The history of Biafran war is a history which will forever dwell in the memory of Nigerians, born and yet unborn; but it is a history whose memory is most disturbing to the generation which witnessed it. Not a small number of people are of the opinion that what happened in the years of the civil war should be left as it was – it is a story already over-told. But in There Was a Country, Achebe was true to his words, ‘You told your own story and now you are announcing that the novel is dead. Well, I haven’t told mine yet.’ And now Achebe has told his own story; and what has he accomplished by his exposé on the Biafran tragedy?

The problem with Nigerians is that they are at times so full of premeditated ideas about matters that they are always on the lookout to praise or condemn without giving themselves the opportunity to be acquainted with that which they seek to praise or condemn. It is surprising than in less than three days after the public release of There Was a Country, it generated so much controversy. One wonders how suddenly voracious the Nigerian public had become that they could read 265-page book within two days, and read in such a way as to have formed their own opinions about it!

Of course it is evident that neither Achebe’s critics nor eulogizers are really aware of what he has written in There Was a Country, for should they do, I suppose they all should be gravely disappointed. There is an element of disappointment in There Was a Country for everybody, and if people should but take their time to read it, they will no doubt leave Achebe alone, neither praising nor criticizing him. It is admittedly near impossible for opinions to be formed about a public figure without prejudice; however, it is suggested that in the case of Achebe, one who wants to know his stand on Biafran catastrophe should at least endeavour to read him first – understand Achebe before judging him!

Many have alleged without reservation that Achebe has written a pro-Biafran literature, some even going as far as implying and even saying outright that he has written against the Government of Nigeria in support of the secessionist Biafra. It is easy to see why the Igbo man gets carried away with exultation that Achebe has finally opened his mouth to talk about Biafra, no doubt hoping that he would get ‘justice’ from his fellow Igbo man; but little does he know that Achebe has done him no more good than he has done everyone else! There Was a Country is not a book which seeks to justify the action of one people, nor to exonerate anyone from a rightly merited blames; it is a book in which the writer has candidly stated out the facts of history albeit in his own passionate perspective – but then, it would be asking the impossible of any writer to be totally objective in whatever subject he has set himself to write upon. It is a perfect blend of truism and literary ingenuity; and its major aim, as far as one can deduct from its pages, is to give the facts to the public and allow everyone to form his own judgement about who among the power players of the civil war were the heroes or the villains. This, I think, is the most a writer can be asked of in a disputable issue such as we have all agreed the civil war to be.

Soyinka’s initial silence after the release of There Was a Country no doubt excited some people since they might have thought that he had probably seen the indecorums of the book; but when more than a month later, Soyinka gave his praises on the book, people sighed conspiratorially, no doubt thinking that it was a mere case of an Ibadan old student praising another’s work (hypocritically). Whatever conclusions any one might draw from Soyinka’s accolades, it should at least be acknowledged that he reserved his comments until he has read the book before commenting on it. Let he who must praise or criticise Achebe first read him, not the newspaper editorials! Maybe then, it will be easy to understand why even the radical Soyinka identified with the candid narrative of Achebe in There Was a Country.

This is not the place to appreciate the book; suffice it to say that Achebe has simply laid bare the follies of both sides of the conflict as he understands it – which is not a small matter considering that he was very active during the war, albeit not in the artillery fields. If any man is hurt by his remarks, it is because the truth has an offending arrogance which spares no man; and if any man is praised, it is not flattery but deserved praise. To mention in passing, for instance, Achebe did not portray Ojukwu as the classic war hero which even ‘Nigerians’ themselves think him to be; he was portrayed for what he is, with all his nobility and tragic arrogance. Achebe did not present Gowon as an incorrigible villain of the war (not of course that he was not highly critical of his war strategies which Achebe himself personally suffered under!) It is surprising that there should be objections from parties so fairly treated; and Zik would surely have appreciated how his position in the war was brought to the public, for not a small number of Igbos believe that he was anti-Igbo.

Admittedly, the fairness and bluntness of Achebe’s assertion may at times border on the offensive. For instance, what Igbo man will not be appalled by his blunt yet truthful assertion: ‘I will be the first to concede that the Igbo as a group is not without its flaws. Its success can and did carry deadly penalties: the dangers of hubris, overweening pride, and thoughtlessness which… can obsess the mind with material success and dispose it to all kinds of crude showiness. There is no doubt that there is a strand in contemporary Igbo behaviour that can offend by its noisy exhibitionism and disregard for humility and quietness.’

