By Ike Abonyi
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”- Maya Angelou
By their activities, IPOB and other champions of separation from Nigeria are refusing to be reduced by the negatives that are ascribed to them by the Nigerian system. Make no mistake about it, struggles for self-determination are neither sinful nor warmongering. But they are recognised in modern times as legitimate efforts to shake off shackles or semblances of willful constriction.
Somehow, these youths have been captured in the words of the great American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. Freedom and self-determination are synonymous and every human being desires freedom, censorship is the opposite and an obstruction to the development of liberal minds.
Igbo VIP, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, hit the nail on the head when he said the use of force against the secession agitators would not end Biafra clamour, not even disowning the agitators can douse the fire. If so it could have been dead and buried and long forgotten after 51 years. Another elder statesman and former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress party, ex-governor John Odigie-Oyegun, spoke in the same vein, counselling that talking with the separatists was a more rewarding option than the use of force.
These two VIPs represent a long lineup of statesmen from across the federation, including well-meaning Fulani, who think the Buhari regime is reacting with brute force instead of responding with political tact. Incidentally, Buhari and Yar’Adua are ethnic Fulani.
This columnist cited the Umaru Yar’Adua example of how a president ignored the high notes to deploy tact, brinkmanship, and statesmanship to head off trouble from the rampaging Niger Delta militants. After years of living in denial of Igbo subjugation in Nigeria in the aftermath of the war of unity, the civilian regime of retired Major- General Muhammadu Buhari unabashedly made Igbo disdain his official policy based on his perception of the 2015 voting pattern. In 2021, using IPOB as an excuse, Buhari doubled down, vowing to treat them in a language they understand, language of war.
From his body language and public avowals so far, the Biafra agitation of IPOB is at the top of the many worries of this regime. One can easily gauge the level of the regime’s discomfort from the emotive way it reacts to the Biafra matter. As a result, rather than treat it as a self-determination struggle which is what it is, the regime prefers to criminalize it to find a window to descend on the agitators the way it would want. By so doing, the Buhari regime is ignoring the good counsel of the 28th US President, Woodrow Wilson, who was definite that “self-determination is not a mere phrase.
It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.” However, it is self-evident that what has been lingering on in Nigeria from various corners of Nigeria lately is self-determination, ostensibly engendered by entrenched injustice in the system. And it is globally accepted today that the right of a people to self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law.
The United Nations charter recognizes self-determination as a people’s right based on equal rights and equality of opportunities. The right of an oppressed people to choose sovereignty is, therefore, an inalienable one. This universal principle, therefore, nullifies any anarchic thinking that a country’s nationhood is not negotiable or indissoluble. Before anybody rejects a Mercedes-Benz jeep for a small Toyota car, for instance, the discomfort in the MB must have been grave enough to warrant the joy of luxury.
The best way to see to the end of any challenge is to tackle it from the roots. Any superficial treatment will only lead to a whited sepulchre that is swarming with worms and maggots. What the federal government appears to be doing on the Biafra issue is nothing but scratching the surface. If not so, why is the Biafra wound festering 51 years after the civil war? Why was it not nipped in the bud? Answers to these questions will direct the conversation this week as we join the nation in searching for a way to make this contraption called Nigeria work. Nigeria stopped working just six years after flag independence when some impatient young soldiers (in 1966) thought that politicians were not directing the new country right and that they were the messiah. What they and the country became is conspicuous for all to see after 61 years of troubled nationhood.
Everybody, including the ones sharing out the largesse or national cake, agrees that this country as currently structured is not working and needs a lot of panel beating to free the wheel for the needed speed movement of the vehicle A government that is dusting up a 50-yearplus colonial law on open grazing to appease the Fulani herdsmen some of who are not even Nigerians should not be oblivious of the fact that the political foundation of this country was laid on a tripod of the three major ethnic groups of Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa-Fulani with the other numerous minority groups providing the vital wedge. To therefore pretend that this tripod never existed or is no longer relevant but the grazing route is to be restored to accommodate the herders, is the height of double standards.
With thinking like this, no sensible and realistic approach to the glaring injustice and unbalanced structures in our polity, how do we expect self-determination struggle to go down? Ex-Vice President Alex Ekwueme (God, bless his soul) led the think-tank that came up with the six-zone structure for the federation. But it does not mean that one will live at the expense of the other.
To keep the South-East at five states and other zones at six and seven states even when the sharing of the commonwealth is based on states is unfair. Ditto for local government areas with the following statistics, South-East gets 95, South West 137, South-South 123, North-Central is 120, North- East 112, and North-West 187… almost double that of the South-East populated by one of the original tripod.
The military that midwived and nurtured this anomaly believed that the war had not ended and needed to continue it on other fronts. And in the past six years, President Muhammadu Buhari’s reign through his actions and inactions has copiously added dimensions to the prolonging of the civil war through his 97 per cent voter patronage policy that culminated in the latest baring of his heart with the “dot in a circle” rhetoric. Since no tripod can stand erect on one or two legs, a sensible thing to do is, therefore, to ensure that the three legs are made to stand firmly equal.
Trying to reduce one of the tripods into a dot because they are scattered all over the place is just like continuing to live a lie. Refusing to recognize that Ndigbo are critical stakeholders in the Nigeria project is like saying that a significant part of your body is not needed. The 18th-century self-determination theory as we know it today is based on the struggle for justice, liberty, and freedom from authoritarian rule during the American and French revolutions.
Therefore, anybody insisting or thinking that this country will continue the way it is with all the structural inadequacies and an environment that doesn’t guarantee justice and equity should be seen as the real enemy of one Nigeria. It needs to be underscored that electing a candidate of Igbo extraction as the President in 2023 is not too much a favour but a necessary step to engender peace and harmony in the land. This is not the first time this kind of sacrifice is ever made for peace and concord to reign in our land.
In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo was drafted even against his will to appease the Yoruba nation because of June 12, the decision to dump Peter Odili for Goodluck Jonathan as running mate to President Yar’Adua in 2007 besides other political considerations was to calm down the restive Ijaw rebellion in the Niger Delta. In 2010, the National Assembly created the doctrine of necessity to enable Jonathan to take over power from ailing Yar’Adua.
Even under the military regime, the late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had to get double promotion in the Nigerian Army as a Fulani to deputize Gen. Obasanjo after the assassination in 1976 of Gen. Murtala Muhammed. Either way, we want to go over the Igbo for president, we have antecedents to rely on and history is there as a witness.
All the talk of Igbo should negotiate, consult, and should not intimidate or use force is a search for excuses for denial. The Yoruba used June 12 to get theirs in 1999 because they were fighting a just cause, Ijaws used the same to get it in Jonathan in 2007 as Vice President and later saw how the fear of Niger Delta militants forced the country to create the doctrine of necessity because the neglect of their area was very apparent. Now, in the case of Ndigbo, all kinds of manoeuvres are afoot.
What is good for the goose, they say, is good for the gander. If democracy was working and votes did count, these undemocratic arrangements would have been unnecessary and consultations and politicking relevant, but it’s not so here. In summation, the best and quick way to end the ongoing give-us-Biafra agitation, therefore, is for the country to wear justice as their belt and treat Ndigbo as a critical segment of Nigeria. To continue to do otherwise is to keep fueling the self-determination struggle in the South-East and elsewhere because injustice anywhere amounts to injustice everywhere.
Ike Abonyi writes from Lagos.

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