The Trinity of the Igbo Question, the Eastern Nigeria Question and the “Biafra” Question in Nigeria: A CASE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION REFERENDUM
(Being full text of a presentation by the Lower Niger Congress (LNC) to the Igbo Summit convened in Enugu by the World Igbo Congress (WIC), 27th May 2017 in Enugu. Summit’s theme: “Navigating the Future”).
It gives me great pleasure to welcome us all to the great Coal City, Enugu.
I must commend the conveners, World Igbo Congress (WIC), for finding the courage at this difficult juncture of the Igbo odyssey in Nigeria, to bring this Summit to Igboland, right in the middle of the 50th Anniversary of the declaration of Biafra, after many years of holding its major public events in the United States of America, where the LNC and I had had to go to engage our brethren in the US on this never-ending dialogue on Igbo Quo Vadis?
I, particularly, recall the 2012 WIC Convention in Orlando, Florida, where I had gone to share with the Igbo US Diaspora important developments regarding the issues that now overarch the Igbo Question in Nigeria, which first emerged in 1966 as the Eastern Nigeria Question in Nigeria, turning rapidly in 1967 into what became the Biafra Question, recently resurrected by the younger generation of the East in what has raged on as the “Biafra Agitation”.
In my reckoning, it is this trinity of a question that this summit has saddled itself with the task of interrogating and with a view to finding viable answers for better navigating the future of Eastern Nigeria.
Shorn of all embellishments, the trinity of questions simply seek answers to the issues relating to equitable, consensual protocols of mutual coexistence in the Nigerian union from the perspective of the Igbo and by extension, Eastern Nigeria. It becomes “Biafra” when consensus fail as it did in 1967.
The historical beginnings of the Nigerian union is too well-known to bear much repetition. But for the sake of that younger generation here present, who were denied the teachings of history as a school subject by their own country and for no fault of theirs are totally uninformed about how their country Nigeria, particularly their Igbo homeland component of it, arrived at the sorry pass and quagmire it now is in and who are justifiably befuddled by the pernicious reality they live in and thus raised a campaign for the recovery of some fabled lost paradise called “Biafra”, a little historical excursion will be undertaken.
Nigeria was a colonial-era creation of the British. The country Nigeria was, on January 1st, 1914, artificially cobbled together by the arbitrary annexation of the then Protectorate of Southern Nigeria to the then Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in an exercise officially tagged “Amalgamation”.
The mind-boggling failures of this otherwise giant promise on the African continent has been the subject of many researches and academic inquisition.
Decades of routine bloodletting, which punctuated these monumental failures, came to global reckoning in the years 1967-1970 when Eastern Nigeria, one of the four federating regions that constituted Nigeria, suddenly found itself engulfed by genocidal war which began as pogroms and ethnic cleansing in Northern Nigeria.
The war was levied on the East by the rest of Nigeria, after the East proclaimed itself the Republic of Biafra on May 30th, 1967 in a desperate bid to preserve the remnants of its population who were being massacred and decimated in mass xenophobic killings by rampaging Northern elements who clung unto a false interpretation of a botched military coup of January 1966 in which leading Northern politicians had lost their lives.
Those pogroms collapsed the union of Nigeria in 1966 as Easterners fled massively homewards for safety and the attempt to revive the union failed in January 1967, after a mediated accord negotiated in Aburi, Ghana with the East was jettisoned by the federal-government side (basically, the rest of Nigeria in that period).
In the war that erupted, over 3.5 million Easterners perished amidst the search for self-determination, in circumstances that cast a shadow of doubt on the humanity of mankind of that era.
The gory pictures from the killing fields of Eastern Nigeria, particularly the bony frames of dying, thoroughly malnourished infants, with protruding stomachs signaling the terminal stages of the dreaded hunger-induced kwashiorkor, defined the Biafra war in the global media of that period.
At the cessation of bomb and bullet hostilities in 1970, the victorious federal side, isolated the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria and continued the war by other means, particularly on the economic, political and other insidious fronts, despite a bogus declaration of 1970 “No Victor, No Vanquished” proclamation and the even more bogus “Three R’s”, (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Reconciliation) by the Federal Government, ostensibly to rebuild the damaged East and to reintegrate the surviving Igbo into Nigeria.
By 1979, the victorious federal alliance of the rest of Nigeria formally codified the unilaterally-imposed terms of the Nigerian federation by way of the so-called 1979 “Constitution”, replacing the negotiated federal constitutional basis of Nigeria which got toppled and jettisoned by the military in the aforementioned 1966 intervention.
