Resurgence of Biafran Agitation & Indestructibility of Ndiigbo in Nigeria
by Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo
There is no doubt that the Igbo race is the single largest group in Nigeria; Alaigbo is comparable only to the Nile Valley in terms of population density. Yet, it is the avowed goal of certain forces in Nigeria, especially among the Hausa/Fulani establishment, to wipe out the Igbo from the face of the earth. This evil desire did not begin today. It is a command rooted in history and otiose religious injunctions. But as the saying goes, there is no killing the beetle! As a group of people, created and ordained by God Almighty, no person or group in Nigeria is capable of wiping out the Igbo. It is not possible. In the legends of Buddhism, the Vajra is the most important ritual implement of Vajrayana Buddhism. In Sanskrit, the word vajra is defined as something hard or mighty, as in a diamond. It symbolizes an impenetrable, immovable and indestructible state of knowledge and enlightenment. Without the Vajra, the strength of the gods of Buddhism will cease to exist.
This pristine Sanskrit philosophy of the indestructibility of the Vajra was alluded to by Jesus Christ himself when he compared the Hebrew children as the salt of the earth nothing that the earth would be worthless without its salt. Just as the vajra is the meat of the gods of Buddhism and the children of light the salt of the earth, so are the Ndiigbo the salt of Nigeria. Without the Igbo, Nigeria will lose its taste and Nigeria will be no more. In all ramifications, this assertion is true.
In terms of adaptation, J. P. Clarke had once referred to the Igbo as soldier ants that came relatively late to the Nigerian political scene but as soon as they emerged, they seized the floor and dictated the pace of nationalism. Ndiigbo are the only group on Nigeria that has the capacity to make a comfortable and productive home anywhere outside their homeland. They are industrious and determined and they do not easily give up. They are very clever and hardworking. When it comes to business, the Igbos have the humility, patience and resilience to nurture a business from nothing to something huge. Ndiigbo have paid the greatest price in Nigeria.
Nnamdi Azikiwe had remarked that it would appear that God has specially created the Igbo people to suffer persecution and be victimized because of their resolute will to live and survive where others have failed. Since suffering appears to be the label of the Igbo race, we have come to the conclusion that we have sacrificed enough for the unity of Nigeria, and resolved that we can no longer bear to be sacrificed further for the ultimate redemption of the Nigerian State. I think it is historically significant to note that throughout the inglorious history of Nigeria, the Igbo have at every turn survived the harsh and evil conspiracies of the Nigerian state to eliminate it.
If any person goes through the records of Nigerian history, that person will not find an occasion when the Igbo have failed to rise from the ashes of brutality to mount, once more, on wings like the eagle. In ancient history, there is no record where another tribe has either marched across Igbo territory or subjected the Igbo nation to a humiliating conquest. Instead, there is record to show that the martial prowess of Ndiigbo, at all stages of human history, has rivaled them not only to survive persecution, but also to adapt themselves to the role thrust upon them by history by preserving all that is best and most noble in our culture and tradition. Placed in this high estate, the Igbo cannot shirk from the responsibility conferred on it by their manifest destiny. Having undergone a course of suffering in Nigeria, Ndiigbo must, therefore, enter into its heritage by asserting its birthright, by asserting its right to self-determination within the confines of international law without apologies to any person or group.
A kaleidoscopic study of the Igbo political space will reveal a people of over 100 million strong in manpower; our agricultural resources include economic and food crops which are the bases of modern civilization, not to mention fruits and vegetables which flourish in the tropics. Our mineral resources include coal, lignite, lead, antimony, iron, diatomite, clay, oil, tin and salt. Our forest products include timber of special economic value, including iroko and mahogany; our fauna and flora are marvels of the world and our land is blessed by waterways of world renown, including the River Niger, Imo River, and Cross River etc. Yet, in spite of these natural and human advantages, which illustrate, without doubt, the potential wealth of the Igbo nation, we are among the most marginalized and ostracized group such that we have become extraneous in the political institutions of Nigeria.
