BIAFRA is not one of the problems besetting Nigeria. Those unable to appreciate this fact may require a dose of creative thinking. Nigeria’s stubborn thorn in the flesh is its adamant repudiation of the self-evident concept of the changelessness of change, upon which sits a crippling unwillingness to engage that same constancy of change. There are two random but famous declarations – one little remembered today, the other something of a mantra – that neatly wrap up the national antiparty to inexorable change and its management.
On January 15, 1970, there was a ceremony at Dodan Barracks, Lagos,
the then seat of political power. Biafran acting Head of State, General
Philip Effiong, Colonel David Ogunewe, Colonel Patrick Anwunah, Colonel
Patrick Amadi and Police Commissioner Patrick Okeke had gone to submit
Biafra’s document of surrender, which officially marked the end of the
civil war. “The so-called rising sun of Biafra has set forever,”
declared Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, on that occasion. In the
leaps and dips of Nigeria’s turbulence, it is common to hear politicians
of varying persuasions declaring, as a way of “helping” to stabilise
the listing ship of state, that “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable.”
Between Gowon’s presumption of Biafra’s finality, which rode on the
crest of triumphalism and was hailed as prescient by many, including
Gowon’s biographer Professor Isawa Elaigwu, and the incessantly voiced
exclusion of terms on Nigeria’s oneness, lies the country’s problematic.
General Gowon is alive and bouncing. Were he to honestly comment on his
45-year old declaration today, he would readily admit to not having
thoroughly considered all sides of everything. For it is clearly outside
the bounds of political authority to decree the irreversible amputation
of human predilection and proclivity. The current hoopla around Biafra
lends credence to the assertion.
Now, there is something baffling in the oft-repeated statement on
Nigeria’s unity not being negotiable. The statement does not mean that
Nigeria’s unity is a fait accompli. It simply insists on a spiteful
denunciation of any thought of mapping out a sustainable road on which
the assumed or anticipated national unity must travel, free from
iniquity and cataclysms; a method for mastering the imperatives of
national unity which is, anywhere in the world, a particularly daunting
proposition. It is because Nigeria has kept its back obdurately turned
to change that even the littlest molehill on its uncharted road
invariably becomes a precipitous mountain.
Why is Nigeria incapable of learning from history? When Biafra came
in 1967, it was way ahead of its time. Since January 15, 1970, the
world’s political map has continued to be redrawn. Emperor Haile
Selassie would have started, and branded any dream in which Eritrea was
mentioned a nightmare. Eritrea gained international recognition as an
independent state in 1993. South Sudan was only a fictional construct in
1970; it became an independent nation in 2011. Bangladesh was
non-existent in 1970; it declared its independence from Pakistan a year
later. The Soviet Union dissolved into 12 independent states in 1991. By
1992 Yugoslavia had fractured into about seven independent countries.
On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split into Czech and Slovak
Republics. Scotland held an Independence referendum early this year that
failed. There is a powerful Catalan movement pushing secession from
Spain. Separatist tendencies are not on the wane in Cabinda.
What to bear in mind is that most of the secessions or agitations for
secession in the world are along ethnic lines. For an ethnically
composite country like Nigeria, the way to avoid potential split props
is not by precluding discussion on contentious issues, and it is not by
expeditionary repression of peaceful dissent. After all, dissent is not
and should never be construed as a crime in a democracy. A country of
disparate peoples can only be held together in peace and harmony by the
glues of visionary leadership indexed on tried and tested political
structures of equity, fairness, justice, innovation and practicality.
This cannot be said of Nigeria.
Look at neighbouring Ghana, which, like Nigeria, is multi-ethnic. Who
ever heard of secessionist agitation in that country? Here is a point
made in a June 28, 2012 Memorandum submitted to the House of
Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution by the
Ohanaeze Ndigbo: “In our socio-political and economic intercourse all
groups (big or small) must be allowed free-play and equitable access to
our country’s resources and strategic political command posts, including
particularly the presidency. Sustained imbalance in sharing
responsibilities and the ‘national cake’ could conceivably induce in
those units aggrieved a rethink of the value to them of our much vaunted
One possible way of checking skepticism on Nigerian unity is the
implementation of the report of last year’s National Conference.
Unfortunately, chameleons, who throughout their dubious political
careers had hoisted the National Conference placard, turned up on the
eve of the last presidential ballot to execrate the idea.