To refresh our memories, the maiden Biafran struggle (1967 – 1970), originated from a bitter historical experience; namely the orchestrated massacre of the Igbos (both military personnel and civilians) nationwide. This followed a counter-coup on July 29, 1966, by the Hausa-Fulani in revenge of the January 15, 1966 putsch which was misconstrued as an Igbo coup. In fact, the unrestrained killings continued for over 10 months after the counter-coup. The federal government that was expected to guarantee security and sense of belonging did practically nothing for the Igbos.
Therefore, those who could escape the pogrom, migrated back to Eastern Nigeria since they were obviously not wanted elsewhere. It was at this point that the Biafran consciousness deepened into a strong ethnic ideological movement for survival, self-preservation, human dignity and the effacement of man’s inhumanity to man. In this regard, the Republic of Biafra was proclaimed in 1967 as a sovereign state. In response, the federal government under Col. Yakubu Gowon declared war on Biafra to reclaim it. Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the leader and rallying point of Ndigbo enjoyed massive support from all cross-sections of the people to fight for their freedom. However, for reasons based on acts of omission and commission, the struggle, not the spirit, failed after 30 grueling months of civil war, with millions of avoidable deaths recorded.
The main focus of this column is on the new Biafran struggle; its character, its manifest shortcomings and the task before Ndigbo in the quest to achieve equity, justice and fair share of political power in Nigeria.
Perhaps, the most potent reason for the resurgence of the Biafran struggle, is the fact that the Igbos have not been reintegrated into the Nigerian system since 1970. The arguments for this are clear: Gowon’s policy of reconstruction, reconciliation and rehabilitation was ab-initio not intended to be implemented; the South-East has never produced an executive president in Nigeria; the zone is limited to five states as against six in other geo-political zones; nearly all federal infrastructure such as roads, railway, bridges, industries in the South-East have collapsed leading to unemployment and social vagrancy. Moreso, no single person from the zone is trusted enough to be included in Buhari’s Kitchen cabinet. Granted, reintegration of a conquered territory may not come on a platter of gold. It’s like expecting technological transfer from the Western nations. But for me, you don’t expect reintegration from rival groups that are happy at your downfall; groups that invent policies intended to kill your competitive edge. Where was the federal government during the abandoned property saga after the war? What does the federal government do when every riot in the North and elsewhere is targeted at the lives and economic interests of Ndigbo, in most cases on issues that hardly concern them? And what do you say to the humiliation intended in the case of a couple of disabled Igbo beggars in Lagos who were repatriated overnight and dumped at Upper Iweka, Onitsha; whereas thousands of other beggars and urchins in the same city, from other parts of Nigeria were not touched?
In my opinion, the solution to non-integration does not lie in secession. You don’t go out of the world because the system does not favour you. Precisely in 2011, South-Sudan seceded from The Sudan as the 54th and 192nd sovereign nation in Africa and the world respectively. But since 2013 the country has been engulfed in a civil crisis that threatens its young sovereignty. Ndigbo have contributed so much to the political and economic development of Nigeria that they cannot afford to walk away, just like that. Igbo investments in virtually all parts of Nigeria, at the expense of Igbo-homeland, are quite enormous. Are they going to uproot them as they pull-out, or abandon them as usual? No, it doesn’t make sense. Nigeria, with its great size and population, offers Ndigbo a much wider spectrum of opportunity to operate and engage their vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, than a circumscribed enclave called Biafra. To withdraw from Nigeria and limit the Igbos to the East is like forcing a 22-wheeler truck on a footbridge.
In fact, much of the marginalization blame, I dare say, goes to our Igbo leaders. Since 1970, the South-East geo-political zone (the heartland of Biafra) has produced a vice-president, five senate presidents, one Federal House of Representative speaker, scores of ministers, Senators, Federal House members, several governors, Permanent Secretaries and Local Council Chairmen and more, who have served successive governments, both military and civilian. On this score alone, can we convince the United Nations Organisation (UNO) legally and logically that the Igbos have been marginalized in governance since after the war? But the tangential question is this: what have these high ranking public figures, who are the authoritative mouth-piece of Ndigbo, done for their people and the region? Against this background, we cannot say that lack of regional development was caused by non-secession. The presence of dilapidated infrastructure and industries in the zone could be attributed to two factors: Igbo leaders at the federal/state levels have not been able to attract or lobby for socio-economic intervention by government, due to their selfishness and narrow-mindedness. And, there is no co-ordinated regional integration mechanism among the various peoples and states in the region to ignite common interest for regional development. The North as a whole and the South-West have strong regional structures that co-ordinate policies and development. What the Igbos have in the East are PDP and APC Governors‘ fora, which meet on adhoc basis, not to appraise development but to condemn themselves and throw bricks at one another.
