BIAFRA: BETWEEN GENUINE AGITATION AND PROFESSIONAL GANGSTERISM
Biafra Republic! Niger Delta Republic! Ijaw Republic! Boko Haram Republic! This is senseless. How many countries will emerge if Nigeria is to be broken into pieces? God forbid. Even if we are to go by the six geopolitical zones, it will not work. The Ikwerre man does not believe to be Igbo. The Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River people have disassociated themselves from the renewed agitation for Biafra. Prominent Igbo have exempted themselves from the agitation. The leadership of the Nigerian nation and major stakeholders have carpeted the campaign. All is calling for one and indivisible Nigeria.
There can be no genuine agitation for a cause through the destruction of lives and properties of fellow citizens except by unpatriotic elements who often capitalize on situations to actualize their selfish interests. There can only be genuine agitation via non-violent but continuous protest, even dire criticism of the government that be and also protracted dialogue. There can also be genuine agitation through legal means. Physical confrontation with government by whoever agitators world over have often spelt doom for the country, most times endangering the agitators. Yes, protests and agitations conducted under guided and peaceful atmosphere are part of democratic expressions. Again, the world is fast becoming tensed up; developed countries are after developing countries and arms producers and dealers are intensely in search of places to test and dump their destructive technology.
Nigerians are willing to remain together. The civil war caused by the attempt to create Biafra brought very sad consequences on the Igbo nation which they are still suffering till date. That attempt seems to have made other powerful nationalities of Nigeria to be suspicious of the Igbo. The Igbo are believed to be over-conscious of material values for which they can betray any trust any time. That is a partial judgment, anyway. Besides, the Igbo are hardly pretentious, but frank, dexterous and ever hopeful for prosperity. More to this point, the Igbo see themselves as a very unique species of human beings within an enclave where they are denied from freely showcasing their intellectual sagacity and economic prowess in democratic governance. Summarily, the Igbo think too big to be subjected to second class citizens in their fatherland.
Howbeit, this is far from the truth. To me, Nigeria is for all Nigerians: the Igbo, the Hausa, the Yoruba and all other three hundred or so tribes. The truth is that the Igbo seem not to have realized that war does no nation any good.
Have there been any correct figures of how much the Igbo lost in person and material during the 30-month war, 1967 to 1970? Those who witnessed the civil war amongst the Igbo, one can be sure, cannot wish that such mayhem befalls them again. All these set aside, the Igbo have been regaining their position in Nigerian politics. They have repositioned themselves in what they know best – business. Other component nationalities of Nigeria trust them. So, why should they reopen the old episode that harmed them badly in the past?
Is it not inferiority complex that instead of proving one's economic strength, political prudence and mental combustion in a society, one decides to cut off from the society? But the Igbo can never be inferior in Nigeria. They can never be subdued by other nationalities. So, they should refrain from allowing professional hooligans to distract them from being Nigerians and paying their full allegiance to the Nigerian nation. In whatever disguise, be it
The nation's highest authority has assured the citizens of the oneness of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking at the launching of the 2016 Armed Forces Remembrance Emblem at the Presidential Villa, observed that Nigeria remains one indivisible entity despite several grievous challenges. “Since independence, Nigeria has witnessed a lot of internal strife, survived a civil war and has remained united. This feat achieved by the country is an eloquent testimony to the determination of our citizens to remain as one people”.
Few days earlier when Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Sule, Chief Godswill Akpabio, Dr. Dozie Ikedife and a host of Nigerian citizens were meeting at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja, the Muslims of the South Eastern part of Nigeria had met at the Nyanya axis of the Abuja metropolis under the auspices of Ndi Igbo Muslims Forum of Nigeria (NIMEN) to discuss the implosion of violent protests from the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra. Since the violent protests erupted, many prominent Nigerians and groups have come up to condemn any cessation attempt.
The Sheraton meeting under the auspices of North, South-South, South-East Elders' Dialogue had its theme for discussion as “Agenda for Strengthening National Unity and Stability”, from which a communiqué was drawn for the government, amongst others, to imbibe the spirit of respect for all component parts of Nigeria and indeed ensure equitable distribution of positions and opportunities for all Nigerians.