My duty here is not to reel out the litany of atrocities committed against the Igbo despite our huge resources and contribution to this country, in spite of our bustling manpower and our vitality as an indigenous African people; but rather to state, in concrete terms, that these attributes and wealth of the Igbo portends the manifest destiny of Ndiigbo. The Igbo traditional emphasis on positive change, individualism and competitiveness has given us a huge edge over other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, especially over the Hausa/Fulani nationalities, who are hindered by a “wary religion”. As a people not cocooned by any religious fundamentalism, and as Achebe remarked ,“fearing no god or man, Ndiigbo are “custom-made to grasp the opportunities, such as they were, of the white man’s dispensations. We have done this with both hands.” This type of success often carries with it deadly consequences. For the Igbo, the consequences of our successes in Nigeria have come at a huge price.
It will be recalled that deep-rooted ethnic grievances and rivalry among the major Nigerian ethnic groups had signposted the politics of decolonization culminating in the first attempt at Igbo ethno-nationalism expressed in the declaration of the State of Biafra in 1967. This attempt at establishing an independent state of Biafra was consequent upon the premeditated genocidal pogroms against the Igbo and other people of Southeastern Nigeria outside of their homeland. These choreographed genocidal attacks followed the coup of 29 July 1966 during which Nigerian troops of Northern origin systematically killed many Southern officers and men of whom, at least, three quarters were Easterners. It is apt to say that the involvement of military officers of Northern extraction in these massacres effectively destroyed the Nigeria Army as an effective agent of Nigerian unity. The subsequent massacre of citizens of the Eastern region in the North, starting again in September 1966 and the mass migration back to the east that ensued, widened the rupture in national unity. It was at this point that issues such as problems of refugees, economic support of displaced persons and intensified fears of citizens of the Eastern region for their personal safety combined to escalate the tension between the Eastern Region and the central government. Given the gravity of the challenges confronting our people and the murderous hatred directed against us, the ebullient Lieutenant-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, who was the Military Governor of the Eastern Region, was left with no option than to declare the sovereign state of Biafra. Nobody could have blamed him in the circumstance.
This attempt at secession by the East was brutally resisted by the Nigerian state resulting in a fratricidal Civil War that resulted in the loss of over two million Igbo lives and the displacement of many others in Eastern Nigeria. The end of the war was followed by deliberate social, political and economic policies aimed at reducing the capacity of the Igbo people to challenge the state or the dominance of the victorious groups in all affairs of the country.
These policies of marginalization were efficiently and effectively carried out through the various military dictatorships which dominated Nigerian politics for the greater proportion of Nigeria’s post-civil war history that spanned 1970 to 1999. Interestingly, the current democratic dispensation has also coincided with the emergence of a post-war Igbo generation who do not accept the obvious marginalization of Ndiigbo in Nigeria. The manifestation of this resentment is seen in the number of groups and movements that have emerged to demand for the re-establishment of a Biafran state as a panacea to the alienation of the Ndiigbo in the Nigerian polity. This new Igbo nationalism, like any other nationalistic quest, is anchored on a shared vision among our people that we are better off as an independent state than being an integral part of the Nigeria state.
Some scholars are of the view that nationalism comes before nation, in the sense that an ethnic group must be somehow politically mobilized before it becomes a nation. This political mobilization occurs in the form of recognized collective objectives as perceived by an ethnic group that feels marginalized in a heterogeneous society like Nigeria. In its strict sense, therefore, nationalism is intensified by the politics of exclusion. So, any time a group of people in a multinational polity feels particularly targeted for ill treatment or oppression, there is the likelihood that their identification will turn from ethnic to national identity as it becomes politicized. When a group in a society is marked out for unequal treatment, either economically or politically, then the boundaries of that group become clearly defined. The origin of Igbo nationalism is traceable to the manifest hatred against us by the Nigerian establishment and central government’s tacit approval of a genocidal pogrom against us which resulted in our quest for the establishment of an independent Biafran state.
