The struggle for self-determination of the Biafran people will not end until they fully break away from Nigeria, a creation of British colonialists that has never worked. Unlike during the first failed attempt to secede, for the new territory to work it should not include any non-Igbo people.
Ikpa oke ani, that is mapping out the boundaries and ownership of lands, is an important function in Igbo society. In the process of doing this, a lot of factors are taken into consideration. Integrities and reputations of elders who are usually the judges and deciders are established or destroyed in land matters, depending on how they handled land issues. Most other social functions are suspended on the days when lands are divided or contested land boundaries are scheduled to be settled and trees planted to permanently mark the extent of each contestant’s reaches and control. So, in Igbo society the people take geographical maps seriously. And if we are talking of Biafra where the Igbo are involved, (the Biafra in question is a supposedly geographical and political independent or self-governing sovereign state) then we must make every effort to define the extent and boundaries of this sovereignty right from the start.
Most of us are familiar with the Biafra map of between May 30, 1967 and January 15, 1970 (the old Biafra.) But I wonder how many of us have contemplated what the map of the new Biafra will look like. In the old map many natural Biafran geographies were excluded such as Biafra lands on the west bank of the Niger. But we know the reason. However, as most of us will recall, many of the best and greatest Biafran war generals and heroes were from the west bank.
As we all know, the old Biafra and the Biafrans of old, the people who defined first Biafra, did not have the luxury of time and knowledge which the new definers are privileged to have. The old Biafra was a child of circumstance which was thrust on the people by the exigencies of events and emergencies of their time. But we must acknowledge that these people performed so creditably well that some of us today have always wondered how they were able to do what they did with the little that they had. These people faced almost an entire hostile and unsmiling world, looked at it in the eyes, and did not blink. The reason is that they wanted to survive. The old Biafra, in the face of all odds, became a modern model of self-defense and the best illustration of the principles of Self-Determination. The old Biafra was the only option and the best option available to the people. To them, Biafra was the only right thing to do.
The old Biafra remains a study in excellence and an insight into how to translate dreams and impossibilities into realities because the best and the brightest of Biafrans rallied to make that Biafra possible. The best thinkers, the best technocrats, the best diplomats, the best scientists, the best engineers, the best craftsmen, the best artisans, the best military tacticians gave to the old Biafra everything they got and turned it into the best Black African’s can-do model enterprise. In tragedy, because the best of the people came together to work for the common good and for the honor of Fatherland, Biafra became a success and a pride that today fifty years after, continues to elicit memorable and nostalgic feelings.
But the truth is that we cannot dwell in the past and reminisce for eternity the exploits and accomplishments of generations past. At the same time, we must never discard or treat lightly the great achievements of our fathers and mothers. We must always stand on their shoulders and start from where they stopped. But each generation must fight their own battles and win their own victories. This generation cannot shy away from the noise of battles or shirk from the sight of blood and expect to win accolades and laudable historical memories from coming generations. And the truth is that this generation cannot expect to win and do great things if the best and the brightest of the people continue to shy away from this task of securing freedom and a homeland for the Igbo (an endangered ethnic and religious people) in Nigeria. So long as the best and the most honorable of us continue to abandon this duty to the less gifted and the not so honorable characters among us, then the battle will be stretched and Igbo honor and prestige will be diminished. In the end, if a geographical space and sovereignty are achieved, it would have become a pyric victory and the inadvertent creation of another Nigeria with a different name.
Arapuru obodo ndi aru, obodo awo nke ndi aru. If we leave this task to the mediocre and the frustrated and uninformed, uncouth and undiplomatic activists and freedom fighters from among us, the ideals and lofty dreams of the new Biafra will become the playing field for the frustrated and the home of abhorrent mediocrity. Eventually, it will become a homeland where excellence and impossible dreams are frowned at or even legislated as crimes because it is criminals and dishonest “intellectuals” who will become the legislators and the wielders of political power and authority. If the best among us should abandon this job to the less gifted as is, then the new Biafra would have been lost as the old Igbo society got lost when the Whiteman came and sold to the Igbo the idiocy of chieftaincy titles, igwe stools and that hollow mockery of human dignity and honor when every Igbo son and daughter began to refer to themselves as princes and princesses.
In Igbo society today, there are more chiefs than the Igbo as the greatest struggle has become who will go by the biggest sounding titles. Every Igbo person today must prefix his or her name with Dr., Prof., Pharmacist, Architect, Engineer, Attorney, Barrister, MD., PhD., Chief, Igwe, Bishop, etc. in order to feel relevant and shore up their self-worth anchored on nothingness. The other purpose which the title mongering serves is to intimidate the less privileged among us. But while many of us scramble for more of these empty and social-creative retardant titles we should have at the back of our mind the saying that “every chief is a thief.”
