Has Biafra Been Compromised?

When the article late March captioned “IBB: A Misunderstood Statesman?” was published online some readers wrote me privately in commendation. One of those who wrote in, names withheld, had said: “Mazi Okenwa: You write well. You write with courage, a quality which many Nigerian writers do not possess. But until you can take Nigeria seriously as a “failed state,” all that courage is still on paper. Come home to Biafra. Contribute your quota to Biafra actualization: that’s where the courageous people of practical value are now. Nigeria fails: we, as the Nation and peoples of Biafra, do not have to fail with Nigeria. In fact, we won’t: we are working to see to that. Please join us.”

As courtesy demanded I wrote him back and my email to him in response went thus: “My ‘Biafran’ brother, Good day! How are you doing out there? Thank you for your encouraging appreciative message. Of course I was born and bred a Biafran but circumstances may not have permitted one to live out this Biafran national identity. Now without pretending to the contrary I feel and behave Nigerian in the absence of concrete plans to realise our Biafra! One is helpless here!

Until such a time such possibility of its realisation on the ground could be guaranteed I think one should not deceive himself by proclaiming it loud and clear even when realities on the ground suggest our comprehensive participation in the Nigerian federal project. The above represents my position, my dear, and I hope you understand. Remain blessed!”

For the past week the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has been protesting in all the states of the Southeast against the killing of its members and the repressive attitude of the powers-that-be against their separatist interests.

According to a statement credited to the Movement: “Irrespective of the non-violent approach of MASSOB, the Nigerian State continued its genocide against our people. From May 22, 2000 to April 22, 2008 more than 2,000 registered members of MASSOB in various cities in Nigeria were killed by Nigerian security personnel.” What a tragedy!

Established in 1999 MASSOB seeks to galvanise Ndigbo and raise awareness about the need for the resuscitation of the Biafran nationhood project. Ever since then heads and bones have been broken and houses burnt and agitators arrested and jailed by the Nigerian security forces. Tragically we have been informed by MASSOB high command that over two thousand of its activists had met their cruel deaths in the hands of these trigger-happy forces. The Nigerian security forces especially the SSS are always hard and easily moved to the employment of maximum oppressive tendencies whenever the issue revolves around Biafra and MASSOB.

Chief Ralph Uwazuruike has spent years in prison with tales of dehumanisation, assault and outright disgraceful attempts to break his will by federal forces. But he has remained focused and dedicated to the course. He lost his dear mother while in detention and has had to be released by a high court on the ground of attending to his mother’s funeral.

Biafra as a failed nationhood project enunciated in the late 60’s by the now technically blind Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu which provoked the 67-70 pogrom against the Igbos by the Nigerian armed forces evokes memories of a dream unfulfilled and a hope dashed! Millions of Igbos were massacred during the war and even today the marginalisation of this great resilient ethic group continues unabated.

Not a few radical Nigerians are calling fanatically for the dismemberment of the federation to pave way for the establishment of nations whose peoples share certain cultural affinities and tribal linguistic similarities. Writers like Remi Oyeyemi and Bode Eluyera are known to be advocates of disintegration of the Nigerian nation as it is presently constituted and the forming of the ‘Oduduwa’ Republic.

They have made some points and their arguments have certain merits and demerits. As Nigerians they reserve the right to question the apparent existence of a nation with an unpatriotic majority whose nationhood consciousness is open to debate. I had declared before that the Lord Lugard ‘Nigeria’ arrangement of 1914, something arbitrarily and colonially done without the consent of stakeholders, remains a fraud, a white lie told which must be re-told or re-worked to suit the exigencies of the time — the present.

Unlike Oyeyemi or Eluyera however I am not calling for the break-up of the Nigerian nation and have never done so. I believe Nigeria as a complex society can survive with sound federation where truth, justice and equity reign supreme. That is why I support those calling for a sovereign national conference where our differences will be discussed no-hold-barred and co-existence strategies worked out which will enjoy the broad support of all and sundry.

For instance, the 1999 constitution must be radically reviewed and amended to suit our federal environment and the police force decentralised for more effective organized policing. The awesome powers vested on Abuja and the occupant of Aso Rock must, of necessity, be whittled down delegating some of these powers to the states and other tiers of government.

But come to think of it, were Biafra to be achieved today only God knows how Ndigbo would be able successfully to govern themselves. I am inclined to fearing some political explosion nay implosion. With the average Igboman reputed to be over-conscious of money, arrogant, egomanic and non-respecter of kingship it is not unimaginable how the Republic would be bastardised soon after take-off as individual and state rivalries set in.

Replicating what happened in USSR (where states that made up the Union went their separate ways leaving Russia alone) may not be wholly feasible in Nigeria. Nigeria is not USSR and the Soviet Union’s balkanisation materialised out of internal and external pressure as well as the playing out of an idea whose time had come. Forces of disintegration were not only overwhelming but uncontrollable.

On the ground in Nigeria, on the other hand, what the average Igboman, Yorubaman, Niger Deltan or Hausa/Fulaniman wants is a Nigeria where his potentials get realised without ‘connection’ or corruption; a nation where character prevails; a true federation where merit is rewarded and encouraged.

For me therefore Biafra as a separatist project has long been compromised! (And that also goes for Oduduwa). Compromised as it were on the alter of political expediency, corruption and the complexities uniquely Nigerian. And above all lack of realistic organisational leadership and structures. Radically and in the face of reality one declares Biafra doomed. Chief Uwazuruike, though charismatic and pacific in his approach, may be out chasing shadows and seeking attention and relevance. The sooner he realises this the better.

Without any complex feeling I think I feel more Nigerian than Biafran. The shortcomings of our shared nationhood notwithstanding I posit that if we all put tribal sentiments aside and become less crime-friendly we can build a great nation under the green-white-green flag. Here I stand for now!

Written by
SOC Okenwa
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