Monday 2 November 2015

#MustRead: How To Defeat Biafra

Biafra Protests
by: Azuka Onwuka

On the surface, the people who should benefit most from a united Nigeria are the Igbo, because they travel out of their homeland more than other ethnic groups and own property and businesses outside their ethnic group more than others. In addition, Nigeria provides a wider space and larger market for them to operate than just being citizens of a fraction of Nigeria. As Nigerians, they won’t have to come into Nigeria with any passport, neither would they be given a time limit when they visit Nigeria. They won’t have to pay special taxes as non-citizens.

Ironically, and in spite of all these positives, one still finds many Igbo people agitating to have an independent state of theirs. This looks like foolishness if not madness. It is even worsened by the fact that millions of Igbo were killed between 1967 and 1970 when the former Eastern Region attempted to have a country of their own called Biafra. So, why should a people be embarking on a project that seems not to be in their favour in many ways?

As a young man in the university some 25 years ago, after studying Nigeria and reading so much about its past and its leaders, I reached the conclusion that the country was headed in the wrong direction and if it continued in that direction, it would not progress. Twenty five years after, Nigeria has not made any progress. Rather, it has remained a country whose citizens lament and wonder why it cannot be like other countries that were in the same league with it in the past but have moved on and are developing rapidly.

I noticed that contrary to what Chinua Achebe said in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria, the trouble with Nigeria is actually not just leadership, and contrary to what many say, the problem with Nigeria is not corruption. Nigeria runs a system that promotes laziness, rewards mediocrity and celebrates corruption. And that is why perpetually, we have been looking for the Messiah that will turn things around for the nation, but that same structure continues to dash our hopes. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the best definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same but expecting a different result each time. It’s like planting maize and praying that it will bring forth yam!

The best growth, development and happiness Nigeria and Nigerians have ever experienced occurred between 1940s and 1966. That there was a British governor-general at the centre reduced power tussle among the three regions. But between 1960 and 1966, the strong powers of the government at the centre as well as the absence of the British culminated in the Civil War.

Since 1966, Nigeria has been run as a unitary structure where each state folds its arms, waiting for the federal allocations that come mainly from oil revenues each month. Any time the allocation is late by even a few weeks, the states begin to lament. And when there is a shortfall in the allocation, as there is now because of fall in oil price, most states start failing to meet their obligations, including payment of salaries.

The competitiveness, creativity and diligence that existed during the era of the regions died in 1966 when the federal system was abolished and a unitary system foisted on us. It was finally buried when the regions were replaced by states. Even after the so-called reintroduction of the federal structure of government, it was only a federal system in name but unitary system in reality. The states have remained like powerless branches of companies which just wait for directives from the head office before taking any action.

There are three suggestions on what to do to Nigeria to make it work and progress. One, retain the states as they are but stop sharing money to them. Let each state raise money internally to sustain itself and have certain powers to pursue its aspirations. Two, let the six geopolitical zones become the federating units with the powers to create as many states as they wish but with no funding from the centre, with each zone led by a Vice-President who will work with the President. So, at each point, each zone has a Vice-President and feels that it is part of governance and decision-making. Three, let the six zones be like mini-countries within Nigeria just like the UK has four countries in one: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Aristotle said that it is unjust to treat unequal things or people equally. It is also unjust to treat equal things or people unequally. Nigeria is sustained by that principle of injustice. It happens via the federal allocation, federal character policy, quota system, power devolution, state creation, local government creation, etc. By Nigeria’s policy, no part of Nigeria should move faster than any other part. All the parts have to wait for one another and move at the pace of the slowest part.

Consequently, at each point in time, one part of the country feels cheated. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, the North, the South-East and South-South felt marginalised. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, initiated impeachment proceedings against Obasanjo but later backed down. The South-East cried marginalisation, with MASSOB campaigning for secession. The South-West boiled with the Oodua People’s Congress but later calmed down. But it was the South-South that really went overboard via the Niger Delta insurgency. That militancy continued under President Umaru Yar’Adua until amnesty was initiated in 2009.

When Dr Goodluck Jonathan took over in 2010, the agitation shifted to the North with threats from several Northen elders to make the nation ungovernable. Boko Haram that had started like a small group under Yar’Adua snowballed into a monster.

Now that President Muhammadu Buhari is in office, the Biafra agitations had risen in a new dimension through Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra and Radio Biafra. Buhari’s action of not appointing anybody from the South-East (excluding the constitutionally guaranteed ministers from each state) has heightened the Biafran agitations. Even though the language of Nnamdi Kanu, the director of Radio Biafra, is repulsive to many, he is getting sympathisers among the Igbo by his message of freedom. His recent arrest has even popularised him more.

But it is curious that people from the North and South-West should be worried about Biafra. Only the people from the South-South have a good reason to be concerned about Biafra, because they need to know if they are being drawn into it without their consent. Nobody has a right to draw any part of Nigeria into any agitation of secession without the permission of the people from that part.

On the contrary, even if the Igbo were to succeed in having their country, the North and South-West have nothing to lose. The Igbo would have gone with all their bad traits to their landlocked and backward country to suffer, with no more opportunity to whine and quarrel with other Nigerians over one issue or the other. So, why cry for them? Why bother that they will kill one another in Biafra like South Sudan if allowed to have their country?

But, the first step towards reducing or stopping all the bickering in the country and kick-starting the process of setting Nigeria on the path of recovery and growth is to dust up the report of the 2014 National Conference and start the implementation of the document.

Deep inside them, Nigerians love to be Nigerians, but not a Nigeria that frustrates them and keeps them down. I believe that the agitations for Biafra can be deflated and suppressed simply by restructuring Nigeria. If done genuinely, not only Biafra but many of the agitations from different parts of the nation will fizzle out. A united Nigeria has many benefits over separate nations. But if Nigeria continues on its current course, its future is not bright.

I want to see Nigeria blossoming, with Nigerians not feeling suffocated inside this nation. Another 25 years from now when I will be a senior citizen, I don’t want to be writing this type of article, asking for Nigeria to be restructured so that it can start to grow. Buhari has the opportunity to be the hero to release Nigeria from its 50-year-old shackles and let it fly like other great nations. Will he grab the opportunity or make himself just one of the presidents that came, saw, but did the regular?

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