There was some furore in the Nigerian media space over the weekend when a statement by Nigeria’s foreign minister, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, suggested that Nigeria’s neighbour to the west, Benin Republic, is looking forward to being part of Nigeria as the 37th state.
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Geoffrey Onyeama said this on February 18 in Abuja, shortly after a closed-door meeting with Beninese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Aurélien Agbenonci, highlighting that the President of Benin Republic, Patrice Talon, had expressed readiness for his country to be part of Nigeria.
“The President of Benin said as far as they are concerned, they want (not just saying it like that) but in reality, Benin should be the 37th state of Nigeria,”
He said the Beninese president gave the offer when he visited President Muhammadu Buhari, a few weeks back. Onyeama said, at the visit, both presidents discussed agreements between the two countries on how to put the issue of smuggling to an end, once and for all, as a follow up to the presidents’ meeting.
However, it appears that the statement by both the Beninese president and the Nigerian Foreign Minister had been taken out of context. To clarify the earlier misconception, the ministry later released a disclaimer dismissing the earlier insinuations of Benin Republic as the 37th state after some Nigerians on social media began to banter about it.
Ferdinand Nwonye, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday in Abuja, reacted to the misleading speculations in a statement.
“The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in the presence of his counterpart from the Republic of Benin granted a Press Interview after a very fruitful meeting between Ministerial delegations from both countries.
“And stated therein ‘… the President of Benin Republic said he would like the relations between the two countries to be so close as if Benin was the 37th State of Nigeria’.
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“The Federal Republic of Nigeria has no territorial ambition and has never aspired to make Benin or any country as part of Nigeria.”
What Onyeama might mean was that Benin Republic is very eager to work out a framework for a sustainable relationship with Nigeria after several months of a tumultuous face off. Nigeria closed its borders with Benin for up to 16 months ending January 2021 when the border was reopened, and this badly affected the economy of both Benin and Nigeria.
It should also be noted that a group of people in Benin Republic just last week welcomed some displaced citizens from Ogun into their town after an upset with bandits. This was another scenario where insecurity in Nigeria impacted relations between the people of both countries.
Beyond the talk of economic integration, trade and diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Benin, Benin shares close ethnic relations with the western side of Nigeria just like other Nigerian neighbours around the borders. This was partly why the misrepresentation that Benin Republic was ready to become a part of the Nigerian state trended beyond the ordinary. Some people thought that the ethnicities once divided by the crude partitioning of Africa were ready to merge together again.
Measuring how Benin Republic is faring socio-economically compared to Nigeria, there is hardly any logical reason Nigerian’s western neighbour would want to subject its people to the inconsistent leadership Nigerians have been getting of late. That would amount to sovereign suicide for Benin Republic.
Featured Image Source: @GeoffreyOnyeama – Twitter
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