In order to gain an insight into the dark contents and workings of the deliberate isolation and punishment of Ndiigbo and the East by the rest of Nigeria since the so-called end of the Civil War in 1970, which degenerated to the point where a younger Igbo generation plunged themselves into an inevitable self-redemptive task framed as the “Restoration of Biafra”. To get a better handle on the situation in Eastern Nigeria, which is the subject of this summit’s inquiry, it is instructive to examine the description of what really transpired from the prism of what seems to be a divinely inspired confession made 1999 by an iconic scion of the political North.
Lamido Sanusi Lamido, the immediate past Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and now the Emir of Kano bared his thoughts thus:
“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 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.” – (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, at a Public Lecture titled, “Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria” 11th September 1999, at Arewa House Kaduna).
For the sake of brevity, the Lower Niger Congress adopts this succinct 1999 encapsulation of the Igbo misery in Nigeria by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and so, invites all amongst us who may not understand what the whole Biafra-or-death campaign is all about, to hear the reason for that campaign from the horse’s mouth as they say.
Of course, as to be expected, the situation has gone progressively worse for the Igbo, with the simultaneous introduction of violent Sharia by 12 Contiguous States of predominantly Muslim North since year 2000.
There is no doubt that the 1999 prophesy of Lamido Sanusi Lamido is fulfilling itself now, simply because nobody heeded that sober call for equity, publicly and passionately issued 1999.
Needless to recount here the details of the several debilitating constitutional shackles, consciously emplaced by the same victorious alliance of the rest of Nigeria against the East, in what now translates to a master-servant constitutional order, comparable only to the Apartheid-era South Africa, presently anchoring Nigeria’s “democracy.”
The aforesaid imposed “1979 Constitution” emerged from the pretense at a Constituent Assembly, 1977, and was by the Decree No of 24 of 1999 issued by one General Abdusalam Abubakar, transmogrified into what we now have as the 1999 Constitution, with a 68-Item Federal Exclusive Legislative List under which the East lost the ownership of key economic assets including oil and gas, coal, vast maritime space and resources to the so-called Federal Government, as well as the right to work those assets for the benefit of our people, including the right to generate and transmit electricity or to build the road from Enugu to Port Harcourt, because it is now a federal asset.
It is against this backdrop that one can meaningfully examine the dynamics driving both the relentless, ubiquitous demand for ‘Biafra,” and the worldwide outrage of the Easterners at the highhandedness of the Federal Government in dealing with the agitators.
It is also against this backdrop that we can meaningfully explore the options open to all sides to the disputations: the Federal Government, the Igbo leadership collective as well as the Biafra agitations.
The LNC posits that it is very clear that well-known constitutional grievances of Eastern Nigeria bordering on self-determination, which has been outstanding since after Aburi 1967 and now aggravated by the imposed post-war unitarist Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, that needs to be resolved.
The LNC further posits that the situation at hand falls squarely into the category of matters for which the 21st Century global community emplaced a mechanism called “Referendum” for their resolution.
The countrywide agitation for the resolution of this vexed issue of distorted protocols of mutual coexistence in Nigeria, has been framed as a campaign for “Restructuring” in the last 10 to 15 years.
While the conservative elements amongst the Northern political establishment had been adamantly opposed to any renegotiation of the distorted terms of Nigeria’s federation, compounding the situation by the simultaneous imposition of Sharia in 12 Contiguous States of the predominantly Muslim North, the Yoruba West had been vociferous in demanding a return to the pre-1966 regional federation model.
The East which had been waiting patiently for the rest of Nigeria at the Aburi “bus station” (Restructuring) since January 1967, seems to have a new situation at hand wherein the younger generation that did not wield rifles in the Biafra War, has completely lost faith and interest in the union of Nigeria and has taken upon itself the task of extricating the East from what has clearly become a toxic union of Nigeria, while some amongst the older generation Igbo still cling wearily to the dimming hope that some miracle might happen to save the dying union of Nigeria from going into total disintegration.
The LNC is firmly convinced that the urgent responsibility of the Igbo leadership collective which this summit eminently represents, is to find sufficient commitment, courage and tact to boldly advance this universally acclaimed referendum prescription as the quid pro quo to the aforementioned three sides to the disputation, namely the Federal Government, the Biafra agitation and the Igbo collective whose sympathies clearly lie with self-determination at this time, whether in a restructured Nigeria or in an outrightly independent Eastern Nigeria, which has already assumed the sobriquet “Biafra”. Only a Referendum can establish what the Igbo populace wants at this time. Nothing less will do neither is the current unitarism sustainable. Something must give.
The imperative upon the Igbo leadership collective to tow this path of asking that the questions raised by the constitutional grievances of Eastern Nigeria be referred to a general Referendum of the people is created by the now identified direct causative nexus between the impositions of the 1999 Constitution and the constitutional grievances of Eastern Nigeria, as well as the open Igbo consensus on rejecting the fraudulent 1999 Constitution as the basis of Nigeria.
