The Call for Biafra: The Pandora Box Within Nigeria

The Call for Biafra: The Pandora Box Within Nigeria [MUST READ]

IPOB, Geoffrey Ogbonna
Pro-Biafra activists, IPOB, wave flags in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, February 28. Pope Francis greeted the activists as indigenous peoples of Biafra during his Angelus address. | Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Many people question my patriotism because I tolerate the Biafranists on my discourse. While Biafra is not the objectives of my discourse, Biafra is a legitimate voice of dissent to the continued failures of the Nigerian state.

The Biafra quests are a sincere expression of the deep-seated, over pressured, growing, and dangerously active seismic faults in the Nigerian tectonic. In this respect, the Igbos are doing the rest of us a big favor with their willingness to discuss their grievances and their desire to secede. More importantly, I believe the quest for self-determination is the unwritten divorce clause in every nationalistic union. It is not wrong for any of the partners in the union to talk about the provision or trigger this unwritten requirement for their selfish reasons. The rule exists to allow the federating partners protect their self-interest.

Every reasonable and responsible democratic leader should court dissents with the honest desire to understand and resolve the root causes of the dissensions. Dissenters are great supporters; their objection is primarily because of a feeling of neglect or oppression. The way I see it, the quest for Biafra is not a risk to the sovereignty of Nigeria but an opportunity to strengthen the existence of Nigeria. I must caution the result depends on how the instant government manages the challenges.

Pro-Biafra supporters shout slogans in Aba, southeastern Nigeria, during a protest calling for the release of a key activist on November 18, 2015. The protesters support the creation of a breakaway state of Biafra in the southeast and want the release of Nnamdi Kanu, who is believed to be a major sponsor of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and director of the pirate radio station Radio Biafra. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI        (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Biafra supporters shout slogans in Aba, southeastern Nigeria, during a protest calling for the release of a key activist on November 18, 2015. | PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

The problem with the Biafranists is neither a dearth of patriotism to the Nigerian state nor a lack of genuine desires for a clean split from Nigeria. The perception that there is no logically viable structural processes and ideology behind the Biafra rhetoric is very troubling. As of today, the Igbos has not demonstrated any consistent leadership and civil apparatus that is capable of running a successful democratic Biafra state. While I am not dismissive of the Igbos’ capability, I am wary of their inability to bring the full ramifications of their desires to discourse at the national level. I think the Biafranists should be more worried of the high probability that the Biafra state may experience a repeat of what led to the failure of independent Nigeria.

Before you call for my head John the Baptist style, I ask that you recall the fervor and unity with which Nigerians fought for independence. I request that you consult history about the golden dreams of the three regions. I also ask that you imagine the euphoria and the optimism that greeted the notion of a free and prosperous Nigeria managed by Nigerians. Today, we are all witnesses to the dejection, deflation, and the difficulties that accompanied the epic failure to realize the Nigeria dream from the onset. Now, I ask that you ponder why would Nigeria fail, despite appearing to have it all together at independence? Greed, corruption, unqualified leadership, distrust, no natural resources, lack of adequate preparation, colonial conspiracy, immaturity, mismanagement, what more can you name?

The present Igbo elites are a part of the current Nigerian problems and will become the Achilles hills of the Biafra nation except if the masses can keep the elites out of it entirely. I do not see any hopes for a Biafra nation led by the present crop of Igbo elites who has failed their kinsmen time and again. Similar to what befell Nigeria at independence, the corrupt Igbo elites may hijack the Biafra independence and unleash brutal misrule on the freedom fighters. The thinking that the corrupt elites will become saints overnight because they are in charge of their ethnic nation is a pipe dream; a leopard never changes its spots. An Igbo governor that mismanage state funds and is unable to pay the workers today will not do any better tomorrow in Biafra.

Don’t get me wrong; populist revolt is the strength of democracy and a very potent means of achieving political impossibilities. Populism was the force behind Nigeria independence movement and the only reason Buhari unseated Jonathan from the presidency. Populism requires a disciplined people-oriented leadership and immensely robust and matured civil apparatus to convert to prosperous and beneficial democracy. I wish the Biafranists every luck if they can pull it off without first creating the necessary structures. The call for Biafra should be the last resort. Unfortunately, it is the Biafranists’ first cause of action. Calling for secession as the first option does not suggest an understanding of the full ramifications of seceding or the readiness to exit successfully.

I have no worries whether the departure of an ethnic group will fracture Nigeria. The mixture was never homogenous at formation, neither has it ever attained any consistency or gained any cohesive traction in over one century of existence. The dividing gaps are wider now than any time in history, the level of ethnic disenchantment is better imagined than experienced. Those who are dreaming of simplistic Niger-Benue river bank fracture needs to wake up from their slumber. Any seismic fracturing of Nigeria will not comply with the elitists geopolitical definitions. Rather, it will settle into more than a dozen renewal of prehistoric ethnic nationalities. The bad news is that none of the new entities will have it easy. None of them will know the level of peace, stability, strength, and geopolitical clout they enjoyed under the “failing” Nigeria state.

Restructuring Nigeria: The map showing the 6 geopolitical regions of the country.
Restructuring Nigeria: The map showing the 6 geopolitical regions of the country.

In my view, it is wrong to avoid talking about how to remain together as a nation or about going our separate ways. In the first instance, we are only together because we talked and decided to form a unified government. Now that our political dynamics is in dysfunction, don’t we need more talk to right the ship? Talking about our displeasures and conflicting desires is a big part of our ability to become stronger together and overcome our divisions. The more we ignore the difficult questions, the more hostile we’ll grow towards each other. Incessant hostilities might just inadvertently kill the “cat” someday. At that point, we’ll have more regrets and more difficulties than what secession or talking about secession can cure. We are better off appreciating each other and talking candidly about how to fix our differences now before it is too late.

For those who still dream of secession as a Pandora box, it is indeed a paradoxical Pandora box inside of which our societal evils are confined. I do not think we should open this Pandora box; if we must do, we better figure out how to manage the aftermath of releasing the confined evils. Isn’t it better to fix our underlying problems together than to part ways? If we are unable to fix our underlying problems together, we inevitably need to head for the EXIT door. Before we pull the giant “E” or “S” lever, we better think well because there are no undo, back, reverse, or edit buttons.

I have news for those who thinks breaking Nigeria into ethnic nations will erase all the problems. After the uncoupling, we’ll still all wake up in an underdeveloped environment run by corrupt leaders. The Fulani herdsmen onslaught will increase, boundary crises will multiply. We’ll still face epic joblessness, dilapidated infrastructures, and smaller nations with serious debts, structural and financial problems. Ethnic minorities will still someday wish to secede from wherever they may find themselves. Maybe they’ll be forever happy at their new homes.

In the long run, those who secede must cooperate with the people they run away from to remain viable. It is rather self-deceptive to think that a simple scissors cut across the map are all it takes to be free from each other forever. I hope the Yoruba nation with their pragmatism survives the onslaughts of their historical Hausa-Fulani arc enemies. What can I say, I can only wish the Northerners who does not appreciate the “inferior” Southerners luck with their cowstead Arewanistani or is it Bokoistan?

Olusegun Phillips-Alonge is passionate about responsible ethical leadership, poverty eradication and sustainable socio-economic development of Nigeria. Connect with him on Facebook where this commentary was first published. 

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 

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