By Chima Emenike
My interest has been piqued vis-à-vis the conflict and escalating tension between Catalonia, its regional government and Spain. Catalonia has declared its independence while Spain has enforced direct rule by triggering article 155 of its Constitution. At the moment, the regional Catalonian government has been sacked by Madrid, with fresh elections scheduled to hold on December 21. With both sides unwilling to resort to dialogue, the ‘Mexican standoff’ between Catalonia and Spain threatens to be a crisis capable of igniting and escalating secessionist movements not just in Europe but the world as a whole.
The Catalan movement is but a tiny pixel in the larger picture of smaller nations craving sovereignty from bigger states. It is important at this juncture to note the number of sovereign states as at 1950 was only 95. Smaller nations breaking away and declaring independence is not new in today’s economic and socio-political climate. Oil rich South-Sudan broke away from Sudan to bring the total number of sovereign states to 195 as of 2011.
In some instances, it has not been unheard of for smaller nations to break away from their previous governments in order to annex themselves to more economically powerful neighbours. The classic case of Crimea breaking away from Ukraine and subsequent annexation to the Federation of Russia is a notable example. Other nations that want to secede from their current governments include but are not limited to Scotland from Great Britain, Venice from Italy, Quebec from Canada and Transnistria from Moldova, to mention but a few. The question burning on the lips of observers is “why do smaller nations want to secede from bigger countries?” The fact is this: bigger does not always mean better. The “leviathanesque” system being operated by the European Union – Brexit, the United States – Texas, and even Nigeria – Biafra and the Niger Delta, has largely proven to be unsuccessful. As in the case of Nigeria, over-bloated bureaucracies set out and implement policies for states in the hinter regions without being in touch with the realities being encountered by such regions.
Catalonia intends to secede from Spain because of a host of reasons. Firstly, Catalonia was once upon a time, a kingdom in Europe until it fell under Spanish rule in 1714. The province has its own customs, traditions, language and politics. Secondly, many Catalans are of the view that the extant constitutional and legal arrangements are very unfair to them, financially and fiscally.
They believe Catalonia as a region is ‘giving’ more than it is ‘receiving’, and that the rest of Spain is taking disproportionate advantage of the fact that they are one of the richest regions in Spain – fourth richest per capita. They believe this disadvantageous position is currently hindering and impairing their potential for growth whilst the Madrid governments are insensitive to this problem.
It is my opinion, however, that Catalonia seceding from Spain, however noble and laudable the cause may be, is not worth it, considering the herculean task it takes for a nation to attain sovereignty. The nation of Catalonia has an approximate total of 7.45 million people. These citizens roughly account for 16% of the Spanish population while contributing 19% of the total gross domestic product (GDP). In other words, since the Catalans claim they are not receiving as much as they give, their population being 16% and their contribution being 19%, it means their struggle for self-determination – in numbers, is simply a struggle for 3%. This, in my opinion, is simply not worth it.
But when you juxtapose the Catalonian struggle with the Niger Delta or IPOB movement in Nigeria, the ideology behind a secessionist movement begins to make sense. The Nigerian oil and gas sector accounts for about 35% of gross domestic product while petroleum export revenue represents 90% of total exports revenue. Oil contributes more than 70% of the revenue allocated to the states by the Federal government.
Oil has been and still remains the focal point of the Nigerian economy and every other sector orbits around it. This is why the fluctuation in global oil prices has a direct impact on the Nigerian economy. And yet, this revenue is generated by 25% of the total states in Nigeria which receive far less than what they are contributing to the center.
Secondly, Catalonia is a regional government which contributes to the Spanish centre. This is the case in most federal systems of government like Canada and the United States. But in Nigeria, the case is the reverse. The federal government accrues and disburses revenue to the states. This system creates an atmosphere of nonchalance and laziness as, rather than devising means of generating revenue, most states are content to fold their hands and do nothing and at the end of the month, proceed cap in hand for the monthly allocation from Abuja. This has a multiplier effect as it also prevents the emergence and election of visionary leaders with a blueprint for generating internal revenue.
In other words, it can be argued that many states in Nigeria are impeding the growth of other economically viable and progressive states such as Lagos, majority of the eastern states and the oil rich states. Smaller, fragmented governments create a better “free market ideal” in the sense that these governments and their markets are forced to be extra competitive in order to generate revenue. Also, smaller countries implement policies more expediently as they are not bogged down by bureaucratic red tape as can be found in larger countries. Finally, allowing for a few exceptions, smaller countries are also happier and less corrupt than bigger ones.
In conclusion, Catalonia has less of a reason to secede from Spain than IPOB or the Niger Delta has to secede from Nigeria. Until Nigeria is properly restructured and the perceived marginalizationaddressed, the fire of secession currently engulfing our dear country will continue to burn with no end in sight.
Emenike, a lawyer, writes from Abuja.