Biafra: To Leave or Not to Leave
Farouk Martins Aresa
It is no longer if Biafrans will leave but when and if they will survive without all of the old Eastern Region. There are there three types of agitations ringing from the former Eastern part of Nigerians: the 1) Igbo 2) Biafrans and 3) Ibo. Not all Igbo are Biafrans and some Igbo resent the label of Ibo while others far from the hinterland embrace it. Indeed many Igbo think this is a conspiracy after the War to divide and conquer them ideologically. In other words, there is no difference between the Igbo; Igbo is Igbo.
We have just witnessed some new development that only confirmed established facts. There are too many states created out of Nigeria, most of which cannot generate enough Internal Revenue to sustain themselves. While most of these states are in the North, some Igbo states also exposed their inability to do so. In Biafra, hopefully they would not be so fragmented and would survive on commonwealth.
The weakest logic demonstrated by latest shutdown of commerce is that Biafra will not get the old East. Unfortunately, the shutdown and loss of revenues only affected the same Igbo, most especially those that had to obey reluctantly and close their shops losing billions in trade and commerce. There is also the thorny question of what to do with Igbo that stay in Nigerians no matter what. While those in Biafra will see them as traitors, the rest of Nigerians will also be suspicious. Damn if you do damn if you do not.
Nigeria has no choice but to listen to the Igbo that wants out of Nigeria. Their voices cannot be ignored. Their indirect referendum, like Brexit, of shutting down trade and commerce, their livelihood, did not deprive the rest of the country. Nevertheless, it is an affirmation that Igbo local areas support Biafra. We know that in United Kingdom, some areas would want to be part of European Union and some areas want to be independent of the Union. Yet British Government at the center would wants all areas out.
Those who claimed oil was the root of all evils that has befallen Nigeria must reassess their thinking because oil would be archived in less than ten years when clean energy and electric vehicles take over. Nevertheless, the agitations for Biafra will not stop as an ideological sound reaching a deafening level to those that want to listen. When children of yesterday and grown men of today that have never been in the country or even speak the language take it up as a cause, we must heed to those at home.
There is no situation that is exactly the same, so referendum like Brexit may not be a perfect answer. Those of us that know the Igbo as children, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands have never seen such insults between ethnic groups, even before the War. We have not learnt from what led to the war and the words are getting to a point: where it may be better to separate peacefully than repeat the mistake of killing one another. Some Nigeria are actually daring Biafrans to leave or be kicked out!
What is surprising in all of these is the recent animosity between Igbo and Yoruba. It is surprising in the sense that Igbo or Yoruba blood has never been spilled in each otherís domain. Of course, the war itself was uncalled for; an exceptional circumstance no one in his right mind wants repeated. However, the owners of the future, that is our youths, have no respect for one another. Their fathers and mothers would recoil or cringe if they know the insults used against one another by the internet warriors.
Igbo were not strangers in Yorubaland. There may be others there before them: like cousins from Benin, Calabar, Togo and Ghana etc. Igbo rose amicably especially in Lagos where Azikiwe even represented Yoruba in Ibadan. Whichever tactics or method Igbo used in those days to be fully accommodated and accepted is what is obviously lacking today. This is apparent because no other ethnic group faces the same type of hostility Igbo now face verbally from their Yoruba hosts. How did we get here?
The case of accommodation in Northern Nigeria is more tenuous and even regrettable. Many Igbo have vouched for the safety of Yoruba and Hausa in their states. But they donít have or attract the same number of Yoruba and Hausa willing to sojourn in Igbo land. While the name Umaru Altine, an Hausa Mayor elected in 1956 in Enugu always comes up; there are Hausa traders, Yoruba students and civil servants, it was not enough to guarantee peaceful co-existence; not only in Igboland but in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, the Igbo have suffered disproportionally in the North than any other group and that is undeniable. Unfortunately, as opportunities in Nigeria dwindled, Nigerian youths have abandoned their country in greater number than we have ever seen. They risk everything including their lives to get into any other country, no matter how rich or poor. Would Igbo risk their life to stay or cross back to Nigeria?
It is even more depressing when Nigerians risk death penalties in Asia countries, 419 and drugs peddling. While our youths have capitalized on these at home and tried to pin prostitution or drugs on an ethnic group, 419 on another, they are all known as Nigerians outside. It does not make any sense to turn 419, drugs and prostitution on one another when we know every corner of the country is involved though less so in the Northern parts. We have even seen grandpa and grandma used as mules.
Therefore, the attraction to move out of Nigeria and find solace anywhere will not stop after creation of Urhobo, Ijaw, Arewa, Oduduwa, Edo or Biafra Nation. The point here is that creation of each of these nations will not stop infiltration or crossing artificial borders created as a result of agitations. Indeed, it will make life more difficult for those that left since they would have lost the privilege of citizenships. There are fewer compelling reasons to amicably accept Biafrans, Arewa or Odua back once they leave.
If it were so easy to define Biafra, Oduduwa or Arewa republics there would be one less obstacle. It is not. A referendum in the former Eastern part of Nigeria cannot gather enough votes for Igbo alone to capture the old Eastern Region. While sympathy for Biafra may be strong in some states, that would not be enough to commit all Igbo into Biafra. We must remember that before the war, Ojukwu asked all Igbo to return. He did not get all. Well-situated Igbo outside poses a big problem for agitation of Biafra.
Many Igbo are patriotic Nigerians that would not leave their country permanently for another or a new country. Their immense contributions and love of country are against separation. Indeed, mass boycott has created fear despite ECOWA! Igbo have been fully represented in government since Obasanjoís rule. The Igbo voted for as representatives and senators can call for referendum if they think Biafra is the way to go. So far, none has rejected their post or form a Separation Party like the Party Quebecois in Canada.
Since these agitators cannot muscle other ethnics in the old Eastern states to follow them into Biafra, some people see them as wanting in both ways, in and out, looking for recognition as leaders. Some of them are seen as blackmailers looking for political positions and contracts. Once they get what they want, they become one of the looters sharing kickbacks. No one can differentiate Biafrans from other Nigerians at their parties for weddings, birthdays, remembrance and awards. They are fully represented!
We have seen other African examples in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somali with little amiable results. But this Biafra, they claim, is different. It is going to be like Europe where countries with less area and people are very rich. Some even claim they may become a satellite of Israel. Well, they need to go inside Israel and ask how well Ethiopians and Eritreans that gained access are treated. Like Party Quebecois, may mellow.