Nigeria and the need for a referendum in 2015, By Muhammad Jameel Yusha'u

Data from Worldatlas suggests that Sierra Leone has a population of 5-6 million, Somalia 10 million, and Liberia 3.5 million. Why are these countries important? Sierra Leone and Liberia are located in the West African sub-region, the same region as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Somalia although far away from Nigeria is suffering from a conflict that was caused by elite failure and government ineptness in dealing with internal crises despite the homogenous nature of the country. Liberia is still recovering from civil war that started more than twenty years ago; Sierra Leone is similarly trying to stand on its feet after the civil war that erupted in the 1990s.

But before making comparison with the current state of insecurity in Nigeria, look at the population of these three countries once again. Somalia which suffers from one of the most devastating civil war for about 20 years has a population just the size of Kano or Lagos States going by the 2006 census. Yet today large parts of the population of these people have no country to call their own. You only need to look at the growing population of refugees and those on asylum in the United Kingdom or visit Norway, Sweden, Denmark, United States and Canada to see what bad governance has done to Somalia. Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda are equally suffering the impact of this conflict. Liberia’s population is just comparable to Osun State, while Sierra Leone’s population can be equated with that of Kaduna State.

The state of insecurity in Nigeria gives too much sleepless nights to anybody who cares about its future. Nigeria has had so many lucks in the last fifty years of political independence, surviving a bloody civil war, military leadership, societal injustice and ethno-religious conflicts etc. Despite the current unfortunate state of bloodshed that consumed the lives of innocent people in many parts of the country, just pause for a while and think of the future of Nigeria if the country goes into the 2015 general elections amidst the current state of lawlessness.

A culture had already been established called rotational presidency even if it is now being followed at the convenience of the incumbents. Those who lost out in the power games from whichever part of the country they are will invoke the same rotational argument to pursue their political aims. The post election violence that followed the unthinkable rigging of the 2011 elections could as well happened if Goodluck Jonathan was not declared winner by INEC, because the people of Niger Delta would have claimed that the election was rigged to deny Jonathan the chance to rule the country.

With the polity sharply divided along ethnic, religious and regional divides, and the likelihood of Jonathan once again becoming the candidate of his party is increasing by the day; and assuming that INEC could change its colours and conduct free and fair elections, how acceptable will the outcome of the election be to the section of the country that lost out? Particularly if the country goes into the election period under the current state of insecurity, God forbid. Nigeria is not Somalia, it is not Liberia, neither is it Sierra Leone. Nigeria is simply Nigeria, and only Nigerians can come together and solve its problems.

In order to avoid further bloodshed and bail out this great nation from collapsing and putting neighbouring countries into turmoil, I will suggest to all Nigerians, and in the interest of each and everyone that we do not have an election in 2015, but a referendum that will give options to every citizen to chose on what will be the future of Nigeria. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is better to embark on this difficult journey when we have the chance to do so before it becomes too late. The National Assembly, civil society organisations and opinion leaders should lead us in this debate.  

As a contribution to this debate, I will suggest that the current leadership of the country complete their tenure on May 29, 2015, but should not lead the country into an election, rather they should hand over to the Chief Justice of the Federation to lead a Government of National Unity that will organise the referendum within their first year in office, and a general election six months later or a year afterwards based on the outcome of the referendum. The GNU should not stay longer than two years in office. Of course this will require a constitutional amendment, but it is not impossible for the National Assembly to embark on that process.

As for options for the referendum, it is my humble opinion that three options should be given. The first option is to maintain the existing presidential structure but with a modification to the tenure of executives from two terms of four years to a single term of 5 years. If we take Nigerian universities as a microcosm of the entire country, we can say this structure is workable, as reducing the tenure of vice chancellors has contributed a lot in reducing the tension of succession and bringing stability. Under this option also, the National Assembly should be merged into one chamber with a reduced number of representatives.

The second option is to restructure the country completely into autonomous units nearly similar but not the same as the old regional structure. Each of the six geo-political zones can become  a unit within the federation with a premier for each zone, but instead of the States all major cities should be managed by a mayor while local governments should remain. The idea of a mayor for major cities will reduce power of state governors but at the same time remain influential. Each zone should manage its own resources. At the federal level, there should be a president who should also serve as Commander-in-Chief; defence and foreign policy should be under his watch, while a Prime Minister should be appointed from an elected parliament. To avoid the headache experienced during the death of late ‘Yar’Adua, in case of power vacuum, the premier from the region of the president should step in and complete his tenure.

Under this arrangement, let the Niger Delta region have 100 per cent control of their oil. Let there be an atmosphere of competition among the regions, let each region generate its own revenue and contribute a portion to the federal government. Other regions should never fear from lack of resources from oil revenue. Let everyone do his homework as Lagos State is doing at the moment. Singapore was not made great by oil money; Japan did not become an economic power by receiving handouts from oil proceeds nor is China an economic horse because of petrodollars. This is particularly important to northern Nigeria, and as I said in one of my earlier writings, let the region exploit the richness of its land, the potential of its population and ensure religious harmony.

And finally, the third option, which is the most difficult, if the people feel that all this could not work, then let there be a peaceful divorce. Although very few divorces are peaceful, but in many occasions divorce is the right solution to a chaotic marriage. Many countries especially those in the former Soviet Union have tested this bitter pill, but at the end they are experiencing a gradual cure to their predicament. And it is better for Nigerians to do it themselves, before some imperial powers exploit the weakness of our union and intervene to brutally tear us apart.

It will be sad to lose Nigeria, because despite the internal problems, its potential for being a great country is in its diversity, population and land mass. Just look at the United States, India, China, Russia and Brazil. I rest my case.

The author ( is a senior lecturer in media and politics at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.





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