The Nigerian state is a unique one. Ours is a country with a diverse coterie of people all suspicious of each other, all socialized to hateful notions about the others, all divided to the benefit of our leaders. I have always said that Nigeria is a country full of smart individuals, but we are ultimately a dumb people. The reason for this is not far-fetched and an examination of the secession question will expose this. The desire for a separate state whether agitated for by Igbo nationalist groups, the Ogoni nation or Boko Haram have a common thread and that is the belief that actualization (socio-political or religious) is thwarted in the current political expression known as Nigeria. It is a fact that we have all been victims of poor service delivery by governments -federal, state and local-, since independence. It is contestable whether the Igbos are the most marginalized group, however, that the nation state is dysfunctional in its allocation of resources and opportunities is not in doubt. This failing has inspired many movements all aimed at solving the problem. While some have sought greater resource control and federalism (some Niger Delta activism groups), others have sought excision from the nation state and others seek coercion of the will of all to their orthodoxy (Boko Haram). Of these paths, I find only the last approach revulsive, the first prudent and the second valid, but ill-advised in its prosecution. I will not waste space here arguing about the benefits of a united country, though I personally believe a united, federalist Nigeria to be best, I believe self-determination is legitimate and as a Biafran, you probably have heard ad-nauseum and don’t care for such arguments anyways. What I want to do is examine, what tools if secession is to be gained, are best utilized. First, a few facts.
- The problematic socialization of society is such that, most of us engage ethnicity in a very basic manner. In the North, most people if determined not to be of Northern extraction are labelled Igbos. The South labelling every person who speaks Hausa/Fulani and is a Muslim a Northerner is no different. So, the consequences, if any, of widespread violence affects all. Even those whose tribes lack a secession movement.
- From the perspective of Igbo nationalist interest, the consequences of violence are very asymmetric. That is, should military action or heaven forbid war, result, the costs to persons of Igbo ancestry both in and out of Igbo land is set to be greater than the costs that will be incurred by the rest of Nigeria.
- The elites and their dependents in Igbo-land and elsewhere will not suffer commensurately. It is the streets of Aba and Onitsha not Peckham (where Nnamdi kanu’s family resides) that will get ravaged. History has failed to teach us that those who set the house aflame are often first to run to safety.
From the above facts, it is clear to me that the Biafran dream can only be achieved politically. My two-step recipe for its actualization is as follows:
- Capture the socio-political machinery of the South East geopolitical zone. Secession will never be achieved with dissention amongst ndi-igbo. The support for secession is far from total in the SE today. Partly because of huge economic losses many fear they will be faced with and the political class still desirous of enjoying the largesse provided by the Nigerian state for their like. If Biafra is to come about through peaceful means, the movement needs to FIRST install pro-Biafra governors, senators and other representatives across the region. It must also consolidate the economic position of the region and assuage the fears of loss. This can be done by enabling the repatriation of resources by successful business men based outside the SE, developing the economic attractiveness of the region by improving its infrastructure and business environment. The roads (in Abia state for example) cannot be some of the worst in the country, the state universities glorified primary schools and the provision of water and electricity pathetic and yet attract Igbo (and foreign) industrialists to abandon Lagos (kano, Ogun and other states). The Biafran movement cannot wait for the federal government to provide this. Anambra & Lagos states are proof of how much can be achieved by industrious governance in spite of federal government neglect. Until this first step is achieved the movement will only have the support of foreign based agitators and poor people, both with no economic/political stake to lose.
- Encourage ethno-nationalism across the country. No political movement is capable of succeeding in Nigeria unilaterally. If our political history is any guide, a movement requires at least 4/6 of the geopolitical zones to be guaranteed of success and while the Biafran movement might succeed with just 3, it currently lacks any (visible) attempt to gather that inter-regional support it needs. Muhammadu Buhari contested and failed perennially even though he had majority support in the North East and North West and did not get power until he eventually won over the South West and north central zones. The same can be seen with Goodluck Jonathan’s emergence. Without winning the SE, SW, NC alongside his home SS, a man from a minority tribe in Bayelsa would have never become president. What the movement needs to do is mobilize likeminded groups in the North Central, South West and South South geopolitical zones and fund them if necessary to ensure they seize sociopolitical control of their regions. Having loudmouthed ex-militants support your cause is no equal to having formidable sociopolitical groups working in concert to achieve similar goals. While it might seem difficult to imagine such a coordination possible, all that needs to be done is to appeal to the inherent self-interest of these groups and get them to see how secession will achieve their desires for political control and economic prosperity. The Biafran movement cannot succeed without discarding this notion that it can achieve the dissolution of the country singularly or speedily.
The only time the federal government does not play favorites is in brutalizing the masses. Whether it is in stifling anti-government protests in Lagos, Onitsha or Abuja, in killing unarmed Shiite Muslims or civilians in Odi, Umuahia or Maiduguri, our government does not discriminate in oppressing the defenseless. Thus, dear Biafran foot soldier, the only way to win is by ceasing the whining about selective oppression by the government and amassing allies across the ethnic divide who share in the suffering brought on by the current state of things. Biafra won’t come quick, it won’t come easily and it won’t come through war or chanting slogans on the street.
By Inung Ejim