Biafra: 50 years after

ON Saturday June 3, the Pan Niger-Delta Forum (PANDEF), a coalition of traditional rulers and leaders of ethnic nationalities in the South-South geopolitical zone, advised the Federal Government and the rest of the country to heed the demands of the Biafra agitators in the South-East. In a statement by its co-chairman, Obong Victor Attah, PANDEF said: “The success recorded by the Biafra sit-at-home call as reported by various news media is a clear indication that all is not well with our country.” Noting that the solutions to the challenges currently facing the country were contained in the over 600 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, PANDEF said: “Restructuring does not, by any stretch of the imagination, suggest a breakup of the country. We also acknowledge that restructuring cannot happen overnight or in one fell swoop, but must be diligently embarked upon for our harmonious coexistence. The conference report did not suggest abolition of states, but carefully spelt out the steps to be taken to restructure our federal system without pain. The wisdom of implementing the recommendations of that conference cannot be overemphasised.”

During a colloquium tagged “Biafra: 50 years after” organised by the Yar’Adua Memorial Centre,  the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Initiative and held in Abuja last Thursday, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had stressed that the nation was better off as one indivisible entity. Osinbajo said:  “Today, some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed. They argue that separation from the Nigerian State will ultimately result in  successful smaller states. They argue eloquently, I might add, that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure. This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic and has sometimes degenerated to fatal violence. Let me say that there is a solid body of research that shows that groups that score high on diversity turn out to be more innovative than less diverse ones. This applies to countries just as much as it does to companies. The United States is a great example, bringing together an impressively diverse cast of people to consistently accomplish world-conquering economic, military and scientific feats.”

There can indeed be no debating the point that Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity. Not a few Nigerians accept the proposition that “we are greater together than apart.” Yet it must be stressed for the umpteenth time that living together should be based on a political framework jointly worked out and accepted by the diverse nationalities within the Nigerian state. Sadly, however, that is categorically not the case. From being a truly federal state in the decades before Independence in 1960, the country has, since 1966, operated a centralised system that has fostered dependence on the federal purse and stifled creativity in the states. It is against this backdrop that the events that took place during the Biafra at 50 celebrations must be situated. In a crass show of arrogance informed by ignorance, the Nigerian State deployed the repressive state apparatus against members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) who had decided to observe a holiday on the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra on May 30. It is indeed instructive, as noted by PANDEF, that the sit-at-home directive issued by IPOB and MASSOB was generally complied with in the South-East in spite of the government’s vehement opposition.

In our view, it is impossible to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it and does not discriminate or marginalise in any way, as argued by Professor Osinbajo, without making the Nigerian state truly federal. It is simply playing to the gallery to point out the prosperity of pluralist  countries like the USA while ignoring the framework for their prosperity, most notably the relative fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the component states. It must also be pointed out that the regions making up the country cannot eternally be held down by force in the face of patent marginalisation and inequality. Rather, every effort must be made to make the Nigerian State attractive to the disparate ethnic nationalities cobbled together by the British colonial government. No region should continue to serve as the sacrificial lamb for the survival of others.

We align with the position canvassed by PANDEF regarding the need to implement the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference, a step which has the potentiality to neutralise and render redundant, the separatist agitations across the country. If anything, the fact that the agitation for Biafra has not ceased 50 years after the most tragic episode in the nation’s history to date is an indication that the issues that birthed the movement are yet to be resolved. There is no gain  in failing to address these issues before things get out of hand.


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