And this is historically and literally true. Historically, all those who received the European’s manufactured Warrant Chief and Igwe staff of office in Igbo land were the thieves, social pariahs, abani di egwu and all those at the fringes of the society who cared less about the people’s culture and values.
Those were the people that the Europeans found useful to be able to intimidate the natives and extract from them maximum taxes and levies. The real custodians of the people’s traditional heritage and customs shunned that negative, strange and disruptive emptiness. It was based on this rejection that the society which we inherited is an Igbo society which had been turned on its head, standing shamefacedly in the midst of ill-gotten strange and unfamiliar ways. Ever since, the struggle has remained the cutthroat competition to launder those filthy dubious gains where falsehood is called truth while condemning in the same breath, the old and tested traditional principles of aka idi ocha, offor, ogu and ikenga.
Our values and social norms became discolored because thieves were made to rule over us while men and women of integrity scurried and sought the paths of least resistance. Today, thieves (chiefs, igwes, Drs., Profs., Barristers, etc.) who have brazenly committed nso ani are allowed to rule and decide for the people what they should accept as rights and wrongs.
Literally, to complete the destruction of the people, it is this kind of warped Igbo society that got subsumed into the greater Nigerian union. In the end it seemed to have made certain the final and eternal demise of Igbo’s real national and cultural identity. But by all means and at all costs, I think that the Igbo cannot afford to take this disease of hollow mockery of our true humanity into the new Biafra.
New Biafra is an emergency
In Nigeria excellence and best practice are not just discouraged, they are punished and sacrificed at the altar of federal character and quota system. And we must choose to either carry the practice over or discard those insidious destroyers of greatness, excellence and bigness at the threshold of the new Biafra.
The new Biafra is an emergency but the emergency we are confronted with today is completely different from that of the old Biafra. Therefore, based on what we know today and the realities of our collective experiences the map of the new Biafra must include all the autochthonous and contiguous geography of Igbo land. While excluding, in the interest of assuring our neighbors and cousins around us, all non-Igbo lands and territories. We must make effort to assure our neighbors that the Igbo do not covet whatever that belongs to others; nor do they desire to lord it over other people. The Igbo rather than being driven by imperial aggrandizement of Igbo geography have always been the withdrawing types who would rather maintain and preserve their cherished republican independent democracy than seek to expand their geographical reaches and political control of others. It is this spirit that made them to lose, sometime ago to overwhelming deluge of immigrants, most of the original lands which they held in the past.
For this and for many other reasons we need to have a clear definition of the geographical map of the area we are talking about as the new Biafra. To do this, we need to produce a physical map that is based on none flimsy dreams but practical realities of who and where constitutes the new Biafra.
To achieve an authentic new Biafran map we have to bear in mind some few basic facts. First, we have to accept that by the reason of the new knowledge and experiences available to this generation, the old Biafran map is unrealistic, outdated and clearly overtaken by new realities. It will be a bad dream for us to produce any map of the new Biafra that incorporates other ethnicities that are not Igbo speaking without qualifications. The old Biafran map included non-Igbo speaking areas because of the circumstances that produced the map in the first place. There was an Eastern Region which was created by the colonialists and it included non-Igbo speaking areas. Then there was only one governor for the entire region which happened to be Emeka Ojukwu. When the 1966 Pogrom took place, the other ethnic peoples as well as Igbo people of the old Eastern Region were affected. The survivors of the Pogrom ran back to the Eastern Region, which included Igbo and non-Igbo. It was under such all-inclusive affectation of the affliction that led the advocates for the then Biafra to campaign for the independence and self-determination of all the affected parties. With all the prevailing evidence it was easy for the Igbo to convince the others to go along with them in their pursuit for a new state. At first the others gladly accepted and went along with the dream. But the game would quickly change soon after. We are all familiar with this story but I am only retelling it as a reminder and to serve as a guide in our current decisions.
When it was clear that the other non-Igbo peoples went along with the Igbo in the 1967 Biafra, it was easy for the British to capitalize on that to defeat the Igbo. They had to isolate the Igbo in the fight and once that was done it became a divided rank from within. The division further helped in the success of the siege and Obafemi Awolowo’s starvation weapon policy. We need to appraise the reason behind the quick about face of these our neighbors: The non-Igbo areas had been agitating for autonomy and independence from the Igbo before the 1966 crisis began. Then it was easy for the British to tell Nigerians to create autonomous states for the non-Igbo peoples as guarantee and assurance that the intention of the war was to save them from Igbo domination and marginalization; hence the twelve states were announced by the Nigerian leadership. At the announcement, the non-Igbo ethnic peoples of the Eastern Region were elated with their new found power which they believed would shield them for good from Igbo people’s influence.
