St. Mary's Law Journal


This Article argues that the non-express prohibition of state secession in the Nigerian Constitution does not automatically allow component states to break away unilaterally. It appears the framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure political continuity and national unity rather than allow for Nigeria’s disintegration. Beyond Nigeria, international law only allows unilateral secession in the context of decolonization and the people’s right to self-determination.

Nigeria has a responsibility to provide self-determination to its citizens; however, secession is not a legal channel to seek self-determination in the absence of targeted, widespread, or systemic criminal acts committed by or on behalf of a de facto authority, usually by or on behalf of a state that grossly violate the human rights of an oppressed people. There is no legal way for a component state to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution is silent on the notion of secession. This constitutional silence conveys an ambiguity on the right of an autonomous state to secede from Nigeria. Letting a state walk away from the Republic means abandoning a series of communities and time-tested institutions that are central to democratic consistency.

Further, this ambiguity leaves the hydra-headed question of how to address the threat of Biafran secession unanswered, as it involves the breach of foreign policy, the possibility of Nigerians becoming stateless, the likelihood of forcible displacement, the reoccurrence of civil war, and the readjustment of existing territorial borders. Not only is the Nigerian Constitution silent on secession, but international law also does not recognize secession as an identified right. It does not specifically grant parts of sovereign states the legal right to secede unilaterally from their parent states. Thus, secession succeeds or fails not on what international law says but on the success of the secession move. This Article examines how to interpret the silence in the Nigerian Constitution and how the ambiguity arising from this silence can be used to develop plausible recommendations on how to unite Nigeria rather than disintegrate it.

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St. Mary's University School of Law


Maximiliano Elizondo

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