“Biafra: Coalition Of Northern Groups Asks UN To Initiate Referendum, Pronounce IPOB A Terrorist Group,” screamed the newspaper report. I do not know who these Northern Groups are, but they better be advised to understand the implications of any of their utterances, actions, and so forth with regard to the on-going agitations for Biafra and/or restructuring Nigeria.
What insanity befell them to ask the UN to conduct a referendum? They are better informed that the organization, Indigenous People of Biafra [IPOB], is operating on basis of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Self-Determination passed in September 2007. It is a declaration on how indigenous peoples can pursue their rights to self-determination; an acronym for independence.
Before the passage of the declaration, MASSOB was the organization agitating for Biafran secession. Once the declaration was passed, the name change was effected and a new organization Indigenous Peoples of Biafra emerged. So, the name, IPOB, was deliberately chosen to accommodate the language in the said declaration.
Unlike a UN Security Council Resolution, which is legal and binding on all member states, General Assembly Declarations are not legally binding on member states, but only point towards the general inclinations of member states of the UN. So, in a sense, while the declarations can be “ignored” or discountenanced by member states to a point, members states are always careful as to how they deal with issues deriving from General Assembly declarations.
To our Northern groups, they need to know that this declaration posited four conditions for an indigenous peoples to obtain self-determination or in, common parlance, become a country. These are:
a. Display a previous history of statehood or existence as a separate territory;
b. The possession of ethnicity, language, religion, culture;
c. Existence of special institutions of governance; and
d. Manifestation of the will to be a separate identity [a referendum].
With these stated conditions by the declaration, it should be obvious to all that all that presently stands between Biafra and its existence is a referendum. It should be noted, also, that most of the ethnic nationalities that constitute present-day Nigeria satisfy these requirements.
I am not too sure that is what the Northern Groups quoted in the newspaper report are looking for! Neither does this represent the aspirations of most Nigerians. Asking the UN to hold a referendum for the purposes of declaring IPOB a terrorist organization is, therefore, a senseless request.
The looming trouble that this request posits for Nigeria is this. According to the declaration’s criteria and, as pointed out earlier, every ethnic nationality within Nigeria qualifies to be acknowledged as “indigenous peoples,” by virtue of the fact that they satisfy the three major criteria necessary for expressing a desire for self-determination. All that stands against the realization of this dream, again, as indicated above, is a referendum; the “manifestation of the will to be a separate identity.” So, in essence, these Northern Groups are aiding the Biafran agitators in the pursuit of their quest for the establishment of a Republic of Biafra.
Once the agitators for Biafra are granted the opportunity to hold a referendum, all hell will break lose as each ethnic nationality in Nigeria would now ask for their own referendum. It would no longer be an IPOB referendum but several referenda that would be demanded! There would be indigenous peoples who would now come to the fore and identify themselves; Indigenous Peoples of Yorubaland, Indigenious Peoples of Tivland, of Hausa/Fulaniland, of Edoland, of Ibiobioland, and on and on the demand for referenda and more referenda would go on ad infinitum!
The result that would emanate from this scenario is a thoroughly dismembered Nigeria; which, heavens forbid.