Nigeria has been flying both deaf and blind since it was coupled into a colonial possession of imperial Britain 100 years ago.

The bat does not ordinarily have the best of eyesight in the animal world. But this little mammal is still able to fly with tremendous agility which even the feathered bird species cannot match. For all practical purposes, the bats fly blind. But they “see” and navigate their way around through other senses. The furry creature “sees” around it with sonar technology. The bat emits high frequency sound waves which bounce off surrounding targets and reflect back to its ears thereby enabling the flying bat to avoid obstacles in its way and also to identify its prey, mostly insects, which it feeds upon while in flight. The bat has been able to evolve in ways that enabled it to overcome its poor-vision handicap over the eons.

What does one do with a nation state, like Nigeria, whose leadership echelon have historically been afflicted by the combination of poor vision and tone deafness? One would ordinarily suggest that the Nigerian nation should emulate the bat and then attempt to evolve other senses with which to mitigate the many existential drawbacks imposed by the handicaps of poor eyesight and impaired hearing. But going through the evolutionary process does not only take a whole lot of time, but also many inadvertent failures are usually encountered in repeated attempts to adapt to new situations. Before the bat species finally became able to fly with the newly acquired agility despite the visual handicaps, there were many fatal crashes. Yes, the delectable omelet was made, but that was preceded by the breaking of many eggs. Up till now, Nigeria has been flying both deaf and blind since it was coupled into a colonial possession of imperial Britain 100 years ago. Symptoms of the premier African nation’s failure to thrive include economic instability, insecurity of citizens’ lives and properties, religious extremism and intolerance, intercommunal clashes, mass youth unemployment and overall lack of direction and continuity at the apex of national leadership since 1966. So, Nigeria continues to fly deaf and blind into the 21st century world. Luck is, however, fast running out and the inevitable crash is finally imminent.

The June 2013 publication by the Strategic Studies Institute and US Army War College titled “NIGERIAN UNITY: IN THE BALANCE” delved into the details of the centripetal and centrifugal forces at play within the country’s polity. Information extracted from such publications surely did impact the decision of some elements within the US State Department who had speculated that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. Since conclusion of the 2015 general elections, the centrifugal forces at play are incrementally gaining ground over the centripetal counterpoise as manifested by the status quo. Barely a month after the historic presidential poll which brought Muhammadu Buhari into power, the Lower Niger Congress (LNC) successfully convened what it called a Solemn Assembly at the Hotel Presidential Conference Hall in Port Harcourt on April 27, 2015 where a five-point resolution, which included the call for a Referendum on self-determination, was tabled, discussed and ratified. Since then, the LNC leadership, which is at the helm of the Lower Niger self-determination movement, has gone further to set a dateline for the proposed Referendum for the 1st quarter of 2017. And the clock toward that rendezvous with destiny is already ticking away as the dateline draws ever closer.

The LNC is part of the Movement for New Nigeria (MNN) which had convened in June 2011 in Lagos and adopted a recommendation to divvy up the Nigerian geopolitical space into four distinct federating units namely: the Yoruba Federation, Lower Niger Federation, Middle-Belt Federation and the Sharia Territory Federation. The MNN, therefrom, mandated its partners nationwide to proceed with implementation of the platform’s resolutions, one of which is the conduct of referendums in order to ascertain the true wishes of all the ethnic nationalities inhabiting the emergent federations being recommended as the alternative future for Nigeria. Locally, the LNC draws its membership from all the ethnic nationalities that made up the former Eastern and Midwestern Regions of the 1st Republic which has now become coterminous with the Lower Niger Territory. Since a recent public announcement of the projected timeframe for conduct of the Lower Niger Referendum on AIT, a Lagos-based commercial TV outfit, an online platform has been established for driving a global mobilization effort to drum up publicity for this landmark event. As resolved at its Port-Harcourt Solemn Assembly, it is in LNC’s future plan to recall all Abuja-based politicians and bureaucrats from the Lower Niger for “consultations” regarding the recommendation made by the MNN and of course, the already scheduled 2017 Lower Niger Referendum on self-determination. The LNC has been in business for more than a decade, but it has, until recently opted to maintain a relatively low profile by operating mostly below the radar screen. The Congress’ leaders have severally partaken in widely broadcast public discourse on important national political matters. Both the government and civil society are not unaware of this entity or what it always stood for over the years. What is unprecedented, however, is the recent emboldened step taken by the LNC leadership to commence the process of putting the recommendations made by the MNN into practice in real time. This new development takes the LNC agenda to where rubber meets the road.

