Reconfiguring, according to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is to significantly rearrange (something) into an altered form, figure, shape, or layout. In political terms, reconfiguration is to alter the territorial configuration of a state, its identity, or formally breaking up or partitioning the geographical entity.  Reconfiguration can be the end result of unsuccessful restructuring, or a result of a failure or delay in restructuring when the clear warning signs are there. For example, Nigeria is one of the last official federations of the British colonial rule that is still one country today. Several others, such as India (which split to become India and Pakistan, with Bangladesh later breaking off from Pakistan) and Sudan which today is Sudan and South Sudan, have been reconfigured most often after periods of prolonged and intractable conflicts and civil wars. For example, Sudan, once the largest and one of the most geographically diverse states in Africa, split into two countries in July 2011 after many years of conflicts, hostilities and war between the mainly Christian people of South Sudan, and the central government under the rulership of the Arab Muslim from Northern part of the country. For many years, both sides clashed perennially over religion, resource control and management, land use and border demarcation.

After years of fatalities, economic hardship, maiming, poverty, deprivation, political instability and national disasters, in what became Africa's longest-running civil war, a national referendum in 2011 resolved the matter and resulted in the reconfiguration of the country into two entities. The government of Sudan eventually gave its blessing to an independent South Sudan.

Two questions come to mind from the experience of Sudan. Could a united Sudan have been saved as one standing unit through timely and transparent restructuring? That is, could the concerns and agitations of South Sudan have been addressed by ensuring they have greater autonomy or representation within existing state institutions? Secondly, how has South Sudan fared so far, as a separate nation. Has reconfiguring been a cure to the many problems they experienced under a united Sudan? The first question can be answered affirmatively. 

A united Sudan could have been preserved by a process of timely, transparent and sincere restructuring. As far back as 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a compromise agreement, was signed between the ruling National Congress Party of Khartoum (government of Sudan) and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army of Juba (SPLM/A of South Sudan) which provided a framework for shared governance and understanding between the warring sides. The aim of the agreement was to preserve the unity of the nation. Under this agreement, John Garang, the leader of SPLM/A, doubled as the President of South Sudan and the Vice-president of the entire republic of Sudan. A transitional period of six years was put in place to see if this peace accord would address the deficiencies and lopsidedness of Sudan. However, the old and irreconcilable problems remained with the SPLM/A alluding to a systemic failure of the central government to meet some of its obligations under the power sharing arrangement. At the expiration of the transitional period, over 98% of the South Sudanese voted in favor of independence and consequently, Sudan was unavoidably partitioned. Perhaps had the central government of Sudan demonstrated more commitment to the restructuring and transitional peace process, Sudan could have been saved from violent split up.

The second big question on whether reconfiguration and portioning has yielded positive results for South Sudan can be answered negatively. Unfortunately, barely had the ink with which the independence agreement signed dried up, when the independent South Sudan turned against itself.  The President of the new nation, President Salva Kiir, soon accused his then Vice President and co-freedom fighter, Dr. Riek Machar of plotting a coup d’etat. The result was a brutal South Sudanese civil war which has displaced over 4 million people and led to the death of 400,000 people. With political instability and ethnic divisions within the new nation, studies show that the people of South Sudan may be currently worse off than they were under a united Sudan.

The experience of Sudan shows us clearly that an attempt to turn a fish soup back to fish may not be an ideal and straightforward experiment. The dissolution of a long-standing nation is never an exercise to be taken lightly. This is why the African Union has consistently advocated for the Uti possidetis juris (UPJ) principle, a principle of customary international law that seeks to preserve and protect territorial boundaries of African countries from state partitioning, ethnic separatism, secessionism or irredentism. Underlying the UPJ principle is the idea that together as one country we can solve our problems, African countries are worse off when they separate or dissolve into different factions or entities or when they are reabsorbed by former colonial masters. The UPJ principle also recognizes the role of external super powers who, for their own selfish economic and other interests, tend to lure unsuspecting African countries with an illusion of perfection when they secede. As can be seen in many parts of Africa, without fully addressing the root causes of conflicts, historical injustices, exclusion, exploitation, marginalisation and poor governance, jumping into secession and partitioning will only exacerbate the problems facing a country born out of secessionist struggle.

This is why calls for the immediate dissolution, partitioning or reconfiguration of Nigeria are not only misplaced, they may be falling prey to the familiar problem of romanticizing secessionism as a fix all panacea to historical and governance failure in Nigeria. For example, a separate Southern Nigeria, in our current circumstance where there are multiple real and acclaimed leaders of the Yorubas, Igbo, Niger Deltans, amongst others could only result into more chaos and infighting. Furthermore, creating a separate Southern Nigeria or separate Northern Nigeria will not immediately address the structural problems of corruption, economic frailties, injustices, exclusion, exploitation, marginalisation and poor governance that have become the concerns of each and every person in Nigeria. This reality could result in greater conflict, mistrust and anarchy in any separating unit of Nigeria. Furthermore, historical analyses and studies of secession movements in Africa shows that some of the so-called revolutionary freedom fighters often have their own personal, and often selfish, interests which only gets unleased after independence is achieved. For example, the illusion of bliss that preceded Nigeria’s concerted clamour for independence from British colonial rule only lasted for less than a year before cracks and in fighting began to emerge. The ultimate end result was the truncation of democratic rule in 1966, six years after independence.

The expectation that the structural and historical problems of a people can be fixed through a separate territory and self-government is not only misconceived, it is indeed perilous.

While reconfiguring can provide a fresh start for a troubled or marginalized group to escape structural injustice, poverty and state-sponsored political and economic exclusion, it should not be sentimentalized or romanticized as a less complex alternative. If viable transparent alternatives exist for addressing the complex problems facing a country, then it should be explored with all devotion and commitment. Restructuring provides a realistic and pragmatic framework for addressing the root causes of political and economic problems facing a country.

Restructuring Nigeria’s socio-political foundations, now and with utmost priority, is a time sensitive step that is required to save the nation from looming perdition. Based on current realities, it is hard to see how Nigeria will survive as one nation without restructuring. It is now a clear case of either we restructure now, or we may face unplanned reconfiguration in the not too distant future.

To be continued…