Jude UzonwanneFriday, November 29, 2002


n a Nov. 27, 2002 Wall Street Journal opinion piece "Nigeria Burns for Islam," a former American envoy to Nigeria (1986-89), Ambassador Princeton Lyman makes a strong argument for an aggressive U.S. role in saving Nigeria from itself. With due respect to Ambassador Lyman's experience and perspective, it is not clear that preserving Nigeria is a desirable policy objective. Assuming such a step where desirable, it is not clear either that the current Nigerian political leadership the Bush Administration would have to work with possesses the moral fortitude and political courage to get down to the brass tacks of reform. It is fascinating that the examples of reform cited by Ambassador Lyman to justify aiding the Obasanjo Administration where achieved within the first 6 months of the Obasanjo regime. Since 2000, little in the way of positive change has taken place. Given the pre-rigging of the 2003 elections as evidenced by attempts to disenfranchise opposition parties, and declarations by President Obasanjo's aides that "no vacancy exists" in the presidential palace or the 20 or so of 36 states controlled by his ruling party, hopes of a new regime in spring 2003 is illusory at best.

The weakness of Ambassador Lyman's counsel lies in his refusal to face the truth about the intention of Nigeria's Islamists. First, Nigeria today is essentially two separate countries, the Islamic Republic of Nigeria controlled by a team of Islamists, whose public face is Mr. Sani Ahmed of Zamfara, and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, whose ruler is Mr. Obasanjo, initially elected to govern the entire Nigerian space, but who surrendered almost half the territory to the Islamists in 1999-2000. Despite the recent efforts of the Obasanjo Administration to claim constitutional supremacy over the geographic boundaries of Nigeria, the fact that almost 1000 days after the initial declaration of Sharia Law in Zamfara State, the Nigerian state is yet to legally, economically or militarily confront it, speaks volumes. And perhaps Mr. Obasanjo does not want confrontation because in his twisted logic, the arbiters of Islamism would go away being the “joke” that they are. Evidence emerging from Islamic Nigeria has rubbished Mr. Obasanjo’s “analysis.”

As the leader of the Nigerian Muslim Brotherhood made clear to The Washington Post on Nov. 24, 2002, the Islamist objective is the establishment of an Islamic republic along the lines of Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban. Thus, it behooves the mind as to why senior American strategists and Nigerian officials faced with such naked declarations of strategic intent refuse to rethink their policy framework. While elected officials may have proclaimed Sharia Law, slowly but surely, the actual power over life and death is shifting towards radical figures and Islamic clerics, and will continue to do so until moderate Islamists are cowed into submission. It is for this reason that the moderates represented by Dr. Adegbite of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs accepted the apology from ThisDay but the radical Islamists chose to wage street warfare and issue death sentences. In that respect, the idea of peace between radical Islamists with their theocratic ambitions and secular Nigerians is unlikely, if not impossible. Hence, the future lies not in tinkering with Nigeria's failed state or offering more USAID programs outside Abuja to pacify Islamists.

Today, the strategic issue at stake is the following: will the citizens of Federal Nigeria surrender to the legal and moral authority of Islamic Nigeria, and if the answer is no, how can they extricate themselves, without embracing war as the first solution? The vast majority of Nigeria does not want to wage war against each other, hence their famous sense of patience in spite of the brutality many have come to face when dwelling particularly in Northern Nigeria. For this reason, when talk turns towards secession, most Nigerians become frightened and insist that the country must be kept together. That tacit willingness to endure pain has essentially allowed the country to muddle along. However the recent introduction of the language of religious edicts i.e. Fatwas has now changed the equation. Previous episodes in the last few years when southerners accused of defiling Islam or the Koran have been murdered make it clear that what the Fatwah represents is the formalization of seemingly informal killer squads of unemployed youths or almajiri. By asking for the head of Ms. Daniels, the Government of Zamfara issued a call to arms to an army of fanatics and murderers. Now, the murder of anyone who blasphemes against Islam is official policy in Northern Nigeria despite Information Minister, Mr. Jerry Gana’s hysterical protests to the contrary. On re-reading his protests, I realize he meant that it would be okay to behead Ms. Daniels only if she ventures into Zamfara or the Islamic North. Watching as government officials fall over each other to condemn “irresponsible journalism,” rather than preserve the right to life, most freedom loving Nigerians are frightened by what lies ahead. A culture that usually blames the victim has now taken revisionism to a new height, and in response, many Nigerians are refusing to accept that state. However, how can they resist the bullying of the Federal Government without risking new bloodshed? The current Nigerian constitution does not afford much in the way of protection, nor does the willingness of the Obasanjo Administration to side with the Fatwa barons suggest that any relief is coming from Aso Rock. Thus, my vote is for a campaign of civil disobedience designed to force a United Nations sponsored referendum on how Nigerians want to live together or apart.

