Prof Fonkem Achankeng is a conflict resolution expert; lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, who holds the traditional ruler title, the Nyatema of Atoabechied in Cameroon.
In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, after presenting a paper at the Self- Determination and Secessionism in Postcolonial States: Reflections on Possible Solutions from Peace and Conflict Studies, he speaks on some issues on governance and conflict
How do you see the issue of self-determination moving in Nigeria, Canada, Britain and around the world today?
Self-determination or what some people like to call secessionism will always be there, as long as people have needed to meet. It is not just with us; it is across the entire world. That is why Scotland still wants to be free from Great Britain.
Freedom is a human need; we would just know the way to address those needs when they come up. That is why I was looking at the options available in conflict studies for addressing such issues.
What appropriate intervention stimulus will you prefer for Africans, especially in dealing with self-determination?
It is about understanding that the nation we found ourselves in was put together by foreigners. When they were putting us together, they were not considering you and me; they were doing it for their own interest. Now that we own it, how do we make it at peace? It is left to us.
When the Americans won the war of independence, they came together in Philadelphia to craft the American Constitution that can stand the test of time, and when that Constitution hasn’t worked, or where the Constitution doesn’t work, they got amendments.
You will hear the first amendment, the second amendment, it is about the people being conscious of who they are and what their country is, and addressing the problem of those, and also sweeping them under the rug, when the matters arise, because there will always be.
In the case of Southern Kaduna, what template of advice would you advise the government and the aggrieved people to adopt?
To get together, that is it, there is no way a solution will be found without the two sides getting together. Is that also applies to the reference to souvenir, does that means that the unity of a country is indisputable? When that comes around, it is because, in the Morgenthau Theory, the Nation-State is not indivisible. That is how a nation-state functions. The state was built in 1648.
What we know since the Westphalia Treaty. Since the history of Westphalia, Nation States were formed, and they believed that they owned the ultimate power, to decide on what is important for others. So that is the way they would think, but it does that work. It has not stopped anything. I think we should learn from what Scotland and Great Britain have done.
After 307 years together, they still allowed the Scottish to come forward with their problems; they had a vote they lost; they are still part of Great Britain, and the people in Quebec had voted and lost and are still part of Canada. What I am saying is that countries that understand themselves should get together to see what they can do when some people complain.
Do you still agree with the fact that the government or democratically elected government in power still has so much power of violence, with the coming on board of non-state actors?
Is it a manifestation of marginalisation or people not agreeing with the power in office? It is the nature of nation-states. They think they have the monopoly of violence but, I think with the examples of Martin Luther King and other non-violence leaders, they realized that the people also have the power to react to the decision of the state and disagree with the state.
In the case of Nigeria, Biafra, what will you say?
What will you tell the Federal Government and the agitators? I think I will not say anything new or advice for them. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. If some people feel aggrieved, it is not just Nigeria, it is the same with us in Cameroon and everywhere else. People feel aggrieved, then get together and talk. We are not the only ones in it. It happens in Canada, Great Britain and other parts of the world. They are not fighting. Why are we fighting? Why are we killing each other? Why is it that the blood of our people doesn’t matter to us? That is my problem. Self-determination is not an African thing. That is what I’m trying to say.
How has the issue of self-determination been addressed in the post-colonial era?
The first option in addressing self-determination and secessionist conflicts is the use of violence or force to achieve independence and sovereignty as was the case with Namibia, Eritrea, East Timor and South Sudan and on the other hand, the use of violence to suppress the aspirations of a colonized people as in British Southern Cameroons and Western Sahara. A second option is good governance as advanced by a num-ber of scholars. This second view prescribes good governance (governance with fairness, transparency, and accountability under the rule of law) as a therapy for the numerous conflicts. This therapy does not seem to have worked well in many self-determination and secessionist conflicts in postcolonial societies and elsewhere. The 2014 independence vote in Scotland and Catalonia as well as the earlier vote in Quebec can be interpreted as the resolve of people to be free to determine what happens in their live The third, which is closely related to the good governance discourse is the question of imposing new institutions in postcolonial societies of Africa, Asia, and South America as a remedy to the many intra-state nationalism conflicts A fourth resolution option is consociationalism which involves finding a formula for several nationalisms existing within the same state like Nigeria, Canada, Cameroon, Belgium, Switzerland, and others. The fifth option is about political intervention by the world community including friendly countries and international organizations working as third party neutrals. The sixth option is also about the intervention of the international community to change the entire systems of structures both at the level of a nation-state as Nigeria and at the global level, and finally, in protracted or deep-rooted colonial, postcolonial and other nationalist conflict situations is that of a separate identity or independence and sovereignty through nonviolent action in the Gandhian conception or orientation I must say, finally, that resolving self-determination and secessionism conflicts in the postcolonial world, the solution to the conflicts which are structural in nature is mainly in the hands of the dominated and colonized people themselves. Independence like any other form of freedom is claimed; it is not given. The groups and nations I have mentioned above must learn to establish firm control of their independence and sovereignty through effective organization, planning and leadership, notwithstanding the threats from the colonizers and the international climate that favors the colonizers. Groups and nations that find themselves within the boundaries of other nation-states and who suffer the humiliation of annexation, re-colonization, and exploitation in postcolonial societies and elsewhere, will themselves be the ones who must determine the limits of that situation.