“So for my Biafran wannabe brothers, please do some reflection and introspection, and seek other means of redress rather than the present course of action. The inspiration from Catalonia and Kurdistan is tempting, but all the indices that sustained their agitations up to the referendums are absent here. South-East states operate under a federation; the people dominate their environments wherever they are.”
South Sudan, the last baby of the United Nations is still in intensive care after seven years of a still birth. Born on July 14, 2011, the 193rd member of the UN slipped into ethnic and internecine war less than two years after and has known no peace since then.
What could have passed as a personality clash between two power mongers—President Salva Kiir and his then deputy Riek Machar has since degenerated into the total collapse of the fragile state, with costly human misery, deaths and destruction.
If the on-going referendums succeed, Catalonia and Kurdistan are set to become sovereign nation states in no distant future. Another nation state hopeful—Biafra—is readying for its own independent identity. But unlike the Catalans and the Kurdish people, the grievances of Biafran advocates are yet to be fully articulated, on the basis of which the world would empathise and identify with their cause.
For a fact, IPOB and its nation state dream is not coordinated, not driven by genuine desires and objectives and at best is a loose ensemble of aggrieved youth with the tacit nod of elders and the elite. Whether it has the buy-in of all Igbos or not, is organised or ragtag, IPOB has succeeded in attracting the attention of the international community. Questions are now being asked as to its proscription, ban and blackmail or persecution of the Igbos that make up the states in the South-East geo-political zone.
President Muhammadu Buhari has a share in the propaganda machine IPOB has turned the clamour for Biafra to. IPOB’s propaganda was originally a knee-jerk response to his (the president’s) narrow vision of Nigeria, where equity, fairness and justice in appointments and share of the ‘national patrimony’ has a new definition.
Biafra cannot be compared with Catalonia, which had a long history of struggle, as one of Spain’s wealthiest and most productive regions with a distinct history, had enjoyed some form of autonomy before now, but which was suppressed under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco between 1939 and 1975. The nationalist fervour was rekindled after his death.
It has a ‘proud city’, the capital of Barcelona and there is unanimity of purpose and passion driven by its 7.5 million people. But Nnamdi Kanu’s idea of Biafra borders on megalomania; he likes to hold court, to revel in regal and presidential aura around him, and if he realises his ambition, his father’s compound may well serve as his palace and his village Isiama Afara Ukwu as his capital. Talk about the exaggerated ego of one misguided young man (masquerading as the messiah) mismanaged by the nation’s leadership, now threatening the cooperate existence of the country.
The Kurdish people in South-East Iraq are also into a controversial independence referendum that may trigger more conflicts with Iraq and possibly Turkey. The leader of the oil-rich Kurdistan region, Masssoud Barzani says independence is the only way to ensure the safety, stability and security of his people. Kurds have been in the forefront in the fight against ISIS. By the 2005 Iraq constitution, the region is autonomous, having consolidated its groups and forces after the Gulf war.
Although there are worries that a ‘Yes’ majority of votes for Kurdistan may provoke Kurdish separatist movements in Turkey and Iran, there appears to be no stopping them from flying their own sovereign flag. Having been an ally of the US in all its military expeditions in the Middle East, the Kurdish agitation has more to do with economic leverage and security concern than a political action.
Although the Spanish constitution, just like the Nigeria constitution, states that the country is indivisible, the Catalan parliament enacted their own law in September to give them the go ahead to secede. But that’s where the similarity ends. Catalonia is already run as a regional government with a president and a parliament. Ours is a federation and the states are independent of one another. Therefore, before Biafra can come to be, regional integration of all states of that zone has to take place. Kanu and his ilk need to do this internal assessment, but for now I dare say that Biafra is mere Utopia, does not have any force of law and cannot operate as an entity.
But IPOB’s cry of marginalisation which found expression in the Biafra separatist agitation and which Kanu claims to speak to is not different from the deprivation and want faced by other zones. However unlike other parts of the country, everything is wrong with the approach and symbol of the agitation. I was in one of the public hospitals in Abuja in the heat of the Biafra debate and observed that Igbo as a language was freely spoken by most of the staff. I didn’t hear anybody speak my language all through.
If marginalisation is the absence of fair representation, is my ethnic group and state not marginalised too? And if the civil service workforce is the yardstick, is the South-East not marginalising others? Or how many of the agitators ever wondered that Imo State has more people in the federal civil service than Zamfara, Yobe, Sokoto, Jigawa and Katsina states put together. Therefore, the Biafra separatist agitation as presently constituted is all about the struggle of elites for power without recourse to the genuine need of the people and it does not necessarily wipe away the underlining problems of poverty, unemployment and social injustice.
But the Buhari government should do more to stem the tide of agitations and complaints, not just from IPOB but from all parts of the country. He should be a leader to all, be broad-minded and run an all-inclusive government. And I wonder why this is so difficult for him. Political appointment is about symbolism, tokenism, sense of belonging and emotional capital of a people, but of pecuniary benefits to the holders alone, at least, going by our recent experience with political office holders in Nigeria.
Ultimately such appointees’ loyalty is first to their principal before their community, state, zone or even ethnic group. What does it take the president to share appointments equitably knowing that the appointees will still kow-tow to his whims? How have the appointments of Ngige and Osita Okechukwu benefitted their Igbo brothers or states? Don’t they defend the APC government and the president, instead of pitching tents with Kanu or IPOB?
So for my Biafran wannabe brothers, please do some reflection and introspection, and seek other means of redress rather than the present course of action. The inspiration from Catalonia and Kurdistan is tempting, but all the indices that sustained their agitations up to the referendums are absent here. South-East states operate under a federation; the people dominate their environments wherever they are.
The preponderance of opinions from the South-East does not favour the severance of ties with Nigeria, and without a leadership that inspires confidence, exudes patriotism and is ready to make sacrifices, the thought of sovereignty can at best remain a mirage. And even when it comes to fruition, it can easily fall apart, as is the case with South Sudan. God forbid!
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