Libya’s leader, Qaddafi, has long tried to assert leadership on African affairs, so his suggestions on the benefits of dividing the nation of Nigeria into pieces were not uninformed even if they at first seem unwelcome.
First Qaddafi called for a division between North and South (Muslim and Christian) and then, reflecting on the regional and ethnic differences that bedevil relations even between Christians, he wondered about whether more countries could emerge from Nigeria.
Let’s not dismiss his ideas so quickly. Qaddafi has a history of promoting useless notions about Africa as a continent, confused by his own brand of geographic determinism. But he may stumbled onto a notion worth seriously exploring — that Nigeria as a political entity is too large and contradictory to govern successfully.
Nigeria’s political integrity has of course been called into question before, during the late 1960s when the Igbo ethnic group (of which my wife is a member) seceded and then failed to defend “Biafra” from occupation by the national Nigerian forces.
Since then talk of splitting Nigeria into pieces is usually quickly dismissed. But perhaps not this time. Another large African country, Sudan, plans a national election on dividing itself into two. The Congo, home to endless civil wars since the fall more than ten years ago of the wily dictator Mobuto, deserves to be split at least in two, with the Eastern Congo going a separate path (and benefiting from “natural” geographic relationships with the East African countries of Uganda and Rwanda).
Admittedly I am one of the few fans in the West of re-thinking existing African borders. That African nations chiefly reflect the borders established by colonizers remains a major unaddressed issue, promoting both violent conflicts and hindering any flowering of electoral democracy. While federalism offers some remedy for overly centralized nation-states, the limits of federalism are evident in Nigeria, where sub-regions have been granted much autonomy for decades.