By Ochereome Nnanna
THE mass anger among the Igbo youth is justified as I noted in the first part of this article. But is secession or the call for Biafra the answer? The purpose of this second part is to put across my opinion that secession is neither viable nor in the best interest of the Igbo nation. I will try and proffer what I believe is the way forward.
Should the Igbos react to 45 years of their political marginalisation (which has been compounded by President Muhammadu Buhari’s extremely narrow-minded Arewa nepotism) by bolting away from a Nigerian commonwealth of which they are a founding father and deeply rooted stakeholder? The second question is: how does Biafra even come into the Igbo political equation?
The youth need to be properly informed about the roles played by the various ethnic groups, especially the three Majorities (Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba) in negotiating the independence of Nigeria from the British colonialists. The ideas they brought to the negotiation table during the constitutional talks in London and Ibadan in the 1950s depicted their visions of independent Nigeria and their respective places in it.
The Northern group led by Alhaji Ahmadu Bello wanted an independent Nigeria where their Islamic heritage would not be tampered with; where the North would not be disadvantaged by the South’s advanced educational standing and affinity to the Western lifestyle. For them, it was either they were allowed to feel comfortable in an independent Nigeria or they would not be part of it.
The North was, originally, the first group to attempt to pull out of Nigeria before and after independence. The Yorubas were originally part of the Pan Africanist National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) movement until Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group came in to push for strong regions to enable them control the destiny of the Yorubas within the Nigerian federation.
The Igbos, with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the undisputed political torchbearer, stood behind the NCNC’s Pan Africanism, which saw all Africans and Blacks as people bound by one destiny. Zik and his Igbo followers stood for one Nigeria, knowing full well that with their large population and geographical disadvantage (small landmass without direct access to the sea) they needed the larger national canvas to thrive. Zik made a lot of what some people called “expensive compromises” for one united Nigeria because of this.
There was nothing like Biafra in the socio-political cosmology of the Igbo people before January 15th 1966 when the so-called “Igbo-led coup” dethroned the North-controlled federal government in a bloody coup. If that historic event had not taken place there never would have been Biafra. Biafra was an emergency “refugee camp” that Igbos adopted in a gallant effort to protect themselves against a North-controlled army that was in a quest to avenge the killing of their leaders during the January 15th coup. The authenticity of Zik’s vision of strategic Igbo interest is proved by the fact that 45 years after the civil war, there is probably more Igbo wealth outside Igboland than within. They generate their wealth more from outside than within Igboland. Igbos are like the Jews: impulsive Diaspora people. Igbos should be at the forefront of the postulation that Nigeria is an indissoluble nation.
There is no bloodless route to secession from Nigeria for anyone, at least for now. If that was possible, Boko Haram would have swept away the North since it is the same Sharia that Ahmed Sani Yerima triggered off across the North in 2000 that Boko Haram is fighting for. Igbos should be proud of their role in routing Boko Haram. When the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was fighting for the actualisation of June 12 and established pirate Radio Kudirat, secession was one of the options on the cards. But the idea was later dropped because they knew the inevitable consequence of mounting an armed struggle to pull out. The Niger Delta militants only needed a little persuasion by President Umaru Yar’ Adua and they wisely surrendered their arms in exchange for the Amnesty package.
If tragically, the Biafra push comes to shove, the Minorities of the South-South are unlikely to enter the trenches with the Igbos. They are not even part of Nnamdi Kanu’s protests. Those maps of Biafra that these agitators are flaunting will shrink into South East within a jiffy. Igbos should never again be part of any anger-driven separatist caper such as the Biafra episode of 1967 – 1970.
Even if, miraculously, the rest of Nigeria decides to grant Biafra independence, the new nation will be surrounded by hostile neighbours because of the filthy propaganda that Nnamdi Kanu and his Radio Biafra have been spewing these past months. You cannot call people such vile names and expect them to be magnanimous towards your abandoned property. Billions of Dollars of Igbo sweat in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country will be confiscated because they will no longer have the citizenship rights which the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria confers on them. Igbos would be subjects of ridicule if they returned to any part of Nigeria after denigrating it as a “zoo”.
The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is not a zoo. I believe in what my late sister, Prof. Dora Akunyili said about Nigeria: “good people, great nation”. Nigeria is one of the most blessed countries in the world, and there is no Nigeria without the Igbos. Igbos have no problems with Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis, Ijaws, Edos, Nupe and others. These are our brothers, friends, neighbours in-laws, business partners, customers, countrymen and women. We live among them as they live among us; we are interdependent. That is what gives the Igbo man his wealth and his success. That must never be given up.
Nigeria, however, is possessed by bad leaders. The bad leadership that caused the coup which led to the civil war also brought about the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders twenty one years ago. It annulled the June 12 election won by Chief Moshood Abiola, levelled Odi and Zaki-Biam, triggered off the Niger Delta militancy and the fight for resource control and sparked off the Boko Haram terror campaign. It is responsible for making the North the poorest region in Nigeria despite its dominance of government since independence. It made Nigeria a poor and corrupt nation in spite of its bounteous human and natural resource bases. It was the monster that the Nzeogwu coup tried to slay but miscarried. It is a monster that breeds injustice, gives the commonwealth of Nigeria into the hands of a few kinsmen and sees the rest of the citizenry outside the “chosen group” as colonial subjects.
That is the monster facing all of us in Nigeria. And that is the monster all the youth in Nigeria, including the Igbo youth, should rise against. Seceding from Nigeria is like attempting to run away from your shadow – you can’t.
Igbos should continue to engage the political process as a means of achieving their goals in Nigeria. A lot was achieved in the past 20 years in repairing the Igbo political platform. The outcome of the elections in 2011 and 2015 went a long way in restoring the political cohesion of the Igbos and their Minority neighbours. That was a giant stride towards an eventual Igbo presidency and the burial of the ghost of the civil war.
No country’s boundary was drawn by God. Who knows, one day, Biafra might walk in through the door without anyone needing to shed blood. But for now, as an Igbo man, I am sticking with Nigeria, the country of my birth.