What is fueling demand for Biafra?
The word Biafra has been a taboo to successive governments in Nigeria simply because Republic of Biafra was defeated by a coalition of Nigerian Armed Forces and forces deployed by Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to join them in 1970. The first thing the government of General Yakubu Gowon did was to outlaw the word Biafra, and gazetted it; which is why any mention of Biafra got any Nigerian government angry. Yet, the Igbo cannot do away with the word Biafra. Why? Biafra is a spirit. You can kill the body but not the spirit. That is why the word Biafra keeps recurring like a decimal. To the true Igbo man, Biafra means freedom from operation in this country called Nigeria. The Igbo man feels, and events seem to justify it, that he is oppressed in Nigeria nation. The Igbo man believes in fairness and level playing ground in a competitive environment. Like all competitions, it is winner takes all. The corollary is that the Igbo man believes in merit-driven, just and egalitarian society. Nigeria is not providing the Igbo man the platform to freely express himself.
When the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) was established by the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe-led Eastern Nigerian government in 1960, it was widely criticised as a glorified secondary school when compared to the University College Ibadan, which was actually University of London, Ibadan Campus which was established in 1948. UNN was awarding her own certificates to pioneer graduates in 1963, when University of Ibadan, established was still awarding the certificate of University of London.
Because the Nigerian nation is denying Igbo man merit in the scheme of things, and in the right sense of the word, Igbo man feels short-changed with Federal Government policies like federal character, state of origin, catchment area, and equality of states principle applied in admission to Federal Government owned secondary schools and tertiary institutions. That was why my daughter, born in Lagos and classified as an indigene of Abia State with a higher cut off mark than Lagos State (72% post JAMB) was denied admission to read Economics at the University of Lagos whereas her classmate from Ogun State that scored 65% was offered admission.
The irony here is that my daughter was born in Lagos like her classmate. But when it comes to admission to Federal government college or university, she is classed as indigene of Abia State where my father comes from, and get knocked out by higher Abia cut-off mark being classed as an educationally advantaged state instead of Lagos State which at the time was lower.
Everywhere in the developed world, you qualify to become a citizen with all citizenship rights by birth or migration when you continuously stay and work there for 10 years with no criminal record and show evidence of payment of tax. Unfortunately, it is not so in Nigeria. You remain a settler for life. It is policies like this that fuel Biafra.
However, Igbo are not alone in receiving this kind of injustice that fuel Biafra. It happens across the country whether you are Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, Jukun, Tiv, Idoma etc. as long as you are not resident in your so-called state of origin, you suffer discrimination and get short-changed in the distribution of privileges in a country they call their own.
Thus , I am for Biafra, but not in the sense of breaking away from Nigeria. Even at that, those clamouring for separatist Biafra are inviting the Federal Government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) for treat, to re-negotiate Nigeria because by United Nations charter of 2007 that grants the right to self-determination to minorities, Nigeria is negotiable. They are calling for equity in the distribution of resources, political power and opportunities because Nigeria belongs to all of us. God created all of us equal.
Why will people like Alhaji Balarabe Musa, an elder statesman want to bridge the educational gap between the North and the South when by choice they do not want to embrace western education because of their religious and cultural bias? Boko Haram ( western education is evil) is a product of this mindset about the usefulness of western education.
It will now appear that our Northern brothers are holding the rest of Nigeria back by aspiring to bridge the perceived educational gap between the North and the South of Nigeria which is an aberration in a federal set-up. Statesmen like Alhaji Balarabe Musa cannot be ignored.
Now, what is fueling Biafra is that the Nigerian army through the barrel of the gun abolished the economic and political model the British introduced in Nigeria. Colonial masters got it right by enthroning regional federalism with degrees of political and economic autonomy to the regions. Each region had its coat of arms and controlled its resources and was developing at its own pace. Each region worked hard to develop its domain; no region was advancing the argument of bridging the gap between North and south. All that changed when the military took over government by force and introduced unitary system of government.
Attempts were unsuccessfully made by previous administrations to expunge unitary system of government from our constitution so that Nigeria can move forward. It is the inequities created by this style of government that is fueling calls for Biafra.
PMB must be made to understand that he is a Nigerian citizen and cannot be bigger than Nigeria. If Nigerians met in 2014 in a National Conference and reached conclusions that will to a large extent meet theirs, who is he to throw it to the dustbin as he has vowed to do? It will seem that PMB does not understand Nigeria’s problems in that regard talkless solving it. If he will not implement the 2014 confab report, then let him embrace regionalism for that is the only economic and political structure that our heroes past won from the British colonial masters that was agreed upon in London conference with representation from all the regions. That is the only way to ensure that the labours of the forefathers of Nigerian nation who are truly our past heroes are not in vain.
Enyinnaya, Fellow, Chartered Institute of Bankers, wrote from Ikeja, Lagos.