Biafra and Right to Self-Determination

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Secession is a variant of dissociation embedded in the concept of self-determination. Secession is an act of withdrawing, separating from, or renouncing a union, a body or an association. It is a fundamental question of political philosophy. It is a concept which predates the existence of mankind as confirmed by science, religion, history and sociology. It is evident in Charles Darwin’s law of natural selection, exodus of the Israelite from Egypt, and separation among angels even before the creation of man. From time immemorial, secession from a political organization has been a struggle which man fights for with tooth and nail. Most powerful nations of the world at one time seceded from a country or an empire. United States of America, Ireland, including Nigeria seceded from British Empire.


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Recently, the lingering question in Nigeria is whether the “people of Biafra” have the right to secede from Nigeria? This question has been resolved by legal frameworks and custom. Various international treaties and conventions including Nigerian Constitution acknowledge the right of secession either individually, as a body, a group or an organization. After the World War II, the United Nations, recognizing that the right to self-determination is derived from inherent human dignity, provided in Part I, Article 1.1 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as follows:

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“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.”

Article 1.3 of the Covenant further provides that:

“The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.”

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The above provisions indicate that right to self-determination is universally recognized. By virtue of Article 1.3 of the Covenant, it is mandatory for states that are signatories to the Covenant to respect and enforce this right in their states. The African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights also recognizes right to self-determination under Article 20.1 thus:

“All peoples shall have the right to existence. They shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination. They shall freely determine their political status and shall pursue their economic and social development according to the policy they have freely chosen.”

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Eastern Map of Nigeria

The words of the two international treaties cited above are mandatory and not discretionary. Right to self-determination is a wider term which encompasses right to secession, right to acquire dual nationality, right to change, renounce one’s nationality and allegiance, including right to associate and dissociate. Aside from the fact that Nigeria domesticated these international treaties, the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria also recognizes right to self-determination under under Chapter 3 and 4 of the Constitution. See Abacha v. Fawehinmi (2000) 6 NWLR (Pt. 660) 228.

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Section 29(1) of Nigerian Constitution allows a Nigerian who is eighteen years and above to voluntarily renounce its Nigerian citizenship if he so desires. Section 40 of Nigerian Constitution provides that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble and associate with other person . . ..” Rights to renunciation of citizenship and association emanate from the concept of self-determination just like right to secession. A person cannot be forced to remain the citizen of a country, likewise, he cannot be forced to associate with any group or body. No one can be the friend of another by force. Anyone who has a right to associate also has a right to dissociate. It is uncivil and barbaric to force a group to remain in a union against their conscience. Holding that Biafra cannot secede from Nigeria is synonymous to holding that a person cannot dissociate from an association or that a Nigerian citizen cannot renounce its Nigerian citizenship. If those who dissociate from an association are not criminals; and Nigerians who renounce their Nigerian citizenship are not also criminals, then Biafrans who demand for secession from Nigeria cannot be criminals.

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Marriage is dissoluble even though the priest tags it “for better or worse.” There is no absolute law on earth. A law is revocable even if it declares itself irrevocable. Law is made for man. Man is not made for law. Where a law does not serve the interest of the people it governs any more, such law will be repealed. Biafrans have made their position clear about their unwillingness to remain in Nigeria. They were dragged into the union without their consent, therefore, they reserve the right to leave the union. Even if they came to the union by their consent, they still reserve the right to leave the union if their conscience is pitched against the union. When the idea of secession is conceived, nothing can kill it. The realization can only be postponed, it cannot be killed. Depriving people agitating for their right to self-determination is unlawful, barbaric and inhuman. There is no justification for such refusal under the law or principle of morality.

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