It will be recalled that the communiqué from the well-attended World Igbo Summit (WIS) held October 2016 at Gregory University, Uturu (GUU) expressly stated that Ndiigbo reject the 1999 Constitution as the basis of Nigeria and seek an immediate return to the 1963 constitutional model that guaranteed the autonomy of the federating regions.
Similarly, it will also be recalled that Resolution No 7 of the communiqué issued by the2016 World Igbo Congress Convention held in Detroit, USA stated that Ndiigbo’ reject the 1999 Unitary Constitution as the basis of the federation of Nigeria.
Going forward, therefore, the logical progression for the Igbo leadership collective is to identify with the aspirations of the Igbo people it leads, by asking that the questions arising from the disputations on the terms of mutual coexistence in Nigeria be referred to a Referendum, if only to reconcile itself with the younger generation that now seems to have lost all confidence in the current Igbo leadership, especially on this question of protocols of mutual coexistence in One-Nigeria, for which reason it launched the ‘Biafra’ agitation. More importantly, such a demand for a Referendum would help decriminalize the self-determination agitation in Eastern Nigeria and operate as a potent lever of pressure on the rest of Nigeria, especially the North and the Federal Government to come down from their high horse on this issue and to stop the totally unnecessary bloodletting that has characterized their response thus far to Eastern Nigeria’s self-determination agitation.
It is no longer adequate for the Igbo leadership collective to make bland calls for “Restructuring” as it had done for decades now.
The disappointed younger generation of Ndiigbo actually view the call for restructuring at this time as a euphemism by their elders and politicians for supporting the retention of the One-Nigeria status quo since such calls are not backed up by any potent actions.
May I use this opportunity to inform the politicians in our midst that the restive younger Igbo generation agitating for self-determination, now view the Igbo politicians who swear to uphold and defend the obnoxious 1999 Constitution as directly responsible for the sustenance and reinforcement of that instrument of containment and enslavement against Ndiigbo. This points to the urgent need to begin some kind of countdown to the winding-up process of the so-called 1999 Constitution. The 1990-1994 Frederick De Klerk Transitioning template commends itself for a guide here.
As the push for a Referendum in the East gathers steam, the Lower Niger Congress (which is the aggregation of the self-determination initiatives in the combined former Eastern and Midwestern Regions of Nigeria seeking to federate into a Prospective Lower Niger Federation as a part of the inevitable reconfiguration of the failed unitary Nigeria according to the 1885 ethnolinguistic map annexed herewith), is pleased to inform all that it already has in its Referendum train both the Niger Delta militants and the genuine Biafra agitation groups, in contradistinction to the renegade elements presently driving the various Biafra “franchises”.
THE LARGER NIGERIA QUESTION
Having treated the Igbo/Eastern Nigeria component of the notorious Nigerian question, I now take a cursory review of the larger picture so that the Eastern component already reviewed gets situated in the larger Nigeria picture.
It is pertinent to do this cursory review because the LNC, which frames its mission goal as Self-determination campaign and not just a quest for “Biafra”, also rejects the “secession” paradigm which immediately isolates the East and unites the rest of Nigeria against the East. The LNC adopts an approach that takes Nigeria, as a whole, for constitutional reconstruction which may yield a federation as we had up to 1966, or a confederation as we would have had if Aburi were not abandoned or units of sovereign successor states, including the East. Everything would be decided by the people Via Referendum and Plebiscite. Nobody will abridge this.
It is in this vein that we recall that the British creators of Nigeria had ominously packaged it as a marriage between the North as the poor husband and the South as the rich wife (lady of means). That marriage has since come to grief and in dealing with the terminal issues that have arisen, it is important to bear in mind that the rules that guide marriages, both in the making and in the dissolution, shall apply.
By a cablegram message of December 1913, the then British Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Harcourt, boss to Lord Frederick Lugard, had captured the purpose and import of the impending annexation of the then Protectorate of Southern Nigeria to the then Protectorate of Northern in the following words:
“We have released Northern Nigeria from the leading strings of the Treasury. The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance of his own and is about to effect an alliance with a Southern lady of means. I have issued the special license and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony. May the Union be fruitful and the couple constant.”
It is noteworthy that the Amalgamation announced on January 1st, 1914 was celebrated with grand durbars in Zungeru and Sokoto in the North while it was greeted by loud protests amongst the then Lagos elite in colonial Nigeria’s South.
