Nigeria and Biafra challenge
By Ralph Egbu
4th June 2017
Let me start with this admission: it was a herculean task determining what issue to deal with on this page today. Before the Biafrans surprised everyone with the huge compliance to the sit-at-home call to mark the Heroes Day on Tuesday, May 30, two issues were struggling for attention in my head and my mind. One was the issue of democracy and Democracy Day. It was my intention to review our political culture and see whether what we have been practicing is democracy or something else. The second one would have been on President Muhammadu Buhari’s midterm score card. You would agree that given the time, both issues are critical and very relevant and in some way have something to do even with the topic you are reading. I know Nigerians are worried why every year our government as a collective expends trillions of naira and yet the lives of ordinary citizens remain the same or even worse and the environment increasingly turns out very hostile for habitation. It is lack of understanding of democracy and the subsequent mischievous commissions and omissions that flow from it that provoke sectarian agitation in the hearts of most Nigerians; forget the outward pretences.
The Biafra agitation is also a product of some of our omissions in the process of nation building. In fact some of our mistakes account for the resurgence of the Biafra agitation. My intention today is not to look at those causes because everyone conversant with the politics of this nation ought to know those factors and forces because they have been in the public domain for a very long time. I chose this topic because of the big lessons they have for us as a nation, especially as a people who have chosen the democratic part to nation building. It is more so very important now that we have a government that came to power on the pledge to do things differently from the old order. Our minor disagreements have always metamorphosed into bigger crisis as a result of poor management by those in position to handle such issues. Our prisons are congested not because everyone in detention committed a major offence but because our law enforcement agents have only one method for resolving all manner of deviant behaviours. There is no space for reprimand and acquittal; all minor cases including wrong parking and urination in wrong places must get to the police station and woe betide you if you can’t ‘sort’ yourself out.
Bad management is the reason the Biafra challenge is assuming a life of its own. I don’t know what happened in the past when Biafra and other sectarian agitators had a clash with the law enforcement agencies; I can’t say with accuracy whether they behaved unruly and whether their conduct was in conflict with the law. What I am sure is that our security agents whose first responsibility is to offer citizens care and protection, turn their guns on citizens and kill many of them in the process. This is an act that is clearly against democratic ideals. When we confront them, the answers we get are either the agitators constituted a threat to peace and security, whatever that means, or that the lives of security agents came under sudden threat.
On the contrary taken from the last position, we have seen video clips of similar developments in other climes where security agents come under more severe threats like petrol bombs and direct shooting. Despite these they maintain their cool, professionally approaching the crowd to disorganize and scatter them. In some instances our security agents have had to even embark on what is popularly called reprisal attacks. You hear reprisals and you ask reprisal against whom?
Foreign invaders, militia groups, strange elements, trees or wild animals? Even if it were to be foreign invaders or militia, standard conduct suggests that professional approach precedes fire engagement. In Zaki Biam and Odi it was clearly a case of military versus unarmed civilians, and we all know the outcome.
Few months ago it was a religious group, the Muslim Shi’ites against the military, not the Police or the Civil Defence. And what was the issue, the Shi’ites blocked the highways against the nation’s Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai. By the time the altercation was over the nation had lost over 400 of her citizens, killed by her own army and secretly buried in a mass grave and this is over an issue that could have been peacefully resolved and may be governmental administrative caution given to either of the parties. As you read this that issue has subtracted from the rating of the current Federal Government and certainly threatening national cohesion just because of poor management of a simple matter.
The Biafra challenge has suffered from terrible, not poor, management. Firstly, there is this Biafra phobia and the primary victims can be located among the segment of national leadership that fought and defeated the Igbo in the civil war. To this group, the Igbo are vanquished people who should not be heard or seen. This view has always negatively affected reactions to advocacies from the old Eastern region, particularly the South East states.
Again, there is this mindset that the Igbo have stockpiled arms somewhere and were just waiting for the right time to strike and get their independence. I have had Northern friends who tell me the Igbo are very stubborn people and that they would use the army they control to ensure their total submission. This thinking nearly played out in Niger Delta when the Buhari administration initially opted for military solution to the Niger Delta militancy challenge. Thank God good judgement prevailed; that case also buttresses the fact that we are always mismanaging minor irritations. For the last Biafra outing, the agitators called for sit-at-home protest and our government’s reaction was to improve on the already over militarized South East and some parts of South-South. Helicopters fueled with public funds flew menacingly across public and private buildings for four days preceding May 30 when the agitators proved they were beginning to gain the attention of the hitherto passive majority. I guess they may have been provoked by the management of what they thought was a simple matter.
Nnamdi Kanu is now confirmed a hero, and the government made it so. His arrest and detention was totally unnecessary. Today, courtesy of government, he has become the undisputed leader of the Igbo race after Zik and Ojukwu. Through government mis-step the people have come to realize the strength in unity. What they make out of it is what no one can tell, or can you predict? This scenario was clearly avoidable; it has nothing to do with weakness or carelessness. It is about statecraft.