There are renewed calls for an independent state of Igbo people, but what form would Biafra of 2018 look like? The author shares his thinking.
Since the last 19 years, there has been a revival of the quest for the reestablishment of the defunct Republic of Biafra. Between 1967 and 1970 Biafra existed as an independent state apart from Nigeria. The boundaries of the new country were based on the colonially created former Eastern Region of Nigeria. Igbo national people were the dominant ethnic group in the region. But there were many other non-Igbo ethnic or national peoples in the new country. Because of the circumstances that necessitated the independence declaration of the country it was natural for this Biafra of 1967 to include the dominant Igbo nationals and others who are Igbo neighbours living in the contiguous surrounding lands.
Just like they did in the dysfunctional greater Nigerian country, the European colonialists who created the former Eastern Region had insensitively mixed up all the different national ethnic groups in the region for their governing convenience. Because this hotchpotch arrangement helped to minimise the running cost of the colonial outposts by cutting down on the number of staff and other incidentals it made a sound commercial sense for the non-indigenous Europeans. So, the Europeans maximised profit from their colonial venture while the indigenous peoples suffered from avoidable endemic interethnic internecine conflicts that would frustrate and stunt any form of progress.
As soon as the colonial Europeans left when they granted independence to the natives, the hitherto simmering dormant crisis busted out into uncontrollable flames. Up till now, as I write this piece, since the departure of the Europeans, interethnic and interreligious killings have constantly erupted among the native peoples who were forced by the exigencies of colonialism to exist as citizens of the same country. This is what led to the declaration of Biafran independence from Nigeria in 1967. Islamic dominated Nigeria had embarked on the mission to wipe out the Christian dominant Igbo people from the Earth. Igbo people resisted the genocidal move by declaring an independent state of Biafra from Nigeria.
This is 2018 more than half a century after, the various peoples are still engulfed in an unnecessary progress-arresting and human-lives destroying crisis because the lazy inheritors of this unviable European creation have continued to avoid facing the realities of their so-called Nigerian country. The only sensible solution to the seemingly unending Nigerian crisis is to divide the country along the existing ethnic and religious divides.
However as we stated earlier, there has been a renewed interest in carving out of Nigeria a new independent Biafra. With the new agitation came the controversy surrounding the authentic identities, territorial boundaries and social and political structures of this new quest. As all will agree, both those involved in the struggle to free Biafra from Nigeria and those watching the developments from any angle, there is no way the Biafra of 2018 will look anything like the Biafra of 1967. Nothing in this world remains static and time, it is said, changes everything. Fifty years have passed since 1967 and the truth is that the conditions and circumstances that produced the first Biafra and this new Biafra are not the same.
Therefore the human identities, national boundaries and political and social structures of this new Biafra cannot be the same as those of 1967. Every new generation must fight their own wars and win or lose their own battles on their own terms. Agitating for a new Biafra based on the 1967 identities, boundaries and structures will amount to an intellectual laziness on the part of the agitators and spell the doom of the proposed new country. A new Biafra as agitated for by the Igbo does not and cannot include any non-Igbo ethnic nationals. This position cannot be overemphasised because going against it will be nothing different from the extant Nigerian disaster – the mixing of different incongruent peoples in a country that cannot work. That mistake was made by foreign powers and we rightly blame them for it. But we cannot afford to make the same mistake in the new Biafra. Doing so will be like creating a new Nigeria by another name, Biafra. The same crises that have bedevilled the present Nigeria will also dog such Biafra and destroy it.
Such a disaster can easily be avoided by creating a brand new country by Africans and for Africans based on their own native experiences and anticipations. It will be a country for the first time created by Africans and for their people on their own terms. When this is done, if the new country fails or succeeds, it will be the shame or pride of the creators – Igbo people. There will be none else to blame but the indigenous people themselves. There will not be any foreign input by sheepishly following the moribund foreign concept boundaries of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria. The absurdity of adopting the map of the old Eastern Region as the boundaries of the new Biafra is the fact that almost half of Igbo population and land on the west bank of the Niger were not included in the 1967 Biafra. There are also several Igbo populations and lands that extend beyond what many people today know as traditional Igbo land. No Igbo anywhere should or will be left behind in this new quest to re-establish an independent Igbo state.
These truths and facts serve as fundamentals that need to be clearly defined for all who care to join this Igbo liberation business so that from the onset they will have a clear picture of what they are getting into, what they should and what they should not do. With that said it does not mean that in the process of doing that that we should produce a document that is perfect and immutable. We should aim for a living document that is dynamic and in tandem with the times, events and current circumstances. Since events, circumstances and experiences seem to change very rapidly these days we can keep up by constantly reviewing and updating the contents of the working document to always reflect in real time the prevailing realities, which we encounter along the way.
At this moment all those who are involved in this business need to recognise that we are at the cusp of bringing into being a brand new society, country or nation. As such, we seem to have been involuntarily positioned by providence to play a special role in the history of Igbo people. We can voluntarily choose to re-enact the convoluted grandiose “Zik of Africa” pipe dream by pursuing to build another clay-footed giant in the new Biafra of 2018 and jumble up a mixed bag of incongruent peoples in the name of inclusiveness. If we did this we would have fallen into the same sin we accuse Lugard, Zik and others of. Or we can choose to unashamedly reinvent our ancestral Igbo nation and proudly turn it into a viable, progressive, peaceful, prosperous and manageable modern country that is successful and serve as an inspiration to the rest of the world. Such a modern and ideal Igbo country will attract other people from around the world who would come and proudly take up citizenship in this Igbo country and will be self-propelled to honestly pay patriotic allegiance to their newly adopted country and Igboness.
It will be foolhardy of us who have the luxury of time (relative to the 1967 Biafrans) as it is, to carelessly, even naively adopt the same unworkable one-Nigerian pattern to which we are all witnesses of as a woeful epitome of a futile doomed enterprise.
At this stage (maybe at no time at all) we cannot afford to have anything to be written in stone – unchangeable and final. In the popular saying it is said that only God and fools do not change their minds. 1967 Biafra was the concept and dream of our fathers but the 2018 Biafra must be the concept and dream of the present generation of Igbo people. I personally was a firm believer in one-Biafra that would be made up of both Igbo and their neighbours (an all-inclusive Biafra.) In my simplistic thinking I believed that the so-called south-south or Niger Delta political zone should naturally be a part of the new Biafra because 1967 boundaries included those places. I wrote passionately in favour of such political arrangement in the new Biafra we are founding. I had even used such fanciful phrases like “United States of Biafra” to describe the envisaged new creation of another one-Nigeria only with a different name “Biafra.”
But such phrases are thoughtless and full of “beautiful nonsense” as my friend Festus Afamefule would put it. In the last few years after some time of impassioned personal interrogation and honest empirical contemplation I concluded that in the interest of the future generations of our people that we cannot afford to construct a new country for our people whose foundation and modus vivendi is not firmly anchored in our Igboness (in who we are.) For a society to work, the people are expected to have common historical experiences, common cultural practices, common linguistic history and some other things that help to hold a people together. The saying in Igbo is that na izu ka nma na nne ji.
Some people have come up with the question about what happens to the rest of the peoples some of whom also fought and died in the effort to free the first Biafra from Nigeria. Such people will need to be reminded that these other nations of indigenous peoples are capable of forming their own independent countries without Igbo as a part in their destiny. The populations of most of these ethnic nations run in several millions with so much natural and human resources that can easily sustain and make them successful. It will be stupid for any Igbo to think that they have been placed in the position of the “redemptive saviours” over these peoples who have their own innate redeemers. Everyone or ethnic people that fought under the banner and name of Biafra in 1967 and onwards are also equally entitled to adopt the name as their redemptive symbol of resistance, freedom and independence. Today that is what that name has come to represent for all peoples and persons – a universal symbol of resistance against genocide, injustice, oppression, persecution and domination. Any people or person anywhere in the world can adopt that name as their symbolic avatar in their quest for redemption, liberation, freedom and independence from anything, person or institution.
Perhaps the reason why this confusion has festered is that this movement for a new Biafra has remained like a moving train, which stops to pick up all willing passengers without discrimination. Of course there should be no discrimination against all those who want to get in but the danger we have faced is that most of those who are joining the train (the Biafran train) come with so many wild, dangerous and hideous (sometimes fraudulent) notions. All come with preconceived parochial opinions on what Biafra is or what it should be. And all claim to be the final authorities in the subject. But unfortunately many of these individualised ideas about Biafra are flawed. Yet this has not stopped these misled individuals from holding very tight to their version of personalised wishful and impractical opinionated Biafranism.
Having observed this dangerous trend it has become necessary that the Igbo must get together to reinvent and refocus their own standardised unique and workable Biafranism and anticipated Biafran or Igbo country. It doesn’t matter, when independence is won the new state can stick with Biafra or change its name. The other emerging new countries can also adopt the Biafran name or something else as it suits them. More than one country can go by Biafra just like Sudan and South Sudan.
In the end a more sensible and ideal new Biafra or Igbo state should be aimed toward success. It should be one that while being careful to preserve all the great conservative aspects of Igbo cultural heritage and traditions, is also dynamic – readily embracing change and willingly directing the society to seamlessly transit into newly discovered lights with little or no frictions. If this generation followed their hearts and are willing to do the right things, this new society can work if it is founded on a non-sentimental and well-considered uncompromised realism.
On the contrary if we want to follow the fad and adopt the “pretty boy” posture of the current wave of indiscriminate and unrealistic world dream then we will be headed for trouble. Sadly, it is this prevailing unregulated sentimental liberal ideology that has created the greatest danger that is facing our world today. It is the indiscriminate senseless implementation of this innocent-sounding idea that is threatening to revert all the progress, prosperity and freedoms, which the world has thus far enjoyed to the level of the dark ages. This sentimental liberalism if left unchecked will send the world to the darkest abyss, the type that it has never seen before.
To prove the danger inherent in this psychedelic self-defeating indiscriminate all-inclusiveness; apart from the perfect example of the one-Nigerian disaster, the reader can take one hard look at Europe in its current compromised state. With the trend and rate at which Europe is traveling along this uncensored inclusiveness, Europe will be doomed. The only hope that is still open to Europe is that the current generation of Europeans must stand their ground and push back the coming darkness of religious fundamentalism. Otherwise, if nothing is done to stave off this wave of absolute evil, in the next few years Europe as we know it will be completely engulfed in a total hopeless darkness of the worst kind.
* Osita Ebiem is a social affairs commentator and rights advocate.