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Thursday 21 June 2018

Editorial: IPOB and the hurdles that lies on her path to referendum

By Chukwuemeka Chimerue, Editor-in-Chief, The Biafra Times

June 22, 2018

The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, on Tuesday, June 19, 2018, made good its promise to deliver Biafra to the teeming Biafran population yearning for freedom by taking a bold step in announcing its plans for an inevitable peaceful referendum process, thereby severing its ties with a host of other pro-Biafra groups whose body language, from all indications, appears to have settled for Ohanaeze Ndigbo pro-Nigeria restructuring campaign.

A prominent part of the declaration which was widely publicized noted that “plans are at advanced stages in preparation for the first in three-stage referendum process towards the peaceful, non-violent restoration of the nation of Biafra and that 40 million ballot papers are being printed and readied for distribution to clans and villages in Biafraland.”

Following the above, it appears that a new dimension has been set out in the struggle as such declaration would herald the first of its kind amongst several activities of Biafra independence campaigners. Also, those that has went into town with the news that IPOB lacks or has lost strategy, blueprint or roadmap to actualize Biafra would now be taken aback to realise that a vessel filled to its brim does not make unnecessary noise and that some things is better pursued at the right time, using the right approach.

And rightfully so, the declaration which has been long expected, appears to have received the attention and backing of the Biafran populace, especially here in Enugu, adjudged to be the Biafra capital, where its residents gather in clusters with enthusiasm to discuss the issues surrounding IPOB’s referendum declaration. It appears as if the process is already in motion and that they can now imagine themselves queuing up to cast their votes, meaning that the Biafran youths are in a hurry to leave Nigeria. Needless to say, the intendment of referendums is to give a people the right to chose to pursue their destiny within or outside the country without recourse to armed violence. Thankfully, the world now knows that IPOB have submitted itself to this non-violent instrument of referendum. Hence, why do Nigeriand choose to tag Biafra agitators as the “noisy minority” when a simple referendum will decide their weakness or strenght? It is obvious that, should such a referendum reaffirm the fate of majority of those being polled in Nigeria, it would close the chapter on Biafra, at least for the foreseeable future which they have failed to understand.

Yet, we must consider and wholly address some of the burning issues with utmost clarity as it pertains to the referendum process because it is something that has to do with the masses and the general public. IPOB still have a lot of work to do and a lot of hurdles to pass on this bold approach, especially as it concerns with providing adequate security and an unbeatable strategy to ensure that the federal cum one-Nigeria agents do not scuttle its plan in any way. Our minds must now be cast on the political, legal and diplomatic implications of our forthcoming referendum. For one, it is common knowledge that the crafters and drafters of the Nigerian constitution dubiously and deliberately omitted the inclusion of referendum in the 1999 constitution despite series of amendments it has undergone in recent past. The Nigerian Constitution is one of the few obtainable in the world that is perpetually under amendment yet it has not tackled the chronic problems staring everybody in the face, especially as it borders on genuine ideological agitations that has been rocking the unity of the country for ages.

The programmers of the constitution sees referendum as a leeway for separatist agitations, particularly pro-Biafra agitations to plunge the country into a balkanization and/or secessionist crisis that is likely to overwhelm their personal interests and desires yet they have not deem it fit to tackle wholesomely the issues that brings the agitation for separation to the fore. Yet, referendum remains the most natural way of gauging public opinions on delicate national issues in all decent modern democracies. This is where IPOB must step in to insert that irrespective of the failure of Nigerian lawmakers to create provisions for the inclusion of referendum in its constitution, it must continue with its plan to conduct Biafra referendum for Biafrans. After all, it is not as if referendum is alien to Nigeria as she towed that part, in February, 1961, shortly after independence, to formally effectuate the secession of Southern Cameroon from her control and also the creation of the defunct Mid-western region from the domineering posture of the Awolowo-led Western region, not minding there were no such provisions in its constitution. That is surely a good point IPOB worldwide has been applauded in building on to conduct a peaceful referendum process.

Having settled that, another issue of paramount importance that has been on the front burner of political discourse in recent times amongst critics and analysts is what would be the outcome of the proposed referendum, the reactions of the Nigerian government, the United Nations and other international bodies towards Biafra referendum and the way forward. It is common knowledge that most countries where the issues of referenda by its indigenous constituents has been canvassed, has been faced with a forceful and violent resistance by their central governments. The Nigerian situation appears to be the most irrationally worse as it is an open secret that its government is aversed and rattled by mere protests not seen to be favourable to them. Nigeria’s security forces have severally clamped down on demonstrations perceived to be anti-government or capable of undermining the unity of the country. They have so far exhibited brute force, conducted out military operations and carried out other sundry arrests, detention and even abduction to quench Biafra agitations and referendum campaigns in the country.

