Biafra Of The Mind: A Paradigm Shift By – Taiwo Nolas-Alausa
At the start of the electioneering process that gave birth to the current political dispensation, there was palpable tension which drew the suspicion of all discerning Nigerians of the likelihood of a break-out of hostilities among the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. This fear became entrenched as a result of the prediction credited to certain global powers that Nigeria will not exist beyond 2015. This prediction perhaps was predicated on the strong ethno-religious sentiments which were rife in the run-off to the electioneering period. Several online media sources had credited the prediction to the Western World with strong linkage to the United States of America. It is however instructive to note that the United States have denounced ever making such a prediction; wherever this prediction emanated from has been proved fallacious based on the peaceful conduct of elections, even though there were pockets of violence in some states of the federation. However, few months into the inauguration of the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a group from the South East geo-political zone emerged clamoring for the creation of the State of Biafra.
Nkemba Odumegwu Ojukwu’s attempt to secede in 1967 led to the three years Nigerian civil war which ended in 1970. The old Biafra was demarcated to the west by the lower reaches of the River Niger and its Delta, to the East by the Obudu plateau and the Highlands of Oban and Ikom, to the south by the Bight of Biafra and to the North by an administrative boundary, with total landmass of over 29,400 square miles.
I have taken pains to study the current map drawn by the new IPOB (Independent People of Biafra) and MASSOB and was shocked to realize that their agitation for a nation is still based on the Pre-1970 carvings of Ojukwu. My thought: how can a good student of Nigerian history base his map of Biafra on that border when it was glaring in the first instance that the civil war was partly lost due to the 12 states creation of the Gowon government? The Ijaw and other minority ethnic groups within Biafra felt short-changed by the Ojukwu government and took the bait of Gowon by supporting the federal forces against Biafra, thereby nailing the coffin on Biafra. It will therefore be preposterous for the Biafra agitators to imagine that the South-South region will follow them into Biafra once again.
Having tasted political power and now more self-conscious of resource control than before, the average Ijaw/south –south man is now more enlightened than ever. Should that be the case, the border of Biafra then shrinks between Kogi and Benue to the North, Cross River to the East, Edo and Delta to the West and Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom to the South. This then leaves the region (land locked) with lesser landmass of about 15,900 square miles and a high population threatened by gully erosion and other natural disasters.
How can we explain that sometimes ago, these same agitators were Nigerians who promoted and supported a candidate for national election, and suddenly after their loss, became agents of insurrection? Fanning the embers of war will not be in the benefit of any Nigerian. Tribal and ethno-centric proclivities will do us no good. No one can assuredly know which tribe or ethnic group will be the biggest beneficiary of a divided Nigeria. The South–West takes their pride in being the most educated and sophisticated group even though this perceived advantage is gradually been narrowed and eroded by other regions, the South –East without doubt are blessed with an amazing entrepreneurial fire–power and the South –South of course holds sway with abundant reserve of the “Black Gold” which inadvertently is the mainstay of our National economy. The North with its land mass and large population has remained agrarian, meeting significant percentage of our national food and cash crop needs. Why can’t we organize ourselves, agree on best methodology in harnessing our regional strengths? Global trends have shifted from territoriality with its attendant mutual suspicion, greed and avarice to mutual respect and cooperation. Where on the globe today is East Germany and West Germany? How prosperous have Russia, Ukraine etc become after the balkanization of Soviet Union? There is a saying that no nation ever survive two civil wars. As my friend Sunny Eru will say, “Where the war begins is the war front”. It is important we take a lesson from the North-East, where a once peaceful region has been turned into rubbles as a result of an unknown and uncouth fathomless religious ideology.
Fellow Nigerians, the hardworking people of Ndigbo who have businesses scattered all over the world with huge investments in Nigeria will certainly not want to trade their businesses and huge investments for instruments of warfare. We have millions of peace-loving Igbos in different parts of the country trading peacefully. There is need to consider their safety. The Nigerian government doesn’t want a war. We already have one ongoing in the North East to occupy us with for ‘’God knows how long’’ or December as our government promised us. We get IPOB (Independent People of Biafra) and where does it end? The Igbo states break away from “mba mmiri” (The Niger Delta), then the hinterlands from the highlands. Where will it end? Balkanization! God forbid!
The dismemberment of Sudan, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Timor, and the failed state status of Somalia remain fresh in the memories of all and sundry and government has a duty both at the federal and state levels most especially the governments of the five South East states to provide for its people and her youths who are prone to be used by undesirable agents of destabilization as long as they (specifically Igbo youth) feel the Nigerian state is not giving them the opportunity to excel and perhaps they could be better-off in a Biafran state as promised by a man resident in the UK flying round the globe with a ‘’British’’ passport. Nobody should blame them for this belief.
