International Law’s View On Secession and Self-determination
his post is not a justification for those who have pledged to make life difficult for Nigerians under the premise of “we are better off as one,” but are actually preparing (unleashing their wicked agenda) to evict others from their ancestral lands simply because they happen to be in driving seat of the economy. This write-up is particularly important now for two reasons: first, the nation’s current precarious position, and second, the actors’ repeated references to international law in the expectation that it may one day arbitrate on the question of ethnic nationality secession and self-determination in Nigeria.
Despite the fact that Nigeria was engulfed in a civil war between 1967 and 1970 when the Biafrans (Igbo) tried an external corrective secession, efforts were made to calm ruffled nerves as the quest for nationhood began in earnest. The call for Nigeria’s fragmentation has resurfaced almost every year since 2015, reaching a pinnacle in the last six months. The Biafran separatist notion has resurfaced, and the Yoruba are asking for a Yoruba/Oduduwa nation, but only the North appears to have downplayed the secessionist endeavor, despite economic hardship, banditry, abduction, and other turbulence.
Although the North is suffering under the same failing system, it is unlikely to call for Nigeria’s disintegration now, but it would have done so if the Presidency had come from other parts of the country – every area only recognizes the Nigerian state’s flaws when they are not in power. Regardless of different viewpoints, this is one of the key concepts fueling secessionist movements in various parts of Nigeria.
Now, let us get down to business. Many proponents of secession or self-government have argued that doing so is not always a call to war, and have turned to international law and its organs, such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, as well as diplomatic missions and foreign affairs secretaries, to resolve the matter. So, where does international law stand on secession and self-rule?
When nationalities are under a foreign power (such as colonialism) and want self-government or determination, the term “self-determination” is used. It is a term that is commonly used throughout the decolonization process to refer to the era before a state is formed, or before a state achieves independence. Self-determination is only a right at the level of decolonization; however, in a state, it is not a right but a principle that is generally claimed when there are clear signs of undermining others’ rights.
In this regard, international law sticks with its limited applicability outside of colonial situations. This assists to defend emergent state borders against further secession. There are apparent grounds for this constraint of self-rule as a right, as the UN puts it, “If every ethnic, religious, or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no end to fragmentation, and peace, security, and well-being for all would become even more difficult to achieve.”
The example of Eritrea is instructive in this regard. Eritrea was not initially a part of Ethiopia, but it was acquired by the latter in 1962 after the Eritrean Parliament was abolished. Eritrea’s self-government is viewed through the lens of decolonization under international law, and it was supported in 1993. The question of secession is further complicated by the fact that it is a debate that only arises after a state has been established as a sovereign entity.
International law lacks any mechanism or tool to intervene in the dissolution of an independent state. It does not accept national groups’ right to secede from the state of which they are a part just by expressing a wish; otherwise, a street would have gained the status of a state, with grievances being the sole ground for secession.
Secession is neither a right nor a prohibition under international law, preserving legal neutrality and making secession a fact based on the capabilities of its purveyors rather than a question of law. It is important to emphasize the capabilities of its (secession) proponents. In terms of adjudication, the International Court of Justice only disfavored the territorial integrity of a parent state in support of a separatist group in the 2008 Kosovo independence proclamation.
Because ‘Western’ players were strongly involved in the breakup of Yugoslavia, and ultimately tried to defend their own breach of territorial integrity, which occurred with the NATO intervention in 1999, the Kosovo case further demonstrated that secession is more political than legal.
Furthermore, the failure of Somali land’s secession effort in 1991, Crimea’s secession attempt in 2014, and the Saharawi Peoples Republic’s independence attempt in 1984 demonstrate that relying on the law has microscopic value when it conflicts with Western nations’ political preferences. Kosovo is the only situation where recognition has been based on international law’s principles of restorative secession.
It has also been observed that during secessionist agitations, some actors have gone so far as to destroy federal institutions in their domain, such as police stations, courthouses, correctional facilities, and even murders, most likely in the hope that this ruction will one day serve as a basis for rejecting the Nigerian state.
The International Court of Justice has always established a strong legal position against the formation of any state with a history of terrorism. The defeat of the 2017 Kurdish referendum adds to the growing body of evidence that international law is ineffective in combating terror organizations and groups, let alone in establishing a terror state.
One of the key concerns of international law academics is that, despite its legal neutrality, there should be some concern for cases of grave human rights violations of persons belonging to a certain group, and the principle of corrective secession is prescribed as an antidote. However, once this is established, the state’s internal political machinery will be used to handle the issue, and if that fails, international collaboration will be required to remedy the violations, followed by remedial secession.
As the fledgling state seeks recognition, the true international politicization of statehood begins. If there is any dispute regarding international law’s limited role or neutrality in matters of self-determination or secession, the case of Palestine provides an instructive example. Despite the fact that it is a de facto state, given its involvement in international affairs and the fact that 137 countries recognize it, and despite decades of human rights violations, Palestine has been denied the right to corrective secession, and its legal status remains ambiguous.
The overall implication of international law’s view on secession is that law has a minor part to play in the agitations. As a result, secession is frequently interpreted as a demand for a showdown of strength. If secessionists win, it merely implies that they are capable of doing so, which is frequently a result of both capability and reality.
It is a suicidal undertaking when they lack the capacity, but the state must also exercise prudence because international law condemns violations of fundamental human rights. However, it should be noted that heinous activities against the state are not protected by any human rights principles. When a state has already been formed, it is assumed that a government has been established, and maintaining organized opposition to its authority is considered an insurgency.
If arson and killings were all that counted in secession, the Scots should have burned Scotland, the Québec should have set fire to Canada, and Catalonia should have destroyed Barcelona, among other things. Bottom line, there are a number of issues with Nigerian governance and government that need to be addressed; so, the call for leadership overhaul, fundamental reforms, and total restructuring cannot be underestimated.