Nigeria has swallowed a long pestle and can only sleep standing upright. Several years of misgovernment and incompetence – there is no need to enumerate – has brought Nigeria to an explosion point. The time is ticking, the fuse is readying to light, but before it explodes…
Even from the standpoint of the cynic, the agitation for Biafra is real and urgent, and so should be its solution. But it seems that the stakeholders – or is it the power-holders? – are not aware of how real and urgent, even as news media make fortune from its reportage. However, even if the government official, the politician, the minister and what-have-you brokers of power are unaware of these developments, the man in the street will not fail to notice it when, as now, the blood starts to flow; the woman in the market will not fail to notice it when the tomato price increases; the school child will not fail to understand when he has to inspect the road every morning to know whether it is safe to go to school or not. They are not a long way off, these evil precursors of war; they have started manifesting in their pristine form under Nigeria’s very nose, and if Nigeria is not to be the proverbial giant that went to sleep and woke up to find his body severed from its head, this is the time for Nigeria to address this pressing matter.
The agitation for Biafran independence, hitherto clandestine, has blossomed into full protests. Days follow weeks of stalling of business in the East, debates and arguments buffet at newspaper stands in the West, the North – always the North – continues waiting for full-blown war. These protests have been met with more than silence: people have been detained (judicially and extra-judicially); people have been injured; people have been killed. There has been considerable destruction of property, and commerce has been adversely affected. These present ills are foretellers of what is to come, if nothing is done to curtail it now.
Biafra wants its freedom; Nigeria wants its unity. There is therefore an ineluctable clash of interest. To Biafra, the question is not whether to be or not to be – it wants to be; the question is simply how to be, and this is the reason for the schism within the ‘Biafran nation.’ On the other hand, Nigeria’s determination for continued oneness is not as a result of brotherly love but rather its desperate efforts at self-preservation, for it knows that without the oil-rich East, its chances of survival, with its almost absolute reliance on oil, are almost zero. Therefore, both for those who want to be and those who don’t want to be, the choice is not an easy one, and the time is at hand for its determining. But there may yet be found a middle ground between this rearing Scylla and the gaping Charybdis.
The Biafran grievance: years of exclusion from the central government, lack of infrastructure in the region, especially road which stands as indisputable witness to what the Easterners regard as deliberate marginalisation of the Igbos, and the oft-cited stringent policy on importation aimed, it is claimed, on making business difficult for the Igbos. These are a few of the numerous serious allegations against Nigeria which the Biafrans find unpardonable. Needless to say, some of these allegations are unfounded. For instance, it is nothing short of ignorance to opine that by its Constitution or policy Nigeria discriminates Igbos from the presidency, where it is obvious that it is the voting population and the incurable Igbo disunity that discriminate Igbos from the presidency. Nothing more by way of exculpation or justification need be said on these allegations, for whether they be real or imagined ills make no difference to the agitators who believe in them. The matter arising is therefore not the rightness of their demand but the possibility of granting it.
Nigeria seems to have no option in the matter. It is Biafran independence or nothing –which is of course another way of saying ‘Biafran independence or war.’ This unvoiced option has continued to rear its head and is threatening to become the only feasible option left, but before that evil hour comes when it will be the only option left, and its exercise due, let all parties reconsider.
The farmer should not, because it is harvest season, forget the famine ahead. Nigeria has been at this crossroad before and it should not be quick to forget the lessons of history. And the lessons of its history are numerous and unpalatable –
There will be, obviously, profiteers of war. These are the men who, with their families far removed from the scenes of ravage, will sit in their luxurious houses and command the flow of weapons, the weapons for the murdering of Nigerians. These are the subtle trumpeters whose deceitful anthems are gradually rising, infusing false courage on the unwary youths. These are the hypocrites who, while pretending to fight for the freedom of their people, laugh behind their secure walls when the fire of their igniting becomes an unquenchable conflagration.
In the end, the real sufferers will be the common man – the man who will lose his investment because it is in the Nigerian province; the man whose shop will be razed because he is an Igbo man; the man who will find no place in his place of employment because he has become an enemy; the old man who can only sit beside his radio set listening to news of destruction and wondering if his children will ever come home; the woman who, on hurried footstep, will throw away her tray of groundnut to scamper for safety; the children who, with plaintiff, unheeded tears, will watch the butchering of their parents; the student who must decide between his life and his study – these innumerable hordes will be sacrificed for the benefit and ego of the few; and while they suffer, these proclaimers of war will be at conference tables speechifying and shaking hands.
