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Biafra: How to agitate for secession and succeed


In continuation of the commemoration of the 49th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on May 30, 1967, and with IPOB’s renewed agitation for the independence of the Eastern Nigeria from Nigeria, in this piece considers the process involved in advocating for secession.


What is Secession? Secession (derived from the Latin term secessio) is the withdrawal of a group from a larger entity, especially a political entity (a country), but also any organization, union or military alliance.


Secession theory

Theories of secession relate to a fundamental question of political philosophy: the basis of the state’s authority.

In his 1991 book Secession: The Morality of Political Divorce From Fort Sumter to Lithuania and Quebec, philosophy professor Allen Buchanan outlined limited rights to secession under certain circumstances, mostly related to oppression by people of other ethnic or racial groups, and especially those previously conquered by other people.

In the fall of 1994 the Journal of Libertarian Studies published Robert W. McGee’s article “Secession Reconsidered”. He writes from a libertarian perspective, but holds that secession is justified only if secessionists can create a viable, if minimal, state on bordering territory.


Justifications for secession

Some theories of secession emphasize a general right of secession for any reason (“Choice Theory”) while others emphasize that secession should be considered only to rectify grave injustices (“Just Cause Theory”). Some theories do both.

  • Economic enfranchisement of an economically oppressed class that is regionally concentrated within the scope of a larger national territory.
  • The right to liberty, freedom of association and private property
  • Consent as important democratic principle; will of majority to secede should be recognized
  • Making it easier for states to join with others in an experimental union
  • Dissolving such union when goals for which it was constituted are not achieved
  • Self-defense when larger group presents lethal threat to minority or the government cannot adequately defend an area
  • Self-determination of peoples
  • Preserving culture, language, etc. from assimilation or destruction by a larger or more powerful group
  • Furthering diversity by allowing diverse cultures to keep their identity
  • Rectifying past injustices, especially past conquest by a larger power
  • Escaping “discriminatory redistribution”, i.e., tax schemes, regulatory policies, economic programs, etc. that distribute resources away to another area, especially in an undemocratic fashion
  • Enhanced efficiency when the state or empire becomes too large to administer efficiently
  • Preserving “liberal purity” (or “conservative purity”) by allowing less (or more) liberal regions to secede
  • Providing superior constitutional systems which allow flexibility of secession
  • Keeping political entities small and human scale through right to secession


Arguments against secession

Allen Buchanan, who supports secession under limited circumstances, lists arguments that might be used against secession

  • “Protecting Legitimate Expectations” of those who now occupy territory claimed by secessionists, even in cases where that land was stolen
  • “Self Defense” if losing part of the state would make it difficult to defend the rest of it
  • “Protecting Majority Rule” and the principle that minorities must abide by them
  • “Minimization of Strategic Bargaining” by making it difficult to secede, such as by imposing an exit tax
  • “Soft Paternalism” because secession will be bad for secessionists or others
  • “Threat of Anarchy” because smaller and smaller entities may choose to secede until there is chaos, although this is not the true meaning of the political and philosophical concept.
  • “Preventing Wrongful Taking” such as the state’s previous investment in infrastructure
  • “Distributive Justice” arguments that wealthier areas cannot secede from poorer ones


  • Daniel Fayemi for

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