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IPOB/MASSOB: Beyond the symbolism of a struggle

By Rotimi Fasan

THE Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, issued a stay-at-home order on 30th May 2017 to commemorate 50 years since the former Eastern Region under Odumegwu Ojukwu embarked on a secessionist move that culminated with the declaration of Biafra. It was a failed move that ended with a thirty-month Civil War. The sit-at home order of 30th May was a major success, reports say, in Igbo-speaking states of the South-east and some parts of the South-south apparently dominated by the Igbo. While the symbolism and optics of this outcome can be good for the groups, the politics is severely flawed. For the import of this is that the order to stay at home was largely obeyed by the Igbo.

But this ought not to have been so, for beyond the angry call for a separate Igbo nation by both IPOB and MASSOB, the propelling reason for the agitations from the South-east is the need to manage the Nigerian state in line with the protocols of a federal state.  This is the basis of calls for the restructuring of the country which is by no means limited to the Igbo. Even Nigerians from the Northern part of the country are joining the call for the country to be restructured.

Which then means that the fight being championed by IPOB and MASSOB ought to be a national fight. Why then are many Nigerians even among the Igbo not joining the movements for Biafra? Why are people not entirely sold on the separatist agenda of IPOB and MASSOB? Why would something that should be a national fight be the sole responsibility of two groups and their excited followers? The reason is simple enough: the fight has been embarked on and fought from an exclusionary standpoint. Truly, nobody ought to be invited to join a just fight for freedom. But when proponents of such fights see every contrary view as a major point to be disagreeable and insulting, then they make theirs a difficult task for others to join.

The point needs to be made that the recent upsurge in the separatist agitations of the Igbo followed clear evidence of marginalisation of the people of that region in ministerial and other appointments by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. This was a very wrong and provocative move by Buhari. But it was also not a move that affected only the Igbo. Buhari was overtly focused on filling every available positions in his government with people from the North. He made some concessions to the Yoruba that were no doubt dictated by his perception of their contribution to his emergence as president. But these concessions were not enough to erase the idea that his appointments disproportionately favoured northerners.

The one area in which he has not just failed but refused to make much concession is with regard to appointments of the Igbo. Buhari has made no bones about this. He has made clear he is obliged to take better care of those who voted for him than those who did not. This should not be the response of a statesman. Like Donald Trump who many Biafraphiles foolishly support and adore for God-knows-what reason, Buhari in his treatment of the Igbo has remained in the mode of a candidate contesting for the presidency rather than the elected leader of a united Nigeria. For this he has been called out by many commentators in the public space including here.

But then the problem that the call for the restructuring of the country exposes goes beyond one of mere appointments into ministerial positions or pork sharing, however important that may be. Otherwise, the Yoruba who for many years were criticized for what others call their opposition politics should have no reason to uphold the call that this country be restructured after Olusegun Obasanjo became president or now that Yemi Osinbajo is Vice President.

But there is more to serving a people’s interest than mere representation in a government. While the agitations by Igbo separatist groups may have the effect of calling attention to the marginalisation of the Igbo among other ethnic groups in Nigeria, champions of these groups lack the intellectual clarity to pursue the task they have imposed on themselves. Raw, undirected passion will be of no avail. The fight is not merely one of brawn and the hurling of insults and expletives at people who dare to suggest an alternative methodology not to mention a difference in vision. It is also a battle of the mind and people must be convinced of the necessity or importance of a goal before they can subscribe to it.

But for the foolish truculence of the Buhari administration that insisted on making a hero out of Nnamdi Kanu by keeping him in jail (as it has Ibrahim el Zakzakky) against court orders, the IPOB agitations would have fizzled out or remained simply a symbolic gesture. Even now both IPOB and MASSOB are yet to move beyond the optics of demanding a Biafran state as opposed to articulating in clear terms the justification for such a demand, and how that state is to be established and which people would constitute its component parts if eventually matters come to that. As it is the separatists are busy drawing and redrawing maps without the minimum concession of consulting others who do not self-identify as Biafrans before being made a part of the Biafra Nirvana. They are eagerly drawing up a montage of conflicting entities, corralling together another patchwork of warring ethnicities. Creating a nation goes beyond issuing counterfeit visas or useless monetary currencies. It goes beyond tracing a phantom link between the Igbo and the Jews or professing faith in a Jewish faith that exposes the intellectual vacuity of the separatists.

There is a clear disconnect between the Ralph Uwazurikes and Nnamdi Kanus of Igboland and their supporters and the vast Igbo intelligentsia that could help articulate the goals of Biafra. This disconnect can be seen in the inability to separate questions of representation in governance from the fundamental one of equity in the sharing of resources and the overall management of the country. But for this lack of intellectual clarity people would not confuse the presence of more Igbo people in a Buhari government with better stakes and freedom in Nigeria. The Goodluck Jonathan administration was by all practical purposes an Igbo government given the level of Igbo representation. But what did that mean for the generality of the Igbo? Were Igbo intellectuals and people of acumen not part of the Obasanjo administration? What did this do for the Igbo as a people? Clear thinking and logic not wasting passion and bravura is the way towards a restructured Nigeria.


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