Thursday, 12 November 2015

Can Buhari Bring This Biafra Matter To Closure?

President Buhari
by: Uche Igwe


“As ever, I am ready to listen to the grievances of my fellow Nigerians” - Muhammadu Buhari

I have been receiving disturbing pictures of the multitudes of protesters rampaging the southern part of Nigeria in the name of Biafra. A majority of them say that they are showing solidarity with and calling for the release of the director of the Radio Biafra and self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, whatever that means, who has been held in detention by the government. I am aware that Kanu has been granted bail under very stringent conditions but I think that the whole issue of his arrest was a big error on the part of government and a violation of his fundamental human rights. The protests may possibly continue and could snowball into something more cataclysmic for other parts of the country.

I am not an admirer of Kanu neither do I understand his motives or comprehend his methods. Yet, I have nothing against that young man. To the best of my knowledge, he has not been caught in any violent action despite his verbal threats in his radio station. Some say he is a fraud but most of the enthusiasts of his cause contribute money to support him willingly. Such an attention-seeking character should have been left alone. His arrest and detention will only make him popular and expand his following. No one can predict how far things can go especially with the army of unemployed and impoverished youths full of discontent and misery against governance in the country.

Whatever their motives may be, I think that these protests across towns and cities in many states of the South-East and South-South should not be oversimplified and swept under the carpet, knowing especially that an action of government sparked it off. I come from the South-East zone, part of the territories that should have been named Biafra if the secessionists succeeded. But Biafra is an undeniable part of my history and my identity. My father was conscripted to fight in the Civil War towards the end but had to escape. I was told that about four of my big cousins died fighting in that war. I neither knew them nor met them but they were my blood and I daily connect to the vacuum their exit created in our extended family. They were a part of the thousands of able-bodied young men and women who were ferociously killed during that war. The word, war, still continues to give me nightmares if I recall some of the accounts of the atrocities committed against the people in the then Biafra Republic.

My father explained how every millionaire in Igboland was handed a N20 note after the war. How they were able to rebuild their bubbling commerce and trade spread all over the country is something that will potentially offer interesting lessons for survival. I was told that a cream of intellectuals who hailed from the old Easter Region died fighting or in the conflict.

More than 50 years later, no state from the region affected by the conflagration is classified as educationally disadvantaged while those not affected still remain disadvantaged educationally while the victims have overcome those disadvantages.

But it is more than 50 years now since that war was lost and won. Some of us have come to accept the inevitability of the scars on our history. As someone who has lived much of my adult life outside my homeland, I have chosen to deliberately confine those dehumanising accounts and atrocities associated with the experience of the war to the past where it belongs. I will not allow these historical issues define my engagement yet I am a daily recipient of actions borne out of the atrophied understanding of nationhood by the powerful amongst us. Those who are in charge of Nigeria prefer that it does not become a nation where every citizen will have equal opportunity and a sense of belonging. Nigeria is still an aggregation of peoples with diverse identities pursuing divergent interests. It is a space for institutionalised injustice and ruthless oppression. If there was an experiment to build a nation, it failed woefully. Whatever remains is pretence.

Many of us from the southern parts of the country are often on the receiving side of the majority of negative things that Nigeria can offer its citizens. Only a section, predominantly Ndigbo, keep paying the price of the participation of their fathers and forefathers in what they saw as the fight against genocide. Daily, others rub it on our faces as if we are less Nigerian than others. Could this be part of the reasons why these able-bodied youths hit the streets at the slightest provocation? Now, every agitator must find a reason. After all, this is a country that incentivises political opportunism. We saw the Oodua People’s Congress hold Lagos and other parts of the South-West hostage. Boko Haram is still on the rampage in the North-East and even annexed territories at a point in its insurgency. In each case, the public continues to watch the responses of government and that contributes to shape their own attitude and allegiance towards the country. Between an ex-militant in Yenagoa, a former Boko Haram fighter in Damaturu and MASSOB protester in Onitsha, who is more patriotic?

My point here is that the detention of Kanu may be the reason that these protesters put forward to the public as the reason for their anger. However, it goes beyond him. That the multiplicity of injustices in Nigeria remains unchallenged especially is the cause of the agitations. Even when Kanu meets his bail obligations and is released, the protesters will continue to look for other reasons to remain on the streets.

As the opening remark indicates, President Muhammadu Buhari promised in his inaugural address that he would listen to the grievances of his fellow citizens. He should listen to any reasons that these protesters will come up with and isolate those that are doable. There is nothing wrong if this administration could come up with a comprehensive plan to bring this matter to a complete closure. Government must deliberately promote a political culture that does not wait to reward citizens only when they agitate against the state.

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