By Elechi Nnadi
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu has been in the news lately with its vociferous clamor for the secession of a territory it would name Biafra from Nigeria. To be clear, the Biafra of old (from 1967 to 1970) is totally different from the Biafra of Nnamdi Kanu. Whereas the historical Republic of Biafra, declared into existence by the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, covered the geographical space of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria—today’s Abia, Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa States, the prospective Biafra of Nnamdi Kanu will include, not only the territory of the former Eastern region, but also parts of Delta State, Benue and Kogi states, areas Kanu contends are populated by people with substantially similar tradition, culture and history.
Demanding the release of Nnamdi Kanu
Kanu and his followers advance a number of complaints against the Nigerian state for their rather controversial stance, among which are: marginalization of the Igbo in Nigeria, a shutout of the Igbo from the Presidency, a glass ceiling in the top
echelons of the Federal s Government where the Igbo are seldom considered for appointments to certain top political and security positions, and perhaps the most intriguing justification for its clamor—that the people inhabiting the prospective new Biafran territory have nothing in common with the core Muslim populations of the far north and the Yoruba people of the Southwest.
Each of the reasons for Kanu and his IPOB’s territorial quest actually has arguments for and against it. Protests of marginalization emanate from time to time from different segments of the Nigerian population. Core northern states where illiteracy is very high have complained of educational marginalization. The modern economy, influenced by globalization, is likely to pass huge swaths of the north by whenever Nigeria stabilizes and moves beyond its current nondescript political economy into a great industrialized country. But counter arguments to Northern claims of educational marginalization point the blame at the northern social system . The rigid social structure, greatly characterized by a feudal history, severely constrain the use of education as a social tool to achieve an egalitarian society.
The Yoruba complained bitterly of marginalization during the Jonathan Administration, accusing Jonathan of shutting out the Yoruba from top notch appointments in his government. It was irksome to the Yoruba that none of their own held any of the 4 top political positions in the country—the Presidency, the Vice Presidency, Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives. Defenders of the Jonathan Administration pointed to the political hardball tactics of the then Action Congress Party under the control of the Yoruba, which foiled the plans of the ruling PDP party to sponsor a Yoruba to the speakership position. Additionally, the Yoruba were well represented in the Federal Executive Council.
IPOB claims of deliberate Igbo marginalization as a deliberate policy of northern and Yoruba controlled federal governments since the end of the Biafran War in 1970 is a long list, ranging from a deliberate lack of Federal presence in Igbo land, where Federal roads are death traps, to near zero Igbo representation in the top political positions in the land—the heads of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of Government. The three branches are all headed by northerners, they
claim—Buhari at the Presidency, Saraki at the legislature, and Mahmud Muhammed who is the Chief Justice and head of the Judiciary.
A counter argument to the IPOB’s on these matters is premised on the IPOB’s selective analysis of Nigeria’s political growth since the inception of the 4TH Republic in 1999. Indeed, since the military handed over to Obasanjo in 1999, a number of political facts has occurred: The Igbo controlled the Senate Presidency during Obasanjo’s 2 terms of office; Aguiyi Ironsi’s son, Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, who as a young teenager witnessed his father’s abduction in Ibadan in 1966, briefly served as Minister of Defense during Obasanjo’s waning days in office; Ngozi Okonjo Iweala had two stints as a super Minister of Finance; George Obiozor served as Ambassador to the United States. There were many more political appointments, but the above examples will suffice in making the point. In fairness, the Igbo have had their fair share of political appointments since 1999, although under Buhari thus far, it has no one in the military and security leaderships of the country—not in the army, air force, navy, the police, or the DSS.
The IPOB may be correct about the dearth of Federal presence in Igbo land, where it rightly points out the poor state or gross inadequacy of federal infrastructure. The previous Administration did do the Enugu Airport, the Onitsha River Port (which is yet to be fully operational though) the Oguta Jetty, and the last stages of the Onitsha Owerri Road, began by the Obasanjo Administration.
IPOB’s claims of non affinity among the peoples of its proposed Biafra Republic (the former Eastern and Midwestern Regions of Nigeria, and parts of the Middle Belt) and the core North and the Southwest is a controversial political argument. From a historical perspective, it may be correct with its assertion, but more than 100 years of living together as one country has established a political and social DNA that is particularly Nigerian which cannot be ignored.
A good hunch of what the IPOB really wants is a country that functions, a country that does not discriminate against any of its citizens, a country that regards the Southeast portion of Igboland as an integral part of Nigeria and thus deserving of a robust federal presence, and a country where fellow citizens would have no qualms at all in electing an Igbo as President of the Republic someday. To the IPOB and many Igbo sitting on the fence, Biafra would be the solution if these remedies to the secession clamor are not applied.
Critics of the IPOB are wont to dismiss Nnamdi Kanu as a lightweight and a political nuisance, but they will be making a great mistake by underestimating the very real potential of what he has started lighting up the country in a great conflagration. To many of his supporters and millions of fence sitters, Biafra could be the solution. But there are also millions of Igbo who think otherwise. They believe Nigeria can be a better place for all if competently run, like Biafra was under Ojukwu, in spite of the severe stresses of war. Many do not know that in the midst of the air raids and see saw battles between the Biafran and the Nigerian armies, the Biafran Post Office delivered mail, the courts were open and conducted trials, and oil refining activity took place to fuel both military and civilian vehicles operated in Biafran controlled towns. Civil Society Biafra, away from the hot war fronts and the refugee centers where death stalked starving children, actually functioned.
Whether Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra is the solution to the Igbo problem with Nigeria gets complicated when the non Igbo he has included in the “New Biafra” are brought into the mix. Does the remedying of Igbo issues with Nigeria necessarily mean there will be no issues with the Igala, Itshekiri, Ogoni, and the Idoma in the “New Biafra”? Fortunately for many, Kanu’s “New Biafra” is a proposition that many are genuinely ambivalent about right now.
Elechi Nnadi is a staff writer for Learnigbolanguage.com