Significance of the Referendum

Since heydays of a popular agitation for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities to decide about the country’s future geopolitical path, the conduct of nationwide referendum has always been posited as the veritable conduit for ascertaining the true wish of the polity in whom the authentic custody and sovereign authority over the land are legally vested. For a combination of reasons, the leading SNC protagonists have since quietly and slowly drifted away to re-engage with other matters and the subject of referendum then faded away from public consciousness. But the MNN June 30, 2011 Lagos conference resuscitated the referendum subject after its conduct was approved as the main modality for testing the acceptability or not of its bold proposition for devolving political power in Nigeria which is now seen as the only peaceful process for extricating the country from the morass in which it is currently mired.

Perhaps, the crucial difference between the preceding calls for referendum and what we have today is tactics. The SNC protagonists relied heavily on central government of the day to be the one to convene the national conference and also to organize the suggested national referendum. The MNN, on the other hand, mandated the respective emergent 4 federations of the envisioned new Nigeria to organize their own separate referendums by following a clearly delineated procedure. The object is to determine the authentic wishes of all ethnic nationalities involved in the emergent federations without any handholding or hindrance by the powers that be at the center in Abuja. While the preceding SNC approach fizzled, the MNN model appears to be establishing some sturdy roots as shown by the LNC’s announcement of the dateline for conducting the 2017 Lower Niger Referendum.

The grouse of a broad cross section of the citizenry has always been that, since its early days, Nigeria’s nationhood has been an imposition; first by the British Foreign Office in London during the 1914 Amalgamation and subsequently by the country’s military establishment which had usurped political power in 1966, abrogated the regional constitutional federalism which was working quite effectively at the time and in its place, re-imposed a centralized unitary governance mantra for the entire country. Suffice it to say that this imposition has, since 1966, seen Nigeria through a murderous 30-month Civil War, ushered in autocracy and intolerance as the preferred mode of governance and subsequently transformed the country into a rancorous, corrupt and under-achieving polity that we all behold today.

Referendum provides today’s Nigeria with the most authentic conduit for expressing the citizens’ self-willed views regarding the nature of the country’s future path. Thank God for the 2007 UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples which grants self-determination to all ethnic nationalities worldwide, irrespective of which country they may be situated today. The UN declaration came forty years too late to be of any use during the Nigerian Civil War. With this self-determination right of indigenous peoples deliberated upon and approved by a plenary session of the United Nation Assembly, the path is now clear for whichever entities that are included in current Nigerian geopolitical space to assert their rights to self-determination by opting to continue as part of the post-colonial nation state or to get out of it. This is the core essence of referendum as the universally accepted instrument for ascertaining the true wishes of we the people.

Inevitability of the LNC Agenda

The organizational and operational alignment established by the MNN, LNC and Aladinma nexus has started to gain some traction in many parts of Alaigbo as well as within the global Igbo Diaspora population. It is believed that the same thing applies to other ethnic nationalities living within the the Lower Niger as well as the Yoruba and Middle-Belt Federations. The Lower Niger Referendum has led the way, but it is expected that others shall soon get off their marks too. The game, going forward, appears to be completely out of direct control of the Nigerian central government. As long as the indigenous peoples have manifested their desire to express their right to self-determination, there really is not much that the central government can do about it. Perhaps, the only acceptable role for Nigeria’s central government shall be after result of the Referendum is known. If the vote for self-determination wins the day, then the central government might opt to engage the regional federating unit concerned in substantive negotiations regarding the way forward. But the rules of the game shall definitely be different from what exist today. When all is said and done, it shall be up to the Lower Niger Federation and its constituents to act as the ultimate deciders of what to do with their own political future.

Go Forward with the Lower Niger Referendum

The Rubicon was crossed when the LNC leadership proclaimed the projected dateline for conduct of the Lower Niger Referendum. The clock has already started ticking toward the momentous event which is destined to trigger a cascade of developments which shall ultimately redefine the fortunes of the Nigeria that we all behold today. The Nigerian polity has incessantly been clamoring for change, possibly due to the universal unacceptability of the status quo. The 2015 general elections’ campaign was sold to the electorate as the quintessential democratic harbinger for change. But the change promised is still predicated on the 1999 Constitution’s provisions which negate the strategic interests of the LNC and all the other political and quasi-political formations aligned with it. Nigerians deserve something better and that’s exactly what the Lower Niger Referendum is destined to crystalize out for all to see.

Let’s get on with the Lower Niger Referendum!

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