In a place like Nigeria, issues of religious and ethnic discourses more often than not lead to dangerous slopes upon which one must cautiously thread. I have ruminated over the Biafranagitation issue for a long while, but until now, I had always decided against putting my thoughts on paper for reasons of possible misrepresentation and misunderstandings of the points in ponder. But the Biafran agitation question seems to grow bigger and bigger than envisaged, drawing nutrition from the states of seemingly perpetual despondency and socio-economic regression that pervades every sector of the Nigerian society.Given the volatility of the issue at hand, would it be more honorable to adopt a ‘siddon look’ attitude, or as a concerned Nigerian am I obliged to spew my take?
I suspect that there are, on both sides of the divide (those who harbor passionate sentiments either for or against the Biafran secessionist enterprise, and every other person somewhere in-between), are a large population of people who for one or more reasons would rather keep their opinions to themselves, or at most vent their opinions only to a few individuals within their family and social circles. I have decided to speak up on the issue and share my thoughts – despite the obvious risk that the heated passions of the moment might drown out the message that I wish to share. In the final analysis, truth can be despised but can neither be ignored nor permanently suppressed.
I have read many interviews and published articles, especially those which expressly support the pro-Biafran quest (whether those supports are tacit or implied), to understand the raison d’être of the agitations. ‘What really is the problem,’ ‘who is the cause of the problem,’ ‘why does the problem persist,’ and ‘what should be done to redress the problem’ are some of the questions I have all along sought answers to. I have searched for objective answers so that I might be able to properly articulate the essence of the struggle, and put the issues and their potential resolution in the proper context. I still struggle with this noble task.
Deep within the belly of the pro-Biafran struggle lies the major accusation of marginalization and neglect by the Nigerian State. This accusation anchors mainly on the events immediately before and after the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970, and its instantaneous aftermath. To understand and properly deconstruct the marginalization argument, we need to ask a fundamental question, an objective answer to which will most probably help define a plausible road map; a road map that will lead either toward a seceded Biafran reality, or to a more strengthened, effective, and stronger-tie Nigeria equation. The question is: who is marginalized, and by whom?
The major error of argument for a Biafran secession has always been the assumption of a phantom group of OTHERS in Nigeria working in unholy concert towards a predetermined goal of perpetual subjugation of some already penciled or identified group of SOME, or vice versa. The assumption is that Ndigbohave largely been denied a fair stake within the alliance known as Nigeria, and that ipso facto, an autonomic retreat into self-determination and self-governance outside the Nigerian space will guarantee access to the otherwise systematically eluded progress for the people.
We should not make any mistake about these age-long facts: Nigeria is yet to realize her full potential as a nation. Since independence, Nigeria has been subjected to systematic abuse, rape, plunder, and pillaging by her misleaders. On one side of the divide are those visionless, lazy, incompetent, and gallivanting misleaders of Nigeria who failed to avail themselves of the opportunity to set the country on the right path towards social, economic, political, and individual development. On the other end are the criminal misleaders who consciously embrace wanton acts of kleptocracy, nepotism, and general tomfoolery as adopted policies of governance. To either set of people, leadership is not a service; it is an opportunity to bite off chunks from the ‘national cake’ without any effort to rebake and replace it. Not that rebaking and replacing the stolen cake excuses the criminal plunder of the resources of our commonwealth, anyway. Consequently, Nigerians, irrespective of ethnicity or tribal groupings, continue to be the victims of the collateral damage occasioned by misleadership and bad governance.
That life outside Nigeria portends good tidings is an assumption not supported by our socio-political and economic realities since 1960. The error of identification surmises, and wrongly so, that the acts of a particular person in governance translate to an agreed policy of the ethnic stock or tribe he/she hails from. This is why the opinions and actions