Therefore, what are the contending issues being propagated by the IPOB/MASSOB agitators? The shout is that of marginalization within the Nigerian nation, poverty, lack of jobs, state creation etc. Surprisingly, these issues ring a bell. This is the same cry or wailing (to borrow Femi Adesina’s word) of the OPC, Afenifere, Arewa ,Ijaw National Congress, Aka Ikenga, Ohanaeze Ndi igbo, the Middle Belt Union etc. It is the same cry of every Nigerian on the street. It is not peculiar to a particular part of the country. If it is, then poverty should have disappeared from the section of the country that has ruled the most in the last 55 years of our nationhood, but sadly it has not.
The main issue with the Nigeria state transverses ethnic boundaries, nationalities, religion, gender etc. It is simply a class war. The bane of the Nigerian nation is the inequitable economic relationship between the rich and the poor, the upper and the lower class or what the Marxist will simply call the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This simply means that even in a Republic of Oduduwa, Arewa or Biafra, the marginalization and the class struggle will continue, it is a never ending battle. For the records, Southern Nigeria held political power for 13 years out of the last 16 years of democratic rule. What has been the outcome? Worst roads, gully erosion, unemployment, lack of electricity and further enrichment of political office holders. The man from your village being in power does not in any way guarantee a better life for you and your kinsmen. Rather, as we have seen in the last 55 years, especially in the last 16 years, it has impoverished the people more.
Other Nigerian/South East states (including all post war political office holders and the present crop of South East “leaders”) are all guilty of the sin of not creating a better living space for not only Igbo young men and women but for other Nigerians, we are far from what is perceived as the ‘Nigerian dream’; if there is anything like the ‘Nigerian dream’ in the first place. Even the areas with aggrieved members of the Nigerian state that want the entity called Nigeria to remain have done little or nothing to better the living condition of their people. They still remain the reasons for Nigeria poor poverty index, poor education enrollments even with educational quota system.
The simple truth about youth restlessness and their unending cry of marginalization is the lack of engagement by the most vibrant and active cadre of the nation. Most of these youths are unschooled and uneducated and even those who are educated are not properly engaged. The situation therefore is not for government or political parties/interested sectional groups to use the current agitations for political gains but rather find solutions which will ensure that unpatriotic elements do not take advantage of the situation to create chaos.
The state of Biafra Nigerians desire is not in geographical terms but ideological state where basic services such as; housing, good roads, clean water, good health care services, steady electricity etc. are accessible to the masses. We all do not want to live in highbrow areas, but will appreciate the availability of basic infrastructure in every part of the country
In the midst of all these, we must begin to look for creative and better ways to rebuild the fabrics of our existence to enact beautiful transformations, a lot of which is needed in this era of ‘’Change’’, because if we don’t live together in peace we die as fools together.
Moving on to this glorious future that we so desire for ourselves and generations unborn, is a better society but we must understand that “a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.” We must look beyond the issue with the Nigerian state that revolves around loyalty to ethnic boundaries, nationalities, religion and in recent time’s party affiliation where people brag about their loyalty to their party more than their loyalty to the Nigerian state. The inequitable economic relationship between the rich and the poor, the upper and the lower class which led to the French revolution is more than enough to justify a peoples’ reason to call it quits with an entity called Nigeria and clamor even unto death for a state: Biafra, where talk of the constant bloodletting, poor condition of living, insecurity of lives and properties, violent armed robbery and killings everywhere will be a thing of the past, which I seriously doubt.
The rising scream of ‘’Biafra” youths will not get redress through hooliganism and wanton destruction of lives and properties. The beauty and burden of democracy is: no idea prevails without the support of a majority, a majority who will find themselves actively playing roles in different segments of government and the economy working for the Nigeria of the free, a land where we are identified not by what separates us but by what unites us. St. Augustine said ‘’an unjust law is no law at all” therefore we must work in all our little corners to uphold the tenets of what is right in the eyes of the law.
It is not in doubt however that because of the perennial bigot and inept leadership of the past and the structural defects of the country, Nigerian youths bear the brunt of irresponsible leadership. We must rise to the daunting challenges of continually building viable and lasting institutions that will provide means to an end for many youths and create such Institutions that have seen the city of Nnewi transformed from a sleepy town to be dubbed the “Japan of Africa”.
Rulers of this richly blessed country must have the will to implement some of the very important resolutions of the National Confab and not sweep it under the carpet due to political expediency.
My greatest struggle will not be for a state that will barely survive but an egalitarian society with basic amenities of life, where malaria will be history, where armed robbery, murder cases, corruption will be judiciously investigated and culprits prosecuted accordingly. A society built truly on “unity and faith, peace and progress” devoid of tribal and religious hatred where all can live and lets live, where we do not all have to be political office holders, contributing our quota to the GDP of our nation like the INNOSONs, DANGOTEs, OTEDOLAs e.t.c, from the pyramids in Kano to river banks of the Niger, the sand dunes of Maiduguri to the brown rooftops of Ibadan, where we can truly hold on to the uniting slogan that holds all Igbos and by extension Nigerians together.
Nwanne di na mba, Onye Aghana Nwanne Ya
By – Taiwo Nolas-Alausa PhD, Training Consultant lives in Lagos Nigeria