With that move and the reaction received, the Nigerian strategists now had to produce the Sole-Igbo target narrative in the genocide. The Sole-Igbo target narrative that was sold to the non-Igbo peoples of Eastern Region is that they were never intended to be part of the 1966 Pogrom and subsequent genocidal war. They were told that it was the Igbo who were their (Nigeria’s) problem which they wanted to eliminate. These other Easterners bought into this Nigerian story and we all know how it all came together in the end: Igbo became further hated and feared the more by their cousins in the East. That hatred has persisted to date.
With the success of this divide and conquer masterstroke, from then onwards, to the outside world and to all who cared to listen, Biafra now according to this British narrative, became an Only-Igbo enterprise. The story of the fight became the “holy” mission to liberate or save non-Igbo ethnic peoples of Eastern Region from the Igbo who wanted to lord it over them and steal their God-given resources from them. Thus, the Igbo became completely isolated and demonized as the story sounded believable to the lazy listeners. Unfortunately, fifty years after, this story has persisted and it’s not going away anytime soon, the voting pattern of 2015 presidential election notwithstanding.
We may dismiss or ignore this reality to the detriment of the future generations of our people. As for this generation, it will not matter much. The excitement and ecstasy of winning (freedom and independence) will cover the multitude of faults and inconsistences of this sloppy move and save the trouble for the future. The generation that will confront these problems will be worse off and will have to continue wasting energy and resources and opportunities they should have used to advance on trying to fine tune mediocrity-inducing quota system models and federal character appeasement compromises. If this is allowed to happen, we will be back to where we started from; a new Nigeria-Biafra.
Foreigners created Nigeria and here we are trying to free ourselves from it because they did not take into consideration the people’s fundamental differences. However, now we are being given a second chance and we may be recklessly driving along the same road which the colonialists traveled. If care is not taken, and if we continue so negligently traveling this road it might lead to unnecessary heartaches and pains. Who knows, we may be about to create a new Nigeria-Biafra. This new move will be based on recklessness, negligence and unfounded fear. Some of the fear is that Igbo cannot go it (their independence and self-determination) all by their selves. Igbo alone has a population of about 50 million. The truth is that it is a lonely world. That is if the company of 50 million can indeed be considered as lonely. But in the real world, each individual or group must depend on their own inner power and ingenuity to survive and thrive. Amongst the Igbo they think that once a child is out from its mother’s womb, it is now on its “own.” So, it is expected that the Igbo can at least try, and hopefully they may make it, if they tried hard enough. They have no reason to give up and presume that they cannot make it without first trying.
However, should the Igbo try to go along with the unnecessary “extra luggage” of incorporating unwilling and incongruent partners on this trip to their new nation, they are bound to regret it. As we said earlier, it is not necessarily this generation that will suffer but further down the road, the people will pay dearly for today’s negligence. How it will happen is that Igbo population which is maybe four times the population of these other “future partners,” and because the Igbo are just as talented as the others, proportionally it will make the Igbo to seem to be dominating in all aspects of the new nation. Then there will be cries of marginalization and oppression from some of those who might want to adopt the so-called minority statuses. These cries will in turn serve as cogs in the wheel of the new nation. Democracy is a game of numbers and because the Igbo will have more numbers it would appear like the Igbo are taking up every available opportunity.
The other truth which we cannot escape from indefinitely is the fact that there has not been some adequately publicized moves with concrete terms of reference, carried out to produce memorandums of understanding with these other groups. Such MoUs will clearly show how we intend to relate with these neighbors assuming we are going along to coopt them into the new Nigeria-Biafra country we are planning on establishing. The same thing goes for the issue of organizing a referendum even within the Igbo area. We cannot take it for granted that all Igbo will vote “yes” to separate from Nigeria, in the first instance. Those who have money may exercise a greater influence on the people. And those who have money may choose to go along with the old order within which they made their money. So, we must bear that in mind. It’s true that such extrapolation may be a bridge that we are yet to get to but we will surely get there and will then be required to cross it.
My reason for bringing up most of these issues now is to help us, right from the beginning, to pay close attention to all the details and not take any aspect of the business of this new Biafra for granted. It is the way that we choose to define the map and the other aspects of the Biafran business from the beginning that other outside interest groups will follow. And the truth is that even foreigners will prefer that the Igbo do not drag along unwilling others into this new Biafran enterprise.
My recommendation; let’s work out modalities with these other ethnic groups, on how all the former Southeasterners can all work together to win independence from Nigeria while each group is guarding and tending their own separate national destiny and identity. We must choose to become independent from Nigeria, in the first place, as Igbo people, not along with the other ethnic peoples if they are unwilling. We may neglect this truth and take it for granted but outside partners do not see any sense in such recklessness and are not amused.
