By Dr. Ignatius Odianosen Okosun (PhD).
THE EMERGING JEWS OF NIGERIA
Africa, for all its beauty and rich history, has always been a complex and often harsh continent. It has been generally agreed that ethnic conflicts is one of the greatest obstacle to meaningful development in Africa due to the general negative outcome. Nigeria with over 300 ethnic groups, the various competition and rivalry among these various ethnic groups has been seen as a product of colonial contact. The ethnic factor, however, did not diminish with the advent of independence; rather, it became a yardstick for measuring contribution to the national development effort and especially for allocating and distributing power and national resources.
Most developing countries are ethnically diverse. For many years, social sciences preferred to ignore the brute fact of ethnic identity. More recently, evidence is accumulating that is detrimental to economic performance. Journalistic accounts of wars in Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and several other countries of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s have raised concern that ethnic cleavages and overlapping affiliations of religion, tribe, culture and race may undermine prospects for economic and political development in much of Africa. (Kamla-Ra, 2006: 101)
Carved out of the west of Africa by Britain without regard for established ethnic, cultural and linguistic divisions, Nigeria has often experienced an ambiguous peace. Following decades of ethnic stiffness in colonial Nigeria, political instability reached a critical mass among independent Nigeria’s three dominant ethnic groups. On January 15, 1966, the Igbo launched a coup d’état under the command of Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi in an attempt to save the country from what Igbo leaders feared would be political fragmentation.
Just after the successful coup, widespread mistrust of Igbo domination was aroused in the north among the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, many of whom opposed independence from Britain. Similar suspicions of the Igbo junta grew in the Yoruba west, prompting a joint Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani countercoup against the Igbo six months later.
The aftermath resulted in the Nigerian Civil War, also referred to as the Nigerian-Biafran War, was a three-year, bloody conflict with a death toll numbering more than one million people. Having commenced seven years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain, the war began with the secession of the southeastern region of the nation on May 30, 1967, when it declared itself the independent Republic of Biafra.
Countless decades gone by since conclusion of the Nigerian civil war in which government troops fought and overwhelmed fighters of the Republic of Biafra, a self-acclaimed nation – under the command of late Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu the Ikemba of Nwewi, and the then Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria – which unilaterally declared independence and ceded from Nigeria on 30th May 1967.
After about two-and-a-half years of gory war, Biafran forces agreed to a ceasefire with the Nigerian military Government and were reintegrated back into Nigeria on 15 January 1970. The Nigerian civil war left in its wake overwhelming memories and sorrows to remember, during which over a million civilians were killed in fighting and from deprivation, but yet, the flicker of Biafra has not been laid to rest and the dream of an independent Igbo-Nationhood has not completely extinguished.
Many Igbos grumbled of being reprimanded economically because of the war and still speak of being marginalized; the gullible ones were awash with political sentiment, religious bigotry, ethnicity and ignorance, with majority of them still fantasizing of a possible break-up from Nigeria. As days went by, the prospect of an independent Igbo land seemingly become impossible, especially as secessionists would want Nigeria’s lucrative oil fields while those publicly clamoring for independence are a very small minority for some ethnic, political and material interest. But nonetheless, these continuous and renewed agitations for a Biafran entity ought to be of great concern to the democratically elected government of President Mohammadu Buhari.
With advents in technology becoming more advanced and volatile, the whizz-kids of science are on the rage. However the Igbo people are naturally brilliant in all spheres of human endeavor. They are endowed with genes that we could be compared to those of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Pythagoras, and Bertrand Russell combined. If the Black man would ever venture into space exploration, I am sure of the shock that awaits us; an Igbo would not only land on the moon, he would have a permanent abode there and a shop to sell all common needs. Such is the dynamism of the Igbo geniuses that I often refer to them as the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans of Africa.
The Federal government should dialogue with Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, on his mercuric ideas that pummel the logic for the new Biafra struggle. He should have been aired on the national television to enlighten Nigerians on his new concept of Biafranism. He should be given the liberty to showcase to the world, if he was more brilliant and braver than our Oxford-trained Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who fought gallantly before absconding to safety while leaving behind a tale of woes. Furthermore Nnamdi Kanu would be asked to justify his claims that the Igbos are treated like second class citizens in the new ecclesiastic Nigeria where Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro Wiwa paid the supreme prize through summary execution by the military Junta led by General Sani Abacha on the 10th of November 1995 for the Ogoni ethnic minority struggle.
With the current hullabaloos and tintinnabulations by some gullible pro-opposition ignoramus masquerading as Biafran freedom fighters, it is irrevocable to draw their assiduity and that of their devotees to a non-violent and peaceful modus to realize their aims of an independent state of “Biafra” without any qualm, to frustrate a possible re-occurrence of 1967 where more than two-million souls were wasted.
Moreover if the true motivation of the majority of Ndigbo is to break away from Nigeria; then a non-violent secession could stand to be the best possible approach to achieving the noise generating “Republic of Biafra.” But the way and manner in which Mr. Nnamdi Kanu – the super hero director of Radio Biafra continued to rain abuses and terror on the corporate existence of the Nigerian state is unhealthy and lethal for the collective existence of all and sundry.
