I have been called an “Igbo apologist”, a “basket mouth” and other derogatory and demeaning names due to my incessant calls for a better deal for the people of the South- East. But despite these crude attacks on my person, I remain unabashedly undaunted in my resolve to continue speaking the truth. I am a Nigerian through and through and will continue lending my pen – the sword of truth, the only weapon I wield – to my fellow citizens across the country, whether Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Bini, Ika, Idoma, Kaje, Ijaw, Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist, animist, atheist et al, who suffer injustice in one form or another.
My grouse in this piece is directed at some of my fellow compatriots from the Southern axis of the political divide, and a sprinkling of our brothers from other parts of the country, who have chosen to view the unfolding events in the South-East through primordial and grossly myopic binoculars of ethnicity. These raucously critical, mostly biased, ridiculously uninformed and nauseatingly sentimental attacks against the legally expressed right of our Igbo brothers to self determination are quite disheartening.
Fellow Nigerians, the burning issues – uneven federal structure, marginalization in the distribution of resources, unequal representation, lopsided political appointments et al – being canvassed by pro-Biafra groups, as grounds for wanting to secede from the Nigerian union, are not peculiar to the South-East alone, but are national in dimension – formidable challenges that have stalled the smooth operation of the federal system of government. They are real issues that have always been with us, regardless of attempts by successive administrations, particularly at the centre, to sweep them under the carpet, despite calls from several quarters for a redress of this anomaly. They constitute the national questions; the salient teasers bordering on the feasibility of the Nigerian federation as currently constituted and operated; questions of whether the current federal structure is workable; and if not, should it not be Balkanized or restructured?
There is no arguing the fact that Nigeria’s current federal arrangement is disjointed, disheveled, skewered, unjust, unviable, directionless, and in dire need of reconfiguration, whether our leaders want to accept it or not. This structural deformity makes a huge mockery of a novel system that has been applied to productive effects in other heterogeneously constituted societies, and is largely responsible for the instability (mostly defined by incessant accusations of marginalization by estranged groups, forging of political alliances on the basis of ethnicity and other primordial considerations, and resource based conflicts between federal and state authorities et al) that has become the hallmarks of the politics of the post-independence years, all thanks to a colonial machine that ignored agitations by southern nationalists for a redress of this ambiguous absurdity prior to independence. (I would not like to dwell much on the nuances of this structural deformity as several instructive works on this highly controversial and vexatious subject matter already exist).
The negative press the quest for Biafra has been subjected to by the anti-Biafra voices in Nigeria (who should know better than to attack fellow citizens who are freely and peacefully expressing their heartfelt grievances against an ersatz system that treats them as second class citizens) are largely shallow, hollow and puerile. Come to think of it, is Nigeria’s federal arrangement working practically the way it should? Are the constituent units, the states, truly independent of the centre in the area of resource ownership and control? Is there equity in the delineation of geo-political boundaries? Is the system just? If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, then there would be no need for the current uproar in the South-East. But you and I know that all the crucial indices and principles of federalism, as practiced in true federal states, are completely non-existent in Nigeria. If that is the case, why shout down the Igbos for being bold enough to call for a redress of this monumental abnormality, this disastrous monstrosity that bludgeons all within its confines?
Technically speaking, the struggle for a free Biafra, as currently championed by pro-Biafra groups, is not necessarily aimed at literally dismembering the Nigerian State, as some ignoramuses have chosen to view it. It should rather be seen as a bargaining chip by a disgruntled part of the country. It is a gambit by Indigbo for a fairer share of the national cake, a refusal to continue being spoon-fed leftover crumbs from the national cauldron.
The South-East, since the end of the Civil War, has been treated as a conquered territory and its people as prisoners of war, not withstanding General Yakubu Gowon’s high-sounding, largely hypocritical post-war slogan of “No Victor, No Vanquished”. From a near arrant lack of federal presence, undisguised discrimination in the allocation of resources and political power, to other overt and clandestine forms of psychological and structural violence directed at them by successive administrations at the centre, the Igbos have been at the receiving end. Why, for instance, has it become somewhat of a state policy that no Igbo man should be deemed trustworthy enough to be elected as the country’s President, apart from Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s brief tenure as a “ceremonial” President following the country’s attainment of independence in 1960? Obviously, the fear of Indigbo, unfounded as it seems, is seen as the beginning of wisdom in certain quarters, take it or leave it!
Biafra agitations have escalated of late because successive Nigerian governments have chosen to ignore the burning issues being canvassed by the champions of the struggle. Rather than give listening ears to the grievances raised, they have chosen the adversarial posture, the recent military incursions (Operations Python Dance I and II) into the South-East which reportedly resulted in the shooting and harassment of pro-Biafra elements on a peaceful procession, commando style invasion of the residence of the group’s leader, proscription of the group by the governors of the South-East, and the military’s branding of the group “a terrorist organization”, being classic cases in point.
What the Biafran agitators are asking for is the not different from what the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran are asking for; not different from what the people of Catalonia and Quebec are demanding from the Spanish and Canadian authorities respectively. All they are asking for is to be given a sense of belonging in the Nigerian State (or caste) system. They yearn to be equal partners with the Hausa-Fulanis and Yorubas in corporate Nigeria, a country whose independence they contributed immensely to with their sweat, tears and blood. They simply do not want to remain as a mere appendage to the other majority groups. They do not want to be plebeians to their equals. Is that too much to ask for?
One fact the antagonists of Biafra agitations are obviously oblivious of is that Igbos are republican in orientation – which obviously explains their growing disenchantment at their worsening conditions in the Nigerian Union. Thus, by daring to say “NO” to several years of subsisting under an unjust, unequally stratified, incongruous system, the South-Easterners, (Igbos or Biafrans, anyone you choose to call them), have laid down the marker for other disgruntled Nigerians to emulate. From the valiant Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, to the present peaceful, non-violent approach they have adopted in pressing home their demands, the South-East have continued to blaze the trail, showing other marginalized segments of Nigeria how best to bring pressure to bear on the operators of the Leviathan (the forebears of the barbarous, braggadocios, villainous British Buccaneers who laid the faulty, quake prone foundation of the “Federal republic of Nigeria”) to carry out the much desired reforms founded on the principles of justice, equity and fair play that would engender the unity and development of the country- a prosperous, peaceful and tranquil nation, the dream of the founding fathers.
Here is calling on other oppressed sections of the Nigerian federation (East, West, North and South), who are co-victims of Nigeria’s asymmetric structural absurdity, to take a cue from Indigbo by rising up to collectively cast off the common Kimono of slavery in which they are all appareled by demanding for a total reformation of this ugly gorgon, this “beast of no nation” (to borrow the words of Fela Anikulapo Kuti of blessed memory) that daily denies them their basic rights!
God bless and save Nigeria!