By Ochereome Nnanna
A LOT of Nigerian interest groups, especially those from the North, have criticised the apex interest group for the Igbo nation, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, for “keeping quiet” since Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous Peoples of Biafra IPOB, and other pro-Biafra groups brought their agitation to the front burner of Nigerian political discourse in recent times. No one will argue the point that Biafra is now the number one trending topic in Nigeria, and that Kanu is right now the hottest talking point, for better or worse.
Since Kanu was released by the courts on bail under severe conditions, he has acquired a larger-than-life image, particularly after the Arewa Youths issued the Igbo living in the North “quit notice” because of the sweeping success of the stay-at-home order on the people of Igbo stock in the South East and South-South on 30th May 2017. Kanu has received more and more groups, not only from Igboland but they also include an Ijaw group from Bayelsa , Ikwerre group from Rivers and a Tiv group from Benue states which came to him to identify with his Biafra struggle. In fact, some other pro-Biafra groups have only recently appointed Kanu their supreme leader.
I was wondering what they really expected the Dr. John Nwodo-led Ohanaeze to say at the time Kanu was still in detention. On the one hand, it would have been politically incorrect for Ohanaeze to take sides with Biafra or its agitators because there are many in the silent Igbo majority who do not see the separatist agitation of Nnamdi Kanu and his cohorts as their own solution to the Igbo question in Nigeria. On the other, Ohanaeze could not have turned its back on Kanu and the Biafra agitators as their critics wanted them to do. That would surely make the Ohanaeze umbrella lose its relevance among the people it is representing.
Silence was golden, and Ohanaeze chose to work in the background, which went a long way in securing the much-awaited bail for Kanu. Since he regained his temporary freedom, a lot of wise counsel has been put at his disposal both from within and outside the Ohanaeze. When you receive advice, it is up to you what you do with it. Kanu knows that the Biafra agitation is something he can no longer back out of because it has claimed the lives of thousands of his adherents. The greatest challenge for him is where to draw the line.
Penultimate weekend, he appeared to cross the line. While receiving thousands of his supporters at his Afaraukwu village in Umuahia, Abia State, Kanu “decreed” that the governorship and state legislative elections scheduled to hold in Anambra State in November this year would not take place. Perhaps, he intends to invoke the same authority that led to the total compliance with the sit-at-home directive in May.
Now, Ohanaeze had to speak up. Its President-General, Chief John Nwodo, did so in no uncertain terms. He went to the Anambra State House of Assembly with his Executive Council, to denounce Kanu’s call for the election boycott, and told the world that Igbo people are still very much Nigerians like ever before, though they complain about their continued discrimination or marginalisation within the system.
Nwodo just had to speak. Ohanaeze is an elected, constituted authority mandated to front for the interests of all Igbo people wherever they are in Nigeria and the entire world. Ohanaeze is a Nigerian institution. Those who are agitating for Biafra are part of its constituents. The pro-Biafra platforms are interest groups within the jurisdiction of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo. No splinter group, no matter how suddenly influential, can give the kind of order Kanu gave for the boycott of the Anambra elections or any other civic event organised under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Only Ohanaeze, after full consultations with all the organs, stakeholder groups, women, youths and elders of the Igbo nation, can call for any boycott and it will stand. Any other thing is just an opinion, and if it infringes on the fundamental rights of others, those behind it will face the laws of the land.
I stand with Ohanaeze because I do not believe that secession and separatism is the political ideology of the Igbo. Igbo people, right from the beginning, are nationalists. They are, perhaps, the only major group that has opened their arms wide and with all their hearts, embraced Nigeria. It was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Great Zik of Africa, who coined the expression: “Nigeria is an indivisible and indissoluble nation”, which is now part of our constitution. Do not mind that some people who do not really believe in Nigeria except as a colony of their region now use that hallowed term to intimidate people who are asking for justice, fair play and equity. Azikiwe had the vision of Nigeria to the Black world what Saudi Arabia is to the Arab and Muslim world: sacred homeland, the Promised Land.
Igbo people do not live their everyday lives as if they are getting out of Nigeria at any given date soon. Wherever they find themselves, they relax and bring out their creative talents to build and develop them as their home. That is not the attitude of separatists. It is those who live in other places other than their own as temporary visitors – even when they have settled there for centuries – that have questions to answer as to their real interest about making Nigeria great and a place for their children.
Igbo people were at the forefront of the fight for Nigeria’s independence, and have been at the forefront for its development physically, intellectually, professionally and sacrificially. Biafra is a place of refuge for the people of the East when Nigeria can no longer offer them a living space. Yes, many of us feel that the time for Biafra is now, since Nigeria has refused to accommodate the Igbo 47 years after the civil war. It is because of this factor that I will not be part of anything that will seek the annihilation of self-determination agitators who are peaceful and respect the rights of others.
This argument is valid. Some of us, in our moments of passion, look on this Biafra thing as something whose time is nigh. But on further reflection, we know that the prevailing atmosphere is foisted on us because of the kind of President we now have. Nigeria brought back a man with a heart still bleeding with the hurt of the January 15th 1966 events, or a man hiding under that smokescreen to implement some unholy religious and ethnic agenda which manifest in the scourge of armed Fulani herdsmen and what have you. We know his stay in power has an expiry date (it might well have expired), and that under a better, more patriotic leader, all Nigerians, including the Igbo, can still smile again. We can all resume the effort to collectively hone Nigeria into the art piece that will be the cynosure of all eyes.
I believe that Nigeria is salvageable. It is already being salvaged. The consensus gathering around restructuring is now isolating those resisting it to a tiny, desperate minority. The wall of Jericho is falling. All it requires is for all the groups seeking equity, fair play and justice in Nigeria to come together and fight to retrieve our country from those who stole it using military power.
In this struggle, we will either get Nigeria put right or it will simply come unstuck like the former Soviet Union. Whatever Igbo people want to do in Biafra, let them start doing it inside Nigeria so that if Biafra comes they will simply walk in and continue without needing to clear the rubble first.
I stand with Ohanaeze to continue to champion the interests of the Igbo nation within Nigeria, including those of Biafra agitators. We are all Nigerians. We will join our other brother Nigerians to rescue the nation from sectional leeches. We will succeed, so help us God.