Since history has remained our best autopilot, going down memory lane will perhaps go a long way in navigating the ship of the Biafran state to berth the littoral of victory without raising an eyebrow. Considering the fact that the so-called Biafrans have nicknamed themselves “The Jews of Nigeria,” then learning from “Hebrew secession” will add more friction to their watery and slippery struggle. I believe in the Igbo agitations and any other tribes wishing to join them in determining if they want to remain a part of Nigeria or disengage and form their own Biafra nation through a political process and be allowed to do so. That process is called a referendum – the same political process which birthed South Sudan and aborted the Scottish Nation.
However, before this latest round of agitations began, there was the ‘Igbo Presidency Agenda’ which grew out of frustration over the inability of an Igbo candidate being elected to the utmost political office in the land. That was the main focus during political dispensations sandwiched between military regimes until the adopted Igbo President from the South-South.
Do not get me wrong as the call for Biafra predates the Igbo Presidency agenda and was always being proclaimed even if muted at times. The volume we are hearing now though is unprecedented since the end of the horrendous Civil War as the emergence of a temporary focus for the struggle in deviate minded Nnamdi Kanu of Radio Biafra/IPOB and his incarceration has given a loud voice to those clamoring for separation. Right now though, these two platforms are in direct competition and are canceling each other out, throwing up two main factions within the dissatisfied Igbo people. Those who want an Igbo President and those who simply want to have self-determination through Biafra. They are mutually exclusive and are sabotaging each other’s objectives.
A house divided against itself cannot stand” is the old maxim used to push for unity and also “United we stand, divided we fall.” A single broomstick is easily snapped but a broom which is a bundle of broomsticks will bend without breaking! The tripod consisting of three spread out bases connected at the apex is the most stable basic structure available which are individually useless if separated. Unity of purpose is intrinsic to the success of any project involving more than one person.
There is no way to ask for Biafra and support an Igbo presidency simultaneously or expect Nigerians in the other geopolitical zones to support an Igbo president while agitations for Biafra are increasingly becoming militant. One has to dissolve in order for a national rise to prominence by the Igbo to be achieved either in Nigeria or through the creation of their own nation.
The more vociferous voices are the ones shouting about secession and they have now started attacking anyone with ethnic origins within their geographical definition of Biafra who does not support it as a “coward” or “sellout.” Lists of prominent Igbo politicians that have publicly gone on record as being against the Biafra movement are being penciled down in order to publicly shame and get public opinion to turn against them. The lack of public support for the movement for the actualization of Biafra State from prominent Igbo politicians and other elected officials of Igbo extract does not favor the perception that this grass roots movement which should be a huge boost is seemingly limited to a section of the demographic, as it has virtually no support from Igbo elites which makes one wonder how successful it can really be as leading to a successful military campaign against Nigeria in order to achieve its goal is out of the question.
The era of militancy leading to the independence of nations from imperialism is over and the disintegration of multi-ethnic nations into several smaller independent countries like the former Yugoslavia went through after the death of their strongman, Josip Broz Tito, is now a political process. The Igbo Presidency agenda on the other hand is nothing more than a political process governed by the numbers game in which the South-East needs to form alliances with other geopolitical zones in order to get one of their children elected as President of Nigeria.
The dilemma is that this recapitulation of the call for Biafra is only making the calculation much more difficult as the other parts of the equation – five other geopolitical zones in the country have exceptionally low levels of trust in the Igbos and will not be comfortable with one of them as president of Nigeria with muted or overt calls for separation by them being this vociferous. The Igbos themselves do not trust anyone else but themselves and that includes tribes of the South-South zone as well. Theirs is a very rocky marriage of convenience really.
The reason calls supporting the Biafra movement matter while those same muted calls for the right to carve up Nigeria from those lusting after Oduduwa and Arewa nations not as much is because it has been attempted before by them and its consequences were not an experience the greater majority of Nigerians want to go through ever again regardless of chants of war being heard rumbling underneath shouts for the right to self-determination.
Those agitating for a Biafra state must also be mindful of the fact that it is no news to Nigerians that our Igbo nation is probably the most divisive nationality within itself, no wonder when Enugu state was carved out of the old Anambra state, the division within the Igbo people came to bear with sirens blaring. The desire to have all the national cake of the state “only for our own people within our state” prompted the leadership of the then Enugu state to evict the Igbo people of Anambra state from their civil service. Such was the blatant demonstration of division even within the Igbo people that the indigenes of Anambra state were sent back to their state.
It is difficult to see how the Igbo people would manage to find a place for all their teeming population to return from all over parts of Nigeria if the states are already fighting over jobs and employment only for their indigenes. What will happen when suddenly millions of people have to come back home without jobs, housing or occupation? It is scary to imagine what would begin to happen within the Biafra nation. Students of contemporary history will tell us that this is the exact scenario of what happened in South Sudan. The civil war that ensued as a result of their independence is still going on as I am writing within the South Sudan Republic itself.
In conclusion, it is crystal clear that no country breaks out from its origin and stabilizes or finds peace and development. South Sudan, Eretria, Nepal, the Russian secessionist territories, parts of the Middle East, amongst others are living examples. Countries are getting stronger by integrating other possible neighbourhoods and not by disintegrating. Nigeria should remain one but Nigerians should be granted open and level ground to strive for equal rights and opportunities in their motherland. No Nigerian should be relegated to a second class citizen or denied on any socio-political, ethnic and religious background. Violent agitations must stop henceforth in Nigeria and the new leadership of President Mohammadu Buhari has come to lay the foundation to build a new Nigeria.
Dr. Ignatius Okosun is a researcher, prolific writer on various national/global issues and a social
commentator. He resides in Toronto-Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org