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Saturday 29 August 2015

Do you believe that Biafra is here?

Someone who had read a piece I wrote some time ago titled, “How I became a Nigerian” confronted me with this question. I guess the query arose because I’d indicated that Biafra was the first country I came to know as a child. I actually did have to become Nigerian. Before I address the question, let me state something by way of definition to eliminate all ambiguity about what Biafra is.

For anything to be worthy of belief, it’ll either be a personality, an entity defined by socio-political and geographical parameters, or an idea usually encapsulated in a concept, philosophy or ideology.

The Biafra in question is certainly not a personality nor is it a political unit with cadastral limits. That Biafra expired in the wee hours of 1970. That leaves us with the issue of Biafra as an idea. That, I think is the one I’ll be dealing with.

To get a grip on the concept of Biafra, we must revisit the unfortunate events of the ill-fated first republic.
After being granted that dubious independence in 1960 and becoming a republic two years later, the ship of the Nigerian state careened from one crisis to another in its elusive search for stability and legitimacy. And you can trust politicians on this count: their characteristic hubris and unbridled corruption will always nudge the polity to the edge of the precipice. In 1966, a group of ambitious, middle-level army officers took one look at the emerging scenario and elected to intervene; violently. Through a quirk of fate, the putsch was successful around the federation save in the south-east. Incidentally, the ring leaders of the initiative were mostly of south-eastern extraction or more specifically, Igbo. On the whole, that audacious initiative failed; as I believe it was destined to. The first republic effectively expired ushering in military rule headed by the inimitable General John Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi: an Igbo man.

Predictably, there were reprisals against the Igbo and their interests especially in Northern Nigeria. Thousands of Igbo were horrendously slaughtered in a pogrom that was a precursor to the genocidal war. Aguiyi-Ironsi himself was to pay the supreme price in a well articulated military ambush in Ibadan. He was felled alongside his host, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi; military governor of the Western Region at the time.

The Igbo, no longer assured of safety outside their homeland were compelled to make the unpalatable and precarious journey home; abandoning all their properties and investment. The cerebral Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, then military governor of Nigeria’s Eastern Region, was under intense pressure to extract some form of guarantee for the safety of the Igbo across the federation. There were numerous summits and conferences convened in a bid to hammer out a compromise. In spite of the celebrated meeting of all stakeholders in Aburi, Ghana, then Nigerian head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon could offer no such guarantee as the killing and persecution of the Igbo continued unabated. It was this dire situation that forced the hand of the south-eastern leadership towards secession thereby declaring the sovereign state of Biafra in 1967. The horrors of the 30-month long civil war are properly documented for the benefit of all who’re not afraid to confront the crude truth.

From the foregoing, it is clear that Biafra happened as a predictable reaction to a peculiar interplay of events. If there had been no coup in 1966, there would have been no pogrom and the military would never have come to power. There would certainly have been no Biafra.

I’d like to draw an analogy from the hallowed institution of marriage. With over two decades under my belt, I can say without fear of contradiction that no one approaches the sacred altar of matrimony with the faintest thoughts of a separation or divorce. I wasn’t thinking of divorce on the 12th of December 1992 and I’m not considering it even now. That’s simply because I’m enjoying a little happiness in here. Unfortunately, I can’t make the same claim for many of my friends and associates. For many, marriage has become something to be endured. But it was not designed to be so. So when marriage ceases to deliver on the promise of happiness and bliss, the only option, painful and stigmatizing as it is, is separation.
I recently watched a friend go through the gruesome process of divorce. The day the court finally dissolved the union, my friend came apart completely. That’s why God hates divorce. That explains why the Church has no procedure for annulling the marriage covenant. In there, it’s “until death do you part.” But the reality on ground is that the divorce courts are very busy.

Governments exist for the welfare of the people. The legitimacy of any government is hinged on its continuing ability to provide for and protect its citizens. Governments must create and sustain the enabling environment for the people to thrive and realize their deepest aspirations. The right of a people to determine what those aspirations are is unimpeachable. So also is the process of realizing them. That’s what democracy is all about; the very same thing exotically christened self-determination. Those rights are inalienable.

Read also: Graffiti… Radio Biafra: The govt is right to listen?

Biafra wasn’t an original idea. It wasn’t something that was scrupulously articulated. It was merely a reaction to a government that had failed to rise to the demands of the occasion: a default solution, if you may. In essence, Biafra represents the resolve of a people to demand for a better deal. That’s what started in Tunisia, swept away the well-entrenched Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and has Libya’s Gaddafi’s future hanging by a thread. Syria’s Al-Assad and Yemen’s Saleh are fairing no better. Despotic regimes everywhere are predictably jittery, and why not?

When people say the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable, I assume the well being and security of all Nigerians have been factored in. I assume that that unity is founded on the bedrock of the peoples’ unalloyed and unforced commitment to the nation’s growth and sustenance. And the nation’s primary focus must be to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. Where governments falter or fail in this fundamental task, they lose the moral basis to demand the peoples’ commitment, and the unity of such an entity becomes accordingly compromised.

Husbands are obligated to love their wives while wives are enjoined to submit to their husbands. Even though a wife’s submission should not ordinarily be predicated on a husband’s love, we know all too well that the performance of one encourages the other. So a husband who has ceased to love and cherish his wife cannot simply turn around to demand submission. And if such a woman approaches the courts demanding the quashing of the union, he would have no tenable basis to oppose it.

As with husband and wife, so it is with a nation and her peoples. I hate divorce as perfectly as I detest the idea of secession. But I’ll have no qualms recommending both options if the circumstances so demand. The Boko Haram exponents are well within their right to demand to live how they wish. What they do not possess is the right to injure other people’s interests in the process of actualizing theirs. The charter of an organization is not complete without a provision for opting out. If you can subscribe, you must also be able to unsubscribe.

So do I believe in Biafra? I think I answered that question a very long time ago.

By Olugu Olugu Orji

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