In recent weeks, I have watched two former heads of state, Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo, fret over Biafra. They are worried by the recent upsurge in the agitation for a Biafran state.
Gowon, obviously agitated by the recrudescence in the Biafran struggle, said that Biafra was long dead and that those agitating for its resurrection were misguided. Obasanjo followed suit. He said Nigeria finished with Biafra on the day Phillip Effiong, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s second in command, handed over the instruments of the Biafran surrender to him (Obasanjo). He held that the young men and women of today agitating for Biafra were merely looking for meal tickets.
The role of Gowon and Obasanjo in Biafran question
Gowon and Obasanjo, from all indications, sounded simplistic in their dissection of the ongoing Biafran fervour among some Igbo youths. But the two civil war veterans did not mean to be simple-minded about the Biafran issue. They merely papered over the matter while habouring unspoken worries about the recent developments on Biafra.
I really had a good laugh after watching them. I wondered why they were worried about Biafra. I had thought and still think that these men had played their role in the Biafran question and should rest their case. They prosecuted the war up to the time of surrender.
Biafra has been resting since then. And both men in question have aged. They are in the twilight of their lives and should not worry about the exuberance and exaggerations of youth. Therefore, Biafra, which they said was long dead, should not give them goose pimples as it is doing.
The spirit of the Biafra struggle never dies
But before we begin to think that the fire of Biafra just started burning again a few months ago, let us remind ourselves that the agitation for the Biafran state as represented by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has been on since the return of civil rule in Nigeria in 1999. In between time, we have had other Biafran bodies like the Biafran Zionist Movement (BYM) and, lately, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOD). All of these bodies have been approaching the Biafran struggle in whatever way it appeals to them.
Unlike the likes of Gowon and Obasanjo, I have never really been bothered about agitations for Biafra. For me, that is normal. It happens in every clime where a war of independence has been fought. The disadvantaged bloc, in such settings, never let go. They keep agitating for centuries on end. They do so to draw attention to what they want as a people. Their aspirations may remain suppressed for hundreds of years, but the spirit of the struggle never dies. That is what the Biafran agitators are doing.
Significantly, the Biafran agitation has been peaceful. It is more symbolic than anything else. And so, for most of us, the agitation is a tolerable menace and should be seen as part of the evolutionary process that will eventuate in the Nigeria of everybody’s dream.
Why the recrudescence in the Biafran agitation coincided with Buhari’s presidency
As we wait for that state of Eden, I have heard some people say that those calling for a Biafran state are young men and women who did not know about the pains and ravages that came with the Biafran War of 1967 to 1970. This, for me, is not the point. I say so because these young people we are talking about are not planning to take up arms against the Nigerian state. They are not planning to go to war with anybody. As a matter of fact, these young folks are not even supposed to know about Biafra since the war story is not taught in Nigerian schools. But they know about Biafra because successive Nigerian governments have always raised the banner of victory before the Igbo. And this, invariably, reminds the Igbo people, including the younger elements, of their lack and loss.
Even though this is the case, Nigeria has been managing the situation until the advent of the Buhari presidency a few months ago. So, the question is: Why the recrudescence in the Biafran agitation in the recent months that Buhari assumed office as Nigeria’s president?
The answer is simple. Buhari, from what we have seen so far, did not come as a Nigerian president. He came as a northern president in a united Nigeria. That being the case, Buhari has not given us any cause to believe that he has come to keep Nigeria one. Rather, the feeling we get, through his actions and inactions, is that he has come to widen the ethnic gaps and divides among the peoples of Nigeria.
Under Buhari’s discriminatory regime, the worst hit is the Igbo whom the president has willfully excluded from his administration. In taking that action, Buhari did not care a hoot about inclusiveness. He is not concerned about national integration or cohesion. The feeling he has is that he can shut the Igbo out and nothing will happen. Of course, nothing is happening. Buhari has had his way. But those at the receiving end of his divisive action have a right to a whimper. That whimper is part of the reason for the Biafran spirit is squirming. By his action, Buhari has resurrected the ghost of Biafra. Because Biafra did not die a peaceful death, it has been ill at ease in its grave. Its spirit has been roaming the land in pains. Nigeria and Nigerians would have wished Biafra eternal repose. But Buhari has, through his spiteful action, resurrected its ghost. Nigeria may have to live with this nightmare for some time.
Amanze Obi is the columnist at Daily Sun Newspaper. He served as a commissioner under former governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.