It was in celebration of this grand British bequest to the North, that the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello declared to his lieutenants in the week of Independence of 1960 that:
“The New Nation called Nigeria should be an Estate of our Great-Grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the Minorities of the North as willing tools, and the South as a Conquered Territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future” – Parrot Newspapers, 12th October 1960.
It is self-evident that the current constitutional regime in Nigeria is the full implementation of this 1960 script and it is within the context of that mission statement and battle script of 1960 that one can understand the mindset of the Northern political gladiators who, in 2010, proclaimed that the North would make Nigeria ungovernable should Jonathan or anyone else from the South emerged President in 2011 since, according to them, “it will be tantamount to stealing our Presidency.”
With all these in focus, the Lower Niger Congress posits as follows:
That the union of Nigeria was a grossly inequitable imposition on the peoples Southern Nigeria by the British Crown.
That all efforts to transform it into a union of agreement had been frustrated by those from the North, who proclaim they were born-to-rule the rest in perpetuity.
That the disputations constantly rocking Nigeria are more of a deep-lying clash of civilizations than the previously held views revolving around shallow symptomatic issues such as leadership deficit, economic disparity and corruption. These are mere symptoms of the deep-seated malaise.
That the twin phenomena of Sharia and feudalism make the union of Nigeria unworkable since the faith and social dictates of the Islamic North require adherents to kill the other groups who they consider “infidels” and thus inferior people. Since no one can compel the Muslim North to abandon Sharia and embrace democracy and constitutionalism nor can anyone compel the Christian South to embrace Sharia and feudalism in place of Christianity and constitutional democracy, Nigerian state has been a union of attrition.
That the attempt to “equalize” the two mortally opposed civilizations saw the elevation of mediocrity in the name of quota system and now “federal character” and the result has been the wreckage that the world calls Nigeria. The frustrations arising from this has, more than anything else, fueled the demand by the indigenous peoples of Eastern Nigeria to get off the yoke of Nigeria and all the associated bloodletting engendered by irreconcilable religious and political differences.
That the issues which led to the Civil War remain starkly unaddressed till date – degenerating further by the oppressive actions of our “conquerors”.
The geopolitical alignments that drove the 2015 electoral round re-enacted a sharp imagery of the geographical formations in which the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-1970 was fought.
No matter how anyone else may view it, this was the reading of the 2015 electoral map by peoples of Eastern Nigeria. The heavy undisguised partisan involvement of the Western powers on the side of rest of Nigeria alliance in the rowdy 2015 elections was a sad reminder of the unconscionable international marauding in the Nigeria-Biafra War. Even supposed ideological foes, Britain and Soviet Union, forget their differences and fought side-by-side against civil war Biafra till the bitter end.
The current escalation of the quest for an exit from ae failed Nigerian union must, therefore, be seen by the global community in its true context as the continuation of an almost 50-year-old fight for self-determination driven by a clash of irreconcilable civilizations and cultures arbitrarily erected through colonial imposition.
Providentially, the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), offers a fresh window of engagement with these volatile issues in a manner that steers everybody away from the specter of senseless violence since a simple Referendum can resolve the matter instead of war and destruction.
It was in pursuit of this nonviolent option that the Lower Niger Congress decided to convene a SOLEMN ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLES OF THE LOWER NIGER in Port Harcourt on 27th April 2015 during which it was unanimously resolved that the peoples of the territory shall go to a Referendum to determine their political future in exercise of their inalienable right to self-determination.
The East is now suing for the annulment of the fraudulently procured marriage of 1914.
Lower Niger Congress, therefore, invites all stakeholders, including the international community, to accept the pursuit of a peaceful process of Referendum as the most viable answer to the long-standing Biafra question.
It needs to be restated that what the Biafra agitators are seeking is simply Self-determination which is completely legitimate under the relevant United Nations instruments to which Nigeria is signatory. The preferred method for this pursuit is by way of a UN-monitored Referendum. It is, therefore, unnecessary to criminalize the agitations or introduce violence as the Nigerian central government currently does in its heavy-handedness against the pro-Biafra agitators.
In the same vein, the Lower Niger Congress also calls on the pro-Biafra agitators, which have not done so, to embrace the Referendum option since it leads to the destination of the freedom we all seek.
The LNC also calls on the Nigerian authorities to immediately release all persons detained in connection with the agitations for Self-determination and instead to engage in dialogue as is done in a democracy, especially since the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, had at 2015 United Nations General Assembly called on the world body to facilitate the exercise of that same right for the Palestinians and Peoples of Western Sahara in Morocco.
Thank you for your attention.
Tony Nnadi, Esq.
Lower Niger Congress.
LNC Secretariat: +234 810 056 9448 (WhatsApp)
Web site www.lnc-usa.org