THERE is tension across the South East where some separatist groups agitating for self-determination and the independent state of Biafra are in regular conflict with government security agencies. Most pronounced is the recent clash between federal forces and the Eastern Security Network(ESN).
ESN is an armed private security outfit established by the pro- scribed Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB). The group imposed it on themselves to monitor forests in the South East so as to protect farmers mostly women from the menace of criminal elements masquerading as Fulani herdsmen. For some time now, criminals said to be herdsmen are terrorizing most parts of the country. They are frequently involved in rape, kidnapping, killings and unprovoked mass murder of defenceless citizens without being held ac- countable.
Though the ESN establishment is not backed by any known law, the traumatised people who felt abandoned to their fate by government hailed it as a child of necessity and do not want to hear anything negative said about them even though IPOB which established ESN is itself designated by the government as a terrorist organisation making the clear intention of ESN suspicious hence the crackdown by government forces. The recent conflict is not the first time federal forces will engage pro- Biafra groups in violent clashes. There was the Okigwe massacre of 2003, Onitsha crisis of 2004, 2006 and Nkpor killings as well as Asaba, Obigbo, Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Enugu, Abakiliki, Nsukka and Oji River, which had witnessed different dimension of conflicts. The contrast this time, is that IPOB rather than take the beating are emboldened for a duel and direct confrontation with the military. How did IPOB recruit thousands of volunteers? How did they procure so much arms? Is this the beginning of the dreaded armed struggle for the actualization of the independent state of Biafra? Is dialogue completely exhausted?.
When IPOB was proscribed and the group went silent, I was concerned by the silence of their loquacious leader who is attracted to radio broadcast like the bee is attracted to honey. I was alarmed because like in Jaw, when the shark goes out into the deep sea, it sails back with a roar. With the birth of ESN, has IPOB sailed back with a roar? The IPOB has boasted that nobody can stop it or its men. IPOB once pride itself as a non-violent group carry- ing out non-violent agitations for self-determination. Every plea to the government to dialogue with them was rebuffed. The government was hardnosed . It took all the wrong-headed approach to what ordinarily was a simple problem. It arrogantly jettisoned the 2014 Confab report which actually addressed most of the fundamental problems leading to the agitations. It also refused to correct the glaring issues of marginalisation and Fulani herdsmen menace but very eager to suppress IPOB by force I recently spoke with a very high-ranking military officer of South East origin. I wanted to know why the use of force in suppressing IPOB when the government can open a serious conversation, listen to their complaints and meet them halfway. I reasoned that given the too many flashpoints across the country, IPOB problem is one that does not require force.
The officer said the problem with IPOB is its separatist agitation. Biafra or its independence, he said, means war, and the federal government is obligated to forcefully stop any attempt at balkanising the Federation. He said the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria listed the 36 States of the Federation and that any at- tempt by any state or group of states to break away under the guise of self-determination or independence is an invitation to war because the Federal Government will be defending the constitution. I reminded him of IPOB’s right to self-determination, that IPOB wants referendum as a pathway to Biafra, not war. I reminded him that the group may be pushed to armed struggle because of the high-handed tactics being employed and failure of government to address the issues of marginalization, devolution of power and general insecurity. I told him that bullying and intimidation will not resolve the issues and that war is avoidable. He responded that war does not determine who is right or wrong, that he is a soldier and not a politician. He said the politicians will do their own things to fix what is wrong with our politics, be it true federalism , restructuring or fundamental dialogue among the different ethnic groups. He warned that IPOB is on over drive and should be called to order by southeast leaders because they are playing with fire. He stressed that fire will burn those that play with it. He said soldiers don’t crave for war and do not want war but that if the need arises , the military will fight to defend the Constitution and keep Nigeria one. With things moving aggressively very fast, I tried to browse this
issue with some other fellows to determine how we can achieve a conflict free society. We were all agreed that IPOB is right in their agitation but that the Federal Government has failed in ad- dressing their legitimate agitations. We also agreed that a unilateral declaration of Biafra will result in war. Between 1966 and 1970, Nigeria fought a bitter civil war with the Republic of Biafra. In that war, millions of lives were lost. When the war ended in 1970, the defeated Igbo wholeheartedly embraced the Nigerian project with the hope that the promise of reconciliation is real. They not only rebuilt the Igbo land , they built back where they lived across Nigeria. Rather than be accepted as equal partners in the Nigerian project, they are rejected, maligned , marginalized, victimized and treated like conquered people. They are reminded that the war is not over.
The hatred for the Igbo climaxed with the current Buhari administration. Despite a landslide win in a general election, the President came with vengeance to subdue the Igbo and make them be sorry for not voting for him. Because no one wants to be slave or second-class citizen in his own country , especially when all he wanted is a level playing ground in a free nation that is fair to all, the disgruntled Igbo suddenly found solace in listening to the regular broadcast of a demagogue who identified and highlighted their problems through his pirate radio. They were reminded of a Biafra where they will no longer suffer, marginalised or deprived.
While Biafra or its independence may mean war, let me be emphatic that we the Igbo are not at war with Nigeria. We have no pending issues of war and do not want any future war. War of arm is brutish and primitive. There are civilized ways of settling disputes and dialogue remains a viable option. The truth is that the federal government is complicit in the ugly situation we are in. They have used all the wrong tactics in trying to contain a legitimate agitation because of their mindset of ‘might is right’, forget- ting that you can conquer a people but cannot overcome the spirit of the people.
No country they say can twice survive a civil war. If we want to avoid a second civil war in Nigeria, we must address the prevail- ing fault lines in the Federation. It’s never too late for the federal government to end marginalization and discrimination of all kinds against all people of Nigeria. If after 51 years of the civil war we are still afraid of the ghost of Biafra and cannot let the Igbo be equal citizens, then set them free, let them go. Instead of the futile effort to kill the spirit of Biafra at all cost, we can transform it into a positive energy for the greater good of the country