The latest unsuccessful attempt by leaders of the so-called Biafran Zionist Movement to seize a state radio station in Enugu caught the nation unaware. The operation was reportedly led by one Benjamin Onwuka, a self-acclaimed President of Biafra. A few months ago, the same group invaded the Enugu State Government House but failed. It was in the wee hours of the night but their effort was promptly repelled by security agencies. I have seen the pictures of those detained in connection with the invasion and I am very worried. What could these able-bodied young men be looking for? What is motivating them? Who are they speaking for? Are they okay?
If one reviews the action of this group, one cannot but ask similar questions. However, there are a few insights that one has to draw from which I will want to raise. The first is that it now seems that many young Nigerians understand that the only language the Nigerian state understands is that of violence. That realisation in itself is both scary and detrimental to the survival of the state itself. If a country reaches a stage where the only style the citizens use to express their grievance against the state or each other is to carry arms and resort to violence, then there is a need to get concerned. Somehow, many of us knew a day like this would come. I am surprised that we are now pretending not to know. When the Niger Delta agitators took to arms and the Nigerian state chose to placate them with payoffs, some people applauded and justified that action. But it has a consequence. Indirectly, a message was sent to other potential agitators to follow suit. Today, we have Boko Haram insurgents.
There are those who have tried unsuccessfully to differentiate the current insurgency in some parts of Northern Nigeria from the insurgency that happened in the Niger Delta in the past. They prefer to call one a struggle. In some ways, they may be right. The underlying issues that triggered each conflict may be different but in both cases, arms were taken up against the state. Somehow, by rewarding those who took up arms against it with robust payoffs, the Nigerian state is indirectly saying that it will only respond when citizens become violent. But for the fact that the Boko Haram insurgents have insisted on being faceless, they would have been enjoying their own financial largesse by now. Maybe, soon too. Who knows, they may actually be enjoying indirect payoffs through protection money channelled to them by politicians and others associated with the state apparatus. Could it be why these zealous “Zionists” have suddenly woken up to their own agitation just to get a share?
I am an Igbo man. Though I was born after the Biafran civil war, I have read several books about it and listened to my mother tell us elaborate stories. Towards the end of the war, my father, a school teacher at that time, was conscripted but later escaped into the bush. I lost a cousin who reluctantly went to war as a means of survival but could not survive it. No doubt, that war recalibrated the geographical region of Nigeria inhabited by the Igbo and dealt a fundamental blow to our creativity, entrepreneurship, industry and progress. You do not need to look too far to know that though the exchange of gunfire ended in 1970 with the declaration of the No Victor, No Vanquished slogan by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, yet, the Nigerian nation is still at war against Ndigbo. Sometimes, unwittingly, we are also at war against ourselves.
However, I am aware my Igboness must exist within the unpleasant reality called Nigeria. We must learn to respectfully express it with the limits of decency and law. This is where I condemn these “Zionists”, their sponsors and collaborators. They have missed the point. The have broken the law and they should face the consequences. They must have read some history but deliberately they read the history upside down. They neither understand the symbolism of the Biafran agitation nor the basics of warfare. I argue that there must be other things motivating them unrelated to the cause of the people of “Biafra”. Their move is a tactless and opportunistic effort to service their mundane interests. Without sounding chauvinistic, I think it is criminally disgraceful to associate these delinquents with the name Biafra.
Rather than seek for attention, those who seek to promote the ideals of Biafra should pause and take it beyond what it was in 1967. That era is far gone. It should now take a more nuanced intellectual level. It should take a very systematic review of the fault lines of the Nigerian state to unearth the fundamental inequities that created the problems in the first place and review the place of an Igboman is the mess called Nigeria. How we got here and what can be done going forward? Where are we going as a people? What are the partnerships we need to build to get there? It should take into consideration the timing of events to evolve a pragmatic approach. Is the invocation of the word, secession, still in our best interest? If so, which territory are we referring to? I know that part of the comparative advantage of the still-born state of Biafra at that time was the availability of abundant oil resources. Do we still have that today?
I am not against a peaceful agitation either by those sympathetic to “Biafra” or any other group of citizens who feel genuinely that they should form themselves into a different nation. I recall that the ongoing National Conference is looking at similar issues. Many people have envisioned that Nigeria could be no more in 2015 and so it would not be out of place that each unit should test run what it will look like when they probably go their separate ways. However, there is no sense in trying to forcibly seize the Government House or seize a broadcasting station. What if Onwuka and his rag-tag apologists succeeded in their operation? So what? What will they tell the Nigerian public? They might probably have gone on air to declare the “Republic of Biafra in Enugu”. They forgot that the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army is only a few metres away. Regardless of what is pushing them, it is only tactless to imagine that the fastest way to declare a country is to seize a state radio station.
After reviewing what happened in Enugu, I can only worry about the future of Nigeria. How many more secessionists will emerge and seek to be noticed and placated. I worry for that mentality of violence spreading across the citizenry. It suggests that even if amnesty is offered to Boko Haram at some point, the Nigerian state may be getting ready for other amorphous forms of resistance, armed violence and insurgency from the army of her disgruntled youths. That is simply unsettling.want?