Elder statesman and former presidential adviser in the Second Republic, Tanko Yakasai, has said that the reawakening of agitation for a new Biafra, the original being in the 1960s, is rather a ploy by Nnamdi Kanu to gather support from the Igbo and any of their sympathizers through turning the agitation to a political movement to score a political point.
The elder statesman who revealed this during a chat with Daily Trust also said that Uwazurike who first began the agitation for the new Biafra during the time of Obasanjo has been quiet because he has realised that it is impossible to achieve Biafra based on so many indices.
Mr. Yakasai also said that, this is why the agitation is coming when “the South-West who are more interested in brewing trouble in the country and the Niger Delta people who are agitating for resource control joined forces with them to change the whole issue into restructuring.”
Read the full chat below:
Why is the agitation for Biafra gathering momentum in recent times?
Well, the agitation for Biafra started soon after the demise of Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi. So the name is not new. The only difference is that the old Biafra actually was intended to occupy the whole of southern region.
It was a scheme for getting the entire southern Nigeria to break away. The intention was to block the North from access to the sea. If that happened, the North would be starved of many things coming from the port, including fuel and imported items we rely upon. So that was the old Biafra.
Because of that, when they were preparing to declare Biafra, southern minorities from the present day Cross River and Akwa Ibom led a delegation to the North to plead with General Hassan Usman Katsina, the then military governor of Northern Nigeria, to plead with the central government not to allow Biafran secession to succeed because, according to them, if it was allowed to succeed, they would remain forever as second class citizens in what would be known as Biafra.
The young men are not agitating for the five Igbo-speaking states to constitute Biafra, rather, they are thinking of the old Eastern Region, with the four minority states, together with five majority Igbo-speaking states. You don’t dismiss idea by a wave of hand. But the practical aspect of it is very difficult because all along there has not been love lost between the Igbo and their minority.
In fact, when Nigeria was to be granted independence and constitutional conference was held in 1957, the minorities in the East complained of oppression and marginalisation by the Igbo. They wanted their interest to be safeguarded in an independent Nigeria. It was agreed that a special arrangement would be made to protect their interest, and it was made with the creation of the Niger Delta Development Authority which was put under the care of Shehu Shagari, who was then the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister. It was decided that the development of the Niger Delta shall not come from the Eastern Region, even though they were located under the old regional government.
I don’t think it is possible for the minority to go into any political association with the Igbo.
This agitation started right from the time of Obasanjo, with Uwazurike as its leader. Now, I think Uwazurike has realised that it is an impossible task to realise their dream; that is why he is more or less quiet. This young man, Nnamdi Kanu, was just a broadcaster. I don’t know whether he was under Uwazurike or on his own, but he was not a leader on his own.
He was a broadcaster. I believe he got some of their people in the United States, collected their money and set up a radio station, which I think is being broadcast from America and beamed somewhere in West Africa. The boy became popular after his arrest. I think what they are trying to do is to develop the agitation into a political movement and try to gather support from the Igbo and any of their sympathizers.
This agitation for new Biafra came at a time when the Niger Delta people are agitating for resource control, and at the same time, the South-West, who are more interested in brewing trouble in the country, joined forces with them to change the whole issue into restructuring. So there is now a connection between the agitation for restructuring, the realisation of Biafra and resource control.
They started during the 1994/95 constitutional conference, where they were holding regular meetings. At that time, every week, the minority from the East would meet with Igbo, and after that, they would meet with the Yoruba. All these three ideas emanated from former Vice President Alex Ekwueme.
This is the situation now. The issue to be addressed is whether the present Biafra would include the former Eastern Region, whereby the four minority Igbo-speaking states would join forces with five Igbo-speaking states and form new Biafra? That has not been spelt out. The only thing I heard was that Rivers would not be part of the Biafra; I think Akwa-Ibom too.
But it is not clear yet whether the four minority Igbo-speaking states have openly declared that they are not going be part of Biafra. This is the immediate challenge the agitators for new Biafra will face. But grant it that Biafra will materialise; everybody is aware that the major ethnic groups in Nigeria are Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.
The minorities are everywhere and our minorities are not distinct; we are interwoven. Even the North-Central, which is the official area regarded as the Middle Belt, is made up of six states. Four of the six are Muslim majority; they are Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi and Kwara states and the minority elements left in Plateau State, for instance, are themselves fighting one another. In addition, they don’t speak with one another except in either Hausa or English.
None of them can speak with the other in their own native language, and all of them were at loggerheads with the Tiv. Initially, when our committee was asked to recommend creation of states, we intended to create Middle Belt state but when the idea was put forward, the people of Niger said they were out of it; the people of Ilorin said they were out of it and the people of Kogi also said they were out of it. So the old Plateau had to be merged with Benue and made one province while other provinces were regrouped.
