By Tolu Ogunlesi
(Originally published on August 17, 2011, in Ongoing Concerns, my column in NEXT)
Benin Republic, through its debonair president, Boni Yayi, has declared itself Nigeria’s 37th state. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. This paper reported it, on August 10. Mr. Yayi strolled across the border, and made his way to the hilltop mansion of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
“I have come to visit my father, Baba Obasanjo, who is a world leader who should not be ignored. He contributes positively towards the ongoing genuine democracy in my country, Benin Republic, and many other African nations. I shall forever remain grateful to him,” My Yayi gushed.
He wasn’t done. “Obasanjo is a great man. What is important to me is for God to give him long life. My plan is to be coming to Nigeria every month because we cannot do without Nigeria. Benin is like the 37th state of Nigeria,” he said.
I wonder what his citizens thought of that – a president visiting another, to gleefully surrender his sovereignty, in peace-time. Even though the news reports did not say that Mr. Obasanjo, a former Army General, held up a gun to Mr. Yayi’s temple, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some duress involved. Mr. Obasanjo is not a novice in this bullying business. Ask Mathieu Kerekou, one of Mr. Yayi’s predecessors.
It was in August 2003, during Mr. Kerekou’s second stint in office, that Mr. Obasanjo – as President of Nigeria – ordered the closure of the Nigeria-Benin border. Mr. Obasanjo did it to force Benin to surrender Hamani Tidjani, cross-border robbery kingpin, to Nigerian authorities. For a long time Mr. Tidjani’s car-snatching bandits had terrorised Lagos and Ogun States.
Not long after the border was closed, Benin – whose economy partly depends on the smuggling of second-hand cars into Nigeria – delivered Tidjani, like a DHL package, to the then blameless Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun.
But let’s not deal in conspiracy theories – there’s no evidence that Mr. Yayi’s statements, last week, in Mr. Obasanjo’s house, were obtained under duress. Mr. Yayi seemed to mean what he said.
Which leads to the exciting part: the tantalising possibilities of a peaceful 21st century geo-constitutional revolution in West Africa. If – or when – Benin eventually becomes a Nigerian state, a Nigerian state will have to be given the chance to declare its independence, so as to ensure the preservation of Nigeria’s 36-state structure.
My vote, like yours, is for Lagos to be that lucky Nigerian state. If things go as envisaged, before long we will witness the birth of the People’s Republic of Lagos, as the African Union’s 55th member country. Coming in the wake of the historic independence of South Sudan, this can only be great news: another bloodless redrawing of borders, in a continent better known for its propensity to shed blood on the flimsiest of grounds.
The prospect of a People’s Republic of Lagos excites me. “If Lagos were a country,” notes the Economist in its May 5, 2011 edition, “its GDP of $43 billion would make it the fifth-biggest economy in sub-Saharan Africa.” And if Lagos were a country, its population of 15 million would put it in the ‘Top 20′ on the ranking of most populous African countries.
Indeed, Lagos is already by far Nigeria’s most independent state; two-thirds of its revenues are internally-generated. And it has already started to act like an independent nation anyway: Babatunde Fashola’s government has for a few years now been regularly deporting hordes of non-Lagosians to their Nigerian home states.
Now, the question to be faced is this: why should the Federal Republic of Nigeria allow Lagos to emerge as an independent nation?
Simple – the PDP government will finally get a chance to get rid of Bola. Tinubu and his band of “rascals” (libel lawyers should please note that I did not coin that appellation; and the person that did is currently covered by constitutional immunity).
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) can therefore have Lagos to themselves, in exchange for a promise to immediately cease interfering in the political affairs of south west Nigeria. Led by a rehabilitated Olabode George, the PDP can thereafter reclaim the renegade west in a series of spectacular ‘do-or-die’ battles.
Nigeria will no doubt miss Lagos – imagine the commercial potential of Lagos ports’ alone – but, according to the PDP’s reckoning, that’d be a small price to pay for saying goodbye to one of the world’s most dysfunctional urban agglomerations. From then on Nigeria will not have to bear the shame of ‘Welcome to Lagos’ and all other dubiously conceived Nigeria-bashing BBC documentaries.
Besides there’s still Port Harcourt anyway, which will be enthusiastically developed to replace Lagos as a viable port city. And don’t forget that the Republic of Benin will also be bringing to the Nigerian table its own port city, Porto Novo.
Under the new arrangement – i.e. the People’s Republic of Lagos co-existing with the Federal Republic of Nigeria – Mr. Tinubu’s long-standing presidential ambitions will be realised, as will be the dreams of all those people eager to see Mr. Fashola take up national-scale responsibility. A Putin-Medvedev combination will be recreated in the People’s Republic of Lagos – President Bola Tinubu and Prime Minister Tunde Fashola, or vice versa.
Other benefits: Benin will immediately start to benefit from Nigeria’s oil wealth. Nigeria will officially become a multi-lingual country – French and English as official languages. (Think of the size of the contracts that will be awarded, for French textbooks, French lessons for all government officials, including First Ladies) etc.
Abuja will no longer have to deal with any envy-inducing challenge from Lagos – think of how many people out there still consider Lagos to be the capital of Nigeria.
The above looks, to me, like a classic win-win-win scenario, for all parties. Doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Now join me in saying: ‘Thank you, Boni Yayi.’
Tolu Ogunlesi (c) 2013