Biafra and the national question, by Ademola Adesolaon

Nigerian flag
Nigerian flag

It does appear that there can be no comforting respite for Nigeria from the largely avoidable multifarious political and socio-economic issues buffeting its humanity. The reason for this grim conclusion cannot be divorced from the balding fact that the country thrives on hurting escapism in different forms, and is as comfortably beholden to the culture of denials in spite of lingeringly rebuking realities just as it is joyously inured to the distasteful habit of producing and electing myopic, dull and drab minds as leaders to occupy sensitive public positions. Nigeria pretends it is a normal nation founded on a viable, sustainable, and tenable foundation. It boldly ignores the National Question and the Political Question (masterfully delineated by Claude Ake) and pretentiously sallies on as if the more than 300 ethnic nationalities which constitute it freely and graciously agreed to cohabitate under one law and system.

Nigeria, the unstable child of Lord Lugard, has not got the good sense to reconstruct itself, boldly engage the burning question of the togetherness or otherwise of its peoples, and redefine itself in a way that it comes up with a national identity and values that give meaning to citizenship. The unnerving lie that Nigeria is a nation founded on sure foundation and so is united, with its peoples determined to live as one, is at the core of the cause of the unending agitations, uprisings, and instabilities that more than the canker-worm of corruption define the country.

The latest of such destabilising convulsions is the renewed quest on the part of the Igbo people of the East to exit from the Nigeria house of cards. The other day it was the Yoruba leaders of thought threatening to secede if the cattle-rearing Fulanis of the North do not quit disturbing the ‘peace’ of the southern Yoruba people. There are also the barbarous minds of the viciously terrifying Islamic sect, Boko Haram, seeking to establish a Caliphate, one which admits no non-Muslims.

The truth is that different happenings since the end of the poorly resolved Civil War in 1970 have continued to call the country’s attention to the unsustainable contradictions in its structure and, more importantly, to the vexatious issue of coexistence among the ethnic nationalities within it. But thus far, the country’s successive leaders’ responses to this structural anomaly have been shallow, ineffectual, unorganised, and misplaced.

With the reintroduced agitation for a Biafran nation, it is our contention that Nigeria is being presented with another superb opportunity to engage more sensibly and maturely the nagging problem of the country’s National Question – the matter of coexistence and the country’s defective structure. The South-North acute dichotomy, which is often evident in matters of appointment to public offices and uneven physical infrastructural development, needs such critical attention that only structured thinking can vouchsafe.

One contends that a truly Sovereign National Conference, one devoid of the asininities of the past ones, is critical to resolving the sore problem of sharp disunity, suspicion and distrust that continue to make lives miserable in the country. The question as to whether the peoples of this country want to be together and on what terms, or that they want to go separately must be pointedly put to them. There is nothing entirely sacrosanct about our borders as we have them today – it can be redrawn. Let no one be mistaken: Nigeria is not a nation! It is a conglomeration of many ethnic nationalities. And until we decide, either through a Sovereign National Conference or a direct referendum, whether we want to stay together or not, it will be good morning to one uprising or another from the different ethnic populations in the country.

We are not against plurality or diversity. To be sure, that has its advantages as we continue to see in many plural societies of the world. But what should be taken into cognisance is the fact that no plural society made up of unhappy, frustrated or unwilling components can enjoy the benefits of diversity. The same is true of a society with defective federal system. Nigeria takes the front seat among countries with unsustainable or wonky federal system. We wish to observe that no country structured on a flawed federal system can harvest the good of federalism when the federating units federate in un-freedom or under duress. If the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and/or the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is unhappy with its state in the Nigerian edifice delicately held together by spittle and so seeks to break off, then the response of the present leaders of Nigeria to that should not be one of force or tough words as was the case in the near past. That will exacerbate the situation and make the country more hobbled.

The Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari must come to the realisation that shooting live bullets as a way of dispersing a people asking to be allowed to find their exit if nothing effective can be done to address their frustration and alienation will never solve the National Question. This is the time for all Nigerians who feel genuinely concerned about the unviable state of the country to intervene and demand a more sensible approach to resolving the troubling problem of coexistence and defective structure in Nigeria. This becomes more compelling in view of the fact that there is a large retinue of unemployed youths in Nigeria who will always be willing recruits for all kinds of violent agitations.

Indeed, pacification, a la colonists’ style, is not the solution. The response of the officers of the Nigerian Police and its Joint Task Force (JTF) component to the Onitsha protest, in which about 10 people were killed, a few weeks ago is evidently and largely colonial. If the country in its structure and system has not been redefined, the police also remain a clear vestige of colonialism. The men and women of the police are neither professional nor do they understand that their loyalty is to the Nigerian Constitution (again a document which weakly sustains the lie that is one Nigeria).

The police regress when the rest of the thinking world is progressively reviewing their systems of policing. The regression of the Nigeria Police accounts for why they disperse protesting crowd with live ammunition. Police officers in Nigeria do not see human beings – they see animals which must be ruthlessly dealt with anytime the interests of the NAPOLEONS appear threatened. Ours is a country where the concept of citizenship and the sacredness of the human life are insufficiently understood. And crucially those are parts of the areas the Sovereign National Conference should address.

While we are very convinced that National Question and all other socio-economic problems are not unsolvable, one is strongly less persuaded that President Buhari has what it takes to ingenuously design an effective solution to the problems. President Buhari’s appreciation of the country’s Byzantine complexities appears superficial. Concerned people of this country must intervene to ensure that the Federal Government under President Buhari initiate an effective, non-combative response to the hot potato that is the unfolding Biafra tension.

Ademola writes from Bodija, Oyo State. (Source: The Nation)

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