The agitation for Biafra
A FACT of Nigeria’s democratic experience in the last 16 years is that every new political administration springs forth a new uprising from disenchanted interest groups. Such seems to be the case of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the recent series of protests by youths of South eastern extraction seeking secession from Nigeria and demanding the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kalu, the detained director of the pirate Radio Biafra.
But contrary to the position of some informed commentaries denouncing the ongoing agitation for secession or self-determination as a rally of miscreants, the obviously expanding Biafran factions are gradually crystallising into a global clamour for the actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. Whatever the motives of this agitation, it must not be taken lightly.
Whilst, at face value, the wave of protests dotting south eastern cities and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, may be construed as another activity of unscrupulous, business-minded men exploiting gullible youths, the motivations for such uprising rest on the skewed nature of the Nigerian society.
For many years, successive administrations have maintained a portentous imbalance and inequitable structure that disfavours meritocracy. They have glossed over the continuous capitulation of the political class in a progressive fashion to a point of disaffection. And by so doing they have fostered a forced unanimity.
With this groundswell of protests, the unity of Nigeria, for want of a suitable metaphor, seems to be held at gunpoint. Perhaps, this agitation points to issues that have not been resolved. It is noteworthy that while these protests persist, a section of the Igbo elite have either only dismissed the agitation in the fashion of President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, or continually recycled the narratives of Nigeria’s skewed political economic structuring. What they should do instead is that, they, with well-meaning Nigerians, should find a midway and a basis for which the nation’s diversity can be respected, and a sense of belonging maintained. Standards have to be respected and established constitutional rights must be protected without making others feel any loss of their identities.
While the unity of Nigeria should be discussed, the agitators must be strongly cautioned to channel their grievances without perpetrating acts that could be interpreted as an attempt to enthrone instability and dismember the country.
Concerning the substance of the agitation, the veracity of a unified Biafran agenda is already being called to question by the absence of a clear-cut philosophy or any articulated strategy of effective social mobilisation; the result of which is the emergence of various factions in the Biafra cause. Following allegations of sabotage, intimidation, pecuniary conflicts, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is said to have broken into Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM), led by one Benjamin Onwuka, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, and the United Eastern Congress led by Sam Ike, all of which work at cross-purposes.
The disorganised manner of this agitation, the indecorous, offensive, and irreverent verbiage coming from their spokespersons make a mockery of any claim they may lay to a legitimate cause. It should be borne in mind also that every part of the country has one thing or another to agitate for. If every aggrieved company were to carry on the way these aspiring Biafrans are going, the chaos the nation would face can only be imagined. This is a bad signal to the dissatisfied others. It is for this reason the secessionist tendencies of the leader of MASSOB, Ralph Uwazuruike, who is set to present an alleged 2016 budget “to actualise Biafra and liberate the people of former Eastern region,” is condemnable.
Those in the streets, whose only political education comes from misguided verbiage of clannish role models, should be cautious not to become cannon fodders for mischief-making. Whilst it is part of democracy that people should air their views, however jaundiced, they should, all the same, not translate grievances into violence and bloodshed.
Just as it is true for the agitating pro-Biafra demonstrators, the army should not be provoked into violence-inciting utterances as the response of the Deputy-Director, Army Public Realtions, 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Hamza Gambo, portrayed the other day. It is not the business of the army to tell Nigerians what to say or what not to say in a democracy. The role of advising the presidency on when to use force in its reaction to the Biafran protests rests on the National Assembly.
Notwithstanding, it is simplistic to view the agitation for Biafra as an event orchestrated by disgruntled elements reliving a frightful reverie from the Civil War, or some business experiment. Although it may seem like exuberant Igbo youths excitedly seeking avenues to vent, the deeper import of the Biafra agitation transcends its narrow-minded Igbo agenda. It is as one commentator suggested, a living philosophy of justice that appears wherever and whenever oppression, impunity, injustice and structural violence rear their heads. What is going on is symbolic of the discontent experienced by many ethno-political interests for whom the Nigeria question remains unanswered. Nigeria tends to be living a lie. It wants to be a prosperous and politically stable country, yet it is holding down this potential for prosperity and stability by maintaining a supercilious unitary government, whilst paying lip service to federalism.
In the event, any government carrying on this way should not feel that all is well with the national political configuration. For too long, successive governments have undermined the essential differences in the various interests of the Nigerian people; and so unresolved matters about the aspirations of Nigeria’s heterogeneous interests have become an ongoing concern. To assume that these do not exist, or to gloss over them even when we are aware of them, is to play the ostrich.
So, rather than shout down at agitators and wish them away with a wave of the hand, this government should find answers to the thorny issues that created this monstrosity in the first place. Fortunately, the answers to many of these problems are contained in the report of the National Conference. It was with patient expectation of good fortunes that Nigerians committed themselves to the National Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan. True to Nigerians’ expectations, the report of the Conference made recommendations that should augur well for this country’s future.
The Muhammadu Buhari government should look into the report if it is to make any headway in addressing the renewed agitations across the nation. Nigerians must press for the implementation of the National Conference Report as an answer to the renewed agitation for Biafra.