The debate on the interrelatedness of equity, justice; peace and development is among the most presently discussed topics on the surface of the earth. The reason for this unending debate stems from the time-honored belief that without equity and justice, there will be no peace. And without peace, no society, group or nation should contemplate development.
For Nigeria to achieve the above feat there exists the need to think over the marriage of two unwilling brides who had no say in their forced and ill-fated union- amalgamation of the northern and the southern protectorates on the 14th February 1914, by Sir Lord Luggard- as well as the pre- and post-independence political structure of Nigeria.
The British colonial overlords probably intended the protectorates to operate in a symmetrical manner with no part of the amalgam claiming superiority over the other. And at independence in 1960, Nigeria became a federation, resting firmly on a tripod of three federating regions-Northern, Eastern and Western Regions. Each of the regions was economically and politically viable to steer its own ship, yet mutual suspicion among them was rife. In fact, regional loyalty surpassed nationalistic fervor with each of the three regions at a juncture threatening secession.
On the reason for amalgamation, two economic reasons/objectives going by reports were documented. First, the supply of primary raw material (agriculture and mineral) for which Nigeria as a large Nation was abundantly endowed to the British home industry, and to secure Nigeria as a large market for the industrial goods (capital and consumer items) and professional technological services of the British home industry and personnel.
The second and most serious reason for amalgamation according to one of Nigeria’s foremost Lawyers, late Richard Akinjide, is found in Fredrick Lugard’s Book, titled “The Dual Mandate of Europe in Tropical Africa” London, 4th Edition, 1929. Where, Lord Harcourt, the British Colonial Secretary, after whom Port Harcourt (PH) was named, clearly stated the Purpose of Amalgamation of the Entities named Nigeria as follows, “We have released Northern Nigeria from the lending Strings of the Treasury (British Government Treasury). The promising and well conducted Youth is now on Allowance on his own and is about to effect the Alliance with a Southern Lady of means. I (Lord Harcourt) have issued the special License and Sir Fredrick Lugard will perform the Ceremony. May the Union be fruitful and the Couple constant”.
Now, this is foundation of the nation’s crisis. Unfortunately, it is rather one of leadership, management and perennial egotism.
The late Premier of the Western Region once described Nigeria as “mere geographical expression” and later threatened “we (Western Region) shall proclaim self-government and proceed to assert it”, a euphemism for secession.
In the same vein, the Northern Region under the Premiership of the late Ahmadu Bello never hid its desire for separate identity. Just before independence, the region threatened to pull out of Nigeria if it was not allocated more parliamentary seats than the south. The departing British colonial masters, desirous of one big entity, quickly succumbed to the threat. In fact, the north at that time did pretend it never wanted to have anything to do with Nigeria. For example, the motto of the ruling party in that region at that time was “One North, One People, and One Destiny.” And the name of the party itself “Northern People’s Congress, NPC,” was suggestive of separatist fervor, distinct identity.
However, of all the secession threats since independence it was the one issued by the Eastern Region in 1966-67 following the bloody counter-coup of July 1966 and subsequent genocide by northern soldiers and civilians in which thousands of easterners living in the north lost their lives or maimed, and the failure of Gowon to implement the Aburi Accord which was aimed at settling the crisis, that was much more potent because it was actually carried out. The result was the declaration of Eastern Region independent country with the name, “Biafra” on May 30, 1967 by the then Military Governor of the Region, the late General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Proclamation ended with emotional ‘Biafra Anthem” –‘The Land of the rising Sun’ rendered in beautiful tune of ‘Finlanda” by Sibelius, symbolizing the end of the struggle to assert the self-determination of a new nation. The scene was set for confrontation between the new state of Biafra and the balance of the ethnic nationalities that made up the Federal Republic of Nigeria and to resolve the question of the unity of the Nigerian states by use of force (see the report titled; Scientific and Technological Innovations in Biafra)
Looking at the above tragic developments/ accounts, the question may be asked; could the civil war have been avoided? In the same vein, from the present spiraling demand in some quarters for marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened, coupled with the current wave of secessionist sentiments sweeping across the country with restive youths in the north and south east particularly the very vociferous agitation for Biafra’s restoration by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by youthful Nnamdi Kanu, another question that is as urgent as the piece itself is; did Nigeria and Nigerians truly learn any useful lesson from the experience of the Nigerian civil wars? Are those factors that set the stage/fueled Nigeria’s civil war still alive and active in the nation’s political geography?
