THE GHOST OF BIAFRA
By Musa Toyyib Olaniyi
"Fellow countrymen and women, you the people of Eastern Nigeria: Conscious of the supreme authority of Almighty God over all mankind; of your duty over posterity; aware that you can no longer be protected in your lives and in your property by any government based outside Eastern Nigeria;determined to dissolve all political and other ties between you and the former Republic of Nigeria; having mandated me to proclaim on your behalf and in your name that Eastern Nigeria be a sovereign independent Republic, now therefore I do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern Nigeria, together with her Continental shelf and territorial waters, shall henceforth be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of The Republic Of Biafra."
The above was the irrepressible Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaiming the Eastern Nigeria a Republic of Biafra in 1967. This momentous declaration came to my mind when I read about a coalition of Northern groups asking the Ibos to vacate the North before the first dawn in the month of October this year. This call was coming on the heels of the widely successful sit -at- home order given by IPOB and MASSOB leaders to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration in the epigraph to this piece. Riding on the success of the anniversary order, the secessionist groups had also warned that 2019 elections will not be conducted in the East.
This beating of war drums by Biafra apologists and antagonists obviously does not bode well for Nigeria. The Biafra romantics obviously believe in the eldorado that secession holds for them while the antagonists too have been less civilised in their fiery rhetorics and sometimes outright demonization of Biafra and its advocates. This appears ill-advised.
Biafra has turned to an idea which represents the frustrations of the various ethnic nationalities with our idea of nationhood. Those who misunderstand this are ignorant of history as they are oblivious of the present reality.
The gory tales of what preceded the declaration of Biafra and the inhuman atrocities on industrial scale that occurred during the Biafran war are enough a reminder to us all to be wary of wars and also to be circumspect while dealing with Nigeria's problems. Unfortunately, those that witnessed the civil war drew nothing or the wrong lessons from the unfortunate war that claim between 2-3 million lives. In scale and depravity, the unfortunate war was an holocaust.
But the ghost of Biafra will continue to haunt the country because Nigeria has been heedless of the lessons borne by the war. The usual culprit here again is the failure of leadership, since a nation cannot grow or develop beyond the competence of her leaders and elites.
From the surrender of Biafra to the proclamation of 'No Victor No Vanguished' mantra of the Federal Military Government, it has all along been a comedy of errors. The immediate response of Gen. Yakubu Gowon who fought to keep Nigeria one as the Head of State was the creation of 12 states to effectively weaken the regions and deprive them the required unity and cohesion that can make them challenge the federal government in future. Since then, several constitutions have been promulgated; the 1979 constitution supervised by Obasanjo administration, the Babangida 1989 constitution , including the Abubakar Abdusalam 1999 constitution which heralded this fourth republic on 29th of May, 1999. The Sanni Abacha 1995 constitution died with him as he did not live to promulgate the document. In all of these attempts at forging a truly united country, Nigerian leaders have continued to misdiagnosed Biafra both as an idea and as a Nigerian ailment.
All the constitutions mentioned above have continued to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause of Biafra as a metaphor for Nigerian existential challenge. The various statute books continued to compete among themselves on how best they can undermine the corporate existence of Nigeria through excessive centralisation of powers at the expense of the federating States. Talk of a classical corporate suicide! How much more can one obliterate from the face of the earth a country as heterogenous as Nigeria than to forcefully weld them together in a suffocating union that give scant regard to the individualities of the component states?
All the constitutions were an albatross and impediments against a great country that Nigeria could have been.
The myriads of agitations all over Nigeria are Biafra. The Boko Haram insurgency in the North East is a Biafran spirit. The militancy in Niger Delta is a ghost of Biafra. The OPC in the south and the ubiquitous herdsmen killings in Nigeria are all Biafran incubus. How this escaped the authorities in Nigeria is quite amazing. When the components units begin to physically challenge the sovereignty of the state, it is time for a review or renegotiation of the status quo.
The success of Nnamdi Kanu sit- at- home order is a pointer to the fact that Biafra is not a myth. It is an idea that exist in the minds of the Ibo. Rather than confront every interrogation of Nigeria's sovereignty with threat, intimidation and military action, what the leadership ought to do is to expedite action that will stall the balkanisation of this country, if indeed, their professed love for a united Nigeria is genuine. On this, the political elites cannot be trusted.
President Muhammadu Buhari has made a volte- face on a cardinal manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which is restructuring. If the President could be forgiven for being stuck in the old military mindset of preserving Nigeria unity even in the absence of peace and social justice, what do we make of the Vice -President, an erudite Professor of Law living in denial of the indispensability of restructuring to our continued corporate existence as a country of many nations. Professor Osinbajo once canvassed openly in a lecture at Elizade University, Ilara- mokin in Ondo State that the problem of Nigeria is not restructuring but that of economic diversification. Prof. Osinbajo committed a faux pas on that. And to think that the learned Professor is a product of Tinubu school's of thought about solving Nigeria's problem is befuddling. The silence of Tinubu himself and the ACN camp of the APC on this all-important issue presents politicians as people that can not easily be trusted. Restructuring was among the carrots dangled before the Southwest in the run -up to the last general election. Politicians make restructuring a campaign issue because they know that the southwest has been particularly vociferous in her call for a restructured Nigeria. But restructuring today, is beyond the southwest because every sane Nigerian knows that it is the panacea to the congenital abnormalities Nigeria was born with.
The truth is that nothing in particular is sacrosanct about Nigeria's unity that cannot be renegotiated. After all, the components units in Nigeria today, were once disparate entities existing as sovereignties.
While a united Nigeria holds a better prospect than a couple of fragmented entities, the idea of self determination should no longer be criminalised. It is a right recognised by the United Nations . If South Sudan is an example of failure in that endeavour, Singapore is an example of success in the enterprise of taking one's destiny in one's hand.
But the situation can be saved if only those leading the country decide to think and act right. Referring to our relationship as that of marriage is an aberration because our culture is patriarchal. The husband is the generalissimo whom the wife must cower before. Such an arrangement in a pluralistic society like Nigeria will breed instability. The union should be that of equals if ever we are to achieve peace and progress as a nation.
Since Biafra is symptomatic of the drag on our development as a country, the right thing to do is to renegotiate the basis of our existence as a corporate entity. And if the government of Nigeria is still revelling in delusion of the triviality of the problem or the often repeated non-negotiability of Nigeria's unity, then a referendum should be conducted in the SouthEast to determine whether in truth the Igbo wanted out of Nigeria. By no means should this malfunctioning contraption be kept for too long. Implosion of the country will deprive us of the benefits of a renegotiated Nigeria which holds the promise of the long envisaged greatness .
God bless Nigeria.
Musa Toyyib Olaniyi is a Psychologist, lecturer, public analyst and writer. He writes from Ondo State, Nigeria.