The group, which apparently did not include citizens from the Southwest, admitted that the unity of Nigeria remains sacrosanct despite the inherent imperfections in Nigeria. Chairman of the Dialogue, Ambassador Maitama Sule, would prefer to question if Nigeria has enjoyed any peace since the end of the civil war in 1970. For him, before independence, Nigeria had political leaders who worked to gain independence for the posterity; leaders who served, but not served; leaders like Azikiwe and Awolowo. He believes that the present political leaders need to do enough.
The NIMEN called on Igbo Christians, Igbo Pagans, Igbo free thinkers and Igbo Muslims to live together and avoid the temptation of seeking separation from Nigeria as it was inimical to the interests of the Igbo nation in the midst of other ethnic groups making up Nigeria. It condemned in strong terms the unfortunate attacks on the Onitsha Central Mosque and verbal threats to the lives and properties of Muslims in the region who are endangered in such situations.
While former President Olusegun Obasanjo is sure that Nigeria will win the war against Boko Haram the same way the nation defeated Biafra secessionist, having been a commanding force that conquered Biafra amongst other civil disturbances that threatened the unity of Nigeria, Minister of Defence, Mohammed Dan Ali, warned that the pro-Biafra agitations might escalate and constitute threat to national unity.
The Nigerian Army was on a red alert to use necessary force within its Rules of Engagement (ROE) to suppress any insurgency. The General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Major General Isido Edet, while reviewing the Nigerian Army Rules of Engagement at the 81 Division Officers Mess, Victoria Island, said the Nigerian Army was constitutionally obligated to, among other things, suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so by the President. He said: “We had a civil war and in some areas we are yet to overcome the consequences. For people to start talking about the dismemberment of the country is the most unfortunate thing at this point in time in our country. 'The Nigerian Army would like to send an unequivocal warning to all and sundry, more specifically, to all those threatening and agitating for the dismemberment of the country, those committing treasonable felony and arson as well as wanton destruction of lives and property that once the army is deployed, we shall apply ROE to the letter.”
Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, while speaking at a peace conversation with religious leaders organized by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Abuja, was quoted to have said that the agitation for Biafra was legitimate, but that the campaigners should take appropriate channel to ventilate their discontent. Speaking at a News Agency of Nigeria Forum in Abuja, the minister said the basic cause of Biafra agitation was “economic” which would have gotten worse but for the efforts of the current administration. He appealed to leaders in the country not to exploit the economic situation to further destabilize Nigerians. “There are many political frontlines in Nigeria, religious, ethnic and the like but these things do not come to the fore until when there are serious economic problems like we are having today. It is in the overall interest of Nigeria that we all understand our differences, respect them and forge a united Nigeria. There will be no alternative to one united Nigeria.”
A pro-democracy coalition, Africa Democratic Alliance (ADA) described the Biafra protest as an unwelcome distraction and a ticking time bomb to Africa's democracy. ADA's President, George Agbakahi condemned the call for secession of Igbo land from Nigeria through peace or arms. The clamour, he said, was nothing but a ruse by outmanoeuvred political elites in Igbo land who are using misguided, uninformed and impressionable Igbo youths in an attempt to extract political concessions from the present administration. “The call for structural reforms of corporate Nigeria cannot realistically and responsibly be achieved through a balkanization of the nation in the name of Biafra. The vast majority of those pushing for Biafra agenda are teenagers who did not experience the horror of war caused by Biafra and were born long after the Nigerian Civil War”, ADA posited.
Imo State Governor and Chairman of Progressives Governors' Forum, Chief Rochas Okorocha, took exception to the pro-Biafra violent protests and disassociated the governors and leaders in the Southeast states from the protests which he described as embarrassing, disturbing, counter-productive and to a large extent, distracting. Governor Okorocha also called for the immediate restructuring of Nigeria at a lecture on “Managing Change in a Democracy” during the FRCN 2015 Annual Lecture. He said it was worrisome that since the nation's independence in 1960, it is still battling with how to coexist as one nation devoid of all the numerous problems of ethnicity and religion. “There is a major issue that we must address urgently in Nigeria and that is the issue of unity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today, I must say that the only force holding Nigeria is God because all the qualities and qualifications of nations that have broken, all of them are here and all the characteristics of a broken nation are in Nigeria. Our main problem is tribalism and sectionalism.