This is the book which many will not read but will pass their judgement upon; this is the book which many will judge by its covers and cast away; this is the book which will be praised or criticised because of its author’s name. But just like the Bible, both its critics and eulogizers will never get to know its strength and weakness until they have read it.
©2013 Joshua Omenga 



Even from the standpoint of the most insouciant observer of the goings-on in Nigeria for the past few years, one does not need an analyst to understand the degenerate level of existence in which its citizens have and are continually being relegated to. However, it is not an obvious assertion that Nigeria is a failed state – not at least for one who for a moment takes time to consider the implications of such assertion. For this reason, and not for its unobviousness, one needs out of respect for the reader’s justified incredulity to attempt an explanation. 

A failed state is a state whose living standard has gone below the minimum standard of civilised existence, a state which is unable to function even at a minimum standard of basic competence in the globalised economy. Such a state often becomes a haven of criminal activities: smuggling, peddling of illegal drugs, extortion at various levels of government and its parastatal, and terrorist activities. Most significantly, such a state is unable, in the main, to curtail these activities. These are debatable criteria, and not in the least exhaustive; but for those who have been witnesses to these activities, they are mere academic locution whose correctness or otherwise does not diminish the people’s level of suffering in such a state. Therefore, the question whether Nigeria has degenerated to this abysmal concept should be not a matter of definition but of experience – of none but those who are first-hand witnesses of the Nigerian story. Leaving then this question to be answered by each stakeholder, this article will direct its attention to the more germane issue: the IMPLICATIONS of the Nigeria’s degeneracy – its inability to provide security, economic stability, internal sovereignty and to satisfy the yearnings of its disgruntled citizens, in the light of the aim of governments and international law.
We, the People’ and the Social Contract Theory
The government of any state exists for the purpose of fulfilling the mandates of its people. The early philosophy on the emergence of governments, called the Social Contract Theory, derives from the crude understanding among a people to surrender their right of self-governance to a sovereign who, in exchange, would provide them with security of persons and ensure stability from the pristine state of nature in which the mighty devoured the weak. Prior to this pact, the people were solely responsible for their own protection, achieved in whatever means; after the pact, the sovereign is responsible for the protection of the people, in exchange of the people’s obedience. The end of the people’s obedience, says Hobbes, is the protection offered by the sovereign. This forms the core of the pact; it is from this that the sovereign, by whatever name called, derives the power exercisable over the citizens. We shall see later what happens when and if such right to self-governance ‘donated’ to the sovereign is withdrawn.

That this is no mere antediluvian elocution of philosophers, whose irrelevance never existed or has diminished, may be seen from its operation in most governments in the world, especially the acclaimed democratic ones. The grund norm of the Nigerian polity proclaims boldly that          ‘sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority; the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ Bold assertions, these; one need not go far to appreciate its magnanimity: that the government belongs to the people. If for a moment we accept the tenability of this assertion, even theoretically, then we have a ground in this discussion. It would not be an empty inquiry if we attempt to explore the implication of failure of a party to this contract to fulfil its obligations.

The Nigerian state is an agglomerate of many nations, one need hardly reiterate, forced into an uneasy amalgam to sate the British exploitative desires. Fundamental though the flaw of its formation is, it is an immaterial inquiry into the validity of this political contract foisted on the peoples by the colonial power; what is of tangible moment is whether, having entered into this contract, any rights still subsist for the parties. To this we answer in the affirmative: that there remains the right vested in the people under the constitution to form and determine their own governments. Inherent in this – even express to one to one who is unused to the impoverishment of power – is the people’s right to determine who and how their political sphere is controlled.
Nigeria Weighed
Nigeria as a state has emphatically failed to fulfil its obligations under this ‘social contract’: it has failed to provide its citizens with security. And let it not be imagined for a moment that security means only the protection from ballistic activities. O yes, it is hardly worth anyone’s time to be burdened with instances of terroristic activities and other life-threatening criminalities which the Nigerian state has failed to protect its citizens from; it is simply a matter of res ipsa loquitur. Nigerians have in fact taken the constant unrest due to terroristic activities as a part of their lives’ phenomena. It is not a label of any particular government but of the state, an incorrigible determination to betray the owners of its mandate. The source of people’s outcry is therefore not in this aspect of security to which the people have adapted (being, in Soyinka’s words, a nation of short memory), but in a rather old kind of menace to which the people are unable to adapt: economic insecurity. It is by no means an agenda of this write-up to attempt to elucidate the reasons, much less proffer solution, for this menace; and so no moment will be spent than in the mere recognition of the menace.

