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Diagnosing The Agitation for Biafra

By Muhammad Ajah – The agitation for Biafra as a country – the Igbo nation, which was initiated at the advent of Nigeria’s independence and which culminated to the civil war between 1967 and 1970, should have become a bygone issue. The negative effect of this agitation, like the Niger Delta secession declaration, the war itself and the post-war regime on the Igbo as a people on one hand, and the continuous cohesion and knitting of the peoples of Nigeria of today on the other hand, should have relaxed any mania on any possible disintegration of Nigeria. The simple answer to the enigmatic question on the division of Nigeria as it stands today is the negative. Is Nigeria to be divided on the bases of geopolitical zones i.e. six countries, or on the ethnic lines i.e. over 350 countries or on religious concentrations i.e. at least three countries?     

Kurt Vonnegut wrote on “Biafra: A People Betrayed” From Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, 1979. He found the Kingdom of Biafra on some old maps which were made by early white explorers of the west coast of Africa. He said nobody was sure what that kingdom was, what its laws and arts and tools were like; no tales survived of the kings and queens. He claims to know a great deal about the Republic of Biafra. It was a nation with more citizens than Ireland and Norway combined. It proclaimed itself an independent republic on May 30, 1967. On January 17 of 1970, it surrendered unconditionally to Nigeria, the nation from which it had tried to secede. “It had few friends in this world, and among its active enemies were Russia and Great Britain. Its enemies were pleased to call it a tribe. The Biafrans were mainly Christians and they spoke English melodiously, and their economy was this one: small-town free enterprise,” Vonnegut postulates.     

The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) which fights for the independence of South East region of Nigeria has remained unimpressive. MOSSOB leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, was arrested in 2005 on treason charges. He was released two years later. The Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) led by Barrister Benjamin Onwuka was created in the early 2000s. It spun out of MASSOB. It declared a new state of independence on November 5 2012, at an event during which at least 100 of its men were arrested. In 2014, BZM announced the rebirth of the Biafran Republic. In a statement released after the incident, the group explained that it had lost faith in the country following years of neglect and continuous killing of Igbos. “No amount of threats or arrests will stop us from pursuing our freedom – self-determination for Biafrans,” BZM national chairman, Edeson Samuel proclaimed.

There have been strange reports of a document being circulated on an evil plan to break up Nigeria. The reports claimed that proponents of such plan made up of prominent leaders from South-South and South East met at different locations in different parts of the world. The document further revealed that the first meeting which was held on 10th August 2010 at No. 605-3rd Avenue New York had the mission to secure the sovereignty of both South-South and South East of Nigeria with a projected amount of $3.5bn to execute the entire project. The document said, according to the report, that a second meeting was held between 11th and 12th August 2010 at No. 2 Rue de Mare, Neuve 91012, Evry Cedex France, while the third meeting was held between 24th August and 3rd September 2011 at Elverelen 25B, PD8325, N–1324, Lysaker Oslo Norway to perfect the plan.

However, Nigeria today has become so integrated that it is virtually indivisible. A candid appeal is that Nigerians should not be coaxed into believing on the segregation of any part of the country. Observed is that some Igbo have continued to mislead their fellows that Biafra will become a reality one day. They believe that Biafra was defeated due to lack of required support from super powers from the international community such as Russia and the Great Britain. They seem to ignore the stark fact that Biafra lost the war from within. Biafra was primarily scuttled by its neighbours – the Niger Delta and its surroundings. Have the Igbo forgotten what happened to them in Lagos just before, during and immediately after the war? The Igbo knew they controlled or nearly controlled Lagos. Could they have easily forgotten why Chief Awolowo did not stand by the agreement he reached with Chief Ojukwu on their secession plan? That is by the way.    

Will the Ogoni, the Ikwerre who have refused to identify with the Igbo on political grounds, the Efik, the Calabari, the Uhrobo, the Esan, the Benin, the Annang, the Ijaws and many other nationally recognized ethnic identities around the Igbo agree or be forced by the Igbo to join Biafra? Methink the Igbo should relieve themselves of alleged inferiority complex in the hard political struggle in Nigeria and re-strategize to assert their political relevance, instead of recalling past woes. The Igbo can achieve any good goals in Nigeria. They are the physically strongest and most industrious people of Nigeria and the only tribe of Nigeria who are individually most self sufficient. They should not declare Nigeria sour like the grapes because they have been unable to reach it (the leadership). They have lived anywhere and under any condition in Nigeria. With all these qualities that put them above several peoples of the world, one continues to wonder why they cannot gradually seek political greatness in Nigeria rather than recline on the old agitation which has continued to make them suspicious or even despicable amongst other major ethnic groups of Nigeria most of who also share the feelings that injustice, inequality and political exclusion have been mated against them.

The truth is that every segment of Nigeria is claiming marginalization. The northern Nigeria is being accused by the Southern parts of having presided over the leadership of the country for a longer period. There are reports that over 80% of the nation’s oil and gas businesses is owned or controlled by the northern political elite. There are also insinuations that the richest political and business personalities are found in the north. But the reality on ground in Nigeria of today is that the northern part of Nigeria harbours the largest population of the poor and unread/half-read Nigerians. How does one equate this high level of poverty amidst the rich elite of the northern region?    

