Biafra: The Task Before Buhari
NIGERIA, being a plural, heterogeneous society, with diverse cultural and religious beliefs, has not been fully united as nation, the hypocritical slogan of “One Nigeria” notwithstanding. The political elite has failed woefully over the years in carrying out the duty of nation-building. Their ill-advised actions and utterances have often widened the gulf of incompatibility and irreconcilability of the disparate peoples that make up Nigeria.
We are yet to have broad-minded, nation-builders who can address the observed cleavages and discontents within the polity and weld the diverse peoples into a homogenous corporate entity characterised by justice and equity. The last National Confab report, if implemented, will be a step in the right direction towards nation-building.
At different times, each of the component units of Southern Nigeria, namely, the Southwest, Southeast and South-south, had threatened to secede from Nigeria. It all started with peaceful protests over perceived wrongs, which the government either ignored or responded with a military crackdown. Consequently, what started as mere smoke smouldered into a conflagration that nearly consumed the whole country, leaving unnumbered casualties in its trail.
The Nigerian State has demonstrated lack of skill in handling and resolving popular discontents without resort to brute force. When bottled-up discontents are not properly ventilated and addressed, the aggrieved citizens’ patriotism and unalloyed loyalty cannot be guaranteed. The Biafran saga will be a litmus test for the Buhari Administration.
The resurgence of the agitation for Biafra is a reaction to long-standing injustices, discriminatory policies, deliberate exclusion of the Southeast from critical power structures by successive post-war administrations, except, perhaps, Jonathan’s. Frankly speaking, all the Igbo people, at home and in the Diaspora, both old and young, feel shortchanged and alienated about their place in the Nigeria project.
This feeling of anomie rose to a boiling point when President Buhari deliberately and unapologetically excluded the whole Southeast region in his initial critical political appointments. No other zone was so treated. Even the South-south, which is at par with the Southeast in terms of support for APC, benefited from the initial appointments. The Southeasterners rightly interpreted that action as a continuation of the official persecution against the Igbo which had its origin in the post-war military regimes of which Buhari was a major player.
President Buhari and his handlers could not convince the people otherwise. That was the psychological climate when Nnamdi Kanu, the director of the pirate Radio Biafra and the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, was arrested and detained. His detention sparked off a groundswell of protests among the youths in both Southeast and South-south regions, not only for his release but also for secession. Though there had been clamour for Biafra by MASSOB before now, the agitation is now more vociferous and rancorous, albeit non-violent.
Having contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria, the Igbo question could be addressed through dialogue with other compatriots.
A Biblical parallel could be cited. When King Solomon of Israel died, his son Rehoboam succeeded him. Some tribes of Israel requested the new king to lighten the crushing tax burden and forced labour occasioned by the large-scale public works under his late father, and they would serve him loyally. The elderly palace counselors advised the king to humbly admit the validity of the people’s grievances and speak comfortably to them in order to gain their loyalty.
The king rejected the elders’ counsel and listened to hotheads who advised him to maintain a tough, threatening stance and refuse to look into the people’s grievances. He said to them, “And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges.” (1Kgs 12: 11).
Angered by the king’s refusal to address their grievances, ten tribes broke away from the kingdom leaving only two tribes. The threat of civil war could not bring them back. God is always on the side of the oppressed. That was how the great nation of Israel disintegrated. If the king had addressed their grievances, the unity of the kingdom would have been maintained.
Mr. President should not listen to hawks who advise him to wield a big stick against the agitators. He should listen to voices of conscience who call for dialogue and caution. With the seething tension in parts of the country now, application of force will have an unintended effect. The Bible says, soft answer turns away wrath but grievous words stir it up. One sincere, reassuring and conciliatory statement from a leader can gain genuine loyalty which a million gunshots cannot.
The Igbo leaders should not be mealy–mouthed but should boldly present their accumulated grievances and suggest the way forward. It is better to be in one united Nigeria if justice and equity are guaranteed to all component parts. They should also secure the release of Nnamdi Kanu and other Biafran protesters and persuade them to sheathe their swords. The Biafran agitators should understand that a nation cannot be formed on the spur of the moment or in a fit of fury. It is a long-term strategic plan.
• Rev. Francis Ujunwa Simeon is General Overseer, Bible Wisdom Ministries International, Lagos.