Essentially, self-determination is the right of a particular group of people to determine for themselves how and by whom they wish to be governed. Put in another way, it is the right of a people to decide their form of government and their political status.
Woodrow Wilson is credited with first using the term, “self-determination in 1918. However, the principle got international prominence when it emerged at the 1945 San Francisco Conference of the United Nations. Consequently, it is enshrined in articles 1 and 55 of the UN Charter as the principle of “Equal Rights and self-determination of Peoples.”
This right is enshrined in the two principal human rights instruments of the UN system: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Article 1 in both the ICCPR as well as the ICESCR guarantees the right of self-determination in the following words: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. ”
So, what does the principle of self-determination imply in the context of the Nigerian state. Nigerian is a federation structured in a manner wherein the majority tribes are clustered by minority tribes, resulting into tension and fear of domination of the minority tribes by the majority tribes.
This tension and the fear of domination has led to cries and calls to redress real and perceived inadequate representation and participation in, as well as oppression from, the central government. Additionally, some peoples have complained of inadequate participation in the determination of the general affairs of the country.
Drawing from the principles enshrined in the international human rights instruments, some Nigerian peoples has advocated that they reserve the right to seek self-determination in order to address such inadequate participation and the consequent oppression from the central government.
Perhaps, the most visible of such quests in recent times began with the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). MASSOB was championed by Ralph Uwazuruike, who was later arrested but released by the President Umaru MusaYar’Adua administration. The agitation was however, less noticeable under the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
But the events before, during and after the 2015 General Elections heightened the feelings of alienation and distrust. This resulted in a renewed and forceful agitation led by a hitherto unknown Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, under the umbrella of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
It must be noted that despite the principles of self-determination, Nigeria is a sovereign country with a defined territory, and it is internationally recognized. Nigeria is also a member of several international organizations such as the United Nations, African Union and the ECOWAS.
Section 1(1) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) provides that:”This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
By Section 1(2): “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria, or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
Section 2(1) further provides that “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble SOVEREIGN state to be known by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” (Block letters mine, for emphasis).
It is on the basis of this constitutional provisions that the quest for self-determination by some peoples within the Nigerian state has been met with stiff resistance from the State. The State favors the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity over the principle of self-determination as a human right of peoples.
One thing that is certain is that although the right of self-determination is an internationally guaranteed right, peoples who want to exercise the right must employ means adapted to the realization of these right. These means must be internationally recognized and nationally non-disruptive.
Referendum is one of such means. Referendum is a result of wide and long negotiations, consultations, and processes involving the international community. We can draw examples from the cases of Scotland and United Kingdom, Quebec and Canada as well as Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Where there is no such due process and where peoples employ means other than negotiation-based diplomatic intervention, they hardly are able to form a separate sovereign state recognized by the international community.
For example, forty-three years after its break-away from Cyprus in 1974, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is yet to be recognized as a sovereign nation. Another example is Eastern Ukraine which still uses Ukrainian international passport and currency.
In conclusion, it is our considered opinion that every form of advocacy for self-determination must conform to international best practices and procedures in order to obtain validity and recognition.
Manang Jabbe, ESQ
Legal practitioner, civil, political and social analyst.
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