I recently concluded a weeklong tour of four major Eastern Nigeria cities namely Onitsha, Enugu, Aba and Owerri. My trip was purely business related but at every juncture I took time out to reflect on the past, present and future of the Igbo nation. Whenever I passed by an old street near Trans-Ekulu, Enugu, I wondered how that same location looked like during the civil war. In Onitsha, I wondered how residents survived in four, five, sometimes six storey buildings without elevators. In Owerri, I saw an obsession for Hotels, very good hotels at almost every part of the city but I don’t recall seeing one foreign tourist. Aba was a complete mess.
|Ojukwu inspects Biafran Guard of Honor|
One impressive quality I noticed in Igbo landscape was unlike most Southwest Nigerian cities I’ve visited outside Lagos where rusted zinc rooftops plague the landscape; Eastern Nigerian cities even in remote locations had colorful aluminum rooftops. Roads in Igboland still have a long way to go, especially federal roads, but from the Niger Bridge down to Onitsha main town, a massive improvement is noticed unlike what obtained less than a decade ago.
All through this sojourn around my Eastern homeland, I could not get thoughts of Biafra off my head, no thanks to Buhari’s fumbling of the ‘Nnamdi Kanu’ situation elevating him into some sort of freedom fighter. I have never subscribed to the Biafran dream; some of us believe that Ndigbo are better off in a united Nigeria. Considering the fact that Igbos are the most travelled ethnic group inside Nigeria with ownership of permanent structures scattered outside Igboland – how will Biafra work? If Biafra becomes a reality, will Igbos be happy applying for visa or resident permit in order to continue their trade in Alaba International market for example? A lot of Igbos own small, medium and large hotels in Abuja, what happens to all that should Biafra emerge? Are Igbo business owners willing to start applying for permits or expatriate quota or whatever in order to maintain their investments in Lagos, Abuja and beyond?
Igbos within the Nigerian context have never been good politicians; it is a cultural/traditional phenomenon. Igbos don’t like having kings, they are not one to sheepishly follow a supreme leader. The only Igbo leader that may have enjoyed some form of sheepish followership was Odumegwu Ojukwu, during the civil war era. The average Igbo man just wants to excel in commerce, trade, industry and life in general, using his wealth to cater for his immediate and (sometimes) extended family. Since the demise of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Michael Opara, there is hardly any Igbo politician that enjoys any real form of reverence similar to what a Tinubu enjoys in the Southwest or Buhari in the North. The only people Igbos tend to idolize are successful entrepreneurs or big business achievers; one can hear such names mentioned in contemporary Igbo highlife songs.
VISIONS OF BIAFRA
I often wonder; what if the emergence of Biafra is inevitable? What if the spirits of over three million Igbos killed during the civil war are restless and may not find peace until Biafra becomes a reality? What options are available to Ndigbo? Will the Niger-Deltans truly (ever) subscribe to Biafra? Some of us believe that if the Niger-Delta people eventually commit to the Biafra project that will be the end of Nigeria. The emergence of Biafra no longer needs to be through war or violence; a united “Old Eastern Nigeria” forming a common front may be all that is required. All it takes is for one or two nations that are permanent members of the UN Security Council to recognize Biafra and push for a referendum. A scenario where all of Nigeria’s oil producing regions truly decide to opt out of Nigeria to form an independent nation will be too juicy for certain world powers.
However, why would the Niger-Delta region ever want to be part of 21st century Biafra? One name, Philip Effiong - the Efik war General that stayed with Biafra till the end, even after Ojukwu fled. Philip Effiong from present Akwa Ibom state was Ojukwu’s second in command and did become Biafra’s President briefly after Ojukwu’s exit. Philip Effiong negotiated Biafra’s surrender, further ensuring that no genocide was carried out against Igbos. The likes of Philip Effiong is evidence that Biafra did not set out to as an ‘Igbo agenda’ but the narratives started changing when major non-Igbo Biafra towns fell into the hands of Nigerian troops. Even Igbo towns like Port-Harcourt and sub-Igbo groups like the Ikwerres quickly denied their Igbo ancestry in order to avoid being massacred by Nigerian troops, the Asaba people weren’t so lucky.
Modern day Biafran agitators should perhaps go a step further by reaching out or building consensus with non-Igbos that fall into the original territorial plan of Biafra. What are the assurances that upon emergence of Biafra, the Igbo ethnic group will not dominate and oppress the Ijaws, Efiks or Ibibios? With zero political influence, the Igbos have managed to dominate certain economic sectors in Nigeria, how much more in a Biafra setting? Non-Igbo communities would be wise to harbor deep reservations about any talk of being part of Biafra. So, what is the deal? What are Biafran champions proposing? Will Biafra be a federal republic where oil producing communities are allowed to control their resources? Will ethnicity be abolished in Biafra, where all citizens are regarded as equal? Even within the majority Igbo tribe of Biafra, will a dichotomy exist between the business oriented Anambra axis and the educationally oriented Imo axis? Will the Osu caste system be thoroughly and effectively abolished? Will Biafran women enjoy equal rights as men and will first daughters be allowed to inherit their father’s choice properties?
These questions and scenarios need to be addressed before I genuinely start taking any talk of Biafra seriously; until then I remain Nigerian.