So, the reality is that the three major ethnic groups, Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, need Nigeria. Every one of them needs Nigeria. Let’s start with the Yoruba. Most of the industries are located in the South-West, mainly in Lagos, some in Ogun and some in Ibadan. According to a letter written by the late General Adeyinka Adebayo, the industries in Oyo are owned by Lebanese and Indians, but 70 per cent of the industries located in Lagos State are owned by Igbo.
So the industries that are manufacturing goods in the South-West and some in the Eastern Region have the whole of Nigeria as their market, a market of about 200 million people. If there is no Nigeria, there would not be that market and what would be the consequences of lack of market?
First, the goods cannot be sold, there will be no production and there will be unemployment, and the people that are employed in industries located in the South-West are largely Yoruba. The day there is no Nigeria, there will be massive unemployment in the South-West. This is apart from the food and livestock they are getting from the North.
If there is no Nigeria, they will not get them, and if they are going to import, it will take time and will be costly. By nature, they cannot grow livestock and some food items in their area. The geographical situation in South-West is different from that of the North; the animals they are growing do not enough meat and milk, unlike the ones in the North.
For the Igbo, at present there is no village where there is a flourishing market where you cannot have the Igbo conducting their own businesses. And they are living in peace; nobody is harassing them. They live within thousands of other ethnic groups and nobody is attacking them. It is a well known fact that the business of building materials is surrendered to Igbo people, as well as electrical appliances, fittings and spare parts. Commuter transportation; those luxury buses that are plying our roads from one state to another are owned by the Igbo. The day there is no Nigeria, the Igbo will have no alternative than to relocate to their states. And with the hate speeches being circulated on the social media and other platforms, it is impossible to have a peaceful dissolution of Nigeria.
That is the take on the Igbo and the Yoruba people. We the Huasa Fulani too need Nigeria. I have sat alone, without reading any book and said to myself: “What do we need from Nigeria?” And I have come up with five things we really need Nigeria for. One, we have no way of having immediate access to the sea than from Nigeria. If there is no Nigeria, we have to go to Libya, and there are no enough roads to achieve that.
Two, we need the current oil revenue. In Nigeria, only six states can survive with the oil revenue they are getting. There are four oil bearing states that cannot survive with the quantity of oil located in their areas. These states are Abia, Imo, Ondo and Edo, they have oil, but it is not as much as they could rely on for survival.
But Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom and one other state can survive with the oil located in their respective areas. So, during the first Biafran agitation Ojukwu entered agreement with France whereby he gave concession for the entire oil and gas resources in the Biafran region. If Biafra succeeded, there was no way the Niger Delta people could claim ownership of oil and gas located in their areas.
Three, the North also needs education. Today, in most of our universities the lecturers are mostly from the South – even the students. We need education and we cannot get it without teachers, so we need Nigeria to get teachers from southern part of the country to come and teach us.
Four, we need the technical know-how the South has. So we need them for that.
Five, we also need the South for investment. The only northerners that have huge investments are three – Aliko Dangote, T. Y Danjuma and Alhaji Abdulsamad Isyaka Rabi’u. But if you go to the South you will get thousands of them with huge capital.
So, the three major ethnic groups need Nigeria because everybody is benefiting from Nigeria. For the Igbo, if there is no Nigeria, there will be no market for them to do their businesses. At least if you take the North, you are talking of 55 per cent of the population of Nigeria, which is about 100 million out of the 180 million of Nigerian population.
The Yoruba also need market because their industries cannot sell the goods to themselves. By nature, the Yoruba man likes the Hausa man more than the Igbo man and the Igbo man likes the Hausa man more than the Yoruba man, yet the Yoruba are now trying to convince the Igbo to forget aganist the Hausa.
The Igbo, unfortunately, are lacking in diplomacy. This is the weakness of the Igbo and that is what the Yoruba are capitalising on to manipulate their way of thinking. During the first declaration of Biafra, it was a public knowledge that when Gowon sent Awolowo to persuade Ojukwu not to embark on secession, they met on the River Niger bridge and discussed.
Later on, the media said that according to unofficial report, Awolowo assured Ojukwu that if they seceded, the West would also secede. When he came out, he declared publicly that if by any act of commission or omission the East was allowed to go, the West would follow. This is the public announcement he made and the record is there, which means the West would also secede from the rest of Nigeria.
The Igbo believed in him and Ojukwu told all the Igbo to go back to their respective areas. At that time, the Igbo were holding various positions in government, but they all left. When they came back after the civil war, they found that the Yoruba had occupied their positions, and till today, they have not regained such positions, and they will never regain them.”