Fellow countrymen and women if ever you can get across this line, my government will do whatever it can to give you succor and protection…
-Col. Chukwuemeka O. Ojukwu, 1967
Biafra, Biafra and more Biafra is being clamored for by many South-easterners and the above statement by the one who led the first secession of easterners is to remind us of the situation that prevailed then, and eventually resulted into a war. The line to cross then was the boundary between Nigeria and the Eastern Nigeria i.e. the Niger Bridge. There was beyond any argument a massacre of anyone called Igbo then all across the nation and there are postulations of genocide against the Igbo tribe and all other affiliated ethnic groups. My own grandfather had to ride on a bicycle from Lokoja to Okene because he was informed of the plans to kill all Igbos residing there; so one way or the other we all felt the impact of the war. The Igbos were an endangered species in Nigeria so there was need to flee and Ojukwu being the leader we had then did what he knew was best at that time; granting his people safety.
That was the situation we found ourselves then caused by the activities of January 1966.
Now a young man who only heard stories of war is now the new face of Biafra. The unfortunate thing is the approach to the cause which I am not sure if it is worthy or not because I believe so much in Nigeria. I have been privileged to meet people of diverse ethnic groups and all I can say is that we are really blessed in our diversity. The fanatics among us are those who are barely educated and uncivilized to embrace the realities of a changing world, beautifully captured in America’s creed; we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately this noble creed is being abused today.
In the eye of our Creator, we are all equal despite the preponderance of one tribe in population or demography.
Since marginalization is the case by these ones, one would ask, what is the basis for the equality in the presence of our Creator when man has decided to choose who is more equal than the other? The issue of marginalization can be tricky when it comes to a country like ours where there are so many people to please and consider in the polity and governance. As Father Mattew Kukah put it in his TED talk, if you create a committee of three (Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba) an Ijaw man will say he isn’t included. You go ahead and create a committee of six; a Nupe man will say he is being sidelined and so on. Nigeria today has over 250 ethnic groups with even more languages among them and at one point in time many of them of them have alleged cases of marginalization.
It is not new in our news dailies when a group from Itsekiri or any other decides to publish the wrong done to them since we had our independence and go ahead to lay their claims in details and want the remedy should be.
I am yet to see any of those ethnic groups go out to protest for a secession or breakaway from Nigeria. Just the communiqué on paper alone is enough backed up with follow ups. The case of genocide of 1966/67 far more outweighs the case of marginalization because we can never have a perfect system where every ethnic nationality is equally represented. Some say that these protests were sparked off by the statements credited to our President Muhammadu Buhari on appointments. So every statements, misstatements, judgments and misjudgments by listeners should be giving no other response but secession because we never had these protests in the last administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
Or are the Biafran agitators quiet for a time awaiting statements against the Igbo before they resurrect the secession cause? Why didn’t anyone say same during the deportations in Lagos or the Oba’s statements, why now has marginalization which we always settle amicably with dialogue become a good reason for protests, secession and another independent nation of Biafra?
TRUE FEDERALISM/ STATES AND REGIONS
I had someone mention this on radio (speaking on Biafra) that the government should focus of true federalism that decentralizes power at the centre for the regions to operate more efficiently. Need I say that the states we have are federating units just that the terms of our federalism are not explicit enough as to give the states more autonomy and greater effectiveness. While still speaking the guest of the radio show further mentioned returning to regions as it were in the 60s but he forgot that the constitutional conference of 1995 or thereabout produced six geo-political zones; North-East, North-West, North Central, South-West, South-East and South-South.
These are supposed to be federating units not just for political appointments. Oh my nation? Is the federal government meant to think for the state governors or teach them that there should be regional collaboration among the states in the same geo-political zones or between two more zones? True we are not yet practicing full federalism in any state or region, so that is not an Igbo or Biafran problem. I am an advocate of this because it will make these states more responsible when they know that no federal allocation is coming to them but have to explore the opportunities in their states.
The state of most South-Eastern states is no fault of the federal government but those of the states governments that have decided to be myopic in their programs and projects for their people. That is the state we have found ourselves in today.
This has been an issue of long continuance and more debates and it is bound to continue if we still insist on having an independence nation of Biafra rather than supporting the Nigerian dream which we are very much part of. You don’t expect the rest of Nigeria to support this bid when we keep talking about secession. We are not lacking in competence or character but the quest of a few will keep denying us that privilege.
Our unity is also questionable compared to what you have in the north where many can step down so they all can support a consensus candidate. We are even more divided than the rest of Nigeria and never agree on the same front and issues of politics and governance. Rather than clamor for a nation where we would be more divided why not support the Nigerian project and see ourselves first as Nigerians from the Igbo stock.
THE CASE OF OJUKWU
In paraphrasing him, “Our people must realize that the war is ended, they must feel to participate, partake and benefit from Nigeria”.
“A second war would be a mistake, we should have learnt from the first one”.
These are the words of the great Dim after the war and his actions after returning from exiles proved he was more Nigerian than he was Igbo. Joining a political party and participating in it and later forming a political party point to the fact that he agrees that the circumstances of the first war were different from what many others are laying claims to now.
A DEMOCRATIC WAY OUT/REFERENDUM
Since some people believe in this cause for an independent nation of Biafra and some others don’t, it will be wise, civil and more diplomatic to take the case to the federal government, dialogue, reach a compromise or a working arrangement on how to douse the notions of marginalization and the way forward for Nigeria with active participation of all and sundry.
In the event of a deadlock and persistence for secession let there be a referendum so that people can choose their fate and which divide they want to remain in. In the UK, this was adopted for Scotland so ours shouldn’t amount to needless protests or a war that the agitators can’t even stand to wage.
I am a Nigerian and proud of the Igbo tribe I originated from but on this issue of Biafra, I know that the Igbo will be better off as Nigerians participating fully in moving the nation forward. There is much to be done and any compromise to secession will only leave the entity called Nigeria worse or even stagnated.