Between likening himself to Queen Elizabeth and claiming that all Libyans love him except those given “hallucinogenic drugs by al Qaeda”, former Libyan bogeyman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was not known for his particularly insightful or inspirational speeches. However, perhaps because even a madman who made thousands of sometimes four-hour-long addresses was bound to get something right, or more accurately, perhaps because the former dictator himself may have played a considerable role in Nigeria’s conflict, Gaddafi may have been accurate about the oil-rich country’s future.
In March 2010, to the ire of many Nigerian leaders, Gaddafi declared that Nigeria should be split into two nations, with the North led by Muslims and the South led by Christians. Dividing Nigeria, according to Gaddafi, would “stop the bloodshed and burning of places of worship”. Later, Gaddafi went one step further by proposing that the country be carved up into “many” separate ethnically-based nations. However, the self-described leader of Africa went afoul of the Nigerian Government, with Nigerian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ozo Nwobu saying that Gaddafi’s speech had “diminished his status and credibility”. Gaddafi was also accused of “theatrics and grandstanding at every auspicious occasion”, a familiar criticism for a man that once declared himself “the king of kings of Africa”. However, given the ongoing security issues facing Nigeria which threaten to destabilise the country, including a nation-wide strike against the cancellation of fuel subsidies that has resulted in violence, as well as dissatisfaction with President Goodluck Jonathan’s handling of the Islamic terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, perhaps it may be time to revisit Gaddafi’s earlier statements on Nigeria.
Gaddafi’s first idea, although far from being an original one, was to call for the separation of Nigeria into two separate entities along the religious fault line which divides the mainly Muslim North and the mostly Christian South. In a situation similar to what became of Sudan and South Sudan, the idea was thought to prevent further religious conflict. For Gaddafi, Nigeria would follow the partition model of Pakistan, which, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, emerged in 1947 after the Muslim minority of mostly Hindu India founded their own country. Gaddafi’s idea to divide the country into two parts was more than just rhetoric, he actively engaged in ensuring such plans would come to fruition. In fact, Gaddafi’s regime reportedly funnelled arms and ammunition to sectarian groups throughout Nigeria, supported religious uprisings, and was allegedly even behind the violence that erupted following the presidential elections in 2011. Additionally, Gaddafi was said to have funded the construction of several Islamic centres and mosques throughout Kano and other Muslim-dominated areas of the North, and frequently made unannounced visits to the region. Such reports indicate that Gaddafi would have wanted to divide the country into two separate entities. However, would this plan actually benefit Nigeria? For some analysts, dividing the country simply into two separate countries would only cause more problems as it would fail to address the needs of the 250 or so diverse ethnic groups and tribes which reside in the continent’s most populous country. Additionally, there are concerns that the minority Christians which reside in the North, as well as the minority Muslims which reside in the South, may suffer if this proposition were to be enacted. Thus, perhaps Gaddafi’s second plan, which involved the separation of Nigeria into more than two distinct states, was more appropriate.
Gaddafi’s other idea-again not an original one-was to carve Nigeria even further into “many” ethnic nations. He cited “the Yoruba people in the east and south who demand independence, the Ibo people in the west and south” as well as the Ijaws. For Gaddafi, the Nigerian authorities were to look to Yugoslavia as a model, a country that was also divided into six countries, including Kosovo. His plan, which called for six geographical zones as recommended by Nigeria’s 1996 constitutional conference, included dividing the country into the following areas: 1.) the Niger Delta state 2.) the Middle Belt state 3.) South-Eastern (or Biafra) state 4.) South-Western (or Oduduwa) state 5.) North-Western (or Dan Fodio) state, and 6.) North-Eastern or (Kanem Borno) state. For some analysts this suggestion may be more apt, and can be likened to the situation in the Soviet Union, a country which collapsed into smaller units in part due to mismanagement of the country’s sizeable country. Nigeria, while not the largest in Africa geographically speaking, is certainly the biggest from a population standpoint, and currently has at least 160 million people. With its population expected to continue to grow in the coming years, especially as reports indicate that the country has a youth population of approximately 80 million, comprising 60% of the total country, the government appears unable to balance the resources with the demographics. This is noted by a recent figure which suggests that most Nigerians live on less than US$2 a day, and are now struggling to by food as a result of the cessation of fuel subsidies. Dividing the country into six separate entities may arguably also decrease corruption, as the governments become more manageable, localised and communal due to their smaller status, possibly leading to citizens to place more accountability on their leaders.
Although Gaddafi’s words must be met with a grain of salt-this is after all coming from a man who said that “placing a child in a day nursery is coercive and tyrannical and a violation of the child’s free and natural disposition”-it is without question that such words have some basis in reality, especially as the current embattled president Jonathan is facing the biggest test of his political career: he is presiding over an administration that is teetering on the edge of civil war. As such, ideas regarding the division of Nigeria should not be cast aside, as they have been shared by many in the international community. Back in 2005, the US National Intelligence Council even predicted that Nigeria would fall apart by the year 2015. Even Nigerians themselves have historically questioned the idea of a one-state Nigeria: in 1948, northern leader, Abubaka Tafa Balewa said: “Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one county, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any signs of willingness to unite”. Although it remains to be seen what events will actually unfold, President Goodluck Jonathan would do well to keep such words in mind as he attempts to bring unity to a rather politically, religiously and ethnically disjointed African nation.