Many reasonable voices have spoken on the unhealthy state of the nation. The country, they said, is sick. Wide-ranging solutions had been proffered, the least being the call for an all-inclusive dialogue which our president has refused because he sees no need engaging with people who are not elected like him. Why he is adamant and mute at a time we need to be talking of how to pull through the current difficulties as one family is mindboggling.
Like every struggling South-Easterner, I am a self-confessed Biafran. Biafra lives in me and I live and breathe Biafra. I am of the ‘Biafra of the Mind’ which can never be defeated by any military weapon. Biafra of the mind is the indomitable and resilient spirit of the Igbo, the passion and zeal to excel through hard work, and the desire to triumph over all adversities. Biafra of the mind is the can-do spirit which inspires Igbo greatness. The Biafra of the mind is not at war with anyone. Biafra of the mind demands respect, equity and justice. That’s the Biafra that I am and confess while respecting the right of my brothers who struggle for self- determination and territorial Biafra.
While we wait for the almighty Pharaoh, let me address my fellow South Easterners on the following words as first written by Chief Emma Oyilofor which I will extensively reproduce here. ‘Prior to the commencement of the 1967-1970 civil war, Eastern Nigeria was reputed to be the fastest growing economy in Africa. The Premier of Eastern Nigeria (Dr Michael Okpara) and the government he led were implementing an aggressive sustainable development plan which was shattered by the civil war.’
Part of the plan was “a 200km industrial corridor running from Emene where we have the Airport through Nkalagu where the cement plant was located to Port Harcourt through Calabar. The corridor was to focus on auto assembly and industrial automation. A steel plant was already located in Emene and Kaiser in California was contracted to locate a car assembly plant and a plant for engines and turbines. The first roll out of a Made in Nigeria car was scheduled for 1968. The corridor was to mimic the Ruhr Industrial Valley in Germany under Otto Von Bismarck. The civil war destroyed these dreams”.
“Onitsha was to drive the retail economy via a shopping Emporium for all West Africans. It was opened in 1956, and by 1960, it had attained its purpose. Umuahia and Umudike, Umuagwo and Ohaji were to drive our agro based and biotechnology industries. That is why the root research lab and brewery were located there.”
“Enugu was to be the intellectual headquarters and the headquarters for our mechanical engineering industries. Zik had earlier brought in the US firm – Arthur D. Little as macroeconomic consultants. They advised that a university be set up to train manpower to feed these emerging industries. University of Nigeria, Nsukka with a campus in Enugu thus was the first university in the country to offer degree programmes in engineering, business, marketing, accounting, law and Medicine. The Institute of Management Technology Enugu was modelled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” This was the trajectory that Eastern Nigeria was blazing before the Nigeria -Biafra war. The massacre of Igbo civilians in Northern Nigeria ratcheted up emotions very high. We felt the need to defend ourselves against extermination. We fought a war of survival. We fought and lost gallantly.
‘However, with the benefit of hind sight, it is debatable if we had to fight that war – this debate is not the subject of this piece. Suffice to note that our decision to fight, was a high-risk decision. ‘We fought the war because 30,000 Igbos were massacred in the north and we ended up losing another 3 million people and a total destruction of our wealth, including an arrested developmental stride’. ‘The marginalisation which our youths are reacting to now is a direct consequence of that unfortunate war. Marginalisation notwithstanding, we have recreated ourselves through hard work in the last 50 years. Ours is the most democratised prosperity in Nigeria and not the prosperity of a few. The irony is that much of Igbo prosperity is outside Igboland and therefore vulnerable to the risk of wide-scale violence.
‘Despite the marginalisation, there is no public position the Igbos have not attained since after the war, except for the presidency. All other glass ceilings have been shattered by us. Having come thus far again, the Igbos are yet at a turning point. Our post-civil war youths are justifiably angry. But is it desirable to deploy another high-risk strategy to redress the wrongs without thorough thinking? ‘This is a time that Igboland should have peace and stability within its borders, in the event that the current gathering storm leads to full blown anarchy. If anarchy erupts, Igbos scattered across Nigeria need a stable homeland for refuge.
‘Unfortunately, this is the time when gunmen are attacking and dismantling the institutions of law and order in Igboland. Some say that the unknown gunmen are not Igbos. That they are fifth columnists who want to set up Igboland for destruction. If that is the case, then there is the need for us to work with our governments at the state and local levels to unmask the masked gunmen so that it will be evident to the world that there is a conspiracy to set up the Igbo for destruction’. ‘If, however, the unknown gunmen are our angry youths, it is time to point out to them that they have adopted another high-risk strategy that could destroy the hard-earned prosperity we have acquired since after the first civil war. I do not want to believe that we are destined to allow extraneous circumstances to destroy all we have accomplished for a second time. A prosperous people do not engage in warfare in their homeland. It is totally counter-productive.
‘When national security forces go on the offensive to restore law and order in response to the killings of security officials and destruction of public institutions, the aftermath can only lead to so much collateral damages, setting us back many decades. If in doubt, check the North East where the collateral damages inflicted on the region because of Boko Haram will take another generation to rebuild. ‘Allowing our homeland to become a battleground is an ill wind that will do us no good. Killing each other because we share contrary opinion does not reflect the republican nature of the Igbo. Head or tail, we lose. We do not need two high risk misadventures within a generation.
This is a time to rethink the struggle and strategy for those championing territorial Biafra rather than a Biafra of the mind which no military weapon can destroy. ‘In looking at the general insecurity pervading the land, I hear some of us say that 2021 is not 1967. Yes, I agree that a lot has changed. For example, in 1967, Islamic insurgency that has a vision of establishing a global caliphate did not exist. Today it exists and is causing wars and spreading terror across the world. The problem with Islamic insurgency is that it creates never ending wars and never-ending insecurity.
‘We make the mistake of focusing on the Fulani as the problem. Yes, in Nigeria, some of them are part of the foot soldiers. We however forget that Boko Haram is predominantly Kanuri and they have over stretched our military in the last ten years. The Fulani exist in only a few West African countries. The big picture therefore is ISIS and Al ‘Qaeda. This requires far more creative and innovative thinking than I perceive us exhibiting at the moment.’ We need to wear our thinking caps. We need to think twice or may be thrice to contain or avert the gathering storm. We can re-evaluate our actions, accept errors where we have erred and renew our struggle with a new narrative.