BENIN REPUBLIC AS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA'S 37TH STATE: A journey to the land of no return | Ripples Nigeria
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One of the news item that was reported by a good number of media houses across the country on the 2oth of February, 2020 was the headline that ‘Benin Republic has applied to be the 37th state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’. This news to make the former French colony bordering Nigeria by the West as the 37th state outside the 36 existing states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory located in Abuja has been greeted with a wide criticism and dissatisfaction across all corners of the country.

This was clearly reflected in the public poll conducted by one of Nigeria’s national dailies on her Verified Twitter page with the question: “Do you think Benin Republic should become Nigeria’s 37th State?” .In less than 18 hours, about 49,3989 people voted with about 64% of the participants voting for a No and 36% voting for a Yes. The message in this poll is loud to the deaf and clear to the blind that the Nigerian public see no wisdom in the idea of making Benin Republic the 37th state for several reasons bordering round a lot of issues that will be critically looked into in the subsequent paragraphs.

However, in less than 24 hours, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Geoffrey Onyeama has issued a press release to address the misconstrued news by the newsmen who were present at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of both countries. According to Geoffrey Onyeama, the Ministerial delegation of Benin Republic stated clearly that the President of Benin Republic said “he would like the relations between the two countries to be so close as if Benin was the 37th state of Nigeria ”.This statement has been misinterpreted by the media houses to mean otherwise. Indeed, someone has to be held accountable for this recklessness in misleading the Nigerian public with a fake news which the globe is currently battling. Indeed, there is a need to separate the shaft from the wheat which has been tarnishing the image of the profession in recent time. However, there is a dire need for students of Foreign Policy and International Relations to critically look into this misconstrued news in wide circulation in order to point out to the public on some of the implications of taking such a big risk by properly informing them.

Tracing the background of the Nigerian foreign policy which was laid during the period of Nigeria’s independence in 1960 by the Sir Tafawa Balewa administration which ruled Nigeria between 1960-1966, one would observe that the foreign policy that has been in practice ever since the emergence of Nigeria in the committee of nations is rightly guided by some of the foreign policy postures set by the administration. One of the key top five priority areas of the administration foreign policy is the respect for the territorial sovereignty of other independent states. This has been interpreted by several authors to mean different things. One of the major interpretations to this is that this foreign policy posture is a reassurance from the Nigerian government that the country is less interested in the acquisition of other west African territories into the Nigerian state most especially the countries bordering the Nigerian state such as Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroun and Sao Tome and Principe. If as at independence in 1960, Nigeria as a country has stated that she is less interested in the acquisition of other territories, then this sends a strong message that from Nigeria’s background we are not interested in incorporating other states into ours. Subsequent administrations after that of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa have upheld this principle in the Nigerian foreign policy thrust.

Going by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the section Two(II), subsection 19 of the constitution which listed out five foreign policy objectives of the Nigerian states. Two out of these principle are:
I)Promotion of African integration and support for African unity
II)Promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations.

These two foreign policy objectives as stated in the constitution have been a guiding principle to every administration that comes to power that adopts the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. If we are still committed to upholding the existing constitution of the land which serves as a guide to any action of those at the helms of affairs of any state, then the report on the request of the Republic of Benin to be the 37th state cannot hold water.

Perhaps, the biggest question bothering the mind of several Nigerians is if as a country, we have the potential to properly manage the affairs of thirty-seven state, let’s assume we make Benin Republic the thirty-seventh state? The bitter truth is that we have not been able to tap into our potential as a nation several years after independence. How far have we been able to properly manage the affairs of thirty-six states of the federation and the federal capital territory? In reality, many of these states are mere geographical entity whose survival is heavily tied to the allocations from Abuja. As a result of this, there are several calls from various quarters to review some of these states that cannot survive independently and merge them with others. How many of these states can sufficiently manage their affairs without depending on Abuja for survival?

Going further, the internal challenges facing the country in recent times has continuously raise doubt if as a nation, we are not moving in the wrong direction as the drums of war are been beaten clearly across the country. As a whole, how committed are we to the Nigerian project in the first place? The insecurity challenges facing the country, in addition to the various economic challenges facing the most populated Black nation are enough for the government to look into these challenges rather than considering the incorporation Of Benin Republic as the 37th state. Several statesmen have recently expressed their displeasure on the various drums of war that are been beaten round the country which are enough to steer another civil war that would be more dangerous than the 1st civil war of 1967-1970.

How committed is the administration to addressing these domestic challenges? Are we not aware that foreign policy is an extension of the domestic policy of a state at the international level? We have enough domestic challenges that should keep the government of the day on her toes rather than looking at incorporating Benin Republic as the 37th state. The unity of the country is fast eroding and the government of the day has to apply square pegs in square holes in order to properly manage the situations at hand. The big question is that: is it about increasing the numbers or making something tangible out of the existing numbers we have?

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Most especially, is Nigeria not wary of the ‘France factor’ as a greatest beneficiary of such development? This is perhaps the greatest roadblock to such development. France remains one of the biggest threat of Nigeria in the sub-region of West Africa. France proactiveness in the internal affairs of many African countries pose more harm than good to the African unity and integration agenda. In reality, French colonies are not politically, economically, domestically independent despite being adopted into the committee of nations. The hegemonic involvement of France in the affairs of many West African countries poses more harm than good to the Nigerian foreign policy.

It was Charles De Gaulle ,one of the French President in the 5th Republic who took various steps in incorporating Africa into the French imperial agendas who was quoted to have said in 1944 that “French civilization world prevail in Africa because it brought with it two precioius booms :for the human personality and material welfare”.Is our political class conscious of this statement 77 years after and how well are they working hard not to fall prey for the age-long ambitions of French government in the affairs of Africa as a whole? This is why we have to be more than ever be on our toes and be wary of any decision close to this.

Professor Bassey E. Ate in “Nigeria and Its Immediate Neighbors: Constraints and Prospects of Sub-Regional Security in the 1990s” in the book had this to say on the French extra territorial ambition in Africa:
“The Post-colonial involvement and consequent influence of France in Francophone African state, mostly in its former colonies since 1960 has been pervasive and tenacious. It seem durable in the long term, creating one profound consequence, a pathological condition whereby most French-speaking states continue to project in their behavior, greater loyalty towards metropolitan France at the expense of strengthening collective (African) ties, interests and identity”.

This intellectual input from Professor Ate is a clear demonstration that the Nigerian government has to watch every of her steps in order not to fall for the pranks of the French authorities.

From the above, it is clear enough to state that it is practically impossible and unrealistic for Nigeria to pitch her tenth behind this news circulating round the media which really lacks substance in all ramifications. More than ever, the Nigerian government has a very huge role to play in demonstrating the political will to address the domestic challenges confronting the country which is limiting the country from standing shoulder to shoulder amongst her peers in global affairs. Rather than embarking on unrealistic agenda and a misplaced priority, the government of the day has a huge responsibility to play in keeping the federation together as one rather than seeking an expansion. In addition, the Nigerian government has to be wary of the extra territorial ambition of France to take charge of the affairs of many African states which can logically be achieved through this. Indeed, a stich in time saves nine and collectively we need to put on our thinking caps in moving Nigeria forward rather than embarking on white elephant projects.

Author: Tufayl Olamilekan Adelakun…

Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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