Chief Adebisi Akande, the first National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has defined “Awoism as the practice of using governance to appropriate greater percentage of national resources for the empowerment of all masses of the citizens, through the provision of education, health, social and economic infrastructure”. This phenomenon was introduced by Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to the Western region (currently South-Western states). Today, the cardinal programmes of these states still remain, free education for all, free health for all, rural integration and gainful employment. Governments of these states have taken this policy a notch further by making primary/secondary education compulsory and sponsoring both WAEC/NECO Registration free for all terminal students. I can vouch for this fact because my assignments have taken me to most of the South-Western states. But, I’m not sure if this kind of programme is undertaken by the South-Eastern governments, where many past and current governors are richer than their states. Given this singular scenario, why won’t the people of the zone feel marginalized and neglected?
Perhaps, for the same reasons, Ndigbo have not been able to produce an executive president in Nigeria. I do not know about a certain conspiracy clause in the Surrender Document of 1970, which forbids the Igbos from producing a president for the Federal Republic of Nigeria for a period of 100 years. That may be a rumour, but what I do know is that Ndigbo have not been able to build a strong and sustainable political platform from which they can reach out and unite with other groups politically, since they cannot do it alone. Our experience so far is that the people have always been misguided, divided and sabotaged by their own self-seeking leaders.
This brings us to another critical issue: Following the exit of Zik and Ojukwu, who else can Ndigbo anoint as an acceptable Igbo leader today? Does any past/present governor, minister, legislator or any other public figure qualify for that position? If indeed there is none, can we consider the three rival leaders of the renewed Biafran agitation: Nnamdi Kanu of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Ralph Uwazuruike of the new Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) and Uchenna Madu, the new leader of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)? But, if the three Biafran “musketeers” cannot agree ideologically on a common cause, what will happen when they assume the leadership of an independent state? Moreso, what is the position of South-Eastern governors on the renewed Biafran struggle? Are they prepared to queue behind Nnamdi Kanu and support him as their leader? Does Nnamdi Kanu expect them to support the secession bid and at the same time remain governors of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? That’s a big moral dilemma that certainly defies solution.
Already, Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural body, has dissociated itself from IPOB’s secession move. Do you blame the group? Ohaneze leaders and Igbo elders generally witnessed the civil war, tasted it and still feel its deadly ‘ringing tone’. Indeed, the socio-economic injury of that war has not healed in many Igbo homes and communities, till date. On the other hand, Nnamdi Kanu and 98% of his youthful supporters, did not experience the war, and are ignorant of its crippling consequences, notable of which was the painful loss of Igbo dignity and leadership position in Nigeria.
The new Biafran struggle has unfortunately been reduced to the inglorious level of youthful exuberance and rascality, in which protesters also engage in looting of shops, arson and destruction of public infrastructure. These, added to deliberate confrontation with law-enforcement agents, unwarranted killings and grounding of economic and social activities of the people are quite uninspiring and anti-Biafran.
Indeed, secession is no longer a fashionable exercise. It has become antithetical to the world economic order and globalization. What is more important for the Igbos is to “tidy-up their stable” and reposition themselves, for a co-operative engagement with other groups. Ndigbo have the requisite potential and comparative advantage to be on top again. The rate at which they recovered from their losses after the war, has been adjudged as one of the best examples in the world, mainly through self-help and community effort.
While the Igbos diversify and insist on fair power sharing, they should also commit themselves towards grassroots investment and industrial development at home. They should insist on the dredging of the Niger River and the completion of the 2nd Niger Bridge. More importantly, they should insist on legal protection of their lives/property and equal treatment wherever they reside in Nigeria, not as underdogs or second-class citizens anymore. The Igbos need favourable balance of power in Nigeria, not secession. Secession means to break away and stay on one’s own. But can the Igbos, by their nature really stay on their own? This, is a million-dollar question.
By John Daniel Obioma: