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Biafra: An endless struggle

Nigeria seems to be in a conundrum with over the agitation for the nation of Biafra. The agitation has refused to go away. The nation is stuck with this migraine that has become constant. When literary giant, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said Biafra was immutable he was so misunderstood that he spent most of the civil war time in prison.

He said you could kill or incarcerate the originators of a concept but no one or power or force of arms could exterminate the idea. Soyinka’s words took him to indefinite detention during the pogrom, and inspired one of his books: “The Man Died.”  The country has come to terms with the immutability of the concept, such that people who were born at the inception of this idea now agitate with greater force than their fathers and grandfathers who initiated it. They have not embraced AK-47s but world awareness of the struggle, following the numerous actions by those involved in  capitals across the globe, has made even more impact.

There is frenzied among young people who now lead the struggle. Where did the rain begin to beat the people, as the late literary giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe, would encourage people to ask? We can only revert to history to find an answer, dating back to the first military intervention in the governance of Nigeria. In January 1966, barely six years after Independence, there was a coup wherein a young Major, Kaduna Nzeogwu, played a leading role.

In spite of the involvement of other soldiers from other tribes, the coup failed in the eastern parts, for reasons that had nothing to do with ethnic leanings, and it was tagged an Igbo coup. A military affair assumed a larger life and led to a counter-coup and retaliatory killing of people from a particular area in a rather gruesome manner and in large numbers akin to genocide. They were pushed to run to their enclave and draw a line of defence.

The line of defence resulted in a civil war where the people fought with bare hands to defend themselves. They held out in the face of heavy armament from the other side. The war lingered for 30 months and may have stretched had the new Biafra Republic not been decimated   with the instrument of hunger.

Fifty years down the line, that historical event has dogged the nation such that even in a public lecture, last Friday, at Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, renowned literary scholar, Prof. Olu Obafemi, said the country has not yet completely dismantled the systems and structures that led to the civil war.

There was the agreement reached by both parties in the war, in a town in Ghana called Aburi, wherein Nigeria was virtually made a confederation, where the centre was not strong. I am inclined to hold that a confederacy would do well to assuage the unending agitation.

Some parts have tended to resist this after a rather defeatist self-examination gives them the impression that they cannot survive under that arrangement. That cannot be true, given the endowments in every part of the nation. I hold that the Igbo people would be better served in a confederacy. There are clear indications that the Nigerian people may not want Igbo people out of the nation and the Igbo people have invested heavily, including paying the supreme price, to opt out of the union. Their potential and aspirations stand no chance of seeing the light of the day under the subsisting structure where a powerful centre  dispenses national resources.

The regions of yesteryear had   tangible fruits evidenced in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s achievements in Western Nigeria, the emergence of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, under the watch of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and  Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in the North. Today, funds are dispensed from a central purse, where the structure has already given some people the short end of the stick in a system money are shared to states and local governments.

The South East has the smallest number of states and local governments, putting it at a disadvantage in the scheme of things. Even in politics, there seems to be an unwritten rule not to allow people from the South Eastto hold the levers of power. It took the seeming sacrificial death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola and untimely demise of  Umaru Yar’Adua for the presidency to come to the South. It would even seem that former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, paid for adding “Ebele” to his name. That is in the realm of speculation.

The open reality is that no one from the South East has ever mounted the saddle as President but for Azikiwe who was clearly ceremonial, and Military Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, who sat there for barely six months and paid the supreme price. Even at that I hold that the presidency would only be a psychological balm, which may amount to nothing in concrete terms. If the continued hold on power has alleviated the lives of those whose sons were President, then we can lift the banner of hope on the matter.  There is this our-son-is-there feeling, which is soothing but does nothing else. Perhaps, the friends and cronies of the man in charge would reap the vicarious fruits.

A restructured country holds high hopes for the South East and the whole nation. Those who are in the know say the international conspiracy that led to the eventual defeat of Biafra is alive and well. Now we hear about a get-out order issued by some groups in the North. I hope they know the implications of that reckless order. We should not go that way again.

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