Seeing then that the Nigerian state has breached its contract with the people, what remedy should the people pursue? What say the propounders of the social contract theory as to the consequence of its breach? Hobbes: ‘the obligations of subjects to the sovereign is intended to last as long as, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which the sovereign is able to protect them.’ ‘A sovereign when ruled by passion and ignorance may govern in its own self-interest and prove too incompetent to protect the interest of its subjects. Such a sovereign loses the right to obedience.’ There is no need to pontificate on the glaring fact, namely, that the sovereign violates this social pact once, by its actions or inactions, it can no longer offer a measure of protection to its people; that the sovereign of the Nigerian state has demonstrated times innumerable its inability to offer the most basic protection to its people. I assert that a state which, through its policy or lack of it, has so bastardised the economy as to remove the bread from the table of the many, has failed in material respect, failed to the extent that the citizens’ right to legitimate disobedience may rightly be activated.

But quite apart from the right of legitimate disobedience to irresponsible government, it should not be imagined at all that peoples who have vested the sovereign with power under this social pact cannot of their own volition divest the sovereign of such power. I assert that not only may the people do so, but that the people may also in addition decide for themselves the political sphere under which they intend to be governed. The least option available to the people is to withdraw their mandate – which implies individual re-investiture with self-governance. May the same people not donate their power again to form a new government of their choice?
The Entity Vs The People
Those who preach the unity of the Nigerian state often hinge it, albeit inadvertently, on the concept of ‘uti possidetis’. We shall examine the flaws of that concept later. Then in a very righteous tone, they insist that the sovereignty of Nigeria is not negotiable. Leaving apart the rightness or wrongness of such pontification, what interest have those who preach this doctrine of inviolability of Nigerian territory, the non-negotiability of ‘its unity’? I seek your leave to quote and adopt in extensor some strong words of Soyinka long before the present degeneracy: ‘We must not even shy away from the possibility that a nation is a mere sentimental concept, unfounded in any practical advantages for its occupants…The inviolability principle of national boundaries is therefore a fictitious concept, born out of nothing more substantial than faith… When I listen therefore to the pontificating voice declaring that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable, I detect only wooly or opportunistic thinking. What the speaker is saying is this: It suits me and mine to keep Nigeria a single entity… Yes, whatever the individual or group motivations or expectations that compel this bond in the occupants of a national space, let us cling to them by all means and lodge them in the collective pot. But the language of “non-negotiability” simply has to be abandoned. It must be consciously terminated for reasons that are quite simple to grasp but are unfortunately obscured to a majority because of its overpowering Sunday school rhetoric. At heart, such language is subversive because it is designed to stop intelligent confrontation with the very issues whose resolution is essential to guarantee the emergence or continuity of such geographical spaces as true nations.’

Agreeing then that a state in no more than a summation of its occupants, sands apart, one encounters no difficulty in jettisoning the notion of sacrosanctity of a state’s sovereignty when those beating its knell are the citizens themselves. But that is the kennel of the uti possidetis doctrine: a principle whose primary aim is securing respect for the territorial boundaries at the moment when independence is achieved. Its damaging implication is the desire to extinguish not only external claims to territories prejudicing a sovereign state but also internal disruptive elements. By this doctrine, groups within independent states should not seek a fractionalisation of the state, except by consent of the constituent peoples. The impotence of this doctrine is hardly worth the discussion.
International Law: a Bulwark and a Restriction
It is necessary to explain before much is said about international law that unlike domestic legal system, international law follows practice and not the other way round. When therefore international law concept is posed, one should be circumspect to regard it as immutable, or mutable in the same way that a domestic legal system is; rather, states act and their acts become law. There are of course many qualifications to this rather oversimplified explanation, but we shall proceed on that assumption with its imperfection.

The seeming postulation under the international law regime that the sovereign integrity of a state should not be undermined either from without or from within is also logical in the face of another benevolent doctrine: the doctrine of non-interference which posits simply that states are not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other states. But what constitutes the domestic affairs of a state? They are too many, and highly subjective; I will therefore only answer in the evasive by giving what it does not mean. It does not include human rights and racial oppression of the people within the state’s jurisdiction. When an action of a state amounts to oppression or violation of human rights of the people within its jurisdiction, it cannot lay claim to this non-interference doctrine.