One of the major genuine concerns of the people and  question on the lips of many is: ‘what grand strategy has IPOB put in place to avert crisis or the imminent disruption of the process by trigger-happy Nigerian soldiers and police? Are they coming with a third force to provide adequate security for the Biafrans who would troop out en masse to cast their votes?’ This is inaurguably where IPOB will face its biggest challenge and of course, it is quite understandable no sane person would like to come out to vote in a battle field that is under an unhealthy condition characterised by gunshots, land and/or aerial bombardment that inevitably may be orchestrated by the Nigerian government through her security agencies who perceives such peaceful and democratic process as a declaration of war. Surely, to tackle this security concern, IPOB must have the backing of other sovereign nations in the UN so the entire process won’t be marred with enormous bloodshed and loss of lives and properties. Many pundits have considered the Nigerian government’s posture towards the call for Biafra independence as that of a dog in the manger or a clog in the wbeel of progress, especially as she constantly undermines the spirit and letters of the UN and AU Charters which they are obligated by international law to respect as it concerns the independence of indigenous peoples all over the world. It must include this issue in its top agenda and further clarify the public on the roles it intended to play to ensure a hitch-free process, at least to the level we experienced in Catalonia where no death was recorded.

Also, in a related issue, am certain the Biafra populace wouldn’t like to go through this rigorous process only for their decision/outcome to be tossed to the dustbin the way the Catalonia referendum appears to have gone. The Biafra conundrum has been staring us all in the face for decades now even after the 1967 civil war was fought, therefore, it is only justifiable that it is forever laid to rest by ensuring that plans are on the pipeline to see to the full implementation of whatever may be the outcome of the referendum as expressed by the general will of the people. This is where IPOB needs to engage in intense lobbying for influential international support to ensure that the decision of the people are respected and made rigid.

Although IPOB won’t find it difficult convincing her people of the need to fully embrace Biafra freedom by voting for its independence at the polls but it definitely needed to carry out more of such intensive sensitization campaigns particularly at the remotest parts of our rural villages, especially in the coastal/riverine regions of the geopolitical South-South where the issue of Biafra is currently at its lowest ebb. No stone should be left unturned at this point in time and no area should be neglected. Our potentials must be maximally employed and put into good use towards ensuring that higher number of exit votes are recorded in such remote areas. If all the clans and villages in this areas are duly consulted, reached an agreement with and all the “Is and Ts” are dotted and crossed with unity of purpose, then IPOB most definitely has the strongest potential to win the referendum vote on a landslide as nobody would consensually agree to continue in an unworkable union and structure Nigeria is in.

IPOB must also begin to take a positive step in purging itself of saboteurs and intending impendiments on its road to freedom. Those who are prone to compromise and easily influenced by external factors should be kept at arms lenght and not closer to the drawing board where major decisions are being deliberated upon as they may pose as a higher threat or risk to the referendum process. All eyes should be clear and focused on the ball and every distraction on the way should be ignored as we cannot afford to be drawn aback by mere malfeasance or misfiring in the wrong direction at the instance of betrayers and unscrupulous elements in our midst.

IPOB also, has had her fair share of the challenge and hurdle of trying to educate one-Nigeria advocates and those in government that the agitation for “self-determination” or “referendum” is not synonymous with war and shouldn’t be equated or interpreted as “a declaration of war” and they must not relent in teaching that in every single opportunity they get to interact with the people. If you look at most of those equating the call for referendum to war, it is usually those who believe in their hearts that Nigeria is their personal or regional estate. What they are actually saying is: “if you really want this your Biafra, come and fight; you will not get it through referendum.” That is a very cowardly talk. How can one with all the instruments of state coercion at his disposal, challenge a group of unarmed, peaceful agitators for a referendum to an all-out war? Is that how it is done in other countries.

People who are asking for a referendum are doing so based on a series of dehumanising experiences they have experienced. If you are not willing to address their human rights concerns in order to fully integrate them in the national scheme of things, the only sensible and peaceful thing to do is to grant them a referendum. Malaysia and Indonesia did not want to continue accommodating Singapore and Timor respectively. While Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, Timor was politely given a chance to decide if they wanted to continue to be part of a country that did not really want them, and they chose to go.

The idea of a referendum is the best test of whether Nigerians really want to remain in one country or go their separate ways in peace. It is politically correct to say we want to remain together(without scientific proof) and treasonable enough to say I want to go. Why not actually put the question? That will surely provide the answers in a way that leaves no one in doubt. But of course, this will not happen.

The federal government of Nigeria, is hereby advised to respect the wishes of the people to conduct a referendum for themselves as she has failed to organize same all these years, perhaps out of fear of disintegration but which is inevitable in all countries that has similar challenges. Nigeria must take a cue from the United Kingdom, our progenitor country, which just four years ago, the Scottish people who had clamoured for independence for ages were presented with the opportunity to decide if majority of them wanted out and the majority through its slim “no” 55.3 percent vote, expressed that they want to remain part and parcel of Great Britain.

It has also become imperative, therefore, that the Nigerian authorities should take a cue from our colonialist British experience with the European Union and urgently take the necessary steps to support in organising a referendum for the people of the old Eastern region alongside any other ethnic nationality or nationalities who had long been agitating for self-determination and independence in accordance with the United Nations Charter on human rights of indigenous peoples.

Let us, therefore, adopt our own version of the British “Brexit” known as “Biaexit” or “Biafrexit” just as the Scottish people would soon have  their “Scotexit” to determine their own future. It is often said that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Let us, therefore, make haste while the sun still shines by allowing the people of Biafra to take their destiny into their own hands through a referendum in order to ascertain the true wishes of the people.

Publisher: Chijindu Benjamin Ukah
Contact us: [email protected]

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