Let me be on the record, and say that I align myself ideologically with those who seek the right to self-determination as a fundamental human right. This right is enshrined in the charter of the United Nations of which Nigeria is a signatory.
These facts are so clear that it begs the question, why is the Nigerian government persecuting, and criminally violating the rights of those like Nnamdi Kanu who has devoted his life to the pursuit of what he sees as his right to be free of the Nigerian enterprise? The answer is: the word, “Biafra” gives Buhari and his ideological fellow travellers the excuse to wallop the Igbo.
It has much to do with his perceived and psychologically unresolved sense of an “Igbo threat.” But is a presidential psychosis that is driving Nigeria to the very edge. Here is the problem: in 1970 Nigeria ended a very bitter civil war with the republic of Biafra, now defunct, but which had seceded unilaterally from the Nigerian federation on May 29, 1967. For the sake of a younger generation of readers who may not know a thing about the history of these events, and the backgrounds of the action leading to them, I will put it all in a very brief context using facts that have since emerged.
Leading towards the 1964 election was the Federal Census of 1962, on which new constituency allocations and re-mappings were to take place. Its release was marred by disputes. First, the Northern region rejected the first census figures because the figures placed the North clearly at a disadvantage. The 1962 census results showed that the North had lost its majority share of the population, in spite of a net gain within ten years of 30% rise.
The two Southern states, the preliminary reports showed, had made even more stupendous population gains since the 1952 census. Northern politicians insisted on a recount which the Federal Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa forced, and another census was conducted in 1963, in which this time, the North gained 8 million new people, while the East lost its population base. Dr. Okpara and the leadership of the East rejected the new census figures as fervently as they rejected the results of the December 1964 Federal elections.
The 1965 Western Regional elections compounded the political strain. Meanwhile, Dr Azikiwe who had just been given executive power by the new 1963 Republican Constitution was coy about assuming his emergency powers, and stabilizing the nation, after the British GOC of the Army refused to accept his constitutional power as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and in spite of the serious nudges asserted on him by key, “nationalist officers” of the Armed Forces.
The political crisis festered until January 15, 1966, when Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna leading a rump of mid-level officers of the Nigerian Army carried out a coup, which had anticipated the Maimalari coup already scheduled for Monday, January 17, 1966. The outcome of the coup, quashed in any case, by establishment soldiers led by the new GOC, General Ironsi, and the pattern of killings in that coup, fed the very potent propaganda that it was an “Igbo coup” designed by the Igbo to take over Nigeria completely.
The second coup of July 29, 1966, was thus conceived as a “retaliation coup” by Northern officers, in which the current president Buhari, played a very active role.
Except that this time, it was not only military officers –including highly professional and apolitical officers who were Igbo or from the East that were targeted – the Igbo and Eastern civilian population across Nigeria were also massacred as soldiers and mobs whom they gave coverage fell upon Easterners across Nigeria in a very devastating pogrom, more vicious than the Rwandan genocide. This targeted mass killings of the Easterners, especially the Igbo led to their escape to their Eastern homelands for protection.
From their own perspective, the inability of the Federal government to guarantee their safety forced them to unilaterally declare a new sovereign state of Biafra. The declaration of Biafra had been preceded by an unconstitutional, unilateral creation of states, whose intent was to radically deconstruct the Eastern region, isolate the Igbo, and fragment its resource base.
The resistance was fierce, but at the end of three bruising years of battle, the Igbo returned to Nigeria under the terms of a “No Victor, No Vanquished.” But since 1970, the federal government has failed to keep its promise of rehabilitation and integration.
The Igbo have been discriminated against, both in terms of economic investment; access to federal jobs (which happens to be significant); and in political restitution. The Igbo, though, was rapidly coming back unto their own and into the country between 1970 and 1983.
Through those first thirteen years after the war, there was a complete re-embrace of Nigeria. Perhaps because of the “oil boom,” the Igbo were swept back into the tide of nation-building.