The same oxymoron is found in the Niger Delta where amidst the rich and influential elite/oil and gas, there is no commensurate development in terms of infrastructure and human capacity. Here is a place where the nation has depended on for a long time for its economic sustenance. But here is a place where a large chunk of its people is poor and in need. This is a place that has a full-fledged commission – Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and a Federal Ministry – Niger Delta Ministry – both of which were established to specifically development the area. Alas, the situation has remained same – poverty and squalor amidst wealth.

We must bring to mind that two states of the South East, i.e. the supposedly Biafra territory belong to the Niger Delta region. They are Abia and Imo states. Here a question arises: are the people and infrastructure of these two states significantly any better than other states of the territory? But the difference is that the Igbo man is a full-business life. In the whole Niger Delta, the roads, schools, hospitals, markets, recreational centers and social amenities are nothing to write home about. Aba internal roads, East West road and Obigbo road in Rivers, to mention few, are death snares.           

With the new leadership in Nigeria today, many groups have called on the Igbo to prove their worth in the new Nigeria and work with the federal government rather than resort to agitation for secession. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has urged Ndigbo leaders to sheathe their swords over Biafra and secession from Nigeria. At a press conference preparatory to its 2015 Annual General Assembly (AGA) in Kaduna, the chairman of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the forum, IGP Ibrahim A. Coomassi (rtd), described as worrisome the renewed agitations by Biafra movement. ACF recalled that the issue of Biafra was settled in 1970 after a civil war.

ACF expressed sadness and described as unfortunate that 45 years after, when Nigerians have become united in a democratic system of governance, some elements are busy drumming the idea of another war and secession through ‘Radio Biafra’ and MASSOB activities. The agitators for this unholy division, ACF said, are in their safe abodes outside Nigeria but have been openly campaigning in foreign countries despite the fact that the most painful aspect of the agitation by the young Ndigbo elements was the deaf ear and silence from the elders who experienced the bitter pill of the secession attempt and 30 months civil war.

“Who knows the consequences of such a futile agitation? Only just over a week ago, an elder statesman from the South-East celebrated his birthday in Abuja with the launching of his two books. A good number of leaders from the South-East attended the event and as the activities progressed, it was nothing but Biafra with inciting and provocative speeches by one speaker after another. We cannot afford to transit from one insurgency into another”, ACF noted.

In another development, the South-East zonal chapter of All Progressives Congress, APC, has called on the Igbo to support for the present federal administration in order to maximize gains from it. The South-East APC, in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, appealed to those described as Igbo ethnic merchants and gossip-terrorists who bandy all manner of conspiracy hate theories against President Buhari, to come to terms that an eight-year tenure of the man of uncommon integrity is the surest route to the actualization of a president of Igbo extraction.

In addition, a pan Igbo socio cultural organization, Igbo Renaissance Movement (IRM) has urged Igbo leaders to approach President Muhammadu Buhari with humility over cries of marginalization. National Coordinator and secretary of the group, Chief Chris Chukwubuzor Azuka and Deacon Kingsley Godwin in a statement enjoined Igbo leaders to desist from building tower of isolation and antagonism, as “being the antagonist to our neighbours would not do us any good”. The IRM noted that the Igbo race was being hunted by its “blind politics of hate, bitterness, isolation and greed over the years. This is the time for the Ndigbo to engage in honest self examination and soul searching. The important challenge facing Igbo nation now is that of leadership and therefore stakeholders must put the house in order for common good”.

Also Governor of Imo state and the chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has appealed to governors of the south eastern states as well as leaders in the zone to join hands with him to support the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to enable the people of the zone be on the same page with the federal government in the current dispensation. Okorocha wants the governors of the South-East and the leaders from the area to work with the president who is also more determined to work with the South-East. He says that the whole imaginary worries are about what comes to the South-East, even as he has been able to establish a very wonderful relationship with Mr. President, who in turn has given assurance that the South-East would not be left out of the whole political and economic equations of Nigeria.

“I am happy and grateful to my colleagues, the governors from the South-East for their understanding and show of support for all of us to work together for the common good of our people, the South-East. And that is indeed the beginning of the relationship between the federal government and the South-East. We are not talking about political parties now, we are talking about development and good governance.”

The agitation and causes for Biafra is not new to President Muhammadu Buhari. He was a former military chief who served in the Nigerian Army from 1961 until 1985. And there are reports that he headed military operations in Nsukka, Abagana and Nkpor Junction within the Biafran territory. But the fact remains that majority of the Igbo did not support him in his twelve-year-bid to lead Nigeria and reposition it on the path of greatness. His party, APC, was equally despised by the Igbo and that robbed them of an undisputed seat of the Senate President if ex-Anambra state governor, Chris Ngige had won the senatorial election.

In my conclusion, it is crystal clear that no country breaks out from its origin and stabilizes or finds peace and development. South Sudan, Eretria, Nepal, the Russian secessionist territories, parts of the Middle East, amongst others are living examples. Countries are getting stronger by integrating other possible neighbourhoods and not by disintegrating. Nigeria should remain one but Nigerians should be granted open and level ground to strive for equal rights and opportunities in their motherland. No Nigerian should be relegated to a second class citizen or denied on any socio-political, ethnic and religious background. Violent agitations must stop henceforth in Nigeria and the new leadership has come to lay the foundation to build a new Nigeria.

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of the rule of law and good governance. E-mail: mobahawwah@yahoo.co.uk


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