The rekindled fight for Biafra as led by Nnamdi Kanu under the umbrella of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) launched in 2012 and started by Ralph Uwazuruike’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in 2000 has now clearly reached its zenith with the reasonable acts and declarations by the would-be secessionists. Since the 2015 general elections in which the ‘Biafrans’ favoured candidate Goodluck Jonathan lost to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, the movement became especially virulent. In their latest assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty, the groups attempted a shutdown of all activities in some Southeast states especially Abia and Anambra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the failed declaration of ‘Biafra Republic’ that sparked the 1967-1970 civil war in the country. What the separatists dubbed a peaceful stay-at-home order was nothing less than economic sabotage and terrorism as thousands of traders in the region compiled for fear of violence while billions of Naira in GNP remains lost forever.
Weeks earlier, the IPOB brazenly announced it is planning a shutdown of the Southeast and South-south geopolitical regions on 30 May 2017 to mark the 17th anniversary of MASSOB and “commemorate the fallen heroes of the Biafran war.” the planned forceful sit-at-home protest includes an order to close down all markets, social services and private enterprise alike. This was despite the fact that a similar protest in 2016 led to the death of dozens of mostly innocent people in violence and counter-violence operations. Amnesty International estimates that more than 150 people may have been killed in the protests from August 2015 to date.
Riding on the back of these and other deaths, ‘Biafra’ seems to be getting bolder by the day. It now has two arms of government – the Biafra Government in Exile and the Biafra Shadow Government complete with flag, currency, pirate radio station and even international passport. Its militant wing is fully responsible for most of the violent crimes that make life a hell in the region including intractable armed robbery, arson, trafficking, kidnapping, oil-bunkering and pipeline vandalism. The IPOB is so self-assured in its destructive antics that its leader flagrantly flouted his bail conditions in the people mostly from the safety of his father’s palace in Abia State. This violates a condition for his bail in the trial of treasonable felony he faces at the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Even though both major protagonists of the movement are currently facing trial for treason and sundry crimes against the state and have been in and out of detention severally, Nigeria seems far from a resolution to this nuisance. Protects organised at random across eastern cities by pro-Biafran groups benefit only pick-pockets, robbers, thugs and vandals while leading to the death of innocent by-standers in crossfire. To make matters worse, the various groups seeking independence for Biafra are enmeshed in bitter rivalries that impede not only the success of the venture but the quest for peaceful resolution of the crisis. For instance, on 19 October 2015, Raplh Uwazuruike of the MASSOB declared that the Director of Radio Biafra and leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu does not belong to his movement as he was sacked for indiscipline and inciting violence, among others.
The January 15, 1966 military putsch led by five Igbo officers in which 30 major political leaders from the then Northern and Western Regions including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the defunct Northern Region were killed while President Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Premier of the defunct Eastern Region were spared set the stage for the fear of Igbos by Northerners and Westerners. On 30th May 1967, Col. Emeka Ojukwu, then military governor of the Eastern region declared an independent state of Biafra which existed until January 14, 1970. It took its name from the Bight of Biafra, the Atlantic bay to its south and had headquarters severally at Enugu, Umuahia and lastly at Owerri, now the capital of Imo State. The new ‘nation’ covered less than 10 per cent of Nigeria’s landmass but killed almost three million citizens in the course of its aborted actualisation.
The planned repeat of such a tragedy being championed by IPOB and MASSOB cannot be taken lightly. The groups seem to be well-funded and enjoy the backing of rich political leaders in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. The availability of funds is evident in the organisation’s ability to rent huge crowds for demonstrations all over the region and its sponsorship of a secret radio station with sophisticated broadcast equipment. Analysts also believe IPOB is stocking weapons in preparation for an uprising. Buoyed by all these, the groups have consistently rebuffed dialogue and the peaceful resolution of real or imagined relevance’s. Now, nothing short of a shooting war will be required to stop the secessionists. Clearly, the time has come to let the ‘Biafrans’ go their separate way if it is the only option for averting a second civil war and allowing the rest of the country to face the onerous challenges of nation-building.
A couple of modalities are available for peacefully letting the ‘Biafrans’ have their dream republic. The first option is for the Ndigbo scattered all over the federation, including its political representatives in Abuja to voluntarily return to the ‘homeland’ and remain there to develop the ‘marginalised’ region. With more Igbo in the diaspora than home, the new state should make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the millions of returnees. As with the first attempt, the new Biafrans should not expect to be accommodated in the South-south states of Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Delta, Edo and Rivers.
The second option is for members of the National Assembly from the region to move a motion for a referendum to determine the independence of the planned republic. Fortunately, this option was alluded to by Kanu while speaking to newsmen in his father’s palace at Afaraukwu, Umuahia, Abia State recently. He said the minimum demand of his band of agitators is a referendum to determine the destiny of the Igbo. Of course, this means Ndigbo would require passports and visas to access what is left of Nigeria.
Government must reject the resort to violence by facilitating either of these options. It should also mobilise the international community to let the Biafrans have their way through a democratic process of voting with their feet or in a referendum. This may be necessary because the French ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gauer, in a widely publicized statement said, “We are working with Nigeria and supporting it as the only country. This is absolutely clear and I do not think there is any kind of future for Biafra. They are part of Nigeria and Nigeria has to remain as the only country.”
Zangon Daura wrote this piece from Abuja.