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Agony of Igbo People in their Continuous Biafra Struggle to Breakaway

By Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi,  University of Ilorin, Nigeria

The quest of the Igbo people of Nigeria to be an independent country is not new. Their demand came up strong in 1967 when Col Ojukwu was a military governor of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria. At the time Lt .Col Ojukwu led his people on the fatal journey to a civil war he was one of the most senior and most educated officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces. He read B. A. History from the UK and a son of a millionaire. Everything went well for him. It would also be recalled that had Nigerian Armed Forces installed Brg Ogundipe or Col Ojukwu as it’s Head of State instead of Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon,  Biafra agitation for independence then might not have come up. Even in this brief summary,  when we also are aware of many history books, written correctly or otherwise on the subject mater, it is still better to tell our readers that Ojukwu was not denied the position of a Head of State. The antecedent was that Dr Azikiwe had been a ceremonial president and followed by Major Gen J. T.  U.  Agunyirosi both Igbo men. In any case the civil war that started in 1967 did not end until January 1970 and not until thousands of lives had been lost on both sides. Biafrans surrendered and some principal military officials that participated are still around and alive for consultation and clarification; including Gen Obasanjo,  Gen Buhari, apart from the then Head of State Gen Yakubu Gowon and many others on both sides.

The same scenario is almost repeating itself in 2015 after President Jonathan left office for President Buhari. Under President Jonathan the Igbo were about the most favoured ethnic group in Nigeria in that administration. At that time, when Jonathan was president, we warned them not to be too close so that it wouldn’t be seen as if they were having their turn. The Ijaws were fewer and it appeared to us that they were more interested in piling up dirty naira notes and used weapons, and not how to continue in governance or how to amend the Nigeria constitution in their favour. Some friends of Igbo like Prof Wole Soyinka attempted to give what looked to us as a correct analysis of what should be Igbo focus but were dismissed with a left hand wave mostly by radical uninformed youths. We are aware of the problems in Nigeria where some ethnic groups always seem to have their way at will and the rest of us struggling for ordinary daily bread. We are aware of religious divides and politicking, we are aware of many of the inequalities in our country. But there is the right way to take for any demand to be official. Even right now Nigeria is not aware that there is a Biafran agitation, only that some people are disturbing the peace of the land. The agitators have not followed the due process and a civic approach. Why is the activity of Boko Haram receiving condemnations and being fought? To be fair to  the campaigners of Boko Haram they started on some good grounds but used wrong weapons. They said that our society is evil and corrupt, that our women dress bad and that the level of immorality in the land is intolerable. They also believe that western education might have crept wrongly to our heads. Again I can still listen to them. However when they started destroying churches, killing our pastors, arresting all citizens for hostage forcing some to fight on their side I believed they crossed the red line more than one mile. What gave many innocent Muslims now new courage to see, what we already saw much earlier in 2009, is that Islam disagrees with rape, stealing school girls and other people’s wives, etc. Fortunately President Buhari won the election, a well known high standing Muslim, a northerner, and he can be supported and make a rallying point, a pivotal. Mark this, many Muslims including our current president might have been tempted to believe the initial starting point of Boko Haram,  but only not where they are now. President Buhari said at his inauguration that “Boko Haram had strayed far away from Islam”. We appreciate the president for this. Biafra agitators on the other hand have not defined their objective therefore we cannot even mark where they are nor assess their agitation. As at now we know that more Igbo people reside outside the South Eastern Nigeria; so who should go, and who stay, and to where?

Similarly Biafra is free to make agitation and demand for separation.  It is part of their right. Any ethnic group is free to come up with all their peculiar and ethnic set of demands. However our constitution states clearly how to go about our demands from local authorities to State Assemblies and to the national assembly. This is the path we must show our Biafrans so that everyone can still be on their search for daily bread before the arrival of the Fantasy Island is achieved. Of course we have several cautions to pass to them and those who will need a separate State in the future. Also the Nigerian government must learn a lesson that we cannot hope to keep a people down perpetually or force our own local will, perception or beliefs down others throats. We cannot have two or more standards for treating people in the same country. Everyone must be given an equal opportunity for promotion based on merit and not stratified by ethnicity, religion or gender. There are ways to improve our system so that everyone we operate harmoniously. This is why we believe that Nature is eternal, consistent and immutable. Human governments are biased, partial and inconsistent but we can improve them, as we should.

Nevertheless if some people will still insist that their way is not the way of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria then they must be reminded of those who tried wrong approach before and failed and those who tried the constitutional approach and some made it. First the Biafran civil war lasted over two years not because the Biafran were so strong and Nigeria weak but because of the exigencies of the time. On one hand Col Ojukwu was in control as governor of the entire region, the present South East and South-South minus Midwestern Region (Delta and Edo States). Today’s agitators have no headquarters but pockets of sponsors by people who send their children far away into American universities but using other people’s children to fight their political agenda. Secondly the other temptation at the time was the oil in that region. Nigeria has since broken itself into 37 administrative units instead of four that existed in 1967. Some Igbo people are part of present Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa,  apart from the five in South East States. Thirdly and whereas Igbo were able to use the religious weapon to their advantage in 1967, claiming discrimination because they were Catholic and Christian, that factor is irrelevant today. The Boko Haram war is going to end, or at least downgraded, and in the favour of every fair minded Nigerian looking for justice, equity, merit and minimisation of all forms of inequalities. Boko Haram has over estimated their religious relevance. Nigerians are looking for financial breakthrough, academic breakthrough, family breakthrough, every good breakthrough possible. Our research indicates that most Nigerians only use religion as a vehicle to success and this is why you find them today in the Church,  tomorrow with a Malam otherwise in a shrine, just looking for the way out.

What condition must a community have met before it can stand on its own as a country, either under the Nigeria constitution or United Nations rules for new nations? Theoretically Nigeria can break to independent nations under all these laws but in practice the laws are too difficult to meet. It may start from the Ward level to Local authorities, State,  National Assembly and president to sign it for United Nations to implement. Knowing that the journey is very long why would the Igbo leaders fail to call their youths to order or at least educate them not to take the suicide path? We expect the Igbo leaders, who witnessed the civil war, now serving or had served in the Federal government, those who are versed in constitutional laws to show the way. Igbo lives should be regarded too precious to wish to lose even one soul. Violence is no longer an attractive method of laying community or ethnic demands. In any case Igbo are generally business men and women and should know that violence is not going to support their trades positively.

Recently the Scottish made similar efforts to breakaway from the United Kingdom.  The campaigns for their demand had been on for a long while and it finally went into voting. Even though they lost they are alive to fight another day. They also gave the Queen,  the British Prime minister, and all stakeholders an opportunity to contribute. We all saw it on TV didn’t we? The British are also trying to leave or stay in the European Union but they have to subject their decision to a national head count soon. Why not follow this standard step instead of hitting our heads against a solid rock unnecessarily? Those who must sponsor a civil war in Nigeria henceforth must be bold enough to unmask first and not using other people’s children selfishly for evil. I truly identify with the Igbo people having had many of them as friends since in the early 1960s but I fail to support the continous demand for a Biafran Nation by war. Let us use all the legal procedures available on the table.

Prof.  R. A. Ipinyomi


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