Ndigbo, a word of caution: you don’t need Biafra

By Obinna Ezugwu

There is no doubt, Biafra is the real deal for many youths of Igbo extraction today. They want out of Nigeria, they want to have their own country, a country where, in their thinking, peace justice and progress will reign.

Across social media, the idea is overwhelmingly popular. In the streets of Igbo land, many discussions centre on the topic. Certainly, if a referendum is conducted today in the South East, to be modest, there would be over 85 percent yes vote for Biafra. However, that an idea is popular often does not make it right, and yes, the majority can be in the wrong. Such is the case here, Ndigbo must understand that they do not need Biafra, the best they need is a just Nigeria found on the principles of justice, equality and most importantly, true federalism.

To begin with. What do the Igbo stand to gain by leaving Nigeria? There is a tendency to be overcome with emotions in attempting this question, to begin to fantasize about having an Igbo nation that would, in a couple of years, transit from a Third World country to an industrial hub of Africa, cast in the mould of Japan, South Korea, Germany and the host of other technological advanced nations.

But ask where the research institutes, the scientists, the technocrats and the resources to bring this dream into reality are, and the answer would be an unending scratching of the head. This is not to say, however, that the Igbo does not have the ingenuity to lead in the world of technology in Africa. In fact, it cannot be overstated, Nigeria and indeed Africa died in Biafra. Not because the Igbo were defeated during the war, far from it, but because the post-war ethnic politics of the Nigerian State sought instead to subdue them instead of tapping into their ingenuity to evolve a true technology-driven nation.

General Yakubu Gowon who took power after the war, but for the intervention of other prominent southerners, such as the late Samuel Ogbemudia, would have closed down the University of Nigeria, Nsukka whose scientists out of sheer ingenuity and resilience, produced most of the weapons used by Biafrans during the war. Yet, while the school was allowed to exist, the chemical engineering department is closed till this day for no other reason than the fear of the Igbo.

It was also told how, in 1972, Gowon having been told of the need for Nigeria to develop technologically, called on some of the surviving “Ogbu N’Igwe” scientists with a view to having them lead in this regard, but Murtala Muhammed, a key official in the then military government, and the man who would eventually overthrow Gowon, alongside the then finance minister, Shehu Shagari insisted that Nigeria was running a military government, not technical government, and that the ‘rebels’ should not be given an incentive to develop and stage another war against Nigeria. The rest is now history, in trying to keep the Igbo down, they only succeeded in keeping Nigeria down. Today, some are beginning to describe the country in the context of a failed state.

It is in part, due to this feat achieved during the war, that many believe the Igbo nation devoid of these post-war encumbrances will blaze a trail. This is erroneous. The foundation for such does not exist at the moment, and most of the people who pioneered it are either dead or too old.

Give or take, we might say that the Igbo still have what it takes, but what is needed in this regard is first, purposeful Igbo leadership, second and more importantly, a true federalist country. Biafra does not come in here. In fact what most Igbo youths fail to realise is that the greatest enemy of the Igbo today is the preponderance of unthinking rogues who have since hijacked leadership positions in Igbo land. People who are after their pockets, nothing more. Added to this, is the very nature of the Igbo people themselves.

As individuals, the Igbo are hardworking and enterprising, but as a group, they lack the capacity to plan and come up with strategies for their advancement, hence “Igbo Enwe Eze.”

The second point that suffices from the foregoing is, what does the Igbo stand to lose if they exit from Nigeria? A lot! Arguing otherwise is a lack of proper understanding. There is hardly any part of Nigeria you go today, and you don’t have a huge population of Igbo people with their massive investments. In Lagos today, the Igbo are one-third of the total population and are equally owners of some of the highest companies and high-end real estate.

In the most remote villages of  Northern Nigeria, the Igbo have thriving businesses and have built the best of houses. Take a trip to Maiduguri today, even with all the trouble of Boko Haram, you will be surprised to find millions of Igbo people still doing businesses and succeeding.

When former FCT minister, now governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai was demolishing houses in Abuja, he confessed that the Igbo were most affected because they own over 70 percent of real estate in the city. Today, if you return to Abuja, nothing has changed. The Igbo are still the largest owners of real estate.

The argument easily proffered to counter this is that the Igbo would retain their investments, after all, there are Igbo people who own properties in other African countries. This point cannot hold, if the Igbo secede, the fate of Igbo businesses will be determined by the government of Nigeria or the other new countries that may emerge. If they wish to take it over, they will do so, such business will exist only in the terms of those governments.

It is also important to note that most of the separatists lack a good grasp of history. As they say, if you do not know where the rain started beating you, chances are that you will not know where it stops. The map of Biafra that continues to surface online which includes the Niger Delta, or today’s South-South is completely ridiculous. For a fact, it would be much easier for the Igbo to secede with the Yoruba, than with the Ijaw.

A bit of history will do here. Before independence of 1960, there had existed serious suspicion and fear of Igbo dominance in the Eastern Region, as was aptly captured in the Willink’s Commission of 1958.

This continued through independence and came to a head in 1962, when Nnamdi Azikiwe having been pushed away from the Western Region, was asked to return to the East to replace Eyo Ita who had then been elected as leader of the region. The COR (Cross River and Akwa Ibom) areas of the region took serious offence at this, as they said Eyo Ita was kicked out because he was not Igbo. The relationship between the Igbo and the COR people never got better.

Recall also that after the Kaduna Nzeogwu coup and the subsequent taking of power by Aguiyi Ironsi, the new head of State’s first headache did not come from Hausa/Fulani or Yoruba, it came from the Niger Delta. Adaka Boro and his people took up arms against the Ironsi government, demanding independent from both the Eastern Region and Nigeria. Ironsi would mobilize the military and eventually subdue Boro after nearly two weeks of intense fighting.

Boro, alongside his men, were sentenced to death by a court in Port Harcourt, only to be released by Yakubu Gowon during the war to help in the war effort against Biafra.

The point here is that there is a history mistrust between the Igbo and other groups in the old Eastern Region, some of which was as a consequence of the actions or inaction of the Igbo, others perhaps out of jealousy as captured in the Willink’s report. The truth, however, is that this mistrust is still quite strong till this day.

The vast majority of South-South intellectuals and opinion leaders would have nothing to do with Biafra. It would be foolhardy for any Igbo to bank on their support.

The important question now is, how do the Igbo move forward? The best bait for the Igbo is true federalism. That should be obvious to anyone who thinks deep. With true federalism, the Igbo will have the entire country to explore, while having the autonomy to develop capacity at the home front. Again, the justifiable fears of encouragement by Fulani Herdsmen and possible Islamisation will be adequately contained in a true federalist Nigeria.

The wise thing to do, therefore, is to identify those groups who themselves want true federalism and work with them to ensure it is achieved. The Igbo should work with the Yoruba and the Niger Delta in this regard. There is a need to build new alliances in this respect to achieve this, without hanging on to old stereotypes and accusations of betrayals.