By Tochukwu Ezukanma
This book, Pro-Biafra Movements, Ohanaeze and the Future of Nigeria, authored by Uchenna Nwankwo and published by Centrist Books, is a controversial work that will undoubtedly elicit reactions from both admirers and detractors.
The 14-chapter book highlights the anti-Igbo policies that revived Igbo separatism in post-civil war Nigeria; the proliferation of neo-Biafran movements, and its possible deleterious consequences for Igbo land; the limits of neo-Biafranism; role and problems of the umbrella Igbo organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo; and the need for restructuring Nigeria, and allowing the federating units of the country to control their resources and progress at their own pace.
The book begins with an insightful analysis on the “unjust peace”, and its ramifications that caused the re-emergence of Igbo separatism in the last 20 years. At the end of the civil war, the Igbo ‘embraced Nigeria and scattered all over…Nigeria”, which was a powerful pointer that they had no lingering intent for secession. But the Federal Government, especially the Muhammadu Buhari governments (military/civil) and some Nigerians did not reciprocate this Igbo goodwill. As a deliberate policy, series of federal governments discriminated against the Igbo in government programmes, investment and developments. And the massacre of the Igbo in Northern Nigeria, which was the trigger of earlier Igbo attempted secession, still occurs periodically.
So, just like the unjust peace imposed on post-World War I Germany and its devastating economic effects produced radical political movements, like the Nazi Party, in Germany, the anti-Igbo polices of a series of federal governments and the continued periodic massacre of the Igbo in Northern Nigeria engendered post-civil war Igbo separatist movements.
The first of these neo-Biafra movements was MASSOB, but subsequently MASSOB splintered and a few other neo-Biafran movements sprouted; there are now about five of them. Although the different groups have the same basic goal of secession of the Igbo from Nigeria, their methods and ideologies differ. The author laments the possibility of an internecine conflict in Igbo land resulting from conflicting interests and ideologies of these different secessionist groups.
The author takes an incisive view of the current issues of troubling dimension to the Nigerian State – the agitation for self-determination / separatist movements in the East. He notes that while these movements were initially modelled after Gandhi’s civil disobedience principles, some are becoming more militant and vociferous, hence the danger of the national security apparatus to contain the movement by brute force as demonstrated lately as well as the possibility of using the containment of the agitation as a ruse for another pogrom against the Igbo.
Nwankwo sees the agitation and even the call for a referendum, which appears to be the main thrust of the strategy of the pro-Biafra movements for Biafra’s resurgence as rather weak and ineffectual. To the author, the issue is not to prove through a referendum that Ndigbo want to opt out of Nigeria. The issue really is what the attitude of the rest of the country towards current Igbo separatism is.
The author appreciates the Igbo desire to have a country of their own, Biafra. However, he realises that “Biafra as defined by Ojukwu half a century ago is not realisable today. For one thing, it is not favoured by the so-called Eastern minorities, for whatever reason, and cannot be forced down their throats”. Accordingly, Nwankwo argues that the solution to the problem is for Ndigbo to abandon the isolationism of old which spelt doom for them in Nigeria. He argues that Ndigbo must try to rebuild the alliances forged by the United Progressives Grand Alliance, UPGA, in the First Republic because what the situation calls for is the mobilisation of a winning majority from the motley of Nigerian groups and ethnicities.
He is happy that Ohanaeze is already working in that direction through its involvement with the move for “handshake across the Niger” being organised by the major socio-cultural associations in Nigeria. He also reminds us that the real problem in Nigeria is the clash between Egalitarianism and Feudalism/Jihadism which has turned Nigeria upside down.
And that unless Feudalism/Jihadism is defeated in Nigeria no meaningful change – be it Restructuring or Separatism – can be effected. In other words, that the burning differences in Nigeria are more ideological than ethnic or religious, and should be tackled as such. In effect, that ethnicity and religion are often used as instruments for the protection of cherished and entrenched interests, say, the feudal culture.
In the above regard, it would appear that the author sees the solution not in territorial separatism but in self-determination within the context of one Nigeria; that is, in the aggregation of more and more Nigerians in the fight to defeat feudalism.
To the author, it is the achievement of this goal that will create opportunities for the revamping of the Nigerian state and the concomitant restructuring, return of true federalism and even possible mutual agreement on separatism. Consequently, the book reads like a double-edged sword. It could become the Handbook or Roadmap for the achievement of Nigeria’s disintegration or the emergence of a brand new Biafra that would be distinct in size and content from Ojukwu’s Biafra.
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Indeed, the book wittingly or unwittingly presents us with the idea of the only way a new Biafra can be secured! On the other hand, this book could stultify separatism of any hue in Nigeria altogether. Only time will tell! In the author’s estimation, the choice is for us to make!! And the time to make it is now!!! As things are, it is likely that Atiku Abubakar’s liberal, urbane, refined and peaceful disposition might bring the latter option to the fore. But that is if he had won the 2019 presidential election!
To the author, the Buhari presidency is the new face of feudalism/Jihadism in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari, he says, is still dead set against the restructuring of the country despite the fact that he knows that more than 75% of Nigerians are in support, and more importantly, that it is the way to go. Such is the way of the feudalists! “That speaks volumes about Buhari’s confidence in the sustainability of the ‘coalition’ of political forces or caucus he has put together, its queer tricky agenda included. But what happens next will depend on the tenacity of the Opposition and their resolve for restructuring Nigeria.
For me, the first thing to do is to immediately pass the state police bill in the National Assembly. That will create the right atmosphere for tackling the carnage in the Middle Belt, and then the pursuit of the total or complete Restructuring Agenda of the country will come next.”
The book advocates for Ndigbo to have a unified sense of purpose. This will demand the reining in of all pro-Biafran movements. It expects Ohanaeze to spearhead this role, but acknowledges the limitations of the apex Igbo organisation. The book recommends the necessary reforms that will strengthen and reinvigorate Ohanaeze so that it will, among other things, provide the Igbo with unified, collective leadership.
The book ends on a somewhat pessimistic note. If in the presidential election of February 16, 2019, had been won by the Opposition, and power peacefully transferred to it, it will result into restructuring Nigeria; and all will be well with Nigeria. Disturbingly, President Buhari has repeatedly demonstrated his disregard, and sometimes, disdain for court orders, guidelines on federal character and public opinion. What if in his derision for an electoral verdict, he refuses to relinquish power to a victorious Opposition or rigs the election ab initio? This will most likely plunge Nigeria into a serious conflict; possibly a civil war and a total collapse of Nigeria.
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If these happen, Igbo land with its splintered and rudderless leadership will be in dire straits. There will be confusion everywhere as the governors, a gamut of Igbo socio-cultural organisations and the multiplicity of neo-Biafran movements will all want to assert their authorities and flex their muscles. This scenario is deeply worrisome. Therefore, it is imperative that the reform of Ohanaeze is expedited so that it can give Ndigbo the needed unified leadership, especially in times of national emergencies.
The book is the work of an independent-minded deep thinker with an uncanny insight into the subterranean strides at ethnic hegemony and religious irredentism that have plagued Nigeria from times preceding her independence, the place of the Igbo in Nigeria, and problems of Nigerian unity and politics. It is an immense contribution on the discourse of the Igbo question, Nigerian unity, ethnic hegemony, and constitutionalism in Nigeria. It will be a useful companion for journalists, and students and devotees of history, politics and current affairs.