By CAMERON DUODU
The statement by the Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi, that
Nigeria should be divided into two nations to avoid further bloodshed between Muslims and Christians, has caused immense anger in Nigeria.
For in order to stay as one country, Nigeria fought a blood-soaked civil war between 1967 and 1970 — the Biafran War — which cost the lives of between one and two million people. Therefore to suggest that all the work
that has been done over the past 40 years to keep the country together should be tossed into the rubbish bin was a very insensitive thing to say
about one African country by another.
It is therefore not surprising that some of the remarks that have greeted Gaddafi’s statement have not been exactly couched in diplomatic terms. The president of the Nigerian Senate, David Mark, for instance, has been quoted as describing Gaddafi as “mad”.
Gaddafi made his statement in a speech to students. His showed that his knowledge of history is patchy at best, because the example he used to buttress his suggestion — the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 — is one of the worst examples he could have chosen, inasmuch as it is redolent with deliberate, politically-inspired massacre.
In the wake of what the British euphemistically called a “population exchange,” in which millions of Indians streamed into Pakistan while a reverse exodus of Hindus and Sikhs occurred in the opposite direction, hundreds of thousands of people died of exhaustion and starvation, while between half a million and one million others were set upon, in their vulnerable state, and butchered by people who professed a faith different from their own. Needless to say, all the faiths involved paid lip service to the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human being.
Even after the havoc it caused, the partition left many areas in both the new sovereign states of India and Pakistan, where remnants of “unwanted people” remained, and tension between India and Pakistan over the treatment of these eventually led to a second partition — this time, the hiving-off, after a successful “liberation war”, of East Pakistan from the rest of Pakistan, to become the new state of Bangladesh in December 1971.
The Bangladeshi “liberation war” too cost many lives, and the two episodes of unconscionable bloodshed are often cited as a good example of what happens when colonialists — in this case, the British — create “nations” by drawing in the sand, for their own administrative convenience — without a thought for the socio-economic consequences of their egocentric actions — and then leave for home without being able to set new boundaries entirely satisfactory to the inhabitants.
Nigeria is in a similarly precarious position. Apart from the fact that it has a population that is almost equally divided between Muslims and Christians, (with huge numbers of adherents to indigenous religions in between) it harbours inter-ethnic rivalries that go deep into the country’s pre-colonial history. During the Biafran civil war of 1967-70, many of these fissures were brought to the surface.
After the war, state-creation (there are now 36 states) was the usual way of trying to satisfy sectional interests. But no sooner has a state been created than another one is canvassed for. The clamour for ever more states isn’t going to stop any time soon, for those “left behind” always try to copy the methods used by those who succeeded in getting States created for them.
Nigeria’s best bet is, of course, to stay united and to approach sectional agitation with sensitivity. This is not a difficult as it appears on paper. For in a modern state, the apparatus exists for obtaining an accurate reading of the public mood, settling reasonable demands and anticipating trouble wherever it may raise its head from. When all fails, individuals who take the law into their own hands can easily be dealt with by a government with public opinion on it side.
In such a delicate balancing act, the last thing Nigeria needs is meddling by foreigners dangling simplistic solutions that show no awareness of the complexities that drive peace and unrest in such a huge and and frail country. What Gaddafi has done is to gratuitously raise the intensity of the collective neurosis under whose clouds Nigerians are obliged, perforce, to exist.