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We are all Biafrans

By Simbo Olorunfemi
08 June 2017   |   2:44 am
We are all Biafrans, Chido Onumah tells us. In a sense, at least, one would think we are, as Biafra has become a metaphor for that which ails us as a people. We have chosen to focus more on that which divides us rather than that which unites us.

We are all Biafrans, Chido Onumah tells us. In a sense, at least, one would think we are, as Biafra has become a metaphor for that which ails us as a people. We have chosen to focus more on that which divides us rather than that which unites us. We are seeking to take refuge in the arms of a yesterday we really do not know but desperately yearn for, even when our eyes should be on tomorrow. Rather than configure how to shape our future through innovation, we have opted to be stuck behind, spewing bile at will, fuelling the contradictions that face us with outdated tools.

Some will ask- Can there be a tomorrow without a yesterday? No doubt that there cannot be but I will argue that ours is the burden and choice of what from yesterday we choose to let determine our tomorrow. For, he who spends more time and energy on the rear-view mirror rather than the front windshield makes an accident in the future more an inevitability.

It is in that sense that we are all Biafrans, snoring loudly to marginalisation blues, striving to bury our failure on other fronts in conveniently-framed, narrow geographical constructs with no sound footing in who we truly are. We have all become  emergency Biafrans, in that sense, pushing in different directions in the name of conveniently-chosen restructuring songs, rather than pulling together to sing redemption songs. But it is our choice.

We are carrying on as if once we break away from that which we think holds us back, things will miraculously fall in place and everyone will live happily thereafter. If only we will take a deep breath, pause and reflect, perhaps we might just see things a little bit differently.

There is, at the moment, a move at the National Assembly to amend the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Act to compel the NLNG to pay three per cent of its total annual budget to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Fund. That must be a good idea for everyone in the region as that will help with the development of the Niger Delta, one would think. But not quite so, it does appear. Some of the people of Bonny where the NLNG is located believe their interest will be better served as it is, rather than under an arrangement that seeks to further empower a regional institution.

So, while the region, through the NDDC, is pushing for money from NLNG ostensibly in the interest of the region, some of the people of Bonny, who are directly involved, argue that they will in fact be adversely affected by that, as the NLNG will be incapacitated in its plans to expand operations, employ more people and deliver on its social responsibility plans for the community.

There is no certainty to the true picture of things between NLNG and Bonny, as one cannot tell whose voice is truly that of the people, but the different voices emanating from the region is only a symbolic reminder that there can be no guarantee that a people’s interest is always better served with devolution of power closer home.

In this case, some of the people argue that the NDDC, even with the 3% it has collected from the oil companies who operate in Bonny, has not made any meaningful impact on the island. They believe more in the larger union than the immediate regional framework in protecting their interest.
So, as we seek to take refuge under the different umbrellas, we might just be minded to consider the cost, as sometimes, that which we seek might not be that much in our interest as we tend to assume. The same issue of marginalisation we are running away from tends to even take on a larger-than-life proportion when power devolves to a smaller unit.

Villages of less than a thousand people cannot even agree on where to situate the market not to talk of the person to lead them. Some communities have been without traditional rulers for decades because of intra-family disputes. Umuleri goes up in arms against Aguleri. The other day, it was a case of Bayelsa youths taking on shops and properties of Brothers from the East in the name of vengeance for the killing of an Ijaw girl.

Was it not only yesterday that Abia state sent away people from sister states in its own civil service, even when some are married to Abia indigenes? As more states have been created so have new walls suddenly gone up within. Conflicts have emerged across Senatorial zones. Local Governments have taken governance further away from the people. Osun and Oyo cannot agree on modalities for running a University they jointly own. We have become Biafrans of convenience, retreating into our ethnic and religious enclaves when it suits us.

We need to break away from the zoo we have put ourselves in on account of hatred and bigotry. Indeed, we need to sit at home more and close our shops of mischief and miseducation. We need to secede from the evil and ignorance that have taken over our hearts. We have become selective students of history, fixated on only chapters that fit with the narratives we want to project. Is this how we want to make progress? We need not go that back into the womb of history to exhume lessons. We need not go far in time to see what becomes of a people who lose their minds to petty instincts. We only need to look at South-Sudan. 

We have a choice on what to make of our history – politicise it, outsource it to revisionists, selectively pick at it for whatever ends, or interprete it to suit whatever agenda we have set for ourselves. We can choose to either let our version of history continue to divide us or let it serve as a reminder on where or how things went wrong, vowing that mistakes made do not repeat themselves. We latch on to what is convenient, when it suits us. We have become Activists of convenience. We will rather let tomorrow slip away just because we will rather hold to a yesterday we know little of.
Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publishers of Africa Enterprise