One such international dimension of collective human rights is the right to self-determination. We shall for now overlook its rather controversial political perspective and focus on its rights dimension. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 iterated that self-determination includes ‘people’s right, in full freedom, to determine when and as they wish, their internal and external political status, without any external interference and to pursue as they wish their political, economic and cultural development.’ Article 20 of the African Charter (which in a questionable decision the Supreme Court admitted to be superior than the Nigerian constitution) recognised the right of peoples to self-determination. Some words in lieu of definition: self-determination is not a magic concept which vests any disgruntled group of people with the right of secession. Secession and its attendant breakdown of law and order is the very thing that the promulgators of the doctrine aim at preventing. To this end, the traditional, political view to this right is that it ends at the door of colonialism: an independent state has no further use for the self-determination concept. That is as far as theory goes; no, not even theory but merely the entrenched level of development. For even at the heart of this ‘freezing’ of territory at independence, the independent Yugoslavia broke up. The Advisory Opinion to this act? ‘Republics must afford members of those minorities and ethnic groups all human rights and fundamental freedom recognised in international law, including where appropriate the right to choose their nationality.’ The Canadian Supreme Court, while emphasising the necessity of non-interference in the state’s sovereignty and boundary, mentioned ‘exceptional circumstances in which a right to secession may arise within an independent state.’

What is often advocated in lieu of secession for independent states is ‘internal self-determination’. This means simply that within the polity of the independent state, there should be guaranteed a people’s pursuit of their political, economic, social and cultural developments. To this end, individuals and groups have a legitimate interest in ensuring the efficient functioning of the state in a manner consistent with respect for the rights of individuals and groups. I assert that even in the concession that only internal self-determination applies in the Nigerian situation, the Nigerian state has failed in this respect as to amount to an exceptional circumstance in which the peoples’ right to seek a political definition for themselves should be honoured.

Thus even within the contradictions of international law, the Nigerian situation has reached a maximum level of tolerability. There is no pretence left for the sovereign to continue holding on to the destiny of the Nigerian peoples.
The Way of the People
Not for a moment should it be construed in earnest that the main aim of this article is to justify the right of a particular people to secession – not of course that it deprecates that. Rather, the aim of this article is to say what many are already aware of but afraid to admit: that the Nigerian state is a failure from the human perspective and that the time has come for its people to determine their destiny. What this collective determination will result in is another question. The anthem should be stifled midway in its chant that the Nigerian sovereignty or territory is not negotiable. The peoples who are the initiators of this ‘contract’ may vary its terms as they wish, or dissolve it altogether, and it is of no moment to anyone what new contract they decide to enter into.

The lesson for the present government is not to think that it can hide behind any hollow concept in deploying resistance to the peoples’ will. It should instead seek to understand the desires of the people, and so long as it attempts to any discernible degree to fulfil them, the people will continue according it obedience. Any policy of the sovereign, no matter how well intentioned, which the people do not see as beneficial, will meet inevitably with resistance. It should be no surprise to the Nigerian government that having led its people into dark, bitter waters, they should resist at all possible fronts. This is merely the beginning; people are only gradually realising by the totality of their travail that the Nigerian state is a failure. The culmination of this realisation no one should be comfortable to prophesy.
© 2017 Joshua Omenga

BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE, the Biafran Armageddon 

Joshua Omenga 

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.


Joshua Omenga
Besieged every day by the news of Biafra – the increasing agitation by the youths, the tacit support of wary and pragmatic elders, the incessant clashes resulting in carnages imaginable only to one used to a blood-obsessed country like Nigeria etc. these contradictions of co-existence disturbs the peace of even the most insouciant. These evil tidings have become more unavoidable now that the situation has been compounded by economic meltdown and abject lack of security for the life and property of the citizenry, so much so that each everyone has become his own police and well-meaning citizens now hail the activities of those disrupting the peace of the Nigerian polity. It is against this background that the Igbo’s cry for Biafra does not seem as preposterous as it would have seemed some years ago.

