I thought I have said all I needed to say on Biafra, but the recent pro-Biafra demonstration following the arrest of Radio Biafra owner, and the highhanded and disproportionate response of the Federal Government of Nigeria has forced me to revisit the issue.
I am Igbo and I make no apologies for my views about Nigeria. I am also first and foremost a human being. I love and cherish my Igbo and Nigerian identities, and would never exchange nor deny them.
However, my human identity surpasses my ethnic or national identities. I cannot support Igbos or Nigerians, if they are, being unfair, unreasonable, dishonest or violating fundamental rights of other human beings, irrespective of what I think of their victims and or their ethnic and religious identities because my loyalty is first and foremost to my humanity. The value I put on my human identity is greater than my ethnic and or national identities. I learnt from the Bible that God made then many nations of one blood.
Therefore, looking at the Nigerian dilemma, I do not see the solution in ethnic nationalism of the type being agitated for by those who want Nigeria to break into its ethnic nations. This is for the additional reason that the Nigerian problem is a human problem, which will follow any ethnic nation, which seceded from Nigeria, if a human solution is not first found within Nigeria. Corruption, prejudice, ignorance, disregard of the rule of law and violation of human rights are not ethnic problems. Therefore, why should the solution reside in breaking up of Nigeria?
There is no doubt that Igbos have genuine grievance against the Nigerian government. We have been systematically discriminated against and marginalised by successive Nigerian governments. Igbo land have been deliberately denied investments that would enhance its economic take off. Existing investments in Igbo land have been deliberately run down by the refusal of the successive Federal Government of Nigeria, including that of Goodluck Jonathan, to make the infrastructure investment necessary for their survival.
The old Imo State is the only state in Nigeria that built its own airport from the contributions of the people. The Enugu, Calabar and Port Harcourt airports have been deliberately downgraded by denying them the type of status and investment Lagos, Kano and Abuja airports have enjoyed.
When Obasanjo was elected president in 1999, his first policy was to close Calabar and Port Harcourt seaports, thereby forcing the ports to be rundown so that only the Lagos seaport can function.
Aba/Ikot Ekpene road is a federal highway connecting the people of Cross River and Akwa Ibom to Igboland and to Lagos. For the past 30 years, successive Nigerian governments, including that of Goodluck Jonathan have refused to rehabilitate the road because it would benefit Igbo States.
The Obasanjo’s administration created a Niger Delta Ministry, whose main job was to build roads that alienated Igboland. They built East-West road that connects Akwa Ibom to Abuja and the A121 Highway that connects Akwa Ibom State to Lagos. The Nigerian government has money to build news roads outside Igbo speaking areas, but allow federal roads in Igboland to decay.
On Tuesday, 21st October 2015, President Buhari performed groundbreaking ceremony in Calabar to build a 268 kilometre superhighway connecting Calabar-Ikom-Kastina-Ala, that would not connect the Igbo States.
There is no attempt by the Federal Government of Nigeria at even development and this is rightly seen as unfair by Igbos.
In many states of Nigeria like Lagos and Ondo, Igbo traders are subjected to punitive and discriminatory taxes. We recently experienced the closing down of the Mushin market built by Igbos, deportation of Igbos from Lagos, the threat by Oba of Lagos to throw Igbos into the lagoon, Dr Abraham Ariyo asking his friend, when the killing of Igbos in Lagos will begin and the latest economic discrimination against Igbos in Ondo state by imposition of a punitive and discriminatory tax on their businesses.
Igbos are often treated as aliens in their own country. Since independence there has been pogroms against them in North Nigeria. Boundaries of Igbo States were redrawn and oil wells belonging to Igbo States ceded to non-Igbo speaking States and the Igbo names of the towns and villages changed. For instance, in Rivers state Obi Igbo became Oruigbo and Umukrusu (children of Krusu) became Rumukrusu all in effort to marginalise Igbos.
The 2004 World Bank record of the list of loans Nigeria had taken shows that since 1958, 96% of the loans were used for projects in the Northern Nigeria,3% went for projects in Yoruba Land and only 1% was spent on a project in Igbo States. Not surprising, the Central Bank of Nigeria has different figures from World Bank. Furthermore, it is estimated that over $5 billion of those loans were still with the World Bank and never made it to Nigeria.
