Professor of Political Science and Nigeria’s former minister for Foreign Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, has described the outcome of the United Kingdom’s referendum to exit the European Union (EU) as a ‘calamity,’ saying his worst fear was how Nigeria would manage the cascading impact in the next two years, should Scotland also exit the UK in protest.
Coming at a time when calls for the restructuring of the country are resounding, Akinyemi, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian, at the weekend, said “the British has made a fantastically calamitous decision,” that would negatively impact the global community, especially the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Meanwhile, a tweet by the AFP yesterday hinted that over one million Britons have signed petition for a second EU referendum in Britain to explore the opportunity of reversing the outcome.
Scotland and the Northern Ireland as ‘semi-autonomous units’ within the UK (Great Britain) have had their interest in sustaining the status quo buoyed by UK’s membership of the EU. Now, there are concerns that, with the exit, both ‘nations’ could push for a new referendum to leave the UK so that they could actualize their desire of pitching tents with the EU. It was a narrow miss, when Scotland in last year’s referendum voted to stay in the United Kingdom.
Prof. Akinyemi, deputy chair of Nigeria’s National Conference in 2014 — the report of which is now subject of controversy as the new government of Muhammadu Buhari would not bring it on the table — told The Guardian that the exit of Britain from the EU and the potentiality of Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK could trigger unexpected problems, first within the African Union and the ECOWAS and then Nigeria.
Within the context of Africa, and given the fact that Gambia had unilaterally pulled out of the Commonwealth, he, therefore, called for caution, regretting that the development could encourage dissidence within the AU and the ECOWAS. Worse still, Akinyemi, who described the decision by PM Cameron to organise the referendum as ’boyish,’ expressed fears that ‘copycats’ in Europe and Africa could cash in on its fallout to either pull out of regional blocs as countries or to seek self-determination as groups within countries.
“Brexit is a calamity,” said Prof-Akinyemi. “Britain will get hurt by it…and Nigeria is likely to get hurt by it. By getting out of the EU, Britain is taking European Union backwards. This is foreign policy recklessness on the part of Prime Minister Cameron. He will go down in history as a man whose policy led to break-up of the EU.”
Calling for immediate restructuring of Nigeria and dialogue with dissident groups in South South and South East, Akinyemi said he has fears for the country if Scotland should, for instance, strengthen the hands of self- determination by opting out of the UK in the next two years. “I see Scotland leaving the UK in the next two years,” he said, advising Nigerian government to make use of the two-year window to address local challenges more clinically.
According to him, disruption of oil production in the Niger Delta, terrorism in the North East, as well as calls for self-determination in the South East, make serious case for proactive steps by government. Urging the Federal Government to listen to the grievances of some groups more intentionally, Akinyemi described the present challenges as more invidious than the issues that led to the Biafra civil war in the late 1960s.
He said only a Nigerian President from the North can restructure the country without much resistance. Asked to explain why, he buttressed his argument by saying that “the North is the defender of the status quo,” and that previous efforts at restructuring the country were successfully carried out by military heads of state from the north. He cited efforts by Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Ibrahim Badamasi Banbangida and Sani Abacha.
Agreeing with his position in a telephone chat with The Guardian yesterday, Balarabe Musa, a former governor of Kaduna State, called on President Buhari to consider restructuring the country along regional groups with the centre retaining more power for equitable development and distribution of wealth.
Musa, however, observed that the case of the EU, a partnership of successful economies, was not similar to that of Africa or Nigeria and would therefore have “no far-reaching implications.”
Secretary of the Lower Niger Congress (LNC), Mr. Tony Nnadi, in reaction to the comments made by Prof. Akinyemi and Musa yesterday, said his understanding of their positions “is that it will now be a lot more difficult for Nigeria to ignore the push for a grand renegotiation of the Union of Nigeria and that having postponed this necessity for so long, things are cascading to where those who sought the grand renegotiation are now simply seeking exit, buoyed by Brexit.”
Nnadi described the LNC as “a self-determination platform aggregating all the agitations for self-determination in the Lower Niger Delta territory — the old Eastern and Mid-Western regions — as ethnic nations.”