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Thursday, 6 October 2016

Who are the Biafrans?: The Politics of Biafra and Future of Nigeria


A distinction is often made between “professionals in politics” and “professional politicians”. The former refers to those who are well educated with a respectable means of livelihood venturing into politics. They usually add value and, like Offodile, find it quite easy to quit partisan politics when they feel the need to do so. The latter refers to those who depend on politics for their livelihood, as they have no other credible means of self-sustenance. 

When people from these two backgrounds put pen to paper in the name of authoring a book, the difference, as they say, is usually clear. A true professional brings knowledge, experience, quality insights and cutting edge display of mental agility. 

Offodile’s new book throws light on this phenomenon called “Biafra”. Most Nigerians don’t really understand what it is. Even those in the army of Eastern youth who swear it is either Biafra or death need to read this book to understand what they are asking for. Offodile strongly believes that there is a great dialectical nexus between understanding the politics of Biafra and forging a viable future for Nigeria. 

Who are the Biafrans? Many Nigerians think it refers to people of the South East geopolitical zone. Some think it refers to the Igbo ethnic group, but as Offodile’s analysis shows, the Igbo groups are found in the South East, Rivers and Delta States. Some groups in Delta and Rivers deny their Igboness and distance themselves from Biafra, though other non-Igbos see them for who they really are. For instance, when Dr. Peter Odili was running for president, Ijaw leader Chief Edwin Clark, said he was Igbo and unqualified to benefit from the South-South agitation for the presidency. 

When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Dr. Ibe Kachikwu as the Minister of State for Petroleum and with Mr. Godwin Emefiele as the Governor of the Central Bank, CBN, he was satisfied that the “Igbos” were well accommodated in his government. But would Kachikwu, Emelfiele and Chibuike Amaechi openly admit being Igbos, let alone being classified as Biafrans? Yet, it was a coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, an Igbo from today’s Delta, that led to the Biafra-Nigeria war. What a complex case this Igbo thing is! 

The Biafra issue is not easier to understand. Obviously, Biafra consisted of the old Eastern Region, made up of the Igbo and their Minority neighbours/cousins. But when General Yakubu Gowon created Rivers and Cross River States, most Minorities pulled out of Biafra to join the Federals in the fight against Biafra. Today’s Biafra agitators are looking at the former Eastern Region as their dream territory, but how many of the Minority groups will willingly sign on for Biafra in a free and fair referendum? For that matter, how many Igbos will actually vote “Biafrexit”? 

So, Offodile observes (correctly) that even the Igbos of the South East are divided between the “Ojukwuist separatists” who want to pull out of an unfair, unjust and unworkable Nigeria and the “Zikist nationalists” who prefer to remain in a better Nigeria. Says he: “But given a choice between a more equitable Nigeria and a new Biafra, without doubt, a more equitable Nigeria would be the preferred choice of a greater majority of the Igbo”. 

The author is among the Igbos who would rather stay in a better Nigeria than go into a separatist Biafra. So am I. But, as Offodile points out, while the “separatists” already have a number of clearly identifiable arrowheads, such as Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB and Ralph Uwazuruike of MASSOB, the “nationalists” lack any “coherent internal force for pushing for Igbo interests in Nigeria”. In other words, they are like sheep without shepherds, but the “separatists” are better organised, led and motivated to brave the odds and continue their agitation. 

Offodile sums up the feelings about Biafra thus in the Preface: “The Igbo are…facing the dilemma of a conflicting world view. They hold a romantic reminiscence of Biafra, conceived in tragic circumstances and ended in tragedy – genocide. Yet, its people remain proud of its brief existence and romanticise its accomplishments, military and technological feats, administrative competence and of course its leader, late General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu”.

The funny thing is that most of the people flooding the streets agitating for Biafra were either mere babies when old Biafra was in existence, or were never citizens of that defunct republic. They have existed under the deprivations meted out to their people and have lost their patience with the country of their birth, Nigeria. 

The author posits that there is a bright future waiting for Nigeria, but we must “define our national aspiration in a manner that will, as much as possible, capture the interest of every part of the federation in a common and harmonised world view. If that is not possible, then, real unity is not possible and self-determination becomes a legitimate proposition of disadvantaged groups. But once that is done, it will be easier to agree on an efficient political structure and an efficient economy”. 

Offodile strongly believes that a restructuring of the federation, most desirably into six geopolitical zones, holds the key to a bright future for Nigeria. 

This 379-page, twenty-chapter, well produced work published by Ibadan-based Safari Books Ltd is a fluid, quality read, filled with a lot of interesting, researched facts about the Nigerian history through an Eastern eye. It brings out unique perspectives about he old and new Biafra ideology which continues to wax stronger. 

The Biafra Sun, which “set forever” as General Gowon boasted in 1970, has risen again because Nigeria failed to provide answers to the questions that led to the Igbo recourse to Biafra in 1967. Without restructuring, separatist agitations will never stop in Nigeria.

Source: Vanguard

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