On Biafra and related issues

Mar 29, 2002 01:00 AM

I offer this piece from a non-partisan perspective to help draw attention to some of the salient issues that have often been smoothed over in the renewed and radical struggle for Biafra actualisation. I believe that not being a partisan helps you to be attentive to complexities and difficulties that partisans merely gloss over in the enthusiastic pursuit of their cause. An appreciation of complications that I seek to draw attention to will help sustain the consciousness of Biafra while throwing up other options and possibilities for addressing the plight of the Southeast.
Before I discuss the various facets of what I think should animate the "Biafra" struggle and what I think might undermine it, let me state that the supreme legitimisation for any programme of self-determination is the wish and will of the people who have chosen such a path. Legitimacy is not conferred on a political struggle for territorial autonomy by the assurance of its future viability or the assured harmony of its constituent elements.

Therefore, the argument, which I myself have made in the past against separatism, that a Biafra, Oduduwa, Arewa or Middle Belt Republic may not be viable and may merely produce microcosms of the tensions and rivalries that Nigeria currently grapples with, while valid, cannot constitute an attenuating argument against the struggle for Biafra. Unless one is gifted with the ability to render political prophecy, there is no telling what shape a new polity might assume.
It is true that to some extent, the Nigerian state provides a buffer of sorts for several intra- and inter-ethnic rivalries. It is also true that a Biafra republic might still be saddled with the Umuleri-Aguleri problem, an Oduduwa republic with the Ife-Modakeke conflict, a Middle Belt republic with the Tiv-Jukun animosity.
However, it is also possible that autonomy or independence for any of these regions may provide the impetus for the resolution of these problems. The euphoria of long-sought autonomy and the desire to develop and nurture this autonomy may provide the framework for compromise. One must also point out that the designs, calculated gerrymandering, and the outright manipulations of the central government and its opportunistic agents have arguably fuelled some of these conflicts more than local agency and locally-embedded disagreements have.

In any case, there is no nation on earth, no matter how homogenous, congruous or small, that does not have its own peculiar tensions and simmering animosities. The task of nation-building, which even the most homogenous nation-states have had to undertake, is about the management of these tensions, not their elimination. So the argument that the Biafra project is flawed because there can be no guarantee that the envisioned republic will be inured to Nigeria's current problems is weak.
The same argument about replicating current national struggles and problems at local levels has been mobilized by those who criticize the current agitation for resource control by the South-South states. It is said that if the control of natural resources -- mainly oil -- were transferred from the federal government to the states, it would merely change the face of the exploiter while leaving the impoverished population of the Niger Delta out in the cold.

Critics contend that the control of natural resources by state or local governments will perpetuate the neglect of the plight of ordinary Niger Deltans, because it will merely localize the usurpation of oil royalties, and prolong the agitation for the direct benefits of oil exploration and production. Cynics even question the efficacy of community control, in which case they argue that community aristocrats and local power men could constitute a new group of exploiters who may keep the benefits of oil production from reaching the average person in the oil-producing communities.
These points are valid, but are we then to acquiesce to the on-going neglect of the Niger Delta because of the possible disappointing outcomeof state or local government control of resources? Are we to allow the acknowledged imperfections of what is envisaged and hoped for to undermine the articulated vision for change?

As is the case with Biafra, the outcome may not be final; perhaps no political outcome is. The outcome may only provide a template for working out the ideals that will sustain the supreme vision. This vision, in the case of the Niger Delta struggle, is to see that Niger Deltans benefit materially from their God-given resources.
So, while state government control of resources may be far from ideal, it may provide the basis for achieving the eventual dream of individuating land ownership thereby bringing the benefits of oil directly to individual Niger Deltans, or for working out a just community-based land tenure and ownership regime. Besides, I believe that crises are better managed when they are devolved to the local level. It is easier to deal with local oppressors that are visible and are kin than to deal with overarchingnational forces.
In the case of Biafra and state resource control, therefore, the possibility of current problems assuming local dimensions should not detract from the agitations. If the people of the South-South are behind their governors in the struggle for resource control-and there are ways to feel their pulse - that is enough legitimacy. They will fight the same governors later if the latter do not spread the largesse around. So it is with Biafra. The wishes of South-easterners, objectively collated, should constitute a legitimate basis for proceeding on the course of Biafra actualisation.

The biggest challenge before the Biafra project, then, is how to determine, through an objective process such as a referendum, the wishes and political imagination of the people to make up this imagined republic, as well as the proper definition of its territoriality and ethnic composition. If, for instance, the republic is envisioned to include the Igbo and non-Igbo speaking peoples of the South-South region, what mechanisms are being established to determine the views of these peoples in respect of Biafra? But let us leave that aside so as not to muddy the picture.
But even if we were to define Biafra more narrowly as a South-eastern aspiration, one could not assume, a priori, that most South- easterners subscribe to Biafra as it is presently being packaged by MASSOB, the new Biafra vanguard. There is need to explore the other ideas of Biafra that are being articulated by less radical Eastern pressure groups. There is need, in short, to determine the political aspirations of a broad spectrum of Easterners. When this is done the result could then be correlated with the Biafra actualisation agitation.

