You do not have to be sympathetic to the Biafran cause to conclude that Nigeria is not working. This is not the same, though as admitting that the country is failing. To “fail”, is to have once striven. Nigeria, as it arranged today, simply, can’t strive. Across the main measures of usefulness, this country has struggled since its founding to meet the expectations of its citizens. Economic and social data confirm this. As does political experience. The compact between leadership and its followers that is necessary for dimensioning (and implementing) the challenges of development and progress was never quite properly formed here.
You do not have to be Biafran to blame a significant part of this failure on the North. True, some actors from that section of the country make this blame game easy. But what does the North’s “natural leadership” of the country mean, if both social and economic indices show how much of a burden it is becoming on the rest of us? Extreme rates of unemployment and want are worsened by large numbers of children out of school and young working-age folk bereft of the wherewithal to usefully take part in a modern economy. In this sense, the North is the archetypal example of how the failure to properly design the social contract between the people and their leaders could be very costly to everything else.
The North matters because its large numbers make it an inviting place to start the process of the country’s redemption. But, across the country, evidence of decay is self-evident. Back out the fiscal support from being able to sell crude oil for dollars on the global markets, and you have an economy that has been prostrate since the 1970s. Look around for evidence of oil earnings, especially in those parts of the country where additional funds flowed in compensation for oil and gasexploration, and there’s absolutely nothing to show for it. In other parts of the country, signs of system failure are evident everywhere.
What to do about this?
You do not have to be Biafran to point to the example of Eastern and Central European countries as a useful template for Nigeria. As independent republics, most of these countries have fared better than they did when they were within the Soviet/communist sphere of influence. This proposition is as much about economic and social welfare as it is political. I am not too sure that one may easily proxy for the benefits of the freedoms that go with a people being able to express themselves freely without fear of censure by a nanny state. The same holds true of component parts of the former Yugoslavia. Across these spaces, we see newly free people building institutions that prioritise inclusiveness, and participation.
You do not also have to be opposed to Biafra to point out the counter-factual experience that Eritrea, Ethiopia, and South Sudan represent to these otherwise Elysian examples of accommodation in Central and Eastern Europe. In these latter places, evidence is abundant that the renegotiation of terms of association is not a cure-all. For the countries emerging off these African examples have simply gone ahead to replicate the excesses of the old arrangements.
How to account for this difference?
A very strong argument is the presence in Europe of the European Union, and how the promise of accession to the EU (if the new countries of Central and Eastern Europe structured themselves as liberal democracies) was instrumental to the eventual outcome. If the building of cross-border institutions in support of liberal and democratic regimes is a sufficient condition for success for new countries. Is the absence of such institutions in the spaces that newly-emerging countries are about to enter a necessary pointer to possible failure?
However this question is answered, you do not have to be sympathetic to Nigeria as currently organised to point out how fraught separation can be even in places that pride themselves with having functioning institutions. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union over the terms of the former’s exit from some of the institutions associated with the latter offer useful lessons in this regard. It is clearly not in the interest of the European Union to ease the departure of the U.K.
Ultimately, then, while we may, at least, agree that armed hostilities might not be an option on the table in any redesign of the Nigerian state including the ceding of territory to any of its component parts, the competence of negotiators on both sides will matter most. As would the assumption of good will in the different conversations, irrespective of the eventual outcomes.