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Friday 29 September 2017

Kurdistan Referendum: A Snapshot To Biafra Agitation In Nigeria

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue
For Biafra Writers

September 30, 2017

Not minding the threats, jubilant Iraqi Kurds celebrated their vote on independence from Iraq, shooting off fireworks and parading in vehicles festooned with Kurdish flags late into the night. They had stepped out on Monday, 25th September 2017, in their overwhelming numbers to cast their votes at the polling stations. The vote played out on a historic day for several million Kurds in northern Iraq and was a pivotal moment in the Kurdish dream of a politically independent state.

Often called the world’s largest ethnic group without a homeland, some 30 million Kurds are spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They were denied statehood when the Middle East map was redrawn after World War 1. Isolated and marginalized, Iraqi’s Kurds are now demanding a path to self-determination. Therefore, for several million Kurds in the autonomous enclave of Kurdistan, the referendum vote is a downright payment on a dream deferred and according to reports, an overwhelming 93 percent “Yes”, against 7.3 percent “No” votes casted to exit Iraq.

Similar to the Biafrans seeking independence from Nigeria, the Kurds has suffered various demeaning treatments ranging from torture and even genocide. As stated earlier, they were denied a homeland after World War 1. Additionally, almost every Kurd in northern Iraq can trace a family history stained by treachery and dispossession: Kurdish women and children were killed in chemical attacks, some with biological weapons, their villages razed, Kurdish men detained and murdered, families deported or banished to internment camps. And now they are determined to escape their tortured past to fulfill a national destiny, a country to call their own.

READ ALSO: Anambra Election: Terrorists Do Not Go Out To Vote, They Remain In Their Hideouts

However, their vote for a referendum has been faced with strong opposition from not only Iraq but the Iranian and Turkish governments. While they threatened military action against the Kurds, the Iraqi officials, have regarded the referendum as unconstitutional, vowing to ignore the results. They fear losing a third of the country and a major source of oil should Kurdistan breakaway. On the other side, Turkey and Iran fears the vote is capable of fomenting unrest among their own Kurdish minorities and are now conducting military exercises on their borders with Iraq near Kurdistan. It appears that the aforementioned countries are most concerned with their interests and benefits while neglecting that of the Kurds.

Meanwhile, Rashid Ali, a retiree who voted at a public school on Monday morning shown on the Television said, “When I voted, I didn’t think for one second of Turkey or Iran and their threats. I’m not worried about them.” Also, according to a former American diplomat, Peter W. Galbraith who is close to the Kurdish leadership and also supports Kurdish independence, “If the vote does go forward, there’s no going back on independence.” Predicting a solid majority in favour of independence, he asked, “Would you want to be a part of a country that committed genocide against you?”

For decades in Nigeria, the issue of Biafra has been a constant phenomenon among Nigerians. The population of Nigeria has been divided on the idea of Biafra for ages. Some say that the concept is hurtful for the Nigerian nation, as it causes dissension and fuels hate. On the other hand, there are people with the school of thought that Nigeria was not even meant to be, that they were forced to become a single nation. Ultimately, Biafrans no longer have faith in Nigeria, so they want Biafra to be independent.

Since the past six months, another word apart from restructuring that has continued popping up in the Nigerian media is the word “referendum,” for Biafra. However, it will not hurt to mention that Biafra used to be an independent republic that existed between 1967 to 1970. Since then, a lot of people who still consider themselves Biafrans have been trying to revive the defunct republic.


Among those people, the most active set of agitators that really stands out is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who have been working effortlessly to restore its long-lost freedom and political independence without violence. For IPOB, Biafra’s independence is of extreme importance. That is why they were doing everything in their power to make Nigerian government officials recognize the need for a referendum.

Being faced with genocide during the war, coupled with the recent threat of annihilation by the Nigerian government who has extrajudicially killed a huge number of Biafrans agitating for their rights to self-determination. Some of them have been extrajudicially killed and detained for months running into years for simply embarking on protests, rallies, evangelism, etc. While there have been reports of forced abduction of Biafra agitators by the Nigerian security agencies.

“We Biafrans in pursuit of our inalienable, irreducible and God-given right to restore our stolen sovereignty do hereby state that we do not require the permission of the Nigerian State or her government officials to grant us our natural freedom,” as contained in a statement by the Spokesperson of IPOB, Comrade Emma Powerful.

However, it has been severally argued on various platforms and debates that unlike other countries, the Nigerian constitution has no express provision on referendum despite series of constitutional amendments, thus until the constitution is further amended to make provision for referendum, the 1999 constitution of Nigeria being the supreme law of the land has no window or room for referendum.

According to a debater, “Since the only possible move to that regards is amending the constitution and the National Assembly has the power to review and amend it, those who want a referendum have to follow the process of constitutional amendment bill.”

But with the “indissolubility” of the country emphatically inserted in the constitution, it is doubtful, if the authorities will acquiesce in any action or suggestion that directly or indirectly results in the destruction or rather separation of the Nigerian State. It is in this regard that the referendum demanded by IPOB on the prospect of a sovereign state of Biafra might have fallen on deaf ears. The smart bet is that they will not be granted referendum from the Federal government, and the principle of self-determination, elegantly crafted in international laws, such as the African and United Nations Charter, has not been the easiest of principles to invoke or implement especially in Nigeria where these laws are being neglected.

However, not only IPOB has called for a referendum in Nigeria. The Yoruba Assembly; an umbrella platform for the coalition of socio-political groups in Nigeria’s South-West, rejected the statement ad nauseam by President Muhammadu Buhari who noted that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable.

According to the Coalition led by General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), “That statement cannot hold true under a civil setting or democracy. Nigeria’s unity is negotiable. We can negotiate it to remain together or otherwise. If however, we choose to remain together, the terms of engagement must be clear and acceptable to all Nigerians.”


But the fact still remains that Biafrans are being marginalized, humiliated, maltreated and killed in Nigeria of today by government-sponsored policies and agencies. And so, Biafrans wants to opt-out. The country has been severely polarized along ethnic and religious lines and therefore cannot uphold its unity. A clear case is the infamous quit notice being handed to Igbos inhabiting the North by some Arewa Youths which has attracted a lot of condemnation by conscientious minds. One of those who spoke in condemnation of the act was Senator Walid Jibrin; the National chairman, Board of Trustees, BOT, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In his reaction, “If Igbos(Biafrans) want their own independence as Biafra, is it enough for the northern youths to give them quit notice to leave the North to their states?”

In these past few years, IPOB and other pro-Biafra movements have been actively rallying for the recognition of Biafra. Many people want Biafra to be independent, and the government cannot sit on their hands much longer. Sooner or later, they will have to acknowledge Biafra in one way or another, if they want to avoid what happened fifty years ago. Somehow, the rights of the Indigenous peoples of the world to gaining their own separate nation in the actualization of their rights to self-determination, as enshrined under the provisions of the AU and UN, which Nigeria is a signatory to, has to be invoked to end all these controversies. But until then, the country will live in continuous tumult.

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