I expect to lose not a few of my numerous friends from the South East on account of this article. Indeed some of my Igbo brothers will probably ask me to stay away from their houses and I will most likely find myself at the receiving end of a torrent of abuse from ill-bred internet warriors for days if not weeks. But I fervently hope after the storm had died down, they will be considerate enough to reflect deeply and realise it is all for our common good as Nigerians to talk frankly on issues of our nation. As the late premier of Northern Nigeria Sir Ahmadu Bello was once reported to have said to the venerable former president of Nigeria, Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe, both of blessed memory; “let us understand ourselves.’’
Our brothers in the South East have been clamouring to secede from Nigeria and set up a Republic of Biafra for all sorts of reasons ranging from alleged marginalisation in appointments, failure to address the residual issues of the civil war in Nigeria which raged from 1967 to 1970 in which they suffered immensely and the claim that belonging in Nigeria stultifies their manifest potential for growth and further development as the most intelligent, most productive set of people in the country.
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So passionate is the average Igboman about this view of his ethnicity and the demand for Biafra that any attempt to hold a reasonable discussion on the issue results first in name calling and threats of physical assault.
I must say that like many Nigerians, I am almost getting to the point where I would prefer the Igbo be allowed to quit Nigeria as they have been asking for in many ways but for the fact that in reality the idea is a non-starter.
First of all, discounting the effusive emotional outpourings in the internet and other media platforms, the Igbo have not, through their recognised representatives, collectively come out to emphatically and unequivocally made a concrete pronouncement on the issue. There is as yet no responsible group in Alaigbo ready to pick up the gauntlet and run with the idea in terms of articulating the issue, sensitising and mobilising Igbo and pushing forth a roadmap with timelines towards the actualisation of the goal.
What we see and hear are the quixotic effusions of motley groups in the South East spewing forth volleys of abusive verbiage directed at certain Nigerians and the Nigerian state.
Nor are the demands focused. In one breath it is restructuring of the nation to lessen the powers concentrated at the centre; in another it is about creating additional states out of the South East to bring the region at par with other geopolitical zones. Yet another demand is for the presidency to be “conceded’’ to the South East in 2023. Included in the mix is also a demand for a referendum on self-determination and at the extreme is the outright clamour for secession which is now catching the wave in the region.
In all honesty do the Igbo expect the rest of Nigerians to take them seriously with all these conflicting and contradictory demands?
The Igbo claim of marginalisation is dodgy. In the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan they were more than represented at all levels of government. The records are there to prove it. And in this current administration of President Buhari they have a fair share of appointments outside of the statutory ones allowed them.
But the Igbo must also accept the blame for being guilty of the same marginalisation they claim is directed at them. In the South South the scars and feelings of how Igbos mistreated the minority ethnic groups there during the defunct Eastern Region still runs deep. Although Igbo will always claim that it is the result of their defeat during the civil war which made those minority groups to shun them, the reality is the opposite. If the Igbo had treated those ethnic minorities fairly there would not have been any lingering animus between them. No amount of alleged propaganda by outsiders would have convinced these minority groups to turn their backs against the Igbo if truly there was cordiality between them.
Although the average Igbo has been led to believe that Biafra can be actualised, the reality is that it has no chance in hell of becoming a reality. The putative Biafran republic will be limited to the present five states making up the South East; landlocked and overcrowded. None of the Igbo speaking communities in Delta, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Benue and Kogi states will join them in what will be a suicidal misadventure. Those states have clearly and unequivocally stated so. Access to the sea for Biafra will be definitively blocked by these states and Igbo importers will have to negotiate new terms with these states for the transhipment of their goods.
Many Igbo entertain the thought that in the event of Biafra, they will still be allowed to stay and conduct their businesses in the rest of Nigeria per the status before secession. They say that as there are Nigerians living, working and conducting their businesses in other countries same will apply to Igbo who decide to remain in Nigeria. It may well be so but as Nigerians living and working in other countries are subject to the dictates of the authorities there so shall it be with Igbos who chose to remain in Nigeria once Biafra is actualised.
The reality, which Igbos would not readily admit, is that their grouse is mainly with President Buhari. They are entitled to that as much as others in Nigeria who hold similar opinion of the president. But this should not lead to seeking to dismember the country. Igbo, if they so wish to leave the country, should go about it in an orderly, democratic manner using peaceful methods starting the process first of all from their region. I do not think anybody stands in their way as they claim, or will wish to do so if they chose this path. Indeed the rest of Nigerians will gladly join in calling on the federal and state governments as well as the national and state assemblies to expeditiously work on any set of comprehensive proposals from the South eastern states requesting for self-determination or even secession if it came to that.
For a people who regard themselves as the most intelligent and most resourceful in Nigeria this is no less the example the rest of us expect of them.