By Douglas Anele
President Muhammadu Buhari hates the separatist agitations of IPOB. For him, majority of the youths agitating for Biafra do not really appreciate the horrors of the civil war because they were not yet born at the time and, as a result, should not precipitate another conflict.
As far as the President and other caliphate colonialists are concerned Nigeria’s disfigured unity, no matter how suffocating it might be to the Igbo and other “conquered” ethnic nationalities in southern Nigeria, is not negotiable.
Buhari even blames south-east leaders for the activities of IPOB. Now, the President has always exhibited a condescending attitude towards Ndigbo and their concerns, probably because they lost the war and must be kept in their place so that Ahmadu Bello’s ideal of unquestioned Islamic Fulani hegemony over Nigeria would be realised. In my opinion, Buhari’s response to the Biafran problem is too provocative and unimaginative.
As a leader in an admittedly rudimentary fractious democratic setting, he should have invited leaders of genuine separatist movements in the country to a meeting for serious discussions as a caring father would, work out a consensus with them on how to address the complex issues fuelling their secessionist agitations, and begin the process of devolving power from the centre to the geopolitical zones or ethnic nationalities.
But the President, given his rigid, temperamental dispositions, and misled by bulimic sycophants benefitting from the current system, will not do that. Instead, he relies on the military to deal with a difficult issue that requires wisdom and statesmanship to resolve.
I believe that President Buhari’s approach to the national question cannot engender lasting solution to problem of ethnic rivalry and suspicion, because it is based on the flawed premise that Nigeria’s unity constructed by British imperialists is non-negotiable and that the best way to maintain it is by force. Meanwhile, the unstated presumption that those who did not witness the civil war are somehow disqualified from agitating for the resuscitation of Biafra is wrong, an indication of ignorance concerning the critical role of history in shaping human activities.
To be sure, the demand by IPOB for a referendum to determine whether the Igbo want Biafra or prefer to remain part of asphyxiating Nigeria is definitely not a call for violence or another civil war, as Buhari and other ardent caliphate colonialists have been proclaiming. Indeed, the demand is a civilised attitude to the issue at stake. Therefore, demonising Nnamdi Kanu and his cohorts by falsely claiming that IPOB’s request for referendum would lead to armed conflict is a case of calling a dog a bad name to hang it.
On the supposition that those without direct experience of the hardships caused by the civil war should not agitate for Biafra, I argue that anyone appalled by the plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria could, through historical research, critical reflection, and empathic imagination be in a state of mind remarkably close to the feelings and mindset of a typical Igbo when the pogroms against Ndigbo living in northern Nigeria escalated from May, 1966 to the time war broke out in July 6, 1967.
It follows that through the psychological mechanisms of transference and imaginative intellectual reconstruction, any well-informed person concerning the Biafran war who did not witness the conflict either because he was too young to understand what was happening at the time or was born after the war – or even a foreigner unconnected in any way with the conflict – can imaginatively be so connected vividly or attuned mentally to the Biafran phenomenon as if he was actually involved directly. Consider this: On May 30, 1969, an American, Bruce Mayrock, a part-time student of General Studies at Columbia University who neither visited Biafra nor was related to any Biafran, set himself ablaze in the lawn of the United Nations building in New York to protest the genocide Nigerian government was committing against Biafrans.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, became an atheist at thirteen because he could not understand why a supposedly omnipotent good God would allow children to suffer the way Biafran children suffered during the civil war.
More examples can be cited but the two highlighted above suffice to establish that one does not need direct acquaintance with an event of profound social significance, such the Biafran war and its repercussions, before that person can genuinely identify with it. Would Christianity and Islam have survived, let alone thrived, if the earliest believers had insisted that only those that actually saw Jesus of Nazareth and Prophet Mohammed (SAW) preach were qualified to identify with their teachings?
More specifically, why is President Buhari a devout Muslim despite the fact that he was born more than a thousand five hundred years after the religion was founded? The point is: anyone from the defunct eastern region, particularly an Igbo, can justifiably agitate for Biafra’s resuscitation because the conditions that led to secession by Lt. Col. Ojukwu in May 30, 1967 are still rearing their ugly heads especially now largely due to the perceived anti-Igbo proclivities of President Buhari.
‘Operation Python Dance’ or whatever military strategy the federal government might adopt against the separatist movement in the south-east can halt it temporarily. Yet, as long as there is a sizeable number of Ndigbo who believe strongly that they are treated like second class citizens, that Nigeria is designed in such a way that emasculates the Igbo by making them feel unwanted and alienated, the quest for actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra will continue to come up from time to time.
At the beginning of our discussion, I raised the issue of Nnamdi Kanu’s intellectual, moral and spiritual qualifications for leading a separatist movement. Based on his interviews and speeches, one can conclude that he is reasonably well-educated, intelligent and genuinely dedicated to the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra. However, on many occasions, his irascible speeches and pseudo messianic behaviour undermine his efforts. For instance, vitriolic utterances against the Igbo elite generally and other ethnic groups, and conducting himself like a divine being to be worshipped, are clearly detrimental to his core objective.
Like Ojukwu, Kanu’s mistakes are due to youthful exuberance, characterological weaknesses and hyperbolic idealism. But unlike Ojukwu who, as the proactive military governor of eastern region mandated by his people, particularly the elite, to lead them out of Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu is a relatively obscure individual before the emergence of IPOP without cognate leadership experience.
Moreover, and this is crucial, he does not have the mandate of the Igbo intelligentsia and business elite in the country probably because they do not see him as the right person to liberate Ndigbo from Nigeria, and also to protect their vested interests. Consequently, Kanu is in a considerably weaker position than Ojukwu was in 1967.
Now, although the IPOB agitation resonates with a sizeable number of Igbo youths, it is clear from the somewhat uncoordinated speeches of Nnamdi Kanu, Emma Powerful and others that the IPOB leadership has not articulated a reasoned, coherent and pragmatic ideology containing the foundational principles of the kind of society they intend to create through Biafra, something akin to the Ahiara Declaration of June 1, 1969.
Without a doubt, absence of sound ideological framework that should guide IPOB is affecting the movement negatively especially now that President Buhari has deployed his customary iron hand method in dealing with problems pertaining to Ndigbo.
Moreover, the IPOB leader has repeated the same deadly mistake Ojukwu made by underestimating the extent caliphate colonialists can go to stifle dissent or anything that threatens the present lopsided political economy that makes Nigeria a glorified animal farm in which some citizens are more unequal than others depending on one’s ethnic group, religion or some clandestine group called cabal.
The best option for IPOB at this point is to re-examine its goals and methods, adopt the ones that are realistic, and work towards both intellectual and emotional penetration of Igboland as a formidable force for projecting Igbo Interests in a restructured Nigerian nation.
I wish to remind caliphate colonialists in power presently that the irrational strategy of obscuring the truth about the civil war and threatening violence against Biafran secessionists is counterproductive, that the Biafran phenomenon is the most significant event in Nigerian history next to the amalgamation and attainment of independence.
Therefore, unless Nigeria becomes a confederation of ethnic nationalities each with relative autonomy to run its own affairs like it was before the first military coup, no amount of operation this, operation that, will stop permanently agitations for separate nationhood by aggrieved ethnic nationalities in the country. And since no condition is permanent, caliphate colonialism will not last forever. Concluded