Tuesday, 24 November 2015

#MustRead: Easy, my brother, the Biafran

Biafra protests
by: Tunde Fagbenle

In the last few days what has been trending in the social media on the Biafran hype, particularly by those fanning its embers, is something His Royal Highness, our new Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, said way back in 1999 (16 years ago!) when he was the enfant terrible Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, simply SLS – before be became the Governor of CBN, talk less the Emir. It was a period of his life when he was arguably at the zenith of his intellectual prolificity. He was young, he was bold, he was brash, he was brazen, and he delighted in challenging authority and established doctrines.
Here is the quote making the rounds, said to be excerpted from a Public Lecture titled, “Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria” SLS gave on 11th September, 1999, at Arewa House Kaduna.
“The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo out of the scheme of things. They have been defeated in war, rendered paupers by monetary policy fiat, their properties declared abandoned and confiscated, kept out of strategic public sector appointments, and deprived of public services. The rest of the country forced them to remain in Nigeria and has continued to deny them equity.
“Our present political leaders have no sense of history. There is a new Igbo man who was not born in a 1966 and neither knows nor cares about Nzeogwu and Ojukwu. There are Igbo men on the streets who were never Biafrans. They were born Nigerians and are Nigerians, but suffer because of the actions of earlier generations. They would soon decide that it is better to fight their own war and maybe find an honourable peace than to remain in this contemptible state in perpetuity.
“The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have exacted their pound of flesh from the Igbo. For one Sardauna, one Tafawa Balewa, one Akintola and one Okotie-Eboh, hundreds of thousands have died and suffered. If this issue is not addressed immediately, no Conference will solve Nigeria’s problems.” - Vintage SLS.
My Igbo brethren are suddenly quoting him in the hundreds, with the quote going viral. SLS is now their darling, the same SLS they cursed and hounded out of CBN for opinions he espoused, (aside from “denying” their son another term in office) which made the Igbo see him as their enemy! Interesting. It indeed provides the metaphor for the shifting canvas of the Biafran project.

In my view, there’s nothing new or unexpected in the whole Biafran business, and business it sure is. I perceive two groups of Biafrans.

There is the Biafran to whom the concept of “Biafra” is symbolic, idealistic; something in the romantic realm, similar to how the religious perceive and look up to “heaven” as the panacea for their present earthly travails, the eventual Eldorado! This group is an admixture of the old and the new. The old ones are those who though witnessed the war, have not quite got over that it’s all over and still suffer from the effect of propaganda overdose. The young amongst this group are those who though were born after the war, are suffused with romantic tales of the great scientific leaps that the short-lived “republic” achieved; how Biafra was just about to send a rocket to the moon when the “republic” collapsed due to internal and external betrayals and no fault of Biafran leaders; of “Paradise Lost,” waiting to be regained. This group, obviously, needs psychiatric help.

The second Biafran is the mean crook. This group does not believe in any “Biafra” per se; all they believe in is self and self, alone. When and if they are in a position to corner most of the “national cake,” they are proud Nigerians; but the moment they are about to be left behind by the “gravy train”, it’s time to cry foul and conjure the Biafran ghost, claiming “marginalisation,” “unfairness,” “uneven field of play,” “non-merit,” ad nauseam. In this group are some of those who have amassed unimaginable wealth through corrupt and evil means, milking the very Nigeria they claim have not been fair to them. They lurk in the dark, hating every bit of the new change mantra, and ready to spend as much as possible to put spanner in the works of the new government. Sponsoring the Biafran resurgence is a useful stratagem.

The sad part is that these two groups are in the minority of the population of my Igbo brothers and sisters. And there cannot be a better determinant than in the fact that since the end of the Civil War in 1970, the Igbo have returned to Nigeria, all over, almost with a vengeance. These industrious and enterprising people are all over the north, all over the South-South and all over the West. There is likelihood that their population is more outside their homeland than within. But, incontrovertibly, they have far more investments outside their Southeast territories than within. In discussions, they claim they own at least 70% of Abuja. They have beaten their chest that in Lagos their investments and population are at par, if not more, with those of the native Yoruba combined.

It then becomes apropos to return to SLS’s old foreboding, uttered in September 1999, a few months into the present republic, after a prolonged period (15 years) of military rule, to see where SLS was coming from, and the objective reality of the time. Was SLS playing to the gallery? Or was he the true conscience of the time?

Whilst it is true that through what could be termed a “conspiracy” of “The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie,” a Nigerian president of the Yoruba stock (Obasanjo) finally emerged in what had hitherto been the preserve of the “Northern Bourgeoisie,” it will be specious, even fraudulent, to ignore the context of such reluctant “concession,” to the Yoruba – namely the brazen denial of the right of a Yoruba (MKO Abiola) true winner of the 1993 presidential election and the years of bitter struggle against the military to restore his popular mandate.

But there would be need to detail and tabulate all that the Igbo have attained in public and economic spheres of the nation vis-à-vis other ethnic groups going all the way back to the preceding years, decades, since the end of the Civil War to assess the merit and gravity of SLS charge that “The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo out of the scheme of things.” Unfortunately, it is an exercise this column cannot have the space to handle beyond noting that at the first instance of a democratic government (2nd Republic) after the Civil War, an Igbo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was Vice-President of the country. Moreover, at the 3rd Republic commencing in May 1999, the Igbo had the Senate Presidency virtually exclusive to themselves in the geographical-spread formula that the then ruling party had adopted; not to talk of the very many other topmost and visible positions (CBN, important cabinet, and kitchen cabinet) of the Obasanjo government, even at the expense of the president’s own “people.”

Unfortunately, any attempt to draw attention to what other groups, other than the dominant Hausa/Fulani, conversely enjoyed or suffered would fall into the danger of the dreaded but silly ethnic-game for which I have no stomach.

The Igbo, says SLS, “have been defeated in war, rendered paupers by monetary policy fiat, their properties declared abandoned and confiscated, kept out of strategic public sector appointments, and deprived of public services. The rest of the country forced them to remain in Nigeria and has continued to deny them equity.”

If this were true of 1999 when the statement was made, how true has it been of the period since, and how true is it today? Beyond that, the Igbo have returned to Kano, they have returned to Kaduna, Jos, Ibadan, Osogbo, Benin-City, Warri, name it; and they are indeed the livewire of commerce and trade in these places, unmolested and undisturbed, save in times of unfortunate religious or errant group disturbances from which all ethnic groups suffer. Could this position of strength be consistent with that of being “denied” and “deprived”? Could it be consistent with the desire to yet abandon all and flee to some “Eldorado native enclave”?

But having said all that, Nigeria is far from the country many of us dreamt of and struggled for. Inequity abounds, corruption is rife, insecurity to life and property pervasive. The structural imbalance in the polity guarantees that we dream but in vain of becoming a developed nation for as long as those foundational mal-structures are not rectified.

Whatever those smitten by the Buhari charm may believe of the prospect his time offers Nigeria, they must remember that over 12 million Nigerians also voted against him. Those have a right to see the “prospect” of Buhari differently. Every people must have a right to self-determination. But such a right cannot be one of a minority over the majority of their people. And, more importantly, it cannot be exercised by annexing other people’s territories thereby denying them their own right to self-determination.

And that’s saying it the way it is!

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