“Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” – Chinua
Achebe In 2005, the late Biafra hero and Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu, saw it coming.
He warned that the continued marginalisation of Ndigbo by the Nigerian state would come at a cost with dire consequences that should better be nipped in the bud.
His position was based on the thesis that the war-weary Igbos were fast exiting the stage and those who had known no war would not understand why they should be second-class Nigerians.
What this columnist witnessed in the South East this yuletide proves right. He tried to see whether there is still some Nigerianness left in the Biafra land. The most auspicious time to survey the fissures in and strains on the Igbo solidarity is during Christmas.
This is when, like chicken, Ndigbo all come home to roost. Christmas time is when it is best to have the old, the young, men, women, and youths concentrate in a place in such high numbers. It’s a time the summary of the year’s activities are brought to the front burner for review and further analysis.
The politics and socio-economic activities of the outgoing year are brought to account in various homes, hamlets, and communities for deliberations before the new year.
Therefore, in trying to look at the Nigeria and Biafra stories from the Igbo perspective, to find out who is a Biafran and who is a Nigerian, the best period to do that study is during the Christmas holidays. Nigeria is supposed to be a dominant variable when put alongside Biafra. Nigeria has been a country since 1914 and an independent nation since 1960. It’s a well-known historical fact that Biafra attempted to break away from Nigeria but couldn’t even after 30 months of brutal civil war.
But 51 years after, the failed bid, the noise of war is still resonating. The man most associated with the Biafra dream, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, is now of the blessed memory, but his name and the Biafra spirit are refusing to die.
Another huge Biafra character who attempted to revive Biafra through the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, a few years ago, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, although still alive, appears to have been overtaken by events. The man of the moment, the new Ojukwu in town, is Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who is leading the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB.
Kanu spent 2021 Christmas in the custody of the Department of State Services, DSS, since he was abducted and brought home from Kenya for trial for his consistent agitation for a Biafran state. He is currently incarcerated and his IPOB platform labelled a terrorist organization and therefore outlawed.
It’s this state of Kanu’s freedom or lack of it, plus the state of insecurity in the South East, that brought Biafra up again to the point of occupying a strategic position in socio-political struggles in the country.
The hullabaloo that greeted the Biafra matter in the outgoing year informs the need to search into the state of these two “nations” of Nigeria and Biafra.
The best time to do it is during Christmas, the period of love and merrymaking. The time when the people are undressed in a mood for truth-telling in a congenial atmosphere. For the Igbo, the Christmas period is a time of reconciliation. When the young and the old are united for Christ’s sake.
This is a period when all parents at home welcome their children with the overwhelming joyful spirit of Christmas. However, something striking was noticed at this year’s Christmas communion among the people of the South East in particular and Ndigbo in general.
The friendliness, the camaraderie that usually greets the festivity, was missing. There was a visible dichotomy between the youths and the old in Biafra over issues of governance and leadership. At every given location, at beer parlours, at motor parks, at village and family gatherings, the division is pronounced over Nigeria and Biafra. The aged and the dying on one side talk and dream of Nigeria while the youths go crazy about Biafra and provocatively put Nigeria in the past. The middle-aged are confused and undecided about which side of the divide to go.
The sound logic of the old about Nigeria and why it should be allowed to endure gets easily drowned in the noisy voices of the youths who would not understand why somebody on the ground should continue to still fear more falls.
The old people in the populace have a lot of disdain for Nnamdi Kanu for compounding the problem of Ndigbo in Nigeria, but they say that in whispers to avoid the dire consequences of airing such views before the vociferous youths who, after God to them, is Kanu. Even parents dare not stand in the way of their children to condemn Kanu for fear of possible violent outcome.
The situation in the South East among the people as noticeable during this Christmas is akin to what you get when a house is divided and the people can no longer stand shoulder to shoulder in unison. It’s at that point that the common enemy finds the ground fertile to get in to germinate more discord.
If, for instance, a referendum is carried out in the South East today over Nigeria and Biafra, the voting pattern will say it all, the under 40 will be resounding in their nay for one Nigeria, the aged, 65 and above, will be loud in their yes vote for Nigeria.
Those in the bracket of 40 to 64 will be undecided depending on their interests. That is what exists in the South East ahead of 2022. The people are visibly polarised along the ageline, the youths are saying to hell with one Nigeria, the aged are sticking to it despite the prevailing pains of a united Nigeria.
The worrisome division among the Igbo populace is beneficial to the common enemies who are in a perpetual bid to keep ndigbo disunited for their continual marginalisation to fester. But there is a strong and disturbing message therein for those familiar with demographic analysis.
If the future belongs to the youths, as they say, it then presupposes that for Ndigbo, the future is about Biafra, not Nigeria. If the parents of today in the South East cannot get their children to go for one Nigeria now, one can imagine what happens when these youths find themselves in a commanding position. Here we are!
At 54 years of age, Kanu who was a toddler all through the civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970 is dictating the direction. His parents who carried him around running from one refugee camp to the other during the war failed woefully to convince him against confronting their oppressors because of the consequences of doing it.
The parents who survived the war and who helped to save the child Kanu from the war even died in the process of a reinvigorated Biafra fight that is led by their son. Kanu and his generation could not understand why their parents should transfer what they suffered to them in the hope of shifting it also to their children, a vicious circle that is indefensible before God.
In summary, therefore, what is noticeable in the South East during this year’s festivity is discomforting and needs urgent deliberate action to stem the tide. Empirically, in the hearts of the majority of the populace, the future belongs to Biafra, not Nigeria. Inside Biafraland, Nigeria and their believers are extinguished from the scene leaving the stage for the Biafra adherents. If you attempt searching for Nigerianness in Biafraland you are likely to find it among the old and the dying.
What this shows is that the people are divided and little effort is being made to address it by the Nigerian state. Instead, what you see is a flickering ember of further division in the hope of keeping the people down. As Nigeria rounds off 2021 and is ready to jump into the new year, the gladiators need to understand clearly the true state of things in this country.
If in truth we desire to retain this incongruous political arrangement of 1914 and remain one Nigeria even as strange bedfellows, we must wear justice and equity as a belt in all our dealings.
To continue running a political arrangement that is not in harmony with common reasoning and just behaviour and expecting to have peace and concord in our land is tantamount to sowing ill-wind and not desiring whirlwind. Searching for Nigeria in Biafraland without addressing the obvious issue of Igbo marginalisation may end up in a fruitless mission.
Telling ourselves the truth entails that Ndigbo deserve the right political accommodation and 2022 is the opportune time. Adieu, 2021. May God help Nigeria