The UN Referendum Plan

The Nigerian people should individually and in groups write Secretary-General Anann to demand a United Nations sponsored and managed referendum to determine whether or not, (i) Confederation, or (ii) Independence is what Nigeria’s constituent nations want. Southern Nigeria will survive as an independent country or countries, or union of states and will, if the vision of a system based on individual freedoms, not group rights, comes to pass, quickly surpass all African nation-states in indicators of human development. To move this initiative forward, I encourage my fellow citizens to send each other SMS (i.e. text) messages on their GSM phone. Please send the following text to at least 3 people and ask them to send to 3 more: “Referendum Now” or “Czech Solution Now”. Share the idea with others, who do not have mobile phones. Send e-mails to friends and families. Tell strangers and local politicians we want a UN referendum now.

Instead of pacifying Islamists as Ambassador Lyman recommends, the greatest historic aid the Bush Administration can provide her peoples is to help manage Nigeria's transition into a number of successor states along the lines of the Czechoslovakia model. Thus, the real challenge facing the Bush Administration is to contemplate a West Africa with 3 - 5 successor states to Nigeria. Would Africa be better off if at least 3 non-Islamic states such as the Niger Delta Union, State of Biafra and the Oduduwa Republic emerged out of Nigeria, with new leaders determined to build upon a historical preference for individual rights, democracy and free enterprise? The unqualified answer is yes. The Bush Administration, the Blair Government, the European Union and the Japanese Government must quickly assess whose side they will be on: the side of Reason, Freedom, Justice and Equity, or on the side of radical Islamists. To paraphrase Mr. Bush’s Axis of Evil question to the world, “are you with us, the freedom loving people of Southern Nigeria, or are you against us?” The answer to this question is critical because for once, it is important that the West not outsource its responsibility to “an African solution” that sacrifices as has happened with the Obasanjo-Mbeki farce show, the freedom of Zimbabweans to the Mugabe terror machine.

Working with the United Nations, the Bush Administration can show leadership, rather than defer to the Europeans as America so tragically does when it comes to African matters. A UN referendum would allow a clean divorce, allowing Islamists the opportunity for their own republic and secular lovers of freedom their own states. The alternative is clear: simmering political and sectarian violence ultimately culminating in another bloody failed state scenario a la Robert Kaplan's dire 1994 prediction about the future of West Africa. Nigeria since 2000 has staggered from crisis to crisis, with citizens waiting with bated breath, wondering whether the inflection point between basic tragedy and Hobbesian misery will be crossed. It is time to permanently stop the wondering. Today, we must embrace our freedom. Thus, in this dark hour, which faces Nigeria, it is vital that those who call themselves Nigeria’s friends such as Ambasaador Lyman not try to massage the wounds. It is time to abandon the historical pretense that has sealed our lips from honest debate since 1914. It is time to shed the idea that discussing and acting upon our self-evident beliefs about individual rights must never include issues such as secession, confederation or a union of states whose mutual belief in building a prosperous rights based society brings them together. It is time for all Federalists everywhere to boldly proclaim their allegiance to a union of free citizens. Referendum, Yes!