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Integrating Biafra: Party supremacy

By Bisi Lawrence

The clamour for a State of Biafra seems, to say the least, rather pathetic. It is an effort cast in the classic mode of a modern-day quixotic daydream or the desire of genuine patriots in dire need of psychiatric help. It is clear that the so-called movement is not going anywhere, and may only bring sorrow and embarrassment to its supporters. Biafra died as a proposition right before our eyes some decades ago, and its sincere mourners have since wiped their tears.

Nnamdi Kanu
Nnamdi Kanu

The original idea was to carve an enclave out of Nigeria in an area mostly populated by the Igbos among other ethnic groups like the Efiks, Kalabaris, Ibibios, Ijaws, Ogonis and others, stemming from a violent disagreement in the Northern part of the country, which put the lives of people sojourning there from the Eastern part of the country in danger.

The exodus which ensued when the Southerners, mostly Igbo, streamed back home to save their lives, gave passion to the desire of keeping away from the North. That desire was resisted and crushed by the armed forces of the rest of the country in a war which has been tagged “Biafra” by some people and “Unity by others. That is history. No nation should go through that awesome experience twice. Hardly any nation can.

Of course, any group within the citizenry of nation may attempt to break away from the country to the extent that the law permits. That, in plain terms, means without violence and for justifiable reasons, secession is not unreasonable. It is an exercise that has accompanied the institution of nationhood since its inception. It has succeeded or failed according to the tide of fortunes. The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 is a classic historical incident which outlined factors that make civil wars preventable but seemingly unavoidable.

The fault lines of our civil war ran along tribal jealousies that were personified in narrow ambitions that overshadowed the welfare of the common people. In any case, there should be unanimity among the elements of a dissenting group that desires to be separated from the rest. The congregation of the Biafran proposition lacked that cohesiveness. Much as some of the other ethnic units would also like to go their separate ways from Nigeria, they did not appear, from experience, to favour a grouping where they would be in the minority with certain other units.

There were also economic factors that militated against an enclave in that part of the country. The oil which had been discovered was situated away from the hinterland of the territory of the leaders of the secessionist bid, and the indigenes of that area were not enthusiastic about being a minority voice in decisions over such possessions. Some variations on such themes have also motivated against secession attempts in the United Kingdom where Scotland had to face the reality of an economic recession if she had broken away from England, Ireland and Wales as she had intended to.

There has also been a breakaway bug biting Ireland from the desire to recover Northern Ireland from the protestant grasp of England for decades, through violence even. And we have Catalonia which is autonomous in everything but the attribute of full nationhood. And so, the sporadic demand for Biafra is unique only in its location. The demand itself is really a universally observable fact. There are laws in every country to cope with any over-exuberance. All the same, we cannot just turn our back on a momentous incident in our history as if it never occurred.

There were a number of lessons that could have been learnt on both sides, I am sure. the Civil War evinced a show of resourcefulness which the Igbos had highlighted in their character as a people all along. The inventiveness which they brought into play in various instances and the resilience with which they bore adverse conditions were virtues we could have imbibed and adopted as a nation after the hostilities. Our development would have gained a tonic from these qualities. What is more, our identification with these attributes would have brought us much closer together, and blurred the edge of the much-touted “marginalization”.

We indeed should have seriously considered how to remove the disfigurement, the physical as well as the psychological scars, which the war left behind after those ugly months of fratricidal engagement. It may be said indeed that there were “no victors, no vanquished”, but there were victims—so many of them. No doubt, hands of kindness were stretched to help them at a personal level, but there was little national machinery for rehabilitation beyond sweet slogans which did not penetrate the anguish of much that was lost and irrecoverable.

What could have been given was a palpable token; what could have been offered is a symbol of unanimity—like a flag, for instance. While it is true that we already have a flag—the green-white-green—there is no reason why we could not change it to a more appropriate one if we so decide. After all, we did change our National Anthem, an equally important national asset when it was decided that another one would be more suitable. And several nations, notably the US and Great Britain have been known to change their national flags for purposes of national import.

And we are talking here of nations who make much of their flags having invested so much of their historical honour and prestige in the way these national items had been preserved through decades of their nationhood.  If we have to talk about it, we must admit that we have not done much with our flag actually. Of course it has the attribute of being simple, but its value would be enhanced if it also conveys a meaningful message of loyalty, or togetherness, or of national pride, or an impressive sentiment that sends a gripping message to the citizenry. We do not seem to even have a name for it. The British call theirs, “The Union Jack”. The Russians have their “Hammer and Sickle”, and of course the Yankees swear by “The Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory”.

They even sing about their flag in their national anthem. And can we even forget the Black Star, and the pride that Ghanaians take in it? A good way of truly bringing the non-victorious and non-vanquished together could indeed be through amalgamating the Biafran flag with the Nigerian flag. All that need be done would be to integrate the “sun” emblem in the Biafran flag into the “white” of the Nigerian flag to make a composite national flag. The sun could be made a full representation, rather that the half “rising sun” of the secessionist flag, The entire flag could be named “”The Giant”—a curtailed form of Nigeria’s appellation of “Giant in the Sun”.

The Sun could then become the veritable symbol of the most populous nation of the Sun on earth, Nigeria.  It would not be glorifying a rebellion. That, by the way, is the name giving to an uprising that fails. If it is successful, it becomes a revolution. Biafra did not succeed, but we cannot deny its place in our history, nor totally ignore its impress on the psyche of a national grouping. Of course, this is a metre suggestion, and there may be a more acceptable way in which to complete the rehabilitation efforts that seem to have left some vital areas untouched… that is the area of the mind, the territory of feelings yet more elusive to the touch than the mind.

But even there are other ways, it still would be easier to walk together on a familiar terrain.  Echoes: (Martin Okpa) .It is actually a misnomer to talk of “party supremacy” in the Nigerian polity. Under the 1999 Constitution, there is nothing like “party supremacy”. What we have is “supremacy of the constitution”, and this you can see clearly in Section 1, Subsections {1) and (2)  of the 1999 Constitution. The talk of “supremacy of the party” is thus actually violently in violation of the clear words of the Constitution.

And we need to accept that nowhere in any section of the Constitution are political parties empowered to “directly” involve themselves in choosing or selecting the leadership of either the Senate or The House of Representatives. The parties’ role is covert and indirect, using their respective members in both chambers to effect their respective agenda. The clear words of the Constitution made it the business of the Senators and Representatives to choose their respective leaders on the floors of the respective chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives.(080737806950)

The 1999 Constitution is indeed very clear, in the section referred to, that no “person or group of persons “ shall be allowed to “take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof” except it is so stipulated in the Constitution. In fact, I totally agree with your position as stated. I doubt though, that the appointment of officials to membership positions of any category in a legislative house under the aegis of a political party, qualified in the first place, to do so by virtue of its membership strength in the legislature, is at par with taking control of the government.

The Constitution also simply states that “a President and a Deputy President of the Senate shall be elected by the members from among themselves.” Where? It is assumed that it shall be on the floor of the house. It is also assumed that it shall be from among the party on the majority list among the members, in accordance with the best democratic practice. But it is also accepted that the parties shall all the same assert their supremacy (pardon me as I cannot help quoting you) using their members to effect their agenda.

Time out.


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