It would appear that the Biafra project is catching on fast, thanks to the incessant riots in Lugardian Northern Nigeria, in which Igbos have suffered great losses. But appearance cannot be reified as statistical reality. And the retreat to the idea of Biafra in moments of crisis does not necessarily suggest a desire for Biafra actualisation. Besides, the views and preferences of radical and vocal elements who are persuaded toward Biafra cannot be generalized to the less vocal segment of the South-eastern population.
I was in Kano shortly after last year's riots and heard stories about Igbo youths taking to the streets of Kano in the wake of the crisis with chants of "Biafra," "Obasanjo give us Biafra", etc. This no doubt was a demonstration that the desire to actualise Biafra may no longer be a minority desire among the Igbo. Still, how can the chants of Igbo youths made in a desperate moment represent the wishes of all Igbos?
One must not forget that the current struggle for Biafra has essentially been a youth-dominated project. The Kano outburst conformed to the same pattern. How are the views of elders and women to be gauged and analysed in the overall interest of the struggle?

Ultimately, one of the most important views to be sought on the Biafra project is that of the national Igbo Diaspora. The international Igbo Diaspora has tenuous ties to Nigeria, has little or no investments in the Nigerian project or in any of its non-lgbo constituents. It is not surprising therefore that some members of this Diaspora subscribe to the most uncompromising strain of Igbo separatism.
Members of the national Igbo Diaspora on the other hand are heavily invested in other parts of Nigeria. These investments embrace the economic, educational, professional, and familial sectors of life. They have so much at stake in the struggle for Biafra actualisation, for they are potential losers in the event that Biafran statehood is achieved.

They could still remain in whatever becomes the rest of Nigeria to do business, but they would not enjoy whatever modicum of protection and support the present supra-regional security and governmental apparatuses offer; they would be treated as foreigners. For whatever the flaws of the current political arrangement and its concomitant security structures, one would have to admit that its federal, relatively neutral character fosters a sense of basic security, a sense of entitlement to protection in any part of the country that one chooses to reside in.
The occasional violation of this principle should not invalidate the point that the federal police still offer a modicum of succour to non-indigenous populations of Nigerian towns and cities. Such a sense of security entitlement may not continue to exist in the minds of the national Igbo Diaspora after the actualisation of Biafra. In any case, the continuous stay of Biafrans in non-Biafra areas would depend on whether the split is acrimonious or cordial. One hopes that it is the latter.

This is not the time to foster talks about individuals subordinating their interests to those of the collective. The Igbo national Diaspora is much more than a mere collection of individuals. It is a well-entrenched community of Igbos, and it is Igboland outside of Igboland. It is perhaps the largest internal Diaspora in Africa. Its fears and anxieties in the event of Biafra actualisation cannot be discountenanced. They are legitimate fears founded on experience and reality.
It is an armchair discourse to insist that Igbo businessmen and professionals resident in non-lgbo territories could simply pack and return to "Biafra". It would not be that simple. What would they go back to? Apart from the Southeast being the most densely populated part of Nigeria, thereby diminishing the possibility of injecting returnees into agriculture, and apart from throwing up the possibility of land scarcity, one cannot be certain that returnees, mostly businessmen, would readily find a market for their goods or a niche to operate in. This is why I think that confederacy or a radically restructured federation would offer the best advantages to the Southeast. But I am not Igbo and I don't make decisions for Igbos.

It is the national Igbo Diaspora that needs to be reassured that Biafra actualisation will not jeopardize their livelihood and their investments. Presently, the Biafra struggle is making the same mistake that national conference advocates are making and this should not continue.
The SNC advocates have turned out to be their own worst enemies. They have refused to acknowledge that the idea of a national conference, a potential palliative to the socio-political tensions in the land, has been badly and unattractively packaged and therefore has come to represent a monster to those invested in the status quo. Any wonder that the SNC bill suffered a tragic fate in the National Assembly recently?

M. Ochonu is a doctoral research student of African History at the University of Michigan, USA, who contributed this piece from Kakuri, Kaduna.

Source: Weekly Trust
Alexander's Commentary

Change of face - change of phase

In the period of July 20 till August 3, 2015, Alexander will be out of the office and the site will not or only irreg

read more ...
« April 2020 »
April
MoTuWeThFrSaSu
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30

Register to announce Your Event

View All Events