By Ochereome Nnanna
When the current agitations for Biafra by Igbo youth started under the platform of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, most people did not take them serious.
This was probably because of the tepid, non-violent and purposeless posture that Barrister Ralph Uwazuruike’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Independent State of Biafra, MASSOB, struck in the past twenty or so years of its founding.
Apart from routinely mustering thousands of idle young men and women, moving in large columns of buses, planting Biafran flags here and there, occasionally having its leaders and members arrested and such inanities, MASSOB was essentially irrelevant as opposed to, say, the Yoruba Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, which acted as an alternative grassroots police/security outfit which had the confidence of the people. MASSOB squatted on its haunches while kidnappers, armed robbers and all sorts of vile criminals had Igboland for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu, came with a different weapon: fiery demagoguery spewed from the megaphones of Radio Biafra, a foreign-based pirate radio station, stroking the dormant chords of Igbo sentiments about their ever worsening conditions in their country, Nigeria, and telling them it is time to dump their fatherland for a dream independent Biafra.
Kanu’s messages are clearly meant to drive a wedge between the Igbos and other Nigerians. He calls Nigeria a “zoo”. As you know, it is animals that reside in zoos.
Naturally, the reactions to Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB crowd are mixed among Nigerians. The Igbos share the sentiments Kanu and his IPOB are ventilating.
However, some, like me, do not think the answer lies in secession from our own fatherland into a Chimeric or Quixotic Republic of Biafra. For that reason, we urge restraint, knowing that to eat a hot okra soup you need to be cool. But some are letting their emotions run away with them and are siding with the protesting youth.
Yet others hope, rather opportunistically, that “something” will come of it since it is through such hot-head antics that Nigeria gets to listen to its aggrieved citizens.
Our other Majority brothers were no less divided. Among the Yorubas, those stung by the acid rhetoric of Radio Biafra, naturally fire back. They dare IPOB to “start and see what will happen”, and those with an eye on Igbo property in Lagos simply ask them to “go”. The more matured and reasonable ones call for caution, toeing my line of thought viz: that running away to Biafra is not the answer.
We also note the disclaimers from the Itsekiri and Urhobo ethnic groups who have formally dissociated themselves from inclusion in the Biafra that agitators have been peddling with a map.
From the North, feelings are similarly mixed. I find the Northern angle of great interest, for the simple reason that it is the region that stands accused of creating the unsavoury atmosphere that breeds injustice and misrule, which spark periodic “self-determination” agitations in the country. The North, with the lion’s share of everything: landmass, population (real or contrived), is dominant politically.
When IPOB/MASSOB blockaded the River Niger Bridgehead at Onitsha and Asaba a fortnight ago and the army was used to kill some agitators and forcibly dislodge the thousands of youth from the main link between the South East/South-South and the rest of the country, some hoodlums seized the opportunity burn down a mosque and the residents of Onitsha who are of Northern origin had to flee to the various barracks for safety. This was a very testy moment.
Given the amount of vitriol that Radio Biafra and IPOB had raked I feared the Bridgehead incident could be the ugly turning point we all prayed should never come. Within this period, IPOB had been calling on Igbos living in the North to relocate to Igboland. Some hitherto unknown Northern groups issued statements giving Igbos in the North two weeks to “leave”. They called on the Federal Government to “crack down” on the protests.
But some others were more matured and reasonable in their response. One of them that impressed me the most was a group known as North East Youth Peace Development Initiative, NEYPDI. Its National President, Alhaji Kyari Idris Abubakar, countermanded the “quit notices” and asked the Federal Government not to use force but employ dialogue as force “is not the best approach to handling the matter”.
Apart from the youth, the leadership of the North acted responsibly. The Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Governor Kassim Shettima of Borno State issued a press release calling on Northerners not to allow the Onitsha incident to “spillover” to the North. Surprisingly too, Ishaq Oloyede, the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, issued a statement urging Muslims in the North not to retaliate, adding that those who burnt the mosque in Onitsha were “criminals” who should be caught and dealt with.
To top it all, the Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III dispatched a delegation of Northern traditional rulers to Owerri to meet with their counterparts from the South East to discuss ways out of the problems, and the event was a great success.
Perhaps, the North wanted to reciprocate the South’s matured handling of the Boko Haram suicide bombings and the killing of youth corps members by mobs in the North after the 2011 general elections, which went without reprisals in the South.
This is the correct way to approach issues such as this. If the country is to survive, let the hotheads have their say but let them never have their way. When people are agitating as IPOB and MASSOB have been doing you don’t pour petrol on the matter as the military did by shooting at the Bridgehead protesters. Why use the military against unarmed protesters? Why not use the Police? The Mobile Police can disperse any unarmed crowd.
But IPOB/MASSOB cannot claim to be “non-violent” when they create blockades, stop people from going about their normal livelihood, or engage in activities that provoke others.
Everybody, please “park well.”