There was discrimination, but the Igbo took advantage of the economic opportunities of the boom years to create private businesses.
However, from the military coup of December 1983, through the military years up till the return of civil governance in 1999, the Igbo felt isolated; alienated, and marginalized. A vast number of the Igbo of my generation who grew up in that period, and went on to the university were locked out of government jobs.
The Igbo suffered the highest rate of unemployment and underemployment. By the middle of the 1990s, the craze to “check out” was highest among the Igbo youth.
They spread across the world, many forming a new diaspora network of criminal gangs; drugs mules; and dealers in all kinds of infamy. Not all Igbo who fled Nigeria went into highflying professional jobs overseas. Many had grown bitter and fierce, and those who expected that the return of a civilian administration would do justice to the Igbo have grown even bitterer with disillusion, and have ultimately given up on Nigeria.
The election of Muhammadu Buhari and his complete policy of discrimination against the Igbo especially, finally tipped the balance, and Buhari’s utter mismanagement of the youth agitation under the IPOB and his brutal, high-handed treatment of the Igbo situation has created a new front of the battle for Nigeria.
It made Nnamdi Kanu an unlikely hero. It gave teeth to the Biafran agitation. This administration was warned to study Igbo cultural psychology carefully and to approach the Biafran agitation strategically: the Igbo do not back down from threats.
The more you threaten them, the more they defy you, until they bring down the social order. The Igbo culture is a consensus-building system. Your dialogue and through dialogue, you arrive at honourable compromises. “Ana akpa ya akpa.” That is the only way the Igbo respond to conflict.
But Buhari sent in boots to march on Igbo land. Very clearly he never read the minutes of our last meetings. In any case, that is where we stand today: a separatist movement has grown full-blown in the East, which if it is not properly handled and understood will most certainly spell the end of Nigeria.
Here is why: today, the Igbo have nothing to lose if Nigeria does not exist. To most Igbo today, Nigeria as a nation does not offer them a future, or a purpose, or any prospects. A tragedy is playing out right before our eyes as an entire generation is wasted.
Young Igbo have no jobs, even after very high education. I have a cousin with a degree in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Benin, and a PhD in Environmental Engineering from a University in China, and he has no job! The South Eastern states are basket cases. They are what you call mere Administrative states.
That is, they exist only on Paper, but they are non-generative systems. They are dependencies rather than coherent catalysts for social and economic production.
As a result, they are incapable of conceiving systems that could, even without the federal government, absorb the high number of the unemployed, or provide them with some stop-gap social and economic relief through some social welfare program.
The Igbo youth – highly educated and jobless – is thus restless and bitter.
About 18% of Igbo women have aged out at 35 Years. Highly educated; never had a job in their lives, unmarried and unlikely to reproduce.
The average age of marriage for the Igbo male population is now between 40-45 years. So, the possibilities of couplings and partnerships among the Igbo is at a very catastrophic turning point. What is going on among the Igbo, in other words, is genocide by other means.
A massive, very unreported drug crisis amongst the youth, including in the rural areas is now real. The decline of the once vibrant rural economy in the East, and particularly the cluster states, is a terrible time bomb.
Here are the issues at play: the drug crisis is opening very serious avenues for the infiltration and settling of the international drug cartels from Colombia, Mexico, Italy, China, and Malaysia, using their local fronts.
The Biafra agitation is now giving coverage to these international crime syndicates. IPOB is no longer the only game in town. The Biafran movement has metastasized. We hear now about the “Unknown Gun Men.”
Many are fronts for international drug networks seeking to establish local territories; some are rogue operations designed and deployed by rogue operatives of the DSS; and in general, with the cover of a Biafran movement, they are on the path towards turning the entire East into a violent narco-republic.
The failure rests squarely with Buhari’s federal government and the administration’s mishandling of the agitations in the East, as much as the failure of the governments in the East, especially the South-East states, to provide an oasis of prosperity for the teeming population, and thus stem the bitterness, which has given rise to this agitation. The situation is dicey, but not yet irretrievable.