King Felipe of Spain accused the Catalans of "unacceptable disloyalty", claiming that they have put the stability of Spain and Catalonia at risk. Sound familiar?
This week, the North-East region of Spain, Catalonia held a referendum to gauge the people’s willingness to secede.
For decades, the region has gradually grown more nationalist, and now after over two million people voted for independence, it seems like it’s finally on its way to becoming a country of its own.
However, in a somewhat-predictable turn of events that Biafran agitators may relate to, the Spanish Monarch, King Felipe and its Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy have turned their backs on the referendum.
Widespread riots broke out during the vote and Catalonia, including its gem, FC Barcelona, went on strike to protest the violence. As it stands, the situation is at a tense stalemate.
Here are three important lessons that Biafran agitators and sympathizers can learn from Catalonia’s referendum and struggle for independence.
(1) Governments almost never accede to secession.
One of the major subplots of the struggle for Biafra is the underlying resentment between Nigeria’s tribes. Most citizens, especially pro-Biafra agitators believe that the situation is a tribal issue and the circumstances would be different if the country was homogeneous.
While tribal relations are part of the story, as Catalonia’s situation shows us, countries are just generally reluctant to allow regions to secede.
In his morning broadcast to the Spanish people, King Felipe said, “Today Spanish society is fractured and confronted. Those authorities have underestimated the fondness and feelings of solidarity that have united and will unite the whole of the Spanish population, and with their irresponsible attitude they have put the economic and social stability of Catalonia and Spain at risk”.
Sound familiar? You may remember that definite, hard-line tone from President Buhari’s first address after his return from Medical leave and more recently, his Independence Day address.
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The reason is simple. Secession splits a country into two parts as well as its resources. The existing country must then re-address its institutions, policies, agencies and economics to suit the development.
More often than not, it puts the two countries in very delicate situations where the risk of imbalance is very high, which brings us to the next point.
(2) The economics must be right
The primary reason why Catalans are confident in their secession is the region’s wealth. Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions in all of Europe.
The same cannot be said for Biafra. It is why many Easterners, both home and abroad, are reluctant to lend their voices to the struggle. They point to the millions who died of starvation and the current economic situation in the East, which many have blamed on the FG’s neglect of the region.
On the other hand, Nigeria will be reluctant to let go of resources in the East, human and otherwise. The major commercial hubs in Onitsha and Aba contribute billions to the Nigerian economy every year. On either side, there is more to lose than gain.
A stronger economy reduces the likelihood of unrest, famine and insecurity, circumstances that could lead to an insurgency, cross-border crime and war.
Until the region, and Nigeria as a whole, strengthens its economy, Biafra will continue to appear as a romanticised, nostalgia-driven struggle. The economics must be right.
The economics must be right. Catalonia is confident. The Igbo will follow when they’re confident. Same for Nigeria.
(3) Nations prefer to keep it internal.
This week, after weeks of ignoring the Catalan independence struggle, the European Union stated on Monday, that the referendum and Catalonia’s independence was an internal issue for Spain.
The Spanish King and its Prime Minister had already said in separate broadcasts that Spain will remedy the issue, with no mention of international support.
As Iraq and Turkey have shown with Kurdistan, nations prefer to keep secessionist struggles on an internal level. The reason is that it reduces the risk of things spiralling out of control.
In a world where every country is as prone to terrorism as the next, the last thing a country needs is an international presence that could set the seeds for proxy wars.
Characteristically, international agencies and other countries only interfere where there is a sign of genocide, ethnic cleansing or war crimes.
For pro-Biafra agitators, particularly IPOB members who often stage protests in foreign cities and call for support from other countries, this might be discouraging.
However, it shows that the way forward is dialogue. It is not the only way but it is the most practical.