Nigeria or Biafra, where do I belong?, by Steve Nwosu

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NorthernNigeriaMapI wonder if there is any Igbo man as uncomfortable as I am, every time Nigerians withdraw into their ethnic enclaves and begin to throw punches at other groups.

It is just not because while my Igbo brothers head Eastward, to reunite with their kith and kin at Christmas, my first instinct is always to head in the direction of Kwara. I actually ask myself; which direction would my wife and children be heading to, in the event of the actualisation of Biafra? Or Oduduwa Republic? What about Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe? My brother, Ikeddy Isiguzo? My friend, Sola Balogun whose in-laws are from Anioma? And even my MD, Eric Osagie? And then, there is Abdulmuminu (whom my wife calls Yar’Adua), in whose custody we always felt the keys to my house were safest – more than any blood relation of my wife and I.

We’re all caught in the middle. And there are several million others trapped in this bracket. So, do we ask for our own republic too?

Why are so many of us increasingly finding it difficult to understand that we all stand to benefit more in a strong united Nigeria?

I became even more uncomfortable in the past two weeks, with the emergence of the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) and the arrest of a certain Nnamdi Kanu. Suddenly MASSOB has become a child’s play and every passing day since last week, has witnessed one massive protest in the South East and some South South states.

On Sunday, I woke up to a horrendous noise in Enugu. The obviously co-ordinated protests of the IPOB had arrived the Coal City. Thankfully, it was peaceful. But the crowd was frighteningly huge.

The previous day, the protesters had literally locked down Awka, Anambra State. In fact, I and a few colleagues, who had gone for the burial of Ikenna Emewu’s mother in Ebonyi State, narrowly missed being caught up in Afikpo, where there was also a demonstration.

A day earlier (on Friday), two of my colleagues who were coming for the same burial had got caught up around the Niger Bridge in Asaba for nearly four hours. Their offence (as leveled by the IPOB protesters) was that they were coming into Biafran territory from Nigeria (a totally different country!) without valid visas and international passports. None of the protesters cared to know that the two ‘detainees’ were both from Ebonyi State – in fact one was a Nwosu, and the other an Umahi. It was a harrowing experience. After Enugu, the protest moved to Aba, Abia State. And there have been skirmishes in Imo, home state of Ralph Uwazuruike, the leader of MASSOB. South East is on the boil, but like those of us down south sometimes think Boko Haram insurgency is happening in some foreign country, the rest of the country does not seem to be taking note.

And the politicians? Their reactions have remained the same template: Ignore the protests. It is the same way we ignored the deliberate politicisation of Shariah (which we have hitherto happily lived with all these past years, without any problem, until politics crept into it at the onset of civil rule in 1999). The same way we ignored Boko Haram, until it became the monster we have on our hands today. The same way we ignored Niger Delta militancy until it nearly crippled the nation’s economy.

Rather than attempt to address the nagging issues that give rise to many of these mindless agitations, we are busy playing politics. Some say it would not have happened if Jonathan had won last March’s presidential election, that IPOB is the Igbo’s way of also making Nigeria ungovernable for Buhari. They have chosen to ignore the numerous protests MASSOB held during Jonathan’s administration. They have even forgotten that it was under Jonathan that a breakaway faction, called the Biafran Zionist Movement, attempted to take over the government house in Enugu. They have chosen to forget the many MASSOB members who were in detention under Jonathan. All they seem to remember is that MASSOB (in fact, a faction of MASSOB) supported Jonathan and Jonathan lost the election. Nobody seems to remember that Ohanaeze Ndigbo was literally factionalised ahead of the polls – and that while one group went for Buhari, the other went for Jonathan. The story today is that the Igbo did not want Buhari (even when it’s their constitutional right not to want him) and, therefore, the Igbo must be made to suffer by the Buhari government for daring to vote against him (even when this is in breach of the Constitution).

But nobody seems to care. All the those who think they are politically correct in the new order seem to be encouraging Buhari to ignore a very serious matter: That the collapse of the national economy may actually be worst in the South East. That the army of unemployed youths (I mean those really willing to work) is highest in the zone. That the zone has the highest number of failed federal roads – and probably the least federal presence. That the zone was, at a point, curiously taken out of the national gas masterplan. That kidnapping and armed robbery, which seem to be highest in the zone are of concern to both the rich and the poor. That there are no social safety nets for anybody anywhere – not just the south east, and that the new government needs to do something fast to breathe life back into the economy, keep people more gainfully engaged and put money in people’s pockets.

Now, this is not making a case for the N5,000 monthly stipend that the PDP government promised to pay every unemployed youth during the last campaign. If that government sincerely thought so caringly about the unemployed, it would either have started this payment long ago or, at least, provided for it in current budget it imposed on Buhari. So, it was just mere campaign idle talk, which the PDP had no plan of fulfilling. Therefore, I’m not expecting the APC government to pay either, irrespective of whatever politics the PDP wants to play with it. It’s unrealistic for now.

My grouse is this body language that seems to tell the Igbo that they are not part of this government and should, therefore, not expect anything from it. Winner takes all!

Why can’t those in power understand that every ethnic group, no matter how little, or politically dis- advantaged they may be in any given dispensation, should not be taken for granted? The IPOB/MASSOB agitation, if you ask me, is for equity, not even equality. It predates Buhari. And it will outlive Buhari, unless he does something drastic to address it. Yes, many of the protesters can’t even comprehend the enormity of what they’re getting into, beyond the fact that they have no jobs, can’t go to school, can’t get a roof over their heads, can’t afford one good meal a day and, on top of that, can’t sleep with both eyes closed. Nigeria is not giving them any of these, and they falsely believe Biafra would give it to them. Unfortunately, they can’t be more wrong. Every one of us, indigenes, nonindigenes, settlers, foreigners and all are better off in a united Nigeria. It is just that Nigeria must continue to give them this reassurance, not only in words, but in deeds. (Daily Sun)

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