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State of origin and the origins of failed states

The position of Naijiant.com in response to those agitating for secession from Nigeria, as articulated on these pages, has always been that the hopes that things would be better in a different configuration are based on the failures of the Nigerian state. If Nigeria had delivered to all its citizens the full rights enshrined in the constitution, separatist movements like those in favour of Biafra wouldn’t resonate.

But, this organ has also stressed that a failure to learn and deal with the reasons why Nigeria has failed is very likely to bring failure to any new country that emerges if Nigeria ever broke up. The current mess in South Sudan provides a critical case study.

The pro-Biafran argument is partly based on the argument that Igbos are being “marginalised” in Nigeria. But that argument has never bothered to consider Igbo marginalisation against fellow Igbos.

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of Enugu State, reportedly wanted Ifeanyi Onyedika, ex Enugu Rangers and Nigeria striker, who won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, and former Dolphins FC coach, to be the new coach of Enugu Rangers. Some people in Enugu State then allegedly lobbied against Onyedika’s appointment, not because he wasn’t qualified, but because his “state of origin” is Anambra and not Enugu.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi went back on plan to appoint Onyedika
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi went back on plan to appoint Onyedika

This is despite the fact Onyedika was raised in Enugu, he has lived there nearly all his life, he went to College of the Immaculate Conception in Enugu, and he played for Enugu Rangers for many years.

Ifeanyi Onyedika
Ifeanyi Onyedika

Rangers rose in 1970 literally from the ruins of Biafra at the end of the civil war. It became a symbol and rallying point for most Igbos and conquered most before it in the 1970s and early 1980s, becoming Nigeria’s most successful club of that era. Today, it is a shadow of its former self and just escaped relegation this season.

Rangers in 1977
Rangers in 1977

Rangers’ decline is hardly surprising when you consider that the people calling the shots there are the types that think Onyedika’s state of origin is a hindrance to appointing him.

Not that long ago, Theodore Orji, then governor of Abia State fired all the “non-indigenes” on his state’s payroll. These were predominantly fellow Igbos from neighbouring states.

When Anambra and Imo State were created out of the old East Central State, civil servants in the state capital Enugu who had their origins in Imo were told to leave. These purges were repeated when newer states were created out of Anambra and Imo. It has become standard practice across Nigeria and it is unlawful.

In Chapter 4 Fundamental Rights, the constitution states:

42. (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:

(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or

(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.

(2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.

This clearly means no one has the right to subject Nigerian citizens to restrictions that do not apply others of different places of origin. So Onyedika and others like him, denied of jobs or fired for being “non-indigenes”, have had their fundamental rights to be free of discrimination as prescribed in the constitution violated. They should have sued and have been liable for compensation in any country that practised the rule of law.

In April 2006 Human Rights Watch published a 64-page report, “They Do Not Own This Place’: Government Discrimination Against ‘Non-Indigenes’ in Nigeria”.

It highlighted how Nigerians are treated as second-class citizens through government policies that discriminate against “non-indigenes”. The report also demonstrated how such policies contribute to the tensions that lead to violence in places like Plateau State. Peter Takirambudde, the Executive Director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch said: “Discriminatory indigeneity policies often reflect a truly cynical set of political calculations. Many Nigerian politicians are simply trying to curry favor with their indigene constituents by excluding non-indigenes from scarce opportunities that should be available to all.”

This “cynical set of political calculations” has meant Igbos discriminating against each other, and happens across Nigeria under the banner of “state of origin”. By not addressing why they do it, there is no doubt Biafra, or any new country carved out of Nigeria, is condemned to repeat it.

As Bob Marley aptly put it in “Ambush in the night”:
“Through political strategy
They keep us hungry
And when you gonna get some food
Your brother got to be your enemy”

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