For the sake of these many, and in spite of the greedy few, LET THERE BE NO WAR! But how can there be no war when the eagle perches but refuses to let the hawk perch? How can there be no war when a few potbellies swallow the meal meant for the entire household? Two roads lie before Nigeria and the one it takes will make a lot of difference in the end.
The attitude of Nigerian authorities to this agitation oscillates between apathy and the use of extreme measures. Several lives have been lost due to the use of arms against the agitators. Leaving aside the question whether ‘peaceful’ is apposable to these protests, the object of the protests makes it imperative that Nigeria approach its restraint with caution. For one, a people’s agitation for self-determination, whether rightly or wrongly pursued, will quickly attract the attention of the world which does not ask questions about its rightness or wrongness, once it is able to invoke that universal phrase, ‘Human Right’. Many sins have been forgiven and will continue to be forgiven on the basis of that phrase. But this is not about the world’s forgiveness…
…It is about Nigeria’s interest. Continual arrests and killings of these agitators will only end up making martyrs of them, and not a small number of people are sympathetic to the cause of martyrs. Not meaning to impugn on the motive of freedom fighters, it may be noted as an example that the detention of Nnamdi Kanu, the firebrand Radio Biafra’s director, has managed to elevate him to the status of a nationalist agitator. Perhaps he is a hero; perhaps he is a villain; but none will stop talking about him because of his detention, and whether he be villain or hero, anything happening to him while in Nigerian detention will breed more trouble than can be chewed at a round table.
Yes, these agitators may have overstepped the bounds of their constitutional rights in the exercise of their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, but the solution, for the interest of Nigeria, is not in invoking the strictest measures against them. Those whose family members and friends have been killed will desire revenge, and those revenged will seek their own revenge; the circle will continue, and the repressive measures, instead of stopping the agitation, will only fuel it. Does the solution lie in granting the agitators their request? This is a question that Nigeria must weigh its options carefully; and sadly its options are few and difficult to choose.
Should Nigeria look into the complaints of these disgruntled ones? Maybe solving some of their pressing problems like road and giving them a little more preference in federal posts, even if this means unjustifiable indulgence, may help to quell their agitating spirit? One cannot predict, for this agitation has reached the level where returning is not possible and going forward with its attendant difficulties is the sworn determination of the agitators.
Let there be no mincing of words on the option of war: IT IS NOT A ROAD TO BE TAKEN FOR ANY REASON, FOR THE SAKE OF ALL PARTIES! The Igbos have learnt from history, albeit a negative lesson, and will not repeat the mistakes of running out of weapon and food at the beginning of a war. If the Biafran War I (may God spare Nigeria and the world Biafra War II!) could last for eighteen months with all odds against the secessionists, no clairvoyant will accurately foretell how long another war will last, and with the advancement in military technology, if the war is not cut short, only a very few indeed will be saved. And the few who will be saved are these promoters of war, these inglorious instigators who will load a child with salt and rain water after him.
Before it is too late; before this threatening cloud darkens upon Nigeria…
Nigeria must sit down to settle her domestic problems. Nigeria entertains false hope if it hopes on the aid of Britain; of course she will, in her subtle, devilish way, with her sweet, hypocritical tongue; but in the end, the death toll will be the Nigerian children, not the British children. Biafra entertains even falser hope by relying on the American benevolence; perchance it may have been a thin thread to lean on if America has not discovered its oil deposits and therefore hopes to draw from the oil well of the emergent Biafra. As for the bubble called United Nations, it will only roar from a distance like a caged lion. In the end, it will be each man to his tent.
Therefore, all parties must weigh the odds carefully, before it is too late…
If at last the prodigal is determined to sever ties with his parent, Nigeria should settle him for his vagabondage. Why should one continue to graft a stalk that is incompatible with the parent stock? The Igbos have made claims that they are the bedrock of Nigerian economy; Nigeria has refuted this claim with equal vigour. This seems to be the best way to settle the tussle: Nigeria should let Biafra go to prove that Nigeria can survive without Biafra. Whatever the end result, every party should content itself with the choice it has made.
But Nigeria will not let go, neither will the Biafrans agree to stay. If only Biafra can learn from the India of Mahatma Gandhi, and Nigeria from the British, there will be hope that even if secession is the ultimate destination of this agitation, Biafra should part with Nigeria as friend, not as sworn enemy. It is not too late yet, and the peace table may still be constituted.