Self-determination means simply that human beings, individually and as groups should be in control of their own destinies and that institutions of government should be devised accordingly. This idea promotes democratic reform. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) Article 1 states: ‘‘All peoples have the right of self-determination, including the right to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’’
A thorough analysis of the evolution and present status of self-determination leaves no doubt that it is today, and indeed has been for a long time, a core principle and fundamental right in international law. The principle of self-determination is prominently embodied in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations and other international instruments.
As Wolfgang Danspeckgruber put it: “No other concept is as powerful, visceral, emotional, unruly, and as steep in creating aspirations and hopes as self-determination.” It evokes emotions, expectations and fears which often lead to conflict and bloodshed.
Indigenous peoples advance their claims primarily in terms of self-determination. This is often interpreted as a challenge to the territorial integrity of existing states, because it is feared that indigenous peoples want to form their own states. Underlying this fear is the assumption that the state is the basic but also the highest form of organisation to which all communities, including indigenous peoples, aspire.
Justice Michael Kirby, identifies a people as: a group of individual human beings who enjoy some or all of the following common features: (a) a common historical tradition; (b) racial or ethnic identity; (c) cultural homogeneity (d) linguistic unity; (e) religious or ideological affinity; (f) territorial connection; (g) common economic life.
To concede to minorities, either of language or religion or be any fractions of a population the right of withdrawing from the community to which they belong, because it is their wish or their pleasure, would be to destroy order and stability within States and to inaugurate anarchy in the international life; it would be to uphold a theory incompatible with the very idea of the State as a territorial and political unity.
The Nigeria Independence Act established Nigerian territorial boundaries not by popular referendum or other reliable manifestations of self-determination of peoples, but according to the Nigeria’s Orders in Council, 1954 to 1960. Unfortunately, tyrannical doctrine that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must, inherited from the colonial masters is effectively being applied to the detriment of Igbos by dictators from the North touting sharia law.
Currently the entrapped peoples within Nigeria are anxious to find quick solutions on how to dissolve the unworkable Nigerian union. The Igbo/Biafrans want independence and total freedom from Nigeria. They want an arrangement where they can only relate with the rest of the Nigerian components as neighbors and citizens of different countries and no more.
Indian/Pakistanis split of 1947 and the Sudanese/South Sudanese split of 2011 are the examples the Igbo/Biafrans are following. Secession has not been identified as an international right. If a particular group wants independence, it can agitate, propose negotiations, and/or initiate a propaganda campaign to convince the international community that its status as part of another state is unjust.
Biafra’s sovereignty journey will require deft international diplomacy and the marshalling of widespread popular support from Biafrans and their resources. Power is never voluntarily surrendered. Rights ultimately are what you are willing to fight and die for.
In the Nigerian context, the Nigerian Constitution is unequivocal in its exclusion of the possibility of secession when it provides in its section 2(1) “Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
International practice shows that democratic consultation concerning the status of a territory as negotiated between parties, is a valid means of allowing a population to achieve self-determination. Sadly, the Igbo’s agitation is not coming from the constitutional governors of the Igbo States. Thus, there are no grounds to ascertain that the Igbo people no longer wish to stay in the Nigerian nation. As such, there is no ground for asking the government to conduct a referendum nor for the other federating units to enter into dialogue with the Igbo nation.
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