Behind the agitation for Biafra
I commend the Editorial Board of The Guardian for your Editorial of Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, titled: ‘The agitation of Biafra’ which brought the issue of the Biafra protests to limelight, even when many other institutions that have the capacity of providing a platform for a meaningful discourse on the matter shy away from that responsibility. While I agree with some of the assertions in the editorial,
I am of the view that this editorial trivialised the cause of the agitation – the marginalisation of the southeastern region of the country – to borrow the words of Col. Joseph Achuzie, in general and the political subjection of the Igbo race in particular.
It paid little attention to how we came here – from one-third to five of 36 (one-seventh) within 30 years, courtesy of mere fiats from dictators of northern extraction. These fiats were never done with any positive consideration of the Igbo race.
Ever since the civil war, the government of Nigeria has maintained a belligerent posture against the southeastern region, only acquiescing it just what it thinks would enable it hold down the Igbo agitation. If we excuse all that happened during the war as part of the war, what can anyone say of various Nigerian policies since the end of the war?
At the end of the war, the government of Gowon exchanged the deposits of Igbos in the banks prior to the war for not more than twenty pounds per depositor. Also in pursuance of the administration’s reconstruction agenda, Gowon did his work in Lagos despite the fact that the war was fought in the Eastern region.
Another area to look at is the creation of states – from the four regions of Eastern, Mid-Western, Northern, Southern in 1963, to 12 states 1967 by General Yakubu Gowon; to 19 states in 1976 by General Murtala Muhammed; to 21 states in 1987 and 30 states in 1991, by General Ibrahim Babangida, and to 36 states in 1996 by Gen Sani Abacha? In the current composition, the North has 19 states representing 52.7 per cent; the then Eastern has nine or 25 per cent, the then Southern has six or 16.6 per cent and the then Mid-Western has two or 5.5 per cent. Senatorial constituencies, which are allotted three to each state, further shows the skewed power structure in favour of the Northern region.
A look at the creation of the six geopolitical regions of the country, another political structure that is used in distributing the country’s commonwealth further shows the marginalisation of the southeastern region to the benefit of the North. The six geopolitical regions were distributed three to the then North, one to the then South, one for the then Mid-West and a part of the then East, and one for the then East. The same scenario is played out in the creation of local governments areas (LGAs) in Nigeria, which were also arbitrarily done by the same dictators. Of the 774 LGAs, the then Eastern Region has 24.9 per cent, Mid-Western has 5.5 per cent, Southern has 17 per cent, and the North has 51.8 per cent.
Like the allocation of resources in Nigeria, the allocation of opportunities is also along this flawed structure. Most people from the then Biafra lost years of schooling as a result of the war that was fought on its territory but the Nigerian government did nothing to cushion the effect of this loss. It instead promulgated the federal character policy that supposedly intended to give equal opportunities to the states arbitrarily created by the northerners as against the constitutionally created regions.
To further underscore the ulterior motive for this promulgation, the political office holders, who have been predominantly north, pick and choose when to apply this policy so that the North becomes the major beneficiaries. They apply it in academic, and not in job, opportunities. A case in point is that apart from the fact that no person from the Southeast occupies any of the five major political seats in the country, it does not have a seat in the first 35 appointments made by President Buhari.
Prior to these appointments, Buhari had hinted on his anti-Southeast stance as he promised to favour only the regions that massively voted for him, using the commonwealth, hugely generated from the Southeast. And to further justify the Buhari’s stance, John Odigie-Oyegun, the national chairman of the APC condemned the Southeast region for voting the candidate of their choice, saying that they committed a political blunder “putting all their eggs in one basket”. The Southeast still await Buhari and Oyegun to explain if Buhari is the president of only those regions who voted for him.
In the meantime, the exploited people ask to be allowed to go to where they will be better treated. They organised themselves and conducted themselves in a manner that should be commended, doing their peaceful protests and the government of the day labels them miscreants, secessionists, and now, terrorists and keeps threatening them. It hounds them into prisons in the most unconstitutional way, denying them bail, even in disobedience of a court ruling.
Historically, Biafra has simply been a response of the oppressed, not an agitation for preferential treatment. It is a call to Nigeria to redress the injustices against a people or let them go. Biafra is an acknowledgement of oppression and a pointer to a haven for the oppressed, irrespective of where they come from. The reason Biafra keeps recurring in the Southeast is due to the fact that this same people have been the victims of deprivation throughout the history of independent Nigeria. The level of socio-economic development you could see in the region today was as a result of the individual and collective industry of the Igbo people; no serious contribution from the federal government.
The best the Buhari government could do is to be courageous and seek ways of redressing the injustice against the people of the Southeast instead of the cowardly denial of the issue and hoping the problem will go away with threats upon threats. The least it could do if it does not want to redress this injustice, on the other hand, is to conduct a referendum to know the popular stance of the people and act accordingly. A stitch in time saves nine. The Biafra agitation has been nothing but commendable – no violence, no molestation, no disruption of the public peace – just peaceful protests. It contradicts the fixation that every Biafra is a call for war.
• Udom wrote in from Lagos