Following the arrest of some Nigerians demonstrating for the resuscitation of sovereign state of Biafra, Britain is back at its pastime of trying to steal the show with its claim of what it called its civil war time record of preserving the sanctity of Nigeria’s national borders. Certainly with its latest action, Britain is still exhibiting the mentality of the 1885 Berlin Conference of land grabbers in Africa. Unfortunately, Britain’s civil war time record of purportedly preserving Nigeria’s national border was discredited at that time and even now.
Obviously, only for its self-serving economic and political interests, Britain will ever muddle Nigeria’s political problems to further relics of its political past. Otherwise, why did Britain not preserve the sanctity of the national borders of the federation of Malaysia and Singapore? On the contrary, Britain granted independence to the two countries as separate nations. Similarly, why did Britain not preserve the sanctity of the national border of the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland? Remarkably, Britain carved out three separate independent countries, namely northern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe)’ southern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia) and Nyasaland (now known as Malawi). Britain’s record of experimenting with federal form of government in its colonial territories collapsed all over. West Indies federation broke into sovereign Jamaica and Trinidad-Tobago. Even the federation of small islands, like St. Kitts-Anguilla broke into separate independent nations and are today, all members of Commonwealth and United Nations.
In flaunting its so-called record of preserving Nigerian national border, Britain is engaging in diplomatic fraud. After Nigeria’s civil war, what was Britain’s record on preservation of national borders in Africa and other parts of the world? Was Britain not a major party to the enunciation of the United Nation’s principle of self-determination for citizens all over the world? Did Britain not spearhead the break-up of Sudan into two independent nations of Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan through United Nation’s principle of self-determination? Did Britain not support the break-up of erstwhile Ethiopia into the current two independent nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea through the United Nations principle of self-determination? What therefore, is peculiar in Nigeria to make its good or bad prospects a matter of life or death for Britain? Whether Nigeria will or should break up or not will and should be the mutual agreement of its various peoples but surely NOT in any way a choice for Britain. This intruder should, therefore, shut up and keep off.
By the way, Britain was delighted at the break-up of its powerful rival, Soviet Union into more than 20 separate independent republics, the most outstanding of which is today’s Russia. Noticeably, Britain, the self-proclaimed armed guard of national borders of nations like Nigeria, was laughably helpless when Russia invaded Ukraine to enforce the secession of Crimea, which is now a Russian protectorate. Ukraine was formerly a part of the defunct Soviet Union.
There is a wrong message about Biafra. At the mere mention of that entity, the mind goes straight to the unsuccessful attempt of the defunct eastern region of Nigeria to secede. We do not seem to have learnt any lesson from the war, an arrogance, which, therefore, exhibits contempt and threat of government might to crush any protest, which even if genuine, is instantly perceived as an attempt to repeat the war exercise. Hopefully, we will not go that way again. And the lesson of the war is that government at the state and federal levels must look into community complaints and provide remedy instead of throwing its weight of federal/state might about.
Rather surreptitiously, Biafra is no longer identifiable with only secession of South East from Nigeria. Instead, Biafra has become a figure of expression of whatever grievances of groups or sections all over the country. During his tenure as elected president, Olusegun Obasanjo said he was serving Nigeria and not Yorubaland.
Accordingly, for eight years, South West was not developed. None of Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Sagamu-Benin expressway, Lagos Abeokuta road or Ibadan-Ife road was touched. South westerners went Biafran and publicly expressed their determination to walk out of the Nigerian federation if their political demands at national conference organised by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan were not met. And only recently, some south westerners led by former military governor of Oyo State, General Adeyinka Adebayo, threatened to reconsider their continued stay in the Nigerian federation if kidnapping and menace of cattle rearers were not checked in South West. That was not a threat to the sanctity of Nigeria’s national borders?
At a critical stage of the constitutional crisis on succeeding ailing the late President Umar Yar’Adua, Ijaw leader Edwin Clark went on record that “…..we will secede if our son (Goodluck Jonathan) is not sworn in as President.”
The North under President Jonathan, lamented loss of political power and demanded return of the presidency to the North, failing which Tanko Yakasai went Biafran by threatening to make Nigeria ungovernable. Has Nigeria been governable since then? An acceptable form of secession threat? During the same Jonathan national political conference, a delegate/emir from Adamawa State threatened to break away with his kingdom to rejoin his ethnic group in Cameroon.
Neither is Nigeria the only country facing prospects of disintegration. Britain is not more secure. But the difference is that instead of threat or actual use of force, dialogue and remedy are provided for seeming group or community grievances. United Nations’ principle of self-determination applies all over the world, contrary to the bogey of sanctity of national borders with which Britain is terrorising Nigerians. When Britain was threatened with disintegration, the response of the central authorities in London, even if in panic, was to grant substantial political autonomy to Wales and Scotland. Even then, Scotland insisted on complete independence from Britain and two years ago, only narrowly lost a referendum to that effect. Scotland unilaterally organised its referendum instead of waiting for Britain’s grace. In any case, the leader of Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, only a few weeks ago, defied the British government with assurances that the struggle for Britain’s disintegration leading to Scotland’s independence was not yet over. Why did Britain not arrogantly proclaim the sanctity of its national borders or arrest the Scottish leader, Nicola Sturgeon?
However, there is this caution for both sides of the Biafra controversy. None of the agitators or demonstrators is up to 50 years and all don’t have the faintest idea of the agonies of the war, which broke out 48 years ago. No Nigerian over 50 years would dream of another war. In a war, only eventual survivors are sure of their survival. Otherwise, as long as the war continues, nobody is sure of the other’s survival. Even sometimes, enemies on one side will develop sympathy for the plight of enemies on the other side. That is at a most humane stage of a war. Otherwise, in a war, orphans will emerge if they are lucky. Otherwise, they would have perished with mums and dads. Widows and widowers are inevitable products of war and burdens on remnant families. War, you don’t wish it for your enemy. Your elimination may even be necessary for the survival of your war front comrade. There is never any witness to that sad fact. War? Think it over. Major Roberts was an army officer in mufti, on a visit to Apapa wharf, a high security area early in the war. Argument ensued but was not quick enough to justify his presence in the area. Within seconds, he was shot dead. That was the standing instruction. The deceased officer did not die in action and was felled by who would pass for one of his boys. Casino cinema, Yaba was some 200 kilometres to the nearest war front in Benin, Edo State. Yet there was fatal bombing by agents of the enemy, leaving victims among the innocent cinema enthusiasts.
Restless potential prosecutors of another civil war must face the fact that unlike last time, there are observers, international observers to, from their home countries, enforce rules of civilised engagements. These days, you may not escape charges for crimes against humanity. And to perfect such criminal charges, satellite television will beam over all military operations. Also note that national borders of countries are no longer considered sacrosanct or inviolate to offer a basis for denying subjects their right to self-determination. Are countries not, therefore, not rendered vulnerable to balkanisation? Which country will, therefore, be safe from disintegration? The simple response is that even the so-called Balkans of old have self-balkanised. Yugoslavia, yesteryear beacon against disintegration, since broke up into various new independent nations of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia, among others. Evwn Czechoslovakia of old also broke into Czech and Slovak. Heavens did not fall as all the new countries enjoy mutual respect.
Instead of arrests and trials of Biafran protesters, Nigeria can learn from Britain by removing possible areas of grievances of the protesting Biafrans. a major cause of their grievances is unequal access to development. This is not to say that President Muhammadu Buhari, or only his administration is responsible for the causes of the agitation of the Biafrans. South easterners were most profound in supporting Obasanjo, even when South West rejected him. For eight years, nothing was done on the poor infrastructure, specifically roads in South East. Jonathan was in power for six years with the solid support of South East. The massive support for Jonathan from that area yielded no slight improvement in the state of their roads. And, of course, the promised second Niger Bridge is still being awaited. Former Vice President Alex Ekwueme was in power for four years and South East leaders quarrelled among themselves on which government – federal or state – was to construct or reconstruct particular roads because such roads were not federal roads. Looking back today, what would it have mattered if the Federal Government of that time constructed even local government roads in South East?
On the other hand, whether federal or state roads, Obasanjo did not touch a single road in South West throughout his tenure of eight years, for which he is much detested. South easterners are, therefore, partly responsible for lack of access to road development. They had opportunities to utilise their votes against those responsible for infrastructural decay in South East. Instead, for no purpose, they voted for their oppressors. Yet, that does not mean the infrastructural decay in South East should not be redressed. To leave the situation unredressed is to provide ammunition for intensifying the capability of the protesters. On the other hand, massive rehabilitation of roads in South East will enable Federal Government to easily outflank the Biafran protesters. We must face the fact that any part of Nigeria – South West, North West, North East or North – with state of infrastructural degradation as in South East will always breed Biafran agitators.
On his part, Senator Shehu Sani sounded unusually cheap when he falsely accused south easterners who did not support Buhari for the presidency as sponsors of the Biafran agitators. These Biafrans demonstrated against former President Obasanjo, the late President Yar’Adua and ex-President Jonathan during their respective tenure. Were the Biafran agitators also sponsored by those who were against the presidency of these former leaders?
Nigerian government must not swallow the bait of the British government on a nebulous sanctity of our national borders. The government should not be tempted to engage in forceful clampdown on the demonstrators, which will only generate political tension and turn the boys into heroes. Areas of grievances of the protesters should be looked into and redressed, especially the roads. Fortunately, the Senate Adhoc Committee on Works headed by Barnabas Gemade has just completed an inspection tour of roads throughout the South East. The report of the findings on the scale of erosion in South East, as shown on television, will shock President Buhari.
- Onabule, former spokesman to the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, is a columnist for Daily Sun