Dear sir, I hope this letter meets you in good health. This is important considering what I guess may have been your ordeal as a guest of the Department of Security Services. Going by the antecedents of Nigeria’s secret police, I believe as they say in this clime that with the court judgment, God is keeping you alive and well enough to be given an opportunity to reflect on the first phase of your struggle even as you look into the future which is the subject of my letter to you. For you and your inner circle friends, this must not be a time for chest-thumping and talking tough.
This moment calls for deep reflection and soul-searching. It must be a time to be away from the maddening crowd and have a reflective assessment of the first phase of the struggle. For the records, let me state that I first became aware of your agitation, and have listened to Radio Biafra, since early 2013. But this will be my first public intervention since your arrest and incarceration in October sparked worldwide protests. It may not be the last as our country continues to debate the broader issues of citizenship, marginalisation, and nationhood and of course, the Biafran question which you have now become a villainous hero, depending on whose side of the divide one is.
I have critically observed the agitation of your separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, and its mouth piece, Radio Biafra. Let me first congratulate you on your unconditional release even as the DSS is still said to be holding on to you in violation of the court order. That to me is unacceptable. I know your supporters may criticise me for congratulating you because they said you should not have been arrested in the first place. But that is beside the point because, for whatever reason, the Nigerian government considered you enough threat for arrest.
Why do I congratulate you? I do so because it could have been worse. Anything could have happened to you. I know your supporters had threatened about your safety. But knowing Nigerians for who they are, if anything untoward had happened, they would still have moved on with their lives. Throughout your time in detention, I had nursed a silent fear of the unknown. Knowing what had happened to those Nigerians who had nursed one grievance or the other with the powerful Nigerian state, there was cause to fear. I am talking here of compatriots like Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Muhammed Yusuf and many others.
Without taking anything away from your cause, the context of your struggles remains the same. All these Nigerians had had an axe to grind with the establishment. But a common outcome that I had feared was that so many compatriots have been consumed by the powerful Nigerian state. I wanted you to live to have the opportunity to re-assess your campaign and engagement with Nigeria. Let me strongly declare here that I empathise with your struggle. But I have a problem with and reject your strategy for achieving Biafra. Much as I sympathise with your cause, I do not think the Biafran question can be in isolation of other agitations and grievances which other ethnic groups have held against this lopsided federation and the entrenched interests that have foisted a culture of injustice on Nigerians. If you look closely, you will know that Nigeria as a nation has not been fair to her citizens. Nigeria has been a country built on false nationhood since the amalgamation of 1914. While every ethnic group has legitimate reasons to be angry with Nigeria, I still do not believe breaking up in the manner you are advocating should be the solution.
In my humble view, taking up arms against Nigeria or preaching hate against other tribes is misplaced aggression when we all know the enemy is the rapacious elite who transcend ethnic and religious lines. The Nigerian state may have been repressive and retrogressive, but breaking up or engaging in violence will never end the injustice even in the utopian republic we all aspire to create outside of Nigeria. If I may ask you sir, which zone is not marginalised today in Nigeria? Even the North’s perceived power privilege has brought nothing to its people but the worst development indices ever known to mankind. Everywhere one turns, injustice pervades the land. The small ethnic groups feel oppressed by the larger groups. If you look closely too, even in the big three ethnic groups, the sub groups within them feel emasculated. In the realm of religion, there will never be an end to mutual suspicion by the dominant faiths. What then do we do? If we must break up this country on these fault lines, there will never be an end to the balkanisation.
Rather than agitate to balkanise the country, we should all work to end the vicious grip of the elite who exploit our differences to plunder our commonwealth. Did you notice how the $2.1bn arms deal from the Abacha loot was shared among the elite? Did ethnicity and religion come into play when sharing the national cake? This they have done since Independence. Unfortunately, by promoting xenophobia, you too have fallen into the same old stereotype. In your campaign, you whip up ethnic hate and seek to pitch ordinary Nigerians against one another. You need to see how your campaigns have widened and created mistrust among the youths on social media.
But the average Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo eking out a living from Daura to Osogbo and Nnewi are not the problem. Unfortunately, your utterances on Radio Biafra are xenophobic. They encourage ethnic hate. You must therefore change strategy. Dear Sir, your cause is legitimate but hurling ethnic slurs at other ethnic groups and the leaders of the nation de-legitimises your cause and puts liberals like me off. Advocating violence of any kind is counterproductive. Did Plato not write that “only the dead have seen the end of war”? If war breaks out today, those who will suffer remain the vulnerable children, women and the elderly. Those who died in the IPOB protests are not the children of the elite.
We must learn from history. Like you, I was born after the Nigerian Civil War but I know enough of our recent history where to direct my anger. Unfortunately, a growing generation of youths following you who did not experience Biafra are being fed with the single story and run away with your message now see other Nigerians as their enemy. I will advise that you use the next phase of your struggle to re-engage the Nigerian state in matters of fairness, justice, equity and fiscal federalism not just for Igbo but the Nigerian nation. In the next phase, with your huge following, you are better placed to ask Igbo elite hard questions. You can be a real hero who has rediscovered himself. If you must continue the agitation for Biafra, it must be on constructive engagement with the stakeholders that can make the dream a reality. Let it be in accordance with the charters on self-determination which do not include hate preaching, violence and xenophobia. Wishing you all the best.
Follow me on Twitter: @bayoolupohunda (Punch)