A case is always made in the dismissal of these agitations that the Nigerian State is an inviolable unit and no ethnic group has a right to secession – and the 1967 failed attempt at secession is cited as a warning. These assertions may well be true – but they are a truth of history which reality refuses to tally with. At the other extreme of the divide is the claim of the agitators, in the guise of self-determination, that Biafra is a State and should be freed from Nigerian suzerainty to achieve its ‘God-given mission’ of shining as a sun to the African world. The two contenders, armed with international law concepts, each preach the rightness of its course, and in the midst of these contradicting anthems, one offers support only as a matter of tribal affiliation. But let there be no mistake about it: for as long as people do not get what they want, and the government continue to resist attempts at secession, there will be no peace for either the people or the State.
Questioning Biafra’s Statehood
David Ijalaye’s question, ‘Was Biafra ever a state in international law?’ is less rhetorical than he supposed, for only a few will bother themselves with the legalese of international law in their definition of a state. Many, like Achebe, would insist that Biafra was a country; and these many seek its renascence. These people do not understand why the international community of states, even while excoriating the subjugation of Biafran nationals and the incessant violations of rights in Nigeria, do not come to their aid in securing release from the ‘Nigerian bondage’. The truth may as well be put bluntly: states do not recognise another entity as a state unless it fulfils certain conditions of statehood. These indicia of statehood are enumerated in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of State, viz: permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relationship with other states. Applied to Biafra, it fulfils the first and second criteria, cannot fulfil the third while still under Nigeria’s dominion, and would need full sovereignty to fulfil the last criteria.

Then without much argument, Biafra was never a state in the international community of states, and this is the reason why even sympathetic states do not hurry to offer their support. But that said, much premium should not be placed on non-recognition, for even the Montevideo Convention provides that recognition is not a precondition for statehood; prior to recognition, an entity has a right to defend its integrity and assert its independence and to organise itself as it sees fit. According to Article 5 of the convention, recognition of a state merely signifies the readiness of the recognising state to accept the personality of the recognised state under international law.

This much is certain: while Biafra does not qualify as a state under international law, it is not to be concluded that its right to seek sovereignty of its region is foreclosed, neither is it to be inferred than because it is not a state, it has no right assertable under international law. This is the right to self-determination.
Biafra’s Right to Self(ish)-Determination?
Self-determination – let it be noted from the onset – is a vague and indeterminate concept capable of attracting any self-serving interpretation. There is no definition of it in the two international instruments providing them – the United Nations Charter and the UN Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Peoples. Meanings assigned to the concept include: end of colonialism and creation of new states; sovereign equality which defines the relationship among extant states; the protection of individual and collective human rights and popular democratic rule, etc. In this babel of meanings, one thing certain in international practice is that self-determination applies only in a colonial situation, particularly in the 1960’s when it was recognised as a right entitling colonised peoples to freedom from their colonial masters. Beyond decolonisation, international law has no further business with self-determination question, so that an ethnic group in a multi-ethnic independent state like Nigeria has no claim to self-determination under international law. The reason for the reluctance of international law to meddle in self-determination struggles beyond decolonisation will soon be obvious – but first, it should be understood that even though closely related, self-determination is not synonymous to the right to secession. In fact, there is no right to secession, only perhaps a justification for it.

Self-determination – internal since decolonisation – involves the right of people to seek equitable involvement in the government of the land, equitable distribution of resources, and non-discrimination in government especially in a heterogeneous state where power is concentrated in the hand of one ethnic group. Mere insertion of democratic principle would not suffice as the majority ethnic group would always subjugate the minority by sheer number. So while self-determination is a feasible claim in an independent state, secession is frowned at, except in rare situation of threat of genocide as in Rwanda. This of course does not preclude the parent state from willingly granting independence to a faction – but that is about as feasible as arming an opponent as a matter of courtesy.

When Quebec declared independence from Canada, the legitimacy of that declaration was put forward for determination by the Quebec Superior Court. Judge Lesage found that a unilateral declaration of independence was ‘manifestly illegal’. However, the Court remarked that a state seeking to preserve its territorial integrity must observe the principles of internal self-determination, failure of which the faction seeking secession will be justified. The advisory opinion of Professor James Crawford worsened the case for secession. He pointed that per opinio juris sive necessitatis, no unilateral right to secession exist for a people outside of colonialism; any decision for secession is to be made by the parent government; secession is not a right recognised even in a situation of merged colonies; and that the need to protect the integrity of state territory overrides any claim to secession, provided that the state observes principles of self-determination in its internal arrangements.

