IPOB’s Biafra, A Misplaced Priority?
IPOB’s Biafra, A Misplaced Priority?
By Chiedu Uche Okoye
IN a multi-ethnic nation-state, the diverse ethnic nationalities that make up the country do compete fiercely for political power at the centre, entrenching and deepening ethnic divisions and hatred in it. In our today’s world, almost every ethnic -nation wants its own state. From Asia to South America, from Middle – east to Africa, it is the same story of ethnic groups clamoring and fighting for political freedom. And the battle for political power in a multi-ethnic country emanates from a minority ethnic group’s fear of domination by the major ethnic groups. Federalism, which is believed to be an antidote and solution to ethnic divisions in a multi-ethnic country, has not prevented multi-ethnic countries from disintegrating.
These examples from across the world will suffice. The former USSR used to be a Federal Republic; however, it had broken up into many different countries following the failure of the policy of glasnost and perestroika. Czechoslovakia broke up into Czech Republic and Slovakia. Many countries came out of the disintegrated Yugoslavia. In Africa, Somaliland emerged from Somalia; South-Sudan was formerly in Sudan; Eritrea got its political sovereignty from Ethiopia. And we should remember that Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India used to be one country.
Till now, ethnic nationalism is sweeping across our world like a gale of wind. Some countries are experiencing violent agitation for state-hoods by separatist groups. Some few years ago, Scotland conducted a referendum to determine its continued stay in the Great Britain. The Basque People in Spain want a separate country of their own. The western Sahari are demanding freedom from Morocco. It used to be a colony of Spain, who ceded it to Morocco. And in Kenya, the country is characterized by ethnic hatred and conflicts as the Kikuyu, Luo and other tribes are battling for ethnic supremacy and the control of political power at the centre, killing one another in the process.
Back home in Nigeria, since the inception of our country, ethnic conflict has become a permanent feature of our political history and odyssey. But when disparate ethnic groups are amalgamated, there is the likelihood and tendencies that ethnic chauvinism as well as hatred will erupt in that country. That has been the case in Nigeria. Before Nigeria gained political freedom from Britain in 1960, the northern people in 1953 demanded secession in their nine -point programme. And Isaac Adaka Boro declared the Niger-Delta Republic in the 1960s, which was short-lived as it was crushed.
The political turmoil in the western region of Nigeria in the mid-1960s, which was called the ‘wild-wild west’, snowballed into the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. But the remote cause of the war was ethnic strife among the ethnic groups that constitute Nigeria. During the civil war, the Igbo people of the south-east were pitted against other people(s) from the rest of the country. The war was waged to save Nigeria from being dismembered.
But forty-six years after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, the agitations for political sovereignty by some ethnic groups have not ceased. Expectedly, at the root of their agitation is their feeling of marginalization. The Niger-delta people feel that the proceeds realized from the sale of crude-oil, which is got from their soil, are used to develop elsewhere. So they took up arms to fight for resource control. In the immediate past, the Niger-delta militants were granted amnesty; and they’re rehabilitated by successive past civilian administrations. But the coming into office of Muhammadu Buhari saw resurgence in militancy in the Niger-delta region, with its dire economic implications for Nigeria.
And in the South-East, there is a renewed and intensified agitation for the state of Biafra, the rallying point and hero being the detained director of Radio Biafra and IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Other groups in the south-east are clamoring for the political independence of Biafra, too. Their continued clamor for the sovereign state of Biafra has been increasing political tension in Nigeria and calling global attention to the agitators’ cause. But there is no telling what their motive is. Are they truly motivated and actuated by feelings of marginalization and ethnic nationalism? Or is their agitation for the state of Biafra a ploy to acquire money? But, each ethnic group in Nigeria reserves the right to agitate for political sovereignty. Nigeria’s indivisibility or continued stay as one country is neither sacrosanct nor inviolable. Our unity and continued stay as one country can be negotiated.
But, the question that is agitating our minds is this: Will the Igbo People be better off as a separate country? The Igbo People evinced and manifested tendencies of creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. They manufactured arms and ammunition, which they used to wage war against the rest of the country for three years. That’s a proof that the Igbo people can accelerate the development of Biafra-land, if the south-east becomes a nation- state in the future. Are their sons and daughters not with professional expertise with which they are helping their host countries to develop? In fact, the imagined state of Biafra would not be a rentier state that depends on the exploration and exploitation of natural resources for its survival. If anything, the Igbo spirit of indomitability, their versatility, entrepreneurial acumen, resilience, industriousness, and ingenuity would be harnessed to build the Biafran state
But, if Nigeria were to disintegrate now, many nation-states would come out of Nigeria. And Nigeria’s strength as well as its greatness lies in its diversities. Can’t we utilize our diversities in many areas to achieve national development as America is doing? America, a nation of nations, is the melting pot of the world, millions of its citizens having originally come from other countries. In America, race, religion, sexual orientation, language, and money are not the factors that determine who leads that country. Were these factors determinants of the person who would become the American president, Barrack Obama wouldn’t have led America for eight years. It is fact that a country cannot grow above the visions and dreams of its national leaders.
What throws up misfits, ethnic chauvinists, religious bigots, thieving politicians, and others as our national leaders is our flawed recruitment process for leaders. And that’s why Nigeria is in the cesspool of under-development. We need a detribalized leader with probity, leadership qualities, and competence to pilot our affairs. We need a leader who will wield the country together and entrench unity among us.
Again, if we practise true federalism and Presidentialism as obtained in America and other countries, each constituent part of the country will enjoy fiscal autonomy and can develop at its own pace as it is generating revenue without wholly relying on financial handouts from the centre for its survival. At this juncture in our country’s political life, what we need, more than anything else, is the practice of true federalism in the country as well as the re-restructuring of Nigeria.
Okoye, a poet and civil servant wrote from Anambra State