Over the weekend, right here in the capital of America, we actually listened to the clandestine voice of the broadcaster from “Voice of Biafra”. The broadcast which lasted close to an hour came via the short wave band.
Somewhat shell-schocked, like other Nigerians across the globe who listened probably were, we listened to a programme which consisted of the same old passionate speeches advocating for the seperation of eastern part of Nigeria from the rest of the country.
For Nigerians resident in the Greater Washington metro area consisting of the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland and the commonwealth of Virginia, the shock was not much of the fact that the “Voice of Biafra” programming was spiced with anti-islamic curses, which the broadcaster called prayers, we were just numbed at the way the Biafra ressurection is taken shape in the light of events back home.
When in September 28th 2001, some Nigerians from the east gathered at the law campus of the Howard University in Van Ness (just a few blocks from the new multi million dollar building which will soon be the official embassy of Nigeria) to organise a symposium for Biafra, many took little notice.
The sudden ressurection began to attract some kind of attention as hundreds of Nigerians joyfully paid $20 to be part of the gala night that same evening at the Ukranian Catholic shrine in Washington D.C. Word had by that time gone out that Biafra house was going to be opened the next day and Biafra warlord Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu and his wife Bianca as well as MASSOB leader, Ralph Nwazuruike were already in town.
Like snow in winter, Biafra House, which is actually a suite located at 733 15th Street North West Washington D.C., was declared open with Chief Ojukwu flanked by Nwazuruike cutting the ribbon while several hundreds of Nigerians joyfully sang -“The land of the rising sun”, the Biafra anthem, which is actually an adulteration of the “Finlandia Hymn” composed by Jean Sibelius.
These events here in same Washington D.C. which the Nigerian president has visited three times this year, sure got our attention. African correspondents at the Foreign Press center and those at the National press became curious. They asked question and this prompted some more inquiries which resulted in startling discoveries one of which led us to actually get the short wave band for “Voice Of Biafra”.
The truth is that, in a slow but somewhat steady way, the ill-fated Biafra idea, which we generally believed had died after three years of civil war in Nigeria is coming back to life. Apart from the official yet to be recognised embassy which they claim the suite is; apart from the “National” anthem, the flag and clandestine radio programming in Igbo and English, the movement, if it may be called that also has a detailed, active and properly hosted web-site.
So while President Obasanjo came calling to commiserate with President Bush and offer the country’s steadfastness in the coalition against terrorists, some people, operating under the auspices of the “Biafra Actualization Forum” (B.A.F.), were also busy producing radio and web programming calling for the break-up of the Nigeria.
Interestingly, most of these programmes, if not all, are produced right here in Washington D.C. Our investigations revealed that (B.A.F.) is made up of Igbos in exile in America who put their time, money and energy into the project of actualising the Biafra Nation. The are believed to be working closely with the movement for the Actualization of the Soveriegn State of Biafra, MASSOB.
A copy of the movement’s agenda, which they claimed to have sent in form of a letter, was made available to the press. The listed grieviances include: the recent killings of christians in Kano and Kaduna; What they termed, the federal government’s inability or unwillingness to protect igbos; Alleged neglect in infrastructural development; Nigeria’s continued membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC and Presedent Obasanjo’s silence on the alleged role of Libya’s Gaddaffi’s sponsorship of anti-christian values and practices in Northern Nigeria.
Two things are particularly striking in their manifesto. One, the Organisation maintained that “there is no guarantee that the Nigerian government is safe and secure from military coups” and so it will use “all peaceful means” to ensure it’s objective of seccession. Secondly, members of these Organisation want President Obasanjo to give his go ahead to a Soverign National Conference. This according to them “will preserve whatever goodwill the nations of Nigeria have left for one another”.
These two issues, especially that of the realization of true federalism in Nigeria via the Sovereign National Conference really hits home in view of events back in Nigeria and how the international community appraises things. Already the nation, just like it was pre-civil war, is again strongly divided along ethnic lines. Apart from MASSOB, there is the OPC, Arewa, Middle Belt Forum and the Niger Delta Movement.
The North and Southern Nigerian polarity has become more obvious too. Just recently in Owerri, Imo State, seventeen governors of states in the southern part met for the fifth time since the begining of the Obasanjo administration and like they have insisted since their first meeting, they again called for state police, a national conference and true federation.
Similarly, the on-going face-off between these governors over the electoral bill as well as the resource control saga still reflects the need for true federalism. We can all imagine the implication of a scenario where seventeen out of the thirty states that make up the federal republic of Nigeria go ahead and hold election, thereby making nonsense of the supposed “National Assembly”.
The recent Benue crisis, which President Obasanjo explained away in a simplistic fashion at the joint press conference with President Bush a forthnight ago remains another attestation to the need for true federation. It is not suprising that Ghali Umar Na’Abba, the Speaker of the house of representatives should warn and rightly so that “it could lead to the disintegration of the country”.
As we listened to the fervency and bitterness which the political programme on “Voice of Biafra” gave to international listeners last weekend, as we ruminated on the proven tenacity of people of Eastern Nigeria, we suspected that the radio was not going to just fade away like “Radio Kudirat”.
One thing also became clear: destabilising elements in Nigeria and the Nigerian diaspora must be checked. Each ethnic group, or as it has become fashionable, “Nationalities” in Nigeria is crucial to the country’s political equation. But why really can we not have the only thing which all the Nationalities seem to agree on, as a way forward for the country. Why can’t we extinguish the flame of seccession or Biafra by seating to talk about a true federation?
*This piece was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.
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