Biafra: The need for caution

By Sunny Ngwu

In the last few weeks crowds of preponderantly Igbo youths have been stumping through the streets of major cities in the South-East and Port Harcourt and Asaba in the South-South.
Acting under the aegis of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), they have demanded the release from detention of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the latest Biafran agitation who was arrested by the Nigerian security agents.
Kanu literally dropped on the scene during the run-up to the last general election as the sole anchor of the pirate Radio Biafra through which he campaigned for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra.
Among his reasons were the long-tauted marginalization of the Igbo in Nigeria since they lost the civil war, the reaping by the North of the immense resources of “Biafra land” and the general rot in Nigeria which he has derogatorily been referring to as the “zoo” in his fiery, hate broadcasts.
Besides, at the thick of the electioneering for the last general election, Kanu selectively demonised the then presidential candidate, Muhamadu Buhari and Rochas Okorocha raising suspicion in some quarters that Radio Biafra had at least the tacit backing of the then ruling party and government.
Radio Biafra did not and does not only denigrate selected individuals but antagonized whole ethnic groups. The station spitefully portrays the Hausa/Fulani as mere cattle rearers and the Yoruba as cowards and unreliable.
Sometimes, the director as Kanu is fondly referred to by his followers, had engaged in hot exchanges with callers of Yoruba stock who had warned that in case of another civil war that the Yoruba would ensure that the Igbo are crushed like in the last one.
It was not, therefore, surprising that the radio’s facilities in Nigeria were dismantled by the new administration in Nigeria.
The danger in such hate broadcasts is that it has succeeded in brainwashing the IPOB fanatics to see the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba as their enemies, a situation that could create tension among the ethnic groups.
Yet, the Igbo being the most itinerant people in Africa are domiciled in their millions in these areas dominating their commerce. It is simply impossible to convince them to relocate to the Biafra of IPOB’s forlorn dream.
But it should be conceded that Kanu is a brilliant and knowledgeable communicator and was not deterred one bit by the dismantling of the pirate Radio Biafra. Rather, he masterfully deployed the social media through several platforms to continue to reach and stir his followers.
Unlike Barr. Ralph Uwazuruike of the Movement for the Actualisaiton of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who was and still is on the ground to lead his adherents, Kanu leads his troops through the intangible medium of the radio and the social media with no less effectiveness. Comparing MASSOB and IPOB further, the former’s membership consisted of active participants in the Biafra war and other younger elements born after the war. On the otherhand, members of IPOB consist overwhelmingly of young men and women born atleast two decades after the civil war hence their tendency to be more aggressive, even violence-prone in the pursuit of their cause.
The typical Igbo of the South-East is not averse to the second-coming of Biafra but the mode is the bone of contention.
While the generation that witnessed and participated in the civil war would prefer the return of Biafra through evolution, the new youthful crusaders in IPOB want the immediate materialization at all cost with some of them vouching their preparedness to pay the supreme price.
Such vows were made by the Biafran generation 48 years ago and it was spontaneous, cutting across all ages. They had a valid cause to call on Ojukwu to arm them with mere machets and dane guns to go to war following the massacre of over one million Igbo in other parts of Nigeria, especially in the North. Millions of Igbo ran back home in utter disarray.
Yes, the marginalization of Ndigbo since then persists yet the situation today is not as grim as the events that brought about the civil war and cannot justify the intensity of today’s crusade by IPOB.
Before his death, the embodiment and motivating spirit behind Biafra, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu clearly declared that the Biafra he longed for was “Biafra of the mind”.
To underscore this, he contested for election into the senate, contested for the presidency and actively participated in Nigeria’s politics, heading a political party, APGA. Therefore, any further agitation for the materialization of the state of Biafra is a deviation from the wishes of late Eze-Igbo-Gburugburu and a disrespect to his spirit.
In their imaginary territory of Biafra, IPOB have included the entire South-East and South-South. This is a clear indication of their ignorance of history which, unfortunately, has repeatedly confirmed that the minorities of the former Eastern Nigeria (South-South) pathologically resent Ndigbo since the Azikiwe/Professor Eyo Ita imbroglio.
The failure of Biafra was largely due to the resolute opposition of the Eastern minorities of Biafra as the bulk of them defected to Nigeria from Biafra at the beginning of the war.
In a master stroke, General Gowon hastily carved out the South-East and Rivers States from the former Eastern Nigeria (Biafra) with the irresistible argument that the action was taken to save the minorities from Igbo domination. They therefore fought Biafra with more commitment than other parts of Nigeria. It is, therefore, pure delusion on the part of Kanu and IPOB to believe that the South-South is in support of their agenda. To them, going back to Biafra will amount to going back to Egypt.
In the circumstance and in truth, the Biafra land IPOB is fighting for consists only of the land-locked South-East. IPOB’s Biafra will have no seaport, no direct outlet to the sea and completely surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors which was why Biafra was successfully blocaded economically during the civil war.
Above all, the timing of the protests is ill-advised.
The government at the centre is headed by former General Muhamadu Buhari who actively participated in the Nigeria/Biafra war as an officer on the victorious Nigeria Army and will not concede an inch of Nigeria’s territory to the Biafra agitators. He is likely to use the harshest of measures to suppress it if it becomes necessary.
One envisages and fears the possibility of an internal strife among Ndigbo between the radical IPOB members and the conservatives, who the former could turn against, blaming them for not supporting their agitations enough.
Already there have been forced closure of markets in Aba, Onitsha and Enugu by IPOB members on their days of protest. This could eventually lead to violence as some traders may resist closing their sources of income.
And that is why responsible Igbo leaders in and outside the government must not speak with the two sides of their mouths and come out openly to caution Kanu and his IPOB to weigh the dire consequences of the path they have chosen to tread.
These youths have to be told in plain language to find other realistic alternatives in their justified crusade to find justice and equity for Ndigbo instead of the empty-handed, utopian battle with the potentials of inflicting more harm to the people they are purportedly fighting for.

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