Since Nigeria’s independence from Britain, the Federal Government of Nigeria has been under-counting Igbos and Yoruba population to the benefit of the Hausas and Fulanis. Even though Igbos are everywhere in Nigeria, they are given a figure that is almost half of their real population. The fact is that Igbos make up a far significant population of Nigeria than the Federal Government is ready to admit. East Nigeria is among the most densely populated part of the world and the region has very high birth rate. The list of the grievances of Igbos is endless and these are the reasons why many have decided that their future lies in Biafra.
It would therefore be a monumental mistake and lost opportunity, for the Federal Government to think that it can suppress the right and legitimate aspiration of Igbos not be discriminated against and live free in their own country.
Therefore, I condemn in the strongest of terms, the use of security agencies and the abuse of the law by the Federal Republic of Nigeria to criminalise those who are going about their self-determination in a peaceful and democratic ways. I call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to release Nnamdi Kanu and all the others protesters in its custody immediately as they are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned because of their political views and convictions. The Federal Government of Nigeria must realise that those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable.
If the Federal Government of Nigeria is honest and interested in finding lasting solution to the Igbo/ Biafra problem, it can start by addressing the reasons for the agitation by scraping its vindictive and discriminatory policy towards Igboland and pursuing a policy of even development. This is what an honest and sincere government without any hidden sectarian objectives would do under the circumstance.
An honest and sincere government under similar circumstances would consider the following:
- Granting Enugu, Calabar and Port Harcourt airports the same status and freedom Lagos, Abuja and Kano airports enjoy.
- Granting Port Harcourt and Calabar seaports the same status as Lagos Apapa seaport and allowing the seaports to compete for business.
- Start the rebuilding of federal roads in Igbo land. In particular the Aba/Ikot Ekpene and Port Harcourt, Aba/Enugu expressway.
- Building a second Nigeria Bridge without PPI.
- Reassuring Igbos and apologising for past discriminations and neglect.
These measures would go a long way to reassure Igbos and reduce the support for Biafria. There are not unreasonable demands and if met will greatly benefit the Nigerian economy and security.
If the Federal Government of Nigeria continues to refuse to address the reasons for the agitation for Biafra, Igbos must consider the following:
- Igbos with investments in other parts of Nigeria should begin to repatriate them and relocate to East Nigeria. This would force a reasonable government to take notice and address our grievances. It would also offer opportunity for Igbos to reach a new understanding and settlement with their host communities that would end the discrimination of Igbos. The government will have no reason to arrest Igbos for disinvesting and relocating to the east. Reasonable people vote with their feet under the circumstance Igbos are enduring in Nigeria.
- Igbos should consider economic sanctions like, stopping eating cow meat and eating only chicken, until the just demands are met.
- A representative committee of Igbos with the aim of developing the political strategy for independence should be set up by Ohaneze immediately.
- A legal task force with funding should be set up to fight for anybody arrested as a result of peaceful protest for the actualisation of independent Igbo nation. No fight for freedom will be successful, if the foot soldier are not taken care of. At recent trial of some MASSOB members, not a single Igbo lawyer was present, the group was represented by a kindhearted and brave Yoruba lawyer who was angry at the abuse of their human rights. No Igbo politician at moment is fighting for justice for the victims of Ezu River murder and many other victims of the struggle to end discrimination and marginalisation of Igbos in Nigeria. No Igbo leader or politician seems concerned that 90% of street traders in Lagos, Port Harcourt and in many cities in Nigeria are Igbo youth. No current Igbo politician is speaking out against the marginalisation and discrimination of Igbos. This is as sad as it is lamentable.
- Henceforth, Igbos should ensure that they only vote for political parties that recognises their right to self-determination, promise to do something about is and the discrimination and marginalisation we are enduring. Igbos should ensure that only candidates from such parties are voted in as members of Senate, House of Representatives, State House of Assembly and governors. This will give the political momentum for the conduct of a referendum in Igboland which will give real legitimacy to the struggle for independence. This is one way of fighting for independence lawful through political process. It would need vulnerable people to risk their lives in ill thought out protests.
Without these measures, those who are exploiting the Biafra franchise for personal gains, will continue to grab the headlines and derail the genuine aspiration of Igbos to be free and live without discrimination. The current strategy by MASSOB and Radio Biafra is like starring the beehive, without the means to harvest the honey. In such situation, one would only end up with bee stings.
Igbos need a political organisation to articulate the effort of all, to address our genuine grievances within Nigeria or work for independence through none violent political means. No one should be expected to accept and live with injustice. Enough is enough.
- E. O. Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind. (Originally published by Nigeriaworld.com)