No compromises with non-Igbo
Land size does not make a nation. It is the people that make a state. Should the Igbo go it alone, it is guaranteed that they will not be the smallest nation on Earth and even if they were, what difference will it make? Nigeria’s headache, as claimed by the country, is the Igbo, not the other groups. Nigerians have always made this very clear. The Igbo therefore, must learn to depend on themselves. The compromise of taking unwilling partners on this trip to nationhood is not worth the pain.
Someone once said that compromises make good umbrellas but poor roofs. In the new Biafra which we want to build, we would rather build a roof that will not just protect the Igbo from the hate and assaults from the enemy, in addition, we should endeavor to create a national atmosphere that will enable the people to unleash their creative potentials and constantly reach for the stars. Such atmosphere is only possible in a society where you don’t have to compromise everything including quality, so that “no child will be left behind.”
It needs to be made clear here that we are not talking about an exclusive and closeted Biafra, no. Biafra will be open and accommodating of all shades of humanity and opinions. Yet, for the sake of progress and the well-being of all, there will be unified standards which should not be compromised in order to satisfy the quota of a stakeholder who may be unwilling to make some extra effort in contributing to improve and advance the lot of the common good.
As we round up this discussion it is important to remind us that whatever map that we finally come up with must be practical, realistic and defensible. No map that we present to the world should be based on assumptions. The present Nigeria is based on a one-hundred-year-old assumption and here we are today paying with death tolls in millions of lives as a result. Ironically, when we look at it in a more holistic light, the worst loss to the Igbo may not be the millions of deaths; killed by the genocidal state of Nigeria. Perhaps, the greatest tragedy of presumptive-maps such as those of Nigeria and others like that may be the lost opportunities of creating a progressive and prosperous society where any lives even if lived only for a brief moment were lived in a considerable level of comfort and fulfilment. A decent and dignified quality of life well lived, will always be worth more than stretched out longevity of mere human existence as is the case in Nigeria today.
Great and successful societies will always be the result of the harmonized social and cultural structure of the human composition of the place. If we are, therefore, careful today to incorporate this cautious wisdom in our planning at this foundational stage, then if in the future any of us can come back to look at the result of our today’s decisions, we will be proud to have chosen the bold and conservative path over the liberal and reckless road.
Some of us may not like to hear this next point the way it is said, but the truth is that the Igbo is not loved by all their neighbors, without exception. Today, the fad is “referendum.” Everyone is talking about it but it’s not going to be in vogue one hundred years from now. So, we must plan a nation that is based on concrete structures that will still be relevant in the next one hundred years. One hundred years ago, the fad then was the amalgamation of incongruent peoples and societies with the assumption that “we the colonialists make the decisions for them and they (the natives) will never know the difference.” However, the practical thing which I think will still be relevant in the next one hundred years is that in Africa, there can be Luxemburgs and Vaticans, and Africa will be better off and more prosperous as it is in Europe than if Austria and Germany had been made into one country. Or France and Belgium merged, or even Britain and France amalgamated into one country.
Meanwhile, the more sensible thing to do is for the Igbo to go it alone now and in one-hundred-years’ time, the neighbors would have seen how we conduct our businesses and the way we run our society. Then they may elect to want to join us based on real and verifiable facts. Then each group will bargain from positions of strength to reach satisfactory cooperative union agreements. Until then, what have we got to show as it is, nothing. We are not even sure that we will succeed, so why drag along other people whose aspirations are not the same with those of the Igbo? We cannot wrap up Igbo future with those of other people as it is. Let the future generations of Igbo people, which did not witness the Pogrom and the subsequent genocidal war, take that decision, guided by the conditions that are obtainable in their own prevailing circumstances.
This thing is not complicated at all as some of us may imagine. Let us in the interest of maintaining good neighborliness choose the Lone-Igbo pathway to nationhood over another amalgamated nightmare. We should not be ashamed or afraid to talk about pure Igbo interests as if the Igbo story cannot be prestigious, dignified and relevant unless it is associated and corroborated with those of other people. For the sake of emphasis; has anyone wondered why don’t the Israelis merge their state with Lebanon or any of their other Arab neighbors so they can be big and heterogeneous? That of course would have made them “more” modern and liberal but less.
It is in this spirit of “modernity” that some people have argued that the Igbo should remain in Nigeria because Igbo economy is bigger than Igbo geography. In response we say, nice try. Putting it differently, Africa should be made into a country for the Igbo so they can only conduct business in their own country.
Written by Osita Ebiem.