, suffering and neglect. What the two regions share is their status and destinies as “colonies within” Nigeria. Colonies are mainly acquired and held for economic exploitation and strategic use by a stronger power. This is obvious in the case of the coastal and vastly oil-rich Niger Delta, the source of Nigeria’s material fortune. The same is true of the Bornu region but to a much lesser extent and has a military function. At Independence, while Dahomey (now the Benin Republic), and the Niger Republic were not considered potentially hostile, Cameroun and Chad were and have been; Bornu borders both these countries.
Cameroun has vied with Nigeria over claims oil-rich regions in the Niger Delta Region. Cameroon won territorial control over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula out of the Niger Delta region from Nigeria at the International Court of Justice judgement in August 2008. Chad has been having numerous skirmishes over oil-reserves in the Chad Basin area. Both Cameroon and Chad are former French colonies backed up strongly by France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Nigeria does not get such backing from Great Britain who colonised her.
The South East Region is not a colony within, it is a suppressed part of the regular Nigerian federation due to being the vanquished in the Civil War and branded a potential colonialist if allowed to secede. The fear of “Igbo colonialism” was developed as a ‘projection’ of the intention of the regular Nigerian federation on the South Easterners as a justification for “One Nigeria”. The simmering threat of Igbo colonialism is a booty of war for Nigeria in conjunction with integrating the Niger Delta and Bornu Regions as colonies into its present reality.
Nigeria as an auto-colonial state is not very surprising. Great Britain created and colonised what is now Nigeria for palm oil production and export, it was needed to oil the Industrial Revolution. The largest ethnic groups in the three Nigerian regions that at once defined the country formed the real power and interests in the colony. The ethnic minorities had two inevitable choices – to assimilate into the major ethnic groups or fight the long road to autonomy. The Middle Belt and Bornu Regions [apparently] assimilated and acquiesced into the Hausa Fulani dominated Northern Region; the Midwest got its own region carved out of the Yoruba dominated Western Region; the Efik-Ibibio and Ijaw nations did not demonstrate the desire for autonomy from the Igbo dominated Eastern Region pre-Independence.
During the series of Independence talks with Britain, the issues of minorities and their destinies within the future self-ruling Nigerian state was never discussed even when prompted to do so. Today Nigerians bicker endlessly about a holding National Sovereign Conference which could have been well settled even before Independence. The major outcome is that in the post-Civil War era the transition from regional income derivation formulas to centralised approaches in which the lands of minorities provided the bulk of wealth, the incentive for auto-colonisation became irresistibly attractive to the leadership of the federation. A confluence of ethnic bargaining power defined by size, the colonial preferences / choices of Britain, brazen military rule ensured that internal auto-colonialism [internal neo-colonialism] replaced its foreign-driven predecessor.
Auto-colonialism is a very specious and vicious phenomenon; its published discourses are very different from its realities. Citizens of colonies within always get “second class” consideration in comparison to citizens of the federation. The dominant narrative of the Nigerian federation is not kind to the Calabar youth, Ijaw man or Kanuri woman or similar; the camera captures them as losers, illiterates, wastrels and alcoholics. The observation that the Niger Delta and Bornu Regions of Nigeria areas are most hit by perpetual and severe environmental disasters which the federation has characteristically ignored and left to their misfortunes is visibly contemptuous. The Niger Delta desperately needs a clean-up of the heinous oil pollution that has occurred there constantly for decades, it is proposed and announced but never happens. The Bornu area has suffered from a combination of accelerated desertification and pernicious water shortages, no help coming from the government. However, Bornu oil is ready for the taking.
The Niger Delta has produced a continuous stream of restive militants that has resorted to sabotaging oil production and exportation infrastructure besides other violence and mayhem, the hallmarks of an angry and unwilling colony. The Bornu citizens have chosen to back the Boko Haram insurgents as a response to their despair; their oil is not yet flowing big and an ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ policy works as well as direct conflict in many instances, another symbolism of an angry yet unwilling colony. The centre of the federation has failed them. The violence is probably an inevitable but extreme response to the saturated burden of “colonial exhaustion”. History is packed with incidences of colonies that fought for Independence; the Niger Delta and Bornu Regions are no different.
People are waking up to Nigeria’s auto-colonialism and maintaining by rents to minority leaders and deceptive factoids and narratives are now effete. The irony is that the Igbo South East Region that is part of the federation most active in seeking its independence today. Maybe it is a matter of legitimacy. Or is it numbers?