Several decades after the war, the factors that spawned Biafra have become even more entrenched and vicious thereby reinforcing Igbo cries of marginalization in their struggle for full accommodation into the post-war Nigerian society. Thus, the resurgence of Igbo nationalism and the fiery demand for the state of Biafra is a result of our frustration in the Nigerian state and conclusion that the existing political structures are designed to consign Ndiigbo permanently to a second-class status vis-à-vis other major ethnic groups in the country.
Several documented facts support this view of marginalization of Ndiigbo in Nigeria since the Civil War through economic strangulation, politico-bureaucratic emasculation, military neutralization and de-facto ostracism. Some of the issues that readily come to mind include the 20-pound sterling ceiling placed on bank lodgments for every Igbo after the war, no matter how much such persons had in banks. This policy, no doubt, was a calculated endeavor to neutralize the savings and checkmate the capacity of Ndigbo to rehabilitate and re-integrate into the Nigerian economy. Related to this was the sudden withdrawal of federal troops from the East, a ploy that was aimed at denying the Igbo economy the stimulus for recovery as Igbo people who could have been empowered as suppliers to the troops were denied the opportunity. Another was the timing of the Indigenization Policy which came shortly after the war when the Ndiigbo were financially constrained to participate in the process of buying into the foreign-owned industrial and commercial establishments being liquidated at the time.
Of note in post-war Igbo marginalization was the deficient infrastructural development in our homeland which, in turn, caused the mass migration of Ndiigbo to other parts of the country to seek their economic survival. There were also cases of discrimination against Ndiigbo in the siting of industries and the attendant loss of benefits of linkages that come from such allocations. Also of mention was the deliberate neglect of ecological problems in the East, especially the problem of soil erosion that results in loss of agricultural lands and settlements as well as severe pollution of oilfields with through air, water and land contamination on routine basis. The ecological devastation becomes conspicuous, in relative terms, when compared with the massive attention given to desertification in the North and beach erosion in the Western parts of Nigeria.
Apart from these policies that economically disempowered Ndiigbo, other instruments were also used to effectively exclude them from economic and political power sharing at the center. Such include the ‘tokenistic’ appointments to strategically insignificant positions in central government administrations, marginal presence in the administrative and headship of ministerial and extra-ministerial departments and parastatals. Under the present Buhari government, this trend has been reinvented with brutal efficiency. Generated from the foregoing is the question: why is there a renewed demand for Biafra?
The answer to this question is straightforward. As I have remarked on several occasions, Biafra has become a monumental phenomenon that cannot be silenced by force. It is a constant reminder to the Nigerian state that all is not well with the structural configuration in the country. The present federal government has, rather than address the issue of the Biafran agitation, resorted instead to indiscriminate murder of the nonviolent Biafran protesters. The lackluster response of the present administration in handling the Biafran agitation has reaffirmed the dubiety and lack of vision and mission of successive Nigerian governments.
The truth today is that time is no longer patiently waiting for us. The pretensions of the government at offering change is a wild goose chase principally because the government is impervious to the fact that the first point of change in Nigeria is to restructure the polity. Experience has shown that a society makes progress when it gets its politics right. Only when the politics is right can economic growth be stimulated. Since 1966, we have created a record for getting our politics wrong at every turn. Nigeria, as it is today, is a lopsided colonial creation where the resources of state have been hijacked by a predatory but insignificant class of oppressors who are intent on vitiating the course of history.
Nigeria must be restructured along the line of true federalism. The Niger-Delta crisis and Biafra agitation in the East, the Boko Haram insurgency in the North, the OPC’s stance in the West etc are all indications that Nigeria and Nigerians need a truly restructured country. It is in this sense that you will appreciate the Biafra agitation and the indestructibility of the Igbo race.