Again, here is another affirmation that we did not learn any lesson.
Currently, a wave of secessionist sentiments is sweeping across the country with restive youths in the north and south east as the main gladiators. Some groups in the southwest and south-south have also joined the fray to demand the marriage of 1914 be ended as the basis for its continued existence has severely been weakened. However, the very vociferous agitation for Biafra’s restoration by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by youthful Nnamdi Kanu has been the loudest of the separatist movements.
Though separatist bug has also caught some sections of the country, there is no denying the fact that even with the defeat of the Igbo in the Nigeria/Biafra civil war, the majority of the people, especially those born after the war harbor immense sentiment for separate political and cultural identity for the Igbo nation in the mold of restoration of the short-lived Republic of Biafra.
For example, at the return of democracy in 1999, Ralph Uwazurike , an Indian-trained Lawyer, from Imo State ignited a passion for Biafra among south east youths via his separatist platform ‘’ Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra’’ (MASSOB). MASSOB and its founder enjoyed a tremendous following and respect among mostly youths of the region that it almost became an alternative government in the south east. The group’s sit-at- home orders were religiously obeyed just as the one declared by IPOB on May 30th was a monster success.
Uwazuruike’s support base has since drastically waned following dissent in MASSOB. But from the ashes of MASSOB’s bye-gone years of strident pro-Biafra agitation came Kanu and IPOB, a much more vitriolic but charming personality and organization.
Kanu happened on the national and international limelight through a pirate radio Biafra which he used as a vehicle to promote the agitation to actualise the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) quest for independence. Two factors have so far worked for Kanu in his separatist agenda: His long incarceration by the Buhari government over Biafra and the recent quit notice given to the Igbo residing in the north by Arewa youths. Both factors, apparently unknown to President Buhari’s handlers, have helped and still helping IPOB and Kanu’s cause. One, his incarceration for almost two years helped to project him to his supporters, a mass of Igbo youths, and the international community as a prisoner of conscience and freedom fighter.
Random sampling of opinion of pro-Biafra supporters indicates that they have rock-solid belief in their cause and are even prepared to give their lives to actualise it. They also believe that in no distant future, Biafra will be realized and point to the total compliance by the entire south-east and some parts of the south-south states like Delta and Rivers to IPOB’s sit-at-home order as evidence of the justness of the Biafra cause and unstoppable progress of their dream.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with Kanu’s campaign or campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness of youths, whether in the south-east, south-south, north or south-west, and resurgent demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stem from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
I believe that the likes of Kanu would instantly fizzle away and their cause dies naturally, if Nigeria is restructured to ensure more inclusiveness. But agitations for the death of Nigeria cannot go way when nepotism and sectionalism continue to be evident in the manner of political patronage and distribution of our common patrimony as currently obtained.
It is a barefaced truth that the Nigerian state has not treated the Igbo, one of the three tripods on which the federation of Nigeria stands, fairly since the war ended. The situation is exacerbated by the current government with its mindless near-exclusion of that zone in government appointments.
And specifically to the governors of the south-east states, they are not expected to support a group that is advocating the dissolution of Nigeria but as at this material time, Biafra agitators are still their subjects and citizens of this great country. That alone qualifies them to be listened to.
Finally, the Igbo, especially its youths, should allow sanity prevail over emotion. I hold the opinion that if by omission or commission this agitation is allowed to sail through, Kanu may not be the messiah they lost their limbs for. Chances are that, Kanu, from the character he exudes, may want to establish what Niccole Machiavelli called the ‘‘hereditary principalities.’’ For example, he now parades himself as the supreme leader of Biafra with his supporters equating him with God.
As I usually quote, “The destiny of the ship is not in the harbor but in sailing the high sea’’ and so shall our collective responsibility be, not to destroy this great nation but join hands to nurture and sustain it . If we are able to manage this situation and other social menace effectively and navigate out of dangers of disintegration, it will once again, announce the arrival of a brand new great nation where peace and love shall reign supreme. But, then, no nation enjoys durable peace without justice and stability without fairness and equity!
Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), A Lagos-Based Non Governmental Organization (NGO). Hecould be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.