May I contribute this piece to the persistent rumbles of Biafra in our body polity. In as much as secession seems a rather frightening prospect, it will still be totally erroneous to condemn the MASSOB activists fighting for the actualisation and resurrection of Biafra, as a bunch of trouble makers. Their cause is symptomatic of the malaise inherent in the Nigerian state. That the cause of Biafra can be resurrected thirty-eight years after the end of the civil war is a conclusive proof that the Nigerian state has failed. That the same set of people, who paid greatly for their temerity to attempt secession, can still harbour such thoughts after thirty-eight years shows the degree of our success with reconciliation, reconciliation and rehabilitation. Despite Gowon’s bold attempt to bury the rising star of Biafra, it is painful to accept, four decades later, that the fundamental issues leading to the war are still present in our body polity.
While the vocal MASSOB activists are making waves in the East, we should not forget the rebels of the Niger Delta who equally have a grouse with the Nigerian state. They are also fighting for decades of neglect, underdevelopment, repression, marginalisation and environmental deprivation of their region. Their cause has been very militant, arguably infiltrated by hoodlums, nevertheless still focussed. Their desire is the political and economic advancement of their region and if possible, separation from the Nigerian state. Their case is not helped by the injustice embodied in the state/judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The Niger Delta remains an environmental and political disaster. The badly managed conflict remains a smouldering keg of gunpowder, ready to explode beyond manageable comprehension.
Down Southwest, the average Yoruba man, given the chance, will also wish for the actualisation of Ododuwa republic. While their approach may be more subtle and intellectual, the discontent is not lost. That the North appointed Olusegun Obasanjo as President cannot atone for the brazen robbery and humiliation of a son of the soil who won an election and was subsequently beaten or poisoned to death (only God knows!). Those who were then “in power” did not hide their contempt for the choice of the masses. Whatever could threaten the power base of those born to rule had to be crushed with unimaginable intensity.
There is general discontent in the land and the pertinent question is who really wants Nigeria? It is probably the Northerners who desire a Nigerian state, as presently constituted. This artificial configuration called nation, has been nothing but extremely favourable to them. Control of political and now economic power has brought immense benefits to the feudalistic set up of the Northern hegemony. They are so egoistic that they declared with aplomb that they are born to rule. Ruling in this context means suppression and manipulation of the wishes and aspirations of other groups within the association. Hence a supposedly federal state is in effect practising strangulating unitary system of government.
It is a known fact that discontent breeds rebellion and militancy, the very key ingredients of civil conflagration. There is always a limit to how long a group of people can be suppressed. Denial of truth leads to nothing but anarchy. Nigeria has been a country borne out of political and economic convenience for the colonial masters. It was borne out of a refusal to accept the incompatibility of its various components. Our continued denial of truth led to civil war so soon after independence. Civil war has been described in broader terms as a military conflict over control of resources and political power with access to policy formulation in a disputed territory. It often arises in opponents of the same culture, society or nationality and often due to cultural, social, religious, political or economic disputes. This was the situation with Nigeria in 1967 and the same still persists.
Wars have been fought in many countries, often over specific purposes. America fought a civil war between 1861 and 1865 over an altruistic cause, the abolition of slavery. This was a meaningful war that served the cause of the United States. However, senseless and needless wars have also been fought. In fact, looking at it, there is yet a war fought on the African continent that has altruism as its objective, minus the struggles for the eradication of apartheid and toppling of Ian Smith in Rhodesia. From the Sudanese war (which remains the longest in Africa) to the Nigerian civil war, the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone up to the brutal and genocidal antics of the Hutus over the Tutsis in Rwanda, including the extreme state of lawlessness following the overthrow of Siad Barre in Somalia. None is unpreventable or justified.
