By Tochukwu Ezukanma
DESPITE our relentless, vociferous denunciation of Nigeria and her woes, most Nigerians are committed to Nigeria, and her continued unity. As such, any group of Nigerians seeking to secede from Nigeria will invariably incur the wrath of the majority of Nigerians. And, as in past, the generality of Nigerians will rally against such a group and defeat it. In 1967, the majority of Nigerians, including many Igbo, were opposed to secession.
And the international community, African countries as represented by the Organization of African Unity, OAU, Britain and the United States of America, were all opposed to the separation of any part of Nigeria from the Nigerian federation.
The Igbo military elite, for example, Hilary Njoku (the most senior Igbo army officer, after Ironsi, in the Nigerian army), Emmanuel Ifeajuna (one of the very few university-educated Nigerian army officers) and Chukwuma Nzeogwu (the then most celebrated Igbo army officer), and the Igbo political elite, most notably, Nnamdi Azikiwe, were opposed to secession. In a speech to the Diplomatic Community in Nigeria on April 24, 1967, Yakubu Gowon stated the federal government’s stance against secession, “my colleagues and I would spare no effort in the search for peace provided nothing is done by anyone to impair the integrity and corporate existence of Nigeria”.
The member countries of OAU were appalled by the slaughter of Igbo civilians in Northern Nigeria but were opposed to the dismemberment of Nigeria. A one time Biafran diplomat, Raph Uwechue, wrote that due “to (its) aversion for secession, the OAU stuck rigidly to the principle of settlement within the context of one Nigeria”. In addition, the American and British governments were opposed to a breakup of Nigeria. In his book, Oil, Politics and Violence, the historian and writer, Max Siollun, wrote, “Both the American Ambassador, Elbert Matthews, and the British High Commissioner, Cumming Bruce, made strong representations against secession (because) it will be a major political and economic disaster for Nigerian people and severe setback for independent Africa”.
With such powerful array of forces against Biafranism, Ojukwu’s declaration of Biafra was a needless, reckless and senseless move. It was headstrongness and foolhardiness taken to a dangerous, almost suicidal, extreme. Biafranism was an absurdity: a futile and wasteful enterprise. The futility of Biafranism was succinctly expressed by the American journalist, Hersh Seymour, in his book, The Price of Power, “Biafra, from the very beginning, had no chance of success”.
With very powerful, almost insurmountable, obstacles still in the path to the separation of any ethnic group from Nigeria, neo-Biafranism is another pointless and wasteful enterprise that has no chance of success. The incontestable fact is that no ethnic group of Nigeria can successfully break away from Nigeria.
Nigeria is an unwieldy agglomeration devoid of a unified sense of purpose, a floundering ship groping for direction, a somnolent giant in need of awakening. Plagued by bad leadership, she is afflicted with all the possible consequences of bad leadership: ethno-religious violence, moral squalor, official corruption, mass poverty, etc. Consequently, some doomsayers, in their muddled pessimism, speculate that exasperated by these seemingly interminable woes, the different ethnic groups of Nigerians will, at some point, resolve to voluntarily break up the country; and go their different ways.
Even, if this almost impossible scenario ever plays out, its success will be contingent on the approval of the Nigerian military. The military is the only national institution with the cohesion and power to force the continued existence of a corporate Nigeria; it is the ultimate arbiter of Nigerian unity. If the military is opposed to such a voluntary breakup of the country, it cannot take place.
A onetime Nigerian defense minister, Domkat Bali, once expressed a sentiment prevalent among the ethnic minorities in Nigerian, “I am from a small tribe, the Tarok tribe in Langtang. If the North secures its independence from Nigeria, the Hausa/Fulani will be so dominant that they will lord it over us whether we like it or not. A bigger Nigeria will check such excesses. So, the bigger Nigeria is, the freer my tribe and I will be.” It is this fear of unbridled domination by the dominant ethnic group in their respective regions, in the case of a breakup of Nigeria, that makes the Nigerian ethnic minorities the most zealous proponents of one Nigeria.
Refreshingly, it is the minorities, northern and southern minorities, that dominate the Nigerian military. According to Joseph Garba, there were thirteen army generals from his local government area. Was that not a potent testament to the preponderant representation of his minority ethnic group in the army? So, apart from the almost impossibility of a successful secession from Nigeria by any ethnic group, a mutual agreement amongst the major ethnic groups of Nigerians to dismember the country will still not work. For the final arbiter in such a breakup (the military) has been dominated by those who believe that their freedom and fulfillment are inextricably entwined with a unified Nigeria, and are, thus, the most passionate defenders of one Nigeria.
With the secession of any tribal group from Nigeria unattainable, and the voluntarily breakup of the country almost impossible, neo-Biafranism is a pipe-dream. Actually, there is nothing wrong with dreaming, even, if the dreams are wild, weird and wacky. However, my gripe with Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra,IPOB, is that they are disturbing the peace of the country, and stirring up trouble for the Igbo. In their delusion, they refuse to understand that the Igbo are a fixture, an immovable, irremovable component, of Nigeria.
A Hausa/Fulani female lawyer once summed it up in her own words, “Without the Igbo, Nigeria would have been in the Dark Ages”. It was an acknowledgement that the Igbo have laboured so hard and invested so much for the overall good and prosperity of Nigeria. We have invested so much money, energy, time, sweat and blood into Nigeria. Therefore, it is too late for the Igbo to turn back on Nigeria.