The summary of this legal rhetoric is: that any state freed from imperialism has little need for self-determination, whereas the right to secession is entirely foreclosed. Decolonisation as a cure-all solution is understandable in a homogenous post-independent state, but not in a heterogeneous one. The theory of foreclosure of secession post colonialism ignores what Karen Parker regarded as ‘imperfect decolonisation’ – a situation where formerly independent states were merged together under imperialism. Reason dictates that upon decolonisation, except by willing cooperation, the disparate entities are bound to continue their separate existence. This was the situation in Burma and Indonesia and Nigeria. In the first two states, the heterogeneity of the states was put in consideration in the decolonisation process, so that each faction was free to seek its separate existence in the failure of the federation. This was not provided for in the Nigerian situation, obviously deliberately as the unfolding of events has shown.

Now, it should not be imagined for a moment that the lack of international sanction makes Biafra’s claim to independence a futility. International law, unlike domestic law, is a very weak system of law, with much words and near-nihil action. The reason should now be understood why international law does not take the side of the oppressed in this matter. The doctrine of uti possidetis (that a state may possess its territory) and the principle of non-intervention preclude states from meddling in the internal affairs of other states. And since secession is a domestic matter, even sympathetic states cannot offer overt help. Therefore, a secessionist faction has to rely on its strength to achieve its independence, and thereafter seek recognition from other states.
What Nigeria Forgets
A state’s existence is dependent on the people within it, for a state is not a mere geographical expression, and therefore, there is no basis in the assertion of the sacrosanctity of a state’s territory, for beyond the myth of sacrosanctity lies the reality that the Nigerian people are determinants of what happens to Nigeria’s boundaries. It should be recalled that the social contract theory of Hobbes and Locke posits that people have given their mandate to the government of the state in return for security, and if the state breaches this contract – by say, failure to reasonably provide security – the people can repeal their mandate by dissolving the government and constituting a new one. The pacta unionis et pacta subjectionis doctrine preserves the relationship between the state and the people. Section 2 and 14 of the Nigerian Constitution boldly vests sovereignty in the people, meaning – at least theoretically – that a deficient government can be dissolved by the people.

It will do no good to go into the jeremiad of recounting the many instances of failures of the Nigerian government which entitles the people to revoke their mandate, but it should be said even if only in passing that such revocation carries dire consequences. But the polemics of social contract and the ‘we-the-people’ charade apart…

Nigeria forgets that while international law does not accord the right to secession, the international community does not hesitate to embrace a faction which by peace or force has managed to secure independence for itself. In fact, international law follows reality, not the other way round; so that a de facto achievement of independence suffices for acceptance in the international community, no matter what the international law on the matter may be. What is necessary is that the violent should take his freedom by force. Violence served the Serbs in seeking freedom from Yugoslavia, and the world imitates the successful. Biafra has only to exert maximum force in attaining its claims. BUT VIOLENCE AND FORCE COME WITH A DREAR CONSEQUENCE…
For the Sake of Humanity
Loss of lives is inevitable on both sides of the struggle – the manifestation is already sobering – and the victor often finds he has lost more than he has gained. The many lives that have been lost and will be lost are of people who understand nothing of the politics of war. The bachelor who dances to the cadence of war drum must realise that war swallows heads. For this reason, the conference table is still the best option for the realisation of Biafra’s independence. For the sake of these many who have died and will die, both divides should find a meeting point to resolve their differences.

It is often asserted as a second choice that Nigeria should integrate and provide infrastructures for agitating groups as a means of quelling them. Alas, it is feared the time for such subornation is long gone. The continual betrayal, the utter insensitivity of the central government to the plight of the subjugated, the monstrosity of the crimes commited by government against the Nigerian peoples, the abject lack of security which has made each man his own police, the degenerate economy resultant of years of pilfering by public servants: are these the crimes that the aggrieved peoples will easily forgive for few morsels of bread? Time was when such expiation might have placated them. The divide is beyond ethnic; it has now become political and religious. Especially religious, that many-headed hydra which robs devotees of reason and makes the bad seem good. And the national curse called oil. It is perhaps a blessing that its value has dwindled, so that none may seek tenaciously to hold on to it for economic sustenance. There is therefore no pretence for remaining under one roof when the marriage has collapsed irretrievably. The one road left for Nigeria to ply is dissolution – it will not do to cling to some fantastical hope as this would merely prolong the anguish of the peoples. Perhaps even the faction agitating for independence will find that it has not gained much; but at least the cockroach does not regret its death in a pot of oil.
(Space has restricted the exhaustive discussion of some salient issues, but hopefully, subsequent write-ups will address them. In this dearth of everything including time, I appreciate your effort in reading this to the end.)
© 2016 Joshua Omenga