Biafra and the Knifing Calls

In recent times, the Nigerian polity has been flooded with secession calls by Nnamdi Kanu’s organisation, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Kanu’s request has been quite clear: take a knife, carve out Nigeria’s “Biafra region” and let it become an independent nation. In the midst of debates on what areas constitute the requested Biafra, secession calls have also come from other parts of the country. Apparently, many persons are tired of Nigeria’s present composition and feel a divorce is the best way forward. 

In thinking about the secessionist calls cum the increasing tension in Nigeria, a quote by an American writer, H. L. Mencken, comes to mind. Mencken said that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” I think this quote fully captures the campaigns to cut out independent states from Africa’s sleeping giant. A divorce seems simple, but as many contemporary divorces from failed marriages would attest, it is never as simple as it seems. In a conventional marriage, with or without children, divorces usually turn out to be messy because of the complex nature of marriage. How much more in a country as complex as Nigeria.

Before we proceed, let me be clear that those saying Nigeria’s composition is non-negotiable are quixotically stating bullshit. This welded-for-eternity position is another extreme response sitting on the opposite side of the calls for secession. Nigeria’s conundrum is too complex to be resolved by either a violent divorce or a forced pretentious marriage. The country has about 250 tribes with each tribe distrustful of the other. The seeming arrogance of the “big three” elicits loathing glances from smaller tribes, even as the big three perpetually aim for each other’s jugulars. Add this tension to poor development indices, rampant poverty and an unbelievably greedy elite, and the resultant equation is the combustible mix called Nigeria.

Why are we having secession calls? A simple answer would be that a number of persons doubt the possibility of their development within the confines of the Nigerian state. However, this is merely an immediate or should I say, “surface” reason. At the root lies entrenched discrimination, inequitable distribution and use of the proverbial national cake, confused leadership, poverty and widespread disinterest in national integration spurred by overriding tribal affiliations. A look at these causes shows they are also reproduced at the state and local government levels. This is why I think secession is not a solution.

Let’s take the example of Biafra. The Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) was triggered by the declaration of an independent Biafra as a nation covering the erstwhile Eastern region. Whereas the focus was on the Igbo tribe, being the largest tribe in that contiguous space, Biafra enveloped several other tribes, the Ijaw tribe being the biggest of the smaller co-opted tribes. As historians and people who lived through the war would attest, several of the co-opted tribes actively worked against the Biafran cause, being wary of oppression by the Igbos. Would you blame them? Maybe. However, we have to consider that from their viewpoint, an independent Biafra only meant replacing “northern oppressors” with an eastern version. This fear influenced their active sabotage and played a role in the war’s outcome.

The distrust that existed in 1967 still exists, and may even have been amplified in contemporary times. Even if Biafra (as presently delineated) were to be granted by a benevolent genie, within a short time, the other tribes would gang up against the Igbos. Thereafter, the tribes would fight themselves, requesting further balkanisation. This is a realistic outcome in a region where families fight over who becomes chief. Hence it is clear that bringing a knife to the Nigerian map would not solve any problem except fundamental issues are addressed.

If resources were equitably used for development no one would see a need for secession. If no tribe felt its resources were been used to develop other regions at its own neglect, there would be no fake messiah. If true federalism were practised in place of the existing deceptive unitary system and each federating unit had to innovate its development without leaching on others, no one would complain.  If no tribe felt there was a glass ceiling limiting what its people could achieve relative to others, there would be peace. If meritocracy replaced nepotism and quota-driven installation of ineffectual buffoons, and this enshrined meritocracy produced development felt at the grassroots, no one would be issuing ultimatums to other tribes. If Nigerians had access to quality education that produced intellectual minds and not poorly educated beings, no one would have any time for demagogues. Finally, if the country had forward-thinking leaders and not legally-licensed thieves, no one would call for secession.

Nigeria’s problem is beyond the secession treatment. The issues highlighted in the preceding paragraph are issues that unless addressed, would repeat in any carved-out state. After all, the issues driving the calls for secession are the same issues driving the unwise calls for the creation of more federating states. Unlike those who scream the “one undividable nation under God” deception, I think Nigerians need an honest discussion about the terms of a continued marriage. In such a discussion, everything should be negotiable. We can achieve more together than as fragmented countries. Thinking of secession as a cure to poor development is like Donald Trump’s thinking that building a wall can stop illegal immigration. Even Don Quixote would be appalled.

Image Credit: mapsvg.com

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