Okorocha said he met with members of MASSOB in Owerri they gave him five reasons as follows: i) Some of them who ran back home from the Northeast are orphans and jobless, ii) Those of them who were part of the Niger Delta militants surrendered their arms but were excluded from the amnesty package, iii) They were humiliated in Lagos as their shops were locked up during last general elections, iv) More than 160 corpses of their members litered all over the country without burial, and v) They want God to hear them and everybody to know that the issue that led to Biafra is still there.
The Guardian Newspaper editorial of November 24, 2015 on the agitation for Biafra was quite blunt on the national issue. It observed that for many years, successive administrations have maintained a portentous imbalance and inequitable structure that disfavours meritocracy. The administrations have glossed over the continuous capitulation of the political class in a progressive fashion to a point of disaffection, thereby fostering a forced unanimity. “While the unity of Nigeria should be discussed, the agitators must be strongly cautioned to channel their grievances without perpetrating acts that could be interpreted as an attempt to enthrone instability and dismember the country.”
Dare Odufowokan wrote in The Nation on the facts, fiction and driving forces about Biafra. Reasons for renewed agitation for Biafra, he quoted a founder of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Deputy Secretary of the Igbo Leaders of Thought (ILT), Evangelist Elliot Uko, as saying that the younger generation of Ndigbo are bitter about the structure of Nigeria because they believe that the structure is skewed against them, in politics, in education, in the provision of social infrastructure, and the agitation for Biafra is real. “Personally, I don't agree with them. I'm not advocating for secession, but I know that they are not miscreants because I've been talking with them for years. In fact, Ralph Uwazurike visited me in August of 1999 at Toyin Street in Ikeja and told me that he would establish MASSOB the following week.”
Chief Checkwas Okorie, founder of embattled All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), said the issue for the agitation for Biafra has to do with agitation for self-determination by people who wish to be treated with fairness, equity and justice. He said that the young Biafra agitators were born after the civil war and so looks ignorant of the cause. “They cannot understand why their own people since they were born are invariably different from their peers in other parts of the country. The Southeast has suffered the most neglect from the Federal Government of Nigeria in terms of road construction. Even under former President Jonathan's administration, it was not any better”.
The Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, through the President of the Ohanaeze Youth Council, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, believes that dialogue was the only way out of the various agitations. According to him, the needless call for the secession from Nigeria by MASSOB, the treasonable felony been perpetrated by one Nnamdi Kanu, under the aegis of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and his Radio Biafra, his arrest and the simultaneous coordinated protest rallies that followed as the its aftermath call for caution and deeper reflection for Nigerians and the nation. “It stands as an immutable and sacrosanct fact that the unified and continuous existence of Nigeria as an indivisible entity cannot be compromised on any score. The business concerns of Igbo businessmen and women extend across all geopolitical zones of the country the north and south. These meticulously built investments running into trillions of naira cannot be mortgaged on the plinth of unbridled sentimental proclivities, as we believe that Mr. President is a listening leader and we can achieve more through peaceful dialogue.”
Traditional rulers from the northern zones led by HRH Alhaji (Dr.) Yahaya Abubakar (Etsu Nupe) of the coordinating committee, National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria were in Owerri to meet with the Southeast counterparts on the Biafran quagmire. The Southeast traditional rulers were led by the chairman of the Council, HRM Eze Ebere Dick, who is also the chairman of the Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers. The Etsu Nupe said their visit was at the instance of the Sultan of Sokoto to discuss the pro-Biafra issue and to find how the situation can be arrested. He emphasized the need to protect the nation's unity. Eze Ebere Dick expressed the monarchs' resolve to work together with the Southeast governors to amicably resolve the MASSOB and IPOB issues.
Nigerians have condemned this potential threat to Nigeria's unity. The pro-Biafra groups are believed to be politically motivated by some treacherous individuals. It should be investigated. The ugly memories of 1967 to 1970 should not be reawakened. On the other hand, the government must rise up to its responsibility of governance by justice, equity and humanity. Nigerians can be assured that the incumbent federal government is on the right track to achieving the desired united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria which every patriotic citizen yearns for. Just a matter of little more time!
***Muhammad Ajah, a publisher, is an advocate of peace and humanity and the rule of law.