By Chimdi Maduagwu
I am rereading Emefiena Ezeani’s book, In Biafra Africa Died, The Diplomatic Plot and the news ran into me “…Biafra died in 1970 – Ohaneze ndi Igbo.” The two titles struck me and I think I have some comments to make. I am aware that a lot have been said about Biafra; while some people think that it is mischievous for anybody or group of people to resurrect Biafra, some believe that it is the right of citizens to be involved, if they so wish, in self determination. But I must confess, I have not read much of what people have said recently.
Last week, The Guardian Newspaper sought to speak with me, I was quiet hesitant as usual—you know journalists and their problems—then eventually I consented to their request. The first question I was asked about the now popular agitation for an independent State for ndi Igbo is whether it is viable.
Viability will not be in the sense of economic or cultural significance but in terms of unanimity. Many observers believe that secession is not likely the consensus of opinion of all ndi Igbo and I started my comments from there.
As an Igbo man, the temptation is for people to ask me what and how I feel about the agitation. I regard Nigeria as a diplomatic marriage and marriage is beautiful. However, there is a provision for divorce if at any point, marriage becomes traumatic. But because there is a provision for divorce does not mean that all marriages, which experience turbulence, must end in divorce. This is an opinion of Olusegun Obasanjo, which I share.
I want to feel the situation, under discussion, as a human being first; then I will feel it as an African, and as it is now, also feel it as a Nigerian and finally as an Igbo man. As a human being, I will struggle to look at the matter dispassionately, since that is the angle I have chosen to operate from. I am not very sure I am comfortable with struggles by nations (not sovereign countries) because there is a thin line demarcating freedom fighting and insurgency especially when there is a likelihood of mild presence of terrorism.
In self determination bids, there are bound to be terrorist tendencies, either subtle, in relation to vituperations and other verbal jibes; or full violence, in relation to utilization of weapons. I recognize the fact that every group of people can form and operate National Movements and it is subtly implied that nations cannot be denied the right to self determination.
For this reason, if a group of people under a larger sovereign umbrella desires secession, it should be given an opportunity to articulate its desires and through properly articulated points, negotiations will begin as to the viability of such desires. So the case of viability in terms of agitation for the sovereignty of ndi Igbo is out of the question. Like any other group of the people of this world, that group has a right to do so.
I am an African and a witness to what is happening in the continent. In not too distant a time, Africa has passed through political turbulence and one can easily call to mind the case of Sudan. Eventually, a referendum was called for and there emerged an independent state of South Sudan. It appears to be a good story but it does not parade the usual romantic sweetness of the “happy ever after” order.
Nevertheless, nerves were calmed and relative general peace came. I also recall the suggestion of the ousted Libyan strongman, Gaddafi, when he advised Africa’s largest country, Nigeria, to split along the lines of religious and ethnic realizations. He thought that since that has worked in other areas like his own country, India, etc; it needed to be given a chance in Nigeria. While I lived in the USA, I had friends from other African countries who related with me as fellow Africans.
A Ghanaian brother of mine at one time agreed to a United West Africa, under the condition that Nigeria should remain out of it as an autonomous sovereignty. His reason for that proposal is to avoid transference of the complications of Nigeria to other West African States. I take that to mean that Nigeria needs to decongest first. These and other indications show that Nigeria requires a proper diagnosis in order to identify her ailments.
Let me now talk as a Nigerian. The story of Biafra ended indeed in 1970. But did it end in truth? It is to me, one of the several stories that ended without conclusion. So what is happening now is a quest for conclusion. It is not out of place to search for conclusion but one must be extremely careful with such an endeavour because of the danger that could come out of it.
However, one cannot legislate platforms for action in such an endeavour. For a people, like the Igbo of Nigeria, who have a strong sense of oppression and marginalization, any route perceived of capable of leading to freedom from oppression and marginalization is acceptable. They may not be particular about marked targets because what remains of utmost importance is how to realize what they need (freedom, as they claim).
Finally, I am an Igbo man. I found myself in Biafra, during the hostilities for no effort of mine; in fact not even the effort of my parents. I cannot say whether we can say yes it was good or no, it was horrible but I recall a pathetic encounter I had with a colleague of mine at a US College (University), Prof. Judy Donaldson who asked me of the place called Biafra. She wondered why she doesn’t hear or read about that place anymore (part of the story that ended without conclusion).
She recalled that while she was in High School, she made it a point of duty to drop in a dollar regularly for the victims of malnutrition in Biafra. These victims were mostly children. I was so touched by what she said and impulsively replied “thanks Judy for that kindness … I was one of those children that your dollar, one time and several times, saved.” I saw tears drop from her eyes. What do I say to this? The mark of Biafra is indelible on many of us.