“NO one is free until everybody is free”
– Martin Luther King, Jnr
When Nigeria is referred to as a nation of great contradictions, it is because of the position and body language of the leadership on critical issues.
Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari told the world that Nigeria would stand with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.
The President gave the assurance when he received Mohammed Salem Ould Salek, Minister of Foreign Affairs of SADR at the State House, Abuja, adding that outstanding issues on self-determination for the country would be scrupulously attended to.
Salek came as Special Envoy of President Mohammed Abdelaziz of SADR. Buhari told him “The issue first came up when I was in office as military head of state. After I left government, Nigeria remained steadfast on it. “In my maiden outing at the UN General Assembly last September, the issue of Sahrawi was in my speech. You have no cause to doubt our commitment. We stand with our African Union colleagues on this issue. “Nigeria will maintain focus till everything is finally resolved positively.”
In his remarks, Salek said his country would never forget the role Nigeria and the former military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari played in recognizing his country in 1984, when it sought self-determination from Morocco.
He said Nigeria paved the way for the UN to adopt several key resolutions on Western Sahara, Elaborating a peace plan, he said, “history is now repeating itself, as you are the President of Nigeria at a time the Sahrawi issue is being put on the front burner again.’’
The Special Envoy told the President that his country needed a special push from Nigeria again, as it received in 1984, “to accelerate matters”. He stressed that Nigeria had helped a lot of African countries to achieve independence, noting that SADR is the only pending matter on the continent.
This played out in Abuja last week. Recently, in an interview with Martine Dennis of Al Jezeera, during the President’s visit to Qatar, he was asked on the Biafra issue. First, the President declined to watch the footage in which Nigerian security agents were seen throwing teargas and then shooting some unarmed, peaceful demonstrators. Several protesters were killed, many more wounded.
Harping on the two million, who died during the civil war (1967-1970), Buhari could not fathom why some youngsters, who were perhaps, not born at that time would just “wake up” to say they “want Biafara again”.
Asked why his government had not invited the agitators for talks, he coldly retorted, “Why should we invited them?” This is where the hypocrisy of Nigerian leadership takes a notch higher. While Buhari would commit the resources of Nigeria to fight for self-determination of SADR, he would not hesitate to order security forces to shoot unarmed protesters or look the other way when the Nigerian military and the police open fire on unarmed Biafran agitators, killing and maiming them.
When recently Buhari called for Independent Palestine State, he forgot the Biafra agitation that are right in his country. Let us examine the nexus between the SADR and Biafra.
Western Sahara hugs the Atlantic Coast between Morocco and Mauritania. Its population is less than one million. More than half of Western Sahara’s population lives in Laayoune, a small town just thirty miles from the internationally-recognized Moroccan border.
The territory is as desolate in resources as it is in population. There is no arable land and while the region boasts of phosphate deposits, much of its economic potential comes from fishing off its 700-mile coastline. The size of the land perhaps has condemned the region to peripheral status in history. While empires rose and fell to the north, south, and east, Western Sahara was always a backwater. Caravans passed through the territory, tribes slowly Islamized, and various North African Islamic dynasties—the Berber Almoravids (1040-1147) and Almohads (1121-1269), for example, exerted some control. Nevertheless, the region remained largely nomadic and free from central authority.
Spain seized the territory after the 1884 Berlin Conference and while Madrid sent governors and engaged in some construction, the area proved less profitable than other European colonies and little development occurred. Spain finally abandoned its territory in 1975, after which both Morocco and Mauritania, each stating historical claims but motivated more by a hope that the territory would hold oil, claimed the region. Morocco went further, however, and sent Moroccan settlers into the region. While natives of the region and international backers continue to argue that Western Sahara should be independent, Rabat has firmly insisted that the territory should remain under its control.
Biafra, on the other hand, comprised majorly the Igbos in the defunct Eastern region and part of the present Delta State. Following political crises that culminated in pogrom against them, they fought for three years for self-determination, and lost the war following the involvement of Western powers – US, Britain, France and USSR. Since then, every step taken by successive Nigerian government seems to tell them that they are not wanted.When the youths who felt disenchanted for giving their people the short end of the stick decided to demonstrate and called for self-determination, which in the first place is their inalienable right under the UN Charter, the Nigerian government instead of looking at their agitation started silencing them. President Buhari, by his position on SADR has given more impetus to the Biafara struggle.
As a president, if he sees the southeast as part of his people, he should try to assuage this popular disaffection. He would have realized that it makes better sence to talk than to shoot. Any leader, who believes in humanity of his citizens would never shoot them as a first recourse. After all, a leader is called to govern the living, not preside over a mass of corpses. The president condemned the Cote d’Ivore terror attack last Sunday, but we are yet to hear him comment on the sack of Agatu community in Benue State, where Fulani herdsmen allegedly killed over 300 natives and settled in that community.
•Nwosu writes from Mbano, Imo State via [email protected]