The main reasons for Nigeria going to war between 1967 and 1970 were political instability and ethnic rivalry and mistrust. These issues are still very relevant, even today. In the words of Chulwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, “They are still there (that is, issues that led to the war). We still have a situation creeping towards the type of situation that saw the beginning of the war.” This statement is prophetic, coming from the mouth of the chief actor of the last conflict. Ojukwu was not being foolhardy; the reality on the ground is very grim and raises cause for concern. We live in a nation where the citizens go about with resentment, apathy and bitterness. We live in a nation where intelligent souls have died in vain trying to alter the status quo. We live in a situation where true heroes are regarded as villains and where criminals are glorified. If it is not an aberration of the Nigerian state, the likes of Danjuma, Babangida, Obasanjo, Abdulsalam would happily accept the gallows as their dues.
Let us not fool ourselves that another war cannot break out in Nigeria. The last war ended almost four decades ago and many of today Nigerians are too young to retain memories of that war. It is apparent that Nigeria is slowly sliding back to war, if care is not taken. The perpetual state of truth denial and suppression by the ruling clique and the insensitivity expressed in the art of governance and state policies, are fertile grounds for social and political discontent. It is an open secret that arms are being overtly and covertly brought in to the country. Of course, not all these arms are meant for robbery. MEND is actually achieving what was hitherto considered impossible in Nigeria. If the definition of civil war includes the struggle for control of resources and political power, then what is happening in the Niger Delta is nothing short of a civil war.
The struggle for the actualisation of Biafra as currently propagated by MASSOB is not at the stage of military insurgency yet, but it still could be. It is more or less a form of civil disobedience to express a socio-political discontent. The aim is very clear, to act as a veritable pressure group for the sincere, urgent and genuine restructuring of the Nigerian federation. There is no point going over what we as Nigerians truly demand of the federation. Almost every Nigerian can state these explicitly. In a nutshell, we want a country where we have a sense of belonging. We want a nation that genuinely caters for the welfare of its citizens. We want a country where no man is a second class citizen, where the aspiration to political leadership should face no limitation on the barrier of ethnic or tribal sentiments. We want a progressive country rid of corruption. We want a nation that can truly assume its God-given heritage, that is,
a leader in the comity of nations. We want a nation that can compete with others scientifically, technologically and in all areas of human endeavour. We want a country we can truly call home.
The current struggle for Biafra should serve as a wake up call. The solution is not deterrence by use of excessive force or intimidation of vanguards of the struggle via trumped up charges. Rather, genuine efforts should be made at addressing root causes. Solutions can only be prescribed in a sincere atmosphere devoid of parochial ethnic interests. Here I foresee a big problem. It is simply that, most times, the Northern interest is often in conflict with genuine national interest. This is the major menace to the actualisation of a sustainable Nigerian federation. It was the problem in 1967 and it is the problem in 2008. It is however certain that one million soldiers on the streets of Eastern Nigeria cannot extinguish the legitimate desire of the people.
To avoid ambiguities, let me repeat that Nigeria as a nation is a marriage of incompatibles. However, we as citizens submitted ourselves to this contraption and believed that our diversities could be turned to strength. Rather, what we got was subjugation, oppression, under-development, political vandalism, injustice and insensitivity. Gowon took pains to emphasise at the end of the civil war that there would be no victor and no vanquished. The reality to the present day is actually “one victor, the rest vanquished”, with the Northern cabal maintaining their stranglehold on power. We are at a point in the history of this nation where truth cannot be pushed under the carpet any longer. We need to be sincere with ourselves. If Nigeria cannot be what it should be, what then stops us from choosing the path of the velvet divorce, a la the Czechoslovakian type?
In conclusion, let me state that I am not an Ibo man, neither am I a member of MASSOB or MEND. I am just a Nigerian truly worried about the turn of things with the fatherland. I must also say that I am not too young not to remember the havocs of the last civil war. I still have memories of the calamities and social upheaval caused by this war. However, in a situation where some people make peaceful changes impossible, the only other alternative might be a violent one, more so if that violent one would achieve the desired effect. This second time around, Biafra might just come to be.