By Louis Odion… Just when the rest of the nation on Wednesday began a postmortem of the Biafra Day celebration following media reports of “total compliance” in Igbo land of a sit-at-home-order by IPOB/MASSOB, the following are excerpts from the riposte by one Ken Henshaw (obviously from the South-South) trended in the social media: “I think the current generation of ‘Biafrans’ are the most (unprintable) so far. How dare you sit in your home or offices and draw your Biafra map and include places like Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom etc as part of of your empire? Did you consult them? Did you seek their opinions?
“You are forcing people to join a country whose commander-in-chief you have already anointed – Nnamdi Kanu; whose currency you have already decided – Biafran Pounds; whose official religion you have already adopted – Judaism; whose God you have already chosen – Chukwu Abiama?
“Do you not realize that you are doing to those people the same thing you accuse the British and Nigeria of doing to you?”
With this, Henshaw no doubt reopens the untold stories of counter-agitation within the Biafran enclave for the 30 months it lasted. Stories passed down by surviving older generations of co-opted minorities in present-day South-South hardly suggest the new lords of Biafra then were any better than the feudal overlords they were running away from the so-called rickety wedlock Lord Frederick Lugard had cobbled together in 1914 in terms of the way they related with non-Igbo conscripted into the rebellion against the Nigerian state.
Legitimate as Henshaw’s observations of the neo-Biafran agitation sound, there is however no denying that Biafra as an idea lives. With major streets deserted across the South-East out of civil disobedience and Igbo community in Diaspora reportedly staging marches in key countries across the world, it is evident that attempts by the Nigerian establishment over the past half century to exorcise its spirit has failed woefully.
This official failing, in turn, speaks directly to a more dire frailty: collective failure of the estimated 386 ethnic nationalities to make a nation of the contraption Lugard bequeathed. Rather, what we continue to see is the pathetic self-cancelling struggle of serpents and scorpions trapped in a squalid basket.
But forget the saber-rattling by the exuberant IPOB ideologues raising hell on the airwaves. If we are observant, we would recognize that the cry of Biafra today is only the formula of the Igbo elite to protest being schemed out of Nigeria’s power equation in continuation of what has become a rat race for bargain, control and dominion.
Beneath this hell-raising would appear some cold calculations. It seems being perceived in the “land of the rising sun” that the momentum for Obasanjo’s political coronation in 1999 was made irreversible by sustained resistance by Yoruba intelligentsia after June 12 coupled with OPC’s guttural brinkmanship. So much that, for the first time in Nigeria’s political history, the two main political parties were tele-guided by the retreating military oligarchy to field Yoruba candidates in the presidential contest of 1999.
Such mindset also assumes that, but for the sustained pipeline bombing and other calculated acts of economic sabotage by Niger Delta militants during the Obasanjo administration, an Ijaw would not have been “planted” as Yar’Adua’s running-mate in 2007 in what, in hindsight, would now appear a complex chess game to sneak in a South-South minority as a substantive president on May 5, 2010.
The neo-Biafrans also seem to reckon too that Buhari’s ascendancy in 2015 was substantially aided, abetted and made inevitable by Boko Haram’s genocidal insurrection in parts of the north once a southern Christian minority was declared winner of the 2011 presidential election.
So, they now seem to have concluded that without raising hell or threatening to levy war no one will give Igbo their dues in the bazaar Nigeria has always been. It explains the various mutations of the Biafran franchise since the return of democracy 18 years ago. First was Ralph Nwazurike’s MASSOB during the Obasanjo years with the beatification of Emeka Ojukwu even while still alive and merchandizing Biafran memorabilia on the side. APGA, as a political party, would tap into the same emotion.
Read also: Neo-Biafra: Of sense and nonsense
Then enter the social media-savvy Daniel Kanu-led IPOB with far more thunderous words and apocalyptic pronouncements.
But it must be recognized that the neo-Biafran cry attained the present crescendo only after the winner-takes-all culture instituted by Buhari upon ascending power two years ago. While the Igbo were prospering under Goodluck Jonathan on account of key political appointments and patronage, we never saw this sort of scare-mongering, the separatist rhetoric was at best muffled then.
Truth be told, this is a dangerous mentality to cultivate in the context of genuine nation-building. History already teaches us that no durable nation ever germinates from such make-shift arrangement that seems to reward only the biggest bully. The first condition is to create a climate of mutual respect and incentives for all to realize their full potentials.
That is why I think the colloquium held in Abuja on May 25 to mark Biafra’s 50th anniversary was significant indeed. That such a talk shop held at all and drew a quality audience including no less a personage than the Acting President is very unprecedented in history. It should be seen as official shift from living in denial. Once upon a time, such idea would have been unthinkable, taken as an affront to the “constituted authorities” in Abuja. Once the news broke, the security establishment would immediately have taken steps to abort it.
So, for this, I think we are making progress.
But the real challenge is to institute a culture that gives every section of the country a sense of belonging. Speaking that day, acting President Yemi Osinbajo, I believe, used the right words by sounding conciliatory and harping on the sentiment that we are “greater together than apart”.
Truly, nationhood is a shared commitment. Otherwise, it is a bondage fated to break some day.
But, words remain what they are: cheap. Indeed, while the erudite professor of law with demonstrable progressive credentials was pontificating that day, genuine patriots truly committed to national reconciliation and integration must have wished the voice was Buhari’s. Were Osinbajo’s boss in his shoes on the dais that day at the iconic Yar’Adua Centre, it is very doubtful if he, judging by the maximalist tendencies he has exhibited since assuming power in 2015, would have spoken in the same conciliatory tone or evince a disposition to engage those in the cold.
If the dominant feeling in South-East and South-South today is that of alienation, the exclusionist governance model Buhari has pursued with zealotry is largely to be blamed.
Indeed, the challenge today, as always, is to have a leader who can look beyond the narrow prism of the voting pattern in the last election, rise above pettiness and give every section of the country a sense of belonging. In case Buhari does not know, he needs to be told that nation-building is not helped when a leader goes ahead to fill all key national positions with only people from his locality.
To be fair, Buhari is not a pioneer here. He could only be accused of improving on the existing records of political greed and nepotism. Under Jonathan, it was Ijaw triumphalism we witnessed, thus putting to shame all those who earlier championed the crusade that he be declared acting president early in 2010 in the name of natural justice once it increasingly became clear that Umar Yar’Adua would not make it back to Aso Rock from his sick bay in Saudi Arabia. Jonathan, in turn, only chose to break the record of Yar’Adua who, despite his impressive academic standing, seemed detained all the way by the little god of the province. When he still had the presence of mind, his inner circle were drawn largely from a small district in Katsina. And as pericarditis – a rare medical condition – began to sap the last drops of vitality from his anatomy, his executive staff was summarily hijacked by a tiny cabal from the same provincial stock.
But to birth a more cohesive Nigeria is not the only duty of a broad-minded leader. Patriotism should oblige citizens themselves to stand and speak against injustice wherever it occurs regardless of ethnicity or faith. Only this could explain why when self-styled military president Ibrahim Babangida mindlessly annulled June 12 won MKO Abiola, the push for its revalidation largely became mostly a Yoruba project eventually.
Today, on a milder scale, we are witnessing a reenactment of the same civic complicity in the continued public silence, in the loss of the sense of national outrage, over the indefinite incarceration of the Shiite leader despite repeated court orders.
But nationhood is not an abstract construct. One of the key pillars is social justice.