By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Biafra was a refuge for the hunted and justice for the oppressed. The assertion of human dignity by the rejected and tormented.
Today’s Biafra, IPOB’s Biafra, is an opportunistic scheme. Biafra peddled, by their utterances, is a photocopy of North Korea.
Many Igbo opportunists who want power through the back door would mouth Biafra and then claim heroism. And any who disagrees with them or their methods becomes a traitor who must be contained. Their Biafra is a counterfeit scheme for personal aggrandizement and vainglory.
Igbos are fond of Biafra. And with pervasive hopelessness that feeling of nostalgia of what almost once was becomes more irresistible. So the foot soldiers, the ordinary Okada riders, artisans and others who are members of the IPOB are genuine. They want better standards of living. They want food and security. They want electricity and jobs. They feel excluded. So they want Biafra where they may belong.
But they are unfortunate. They are mere pawns of the IPOB.
The leadership of the IPOB is inhibited by megalomania. Perpetually revelling in bouts of delusions of grandeur. Perpetually freed from the bounds of civility by their all-encompassing charlatanism. When it is not the childishness of being a self-appointed supreme leader, it is recklessness of thoughtless forays into the authenticity of Jesus Christ. When they are not frothing hate speeches from all orifices and making fellow Igbos who live amongst other tribes in distant places nervous, they are announcing a map of Biafra that would provoke the immediate neighbours of Ndi Igbo.
The truth is that despite the crippling shortcomings of its leadership, the IPOB has thrived.
There is a growing army of unemployed and underemployed youths. They didn’t see the war. So their exuberance is not deterred by the horrors of that war. And they have heard enough and seen enough to feel like second class citizens. There is an abundance of redundancy in governance. And everywhere around Igbo land are politicians who aren’t just inept, but who are disconnected from their suffering people. These have not helped to assuage feelings of marginalization by the Federal Government. So the Igbo politicians aren’t just seen as lazy and corrupt they are also seen as cowardly by their own indignant people. So the IPOB has tapped into a very rich and pulsating vein of discontent.
The IPOB leadership as short-sighted as it is understands that hate speeches against the Hausa Fulani and its hegemony would be praised as bravery by ordinary Igbos, young and old. And where nearly everybody else appears timid and speaks in hushed tones behind curtains, the man who yells at the perceived oppressor is regarded as courageous, his actions heroic, his incoherence excusable.
IPOB has promised roads and bridges and railways, and a literal paradise. So many of Igbo youths would rather pitch their luck albeit optimistically on fantasy than wallow in seemingly insoluble suffocating reality.
The IPOB is abusing Biafra.
The socio-economic situation is not enviable. People are suffering. But the circumstances that made Biafra imperative no longer exit. The IPOB cannot contrive it with their outlandish propaganda. The herdsmen violence affects the south-west and middle belt as it affects the South-east. It’s an atrocious crime. But it can’t be used to justify Biafra.
The IPOB leaders claim insurmountable popularity in Igbo land. But they wouldn’t submit to party politics and claim all the seats on Igbo land and engineer autonomy from the inside. They don’t want to take the risk of discovering that they may not be in the majority. So they dismiss the political process as rigged in favour of slaves of the establishment. So they can stay outside and force a referendum or engineer a ‘revolution.’
Perhaps that is smart, crafty. If the IPOB were to choose the hard work of engaging in proper politics then it would have to substitute its fiery hate speeches and crazy conspiracy theories with real plans and policies. And then in being civil, in being well behaved, in observing decorum, it could lose its edge and become just another party. So it conceals itself with unending torrents of bluster.
At the core IPOB is charlatanism.
Any attempt to scrutinize the thought process of the IPOB leadership must end in fright. Take the comical theory of Jibril of Sudan. IPOB leadership believes that the president is dead. And has been clandestinely replaced by a Sudanese impostor. That was once thought to be a piece of scabrous humour. But the IPOB leadership has gone on for more than a year, striving insanely to prove a ridiculous farce. If a primary school teacher did that he would have been told to see a psychiatrist. But the Supreme leader of the IPOB has spent a year pointing out imaginary discrepancies between the ears and nose and head of the president he sees today and the one he knew before.
Ordinarily, anyone who comes out calling himself a supreme human being or leader, dismissing others as rams and fools, and substituting facts with personal fictions would be treated with pity. But many Igbo politicians and intellectuals have either sat on the fence or cheered the IPOB. Politicians can be excused. They often regard opportunism as good politics. They want to win elections. They don’t want to contend with the IPOB.
But what about the intellectuals?
They say they understand the imperfections of the IPOB and their abuse of the concept of Biafra. But they would support anything that brings about a disruption of a tried and failed system that has stifled the region and exacerbated ill feelings left by the war. They think that the IPOB madness could be the only way to force the hands of a stagnant Federal Government and instigate constitutional changes that would lead to measurable regional autonomy. They insist that the delusions and hallucinations of the leadership of the IPOB would be sorted out at the regional level once the main aim was achieved. Many Igbo priests have made the same arguments. These intellectuals and these clerics do not mind a necessary abuse of Biafra. The end they must believe will justify and sanctify the means.
But there is a risk. It’s always risky to ride a tiger.
The IPOB may not be a terrorist group. But the government proscribed the IPOB because many, including many elected Igbo government officials, feared the political monster was growing out of control. The IPOB planned to enforce a boycott of the elections. The IPOB leader had threatened to behead the president. There was a growing local feeling of apprehension about the IPOB despite its claims of innocence.
The whimsicality of its autocratic leadership was its real albatross.
The attack on the former deputy president of the Senate and the threat of more attacks have reignited the IPOB debate. Many cringed at the sight of Ekweremadu running for safety like a hounded rat. Fayose said the attack was done by pigs. The IPOB said it was living up to its watchdog roles. They said he is a traitor. They said they had been ordered to humiliate inept and corrupt Igbo politicians. The order was given by the supreme leader.
The supreme leader has also ordered that Governor Umahi whom many describe as the best Igbo governor be disgraced. He has labelled Nwodo a traitor. He wants all traitors punished. Bounties are not being placed on heads. Perhaps a list of more traitors will soon be published. Who knows where this may end? Some Igbo intellectuals still think it’s the beginning of a necessary disruption. Others think it’s a journey towards a North Korea of West Africa.