“So, Jonah, what do you think about IPOB?” This question, posed by an Igbo friend, would lead to a discussion between myself, the questioner, and a second Igbo friend; none of us fans of IPOB, and has also triggered this article. In case you are uninitiated, IPOB stands for the Indigenous People of Biafra, an organisation that seeks the formation of a new country called Biafra, and that appears to assume that someone like me, a non-Igbo from Rivers State, is automatically and unquestionably a citizen of Biafra.
First things first. Let’s get something out of the way. Contrary to what some persons might argue, I do not think anything on earth is non-negotiable or indivisible. Even atoms are technically divisible, although we might debate whether the components can exist sustainably in isolation. And many marriages, contrary to the oaths freely taken, do not await a couple’s death before dissolution. Having said this, I think despite its myriad issues, Nigeria is better off staying as one country; however, no naturally born human, free of the inhumane shackles of slavery, should be forced to stay where he or she does not wish to be, except in prison for a real crime.
We now return to IPOB and its quest for what still remains undefined. When we say “Biafra”, to what exactly are we referring? Is it the five southeastern states populated by Igbos, or all states entangled in the area previously known as the Eastern Region? The body language from IPOB appears to lean towards the latter, which is problematic because even in 1967, many non-Igbo tribes were unwilling to trade one “oppressor” for another one. My dad would tell us of the horrors our tribe suffered at the hands of the Biafran forces (and Nigerian forces) during the gruesome Nigerian Civil War. The Biafran forces, without seeking consent from other tribes, demanded loyalty to their cause, and were willing to murder opposing voices, and the Nigerian forces treated people trapped within Biafran territory as co-conspirators to be dealt with in a language they could not understand.
Defining the Biafran quest would enable resolution of the bounded territory. If IPOB realises that the South South states are unwilling to join Biafra, it can still seek a fully landlocked Biafra. After all, the Vatican City, San Marino, and Lesotho are completely contained within the borders of another country, while maintaining their sovereign rights. It all comes down to negotiation. Maybe IPOB would look into this, rather than continue acting like it has exclusive control over the lands formerly ensconced in the Eastern Region. It would be hypocritical to say Nigeria was formed without the British Empire seeking the consent of the indigenous peoples, and then proceed to do the same by envisioning a Biafra that does not involve seeking consent from all the tribes that could be impacted.
Talking about seeking consent, even for Igbos, IPOB does not seem to have sought the consent of the people in the five southeastern states. Despite the unaddressed wounds, trauma, and gaslighting of Igbos since 1970, I would not be surprised if a significant percentage of the Igbo tribe would rather just live in peace and earn their living without seeking secession. IPOB has not shown that it has general support from the Igbo population. If it had such support, it would not need to terrorise Igbos into staying at home on certain days.
The friend who asked the question that started this article was bitter about her uncle, an Igbo police officer, who had been killed inside a police station by “unknown gun men”. Even if we entertain the argument that the infamous “unknown gun men” might not be IPOB/ESN operatives, we cannot honestly absolve IPOB of blame for the people brutalised for daring to go about their lawful businesses on days declared by IPOB as sit-at-home days, or the trucks and goods burned because they were found moving on public roads on such days. If IPOB had the unforced support of Igbos like the Catalonia separatists in Spain, they would not need to be terrorising their own people.
The lack of support appears worse among Igbo elites. Unlike certain parts of Nigeria where the political leadership directly and tacitly show support for certain “renegades”, the five Igbo governors, and other elected officials do not appear to support the quest for Biafra. If they did, among other things, we should have been seeing calls for modalities for referendums to be included in the Nigerian Constitution. Given the influence wielded by elites in any society, failure to have them cheerleading or providing back channel support degrades the ability of any quest to succeed without large-scale bloodletting.
If the current elites would not join the fray, IPOB would ordinarily be expected to seek a new crop of elites, which is why their directives against holding elections in the South East appears bereft of sound logic. If IPOB has the strength to prevent elections, it should also be able to use that strength to counter the prevalent use of security forces and hoodlums for rigging elections. And if it had the support of the voting population, combined with military potency to counter rigging, it should be able to get sympathetic persons to be elected across all Igbo states. It could even use the enthronement of qualified supporters in elected positions to demonstrate good governance and even sell its vision of what life in its sought-after sovereign nation could be like. I think this would better serve IPOB’s quest than blindly saying elections must not hold; except there is something we are not seeing.
My friends and I, in discussing the IPOB situation, looked sadly at the economic impact of recent activities on the Southeastern states. Later, I would look at the impact on my own state, where the Governor, based on a series of murders allegedly pulled off by IPOB and/or its associates, declared a curfew that impacted on economic activities and worsened an existing traffic situation that caused many Rivers persons to trek home in order to avoid being caught in traffic during curfew hours. I can understand the grievances of IPOB, and unlike some persons, I would not say they have no reason to seek secession, but if they must secede, their strategies should not be diabolic. That is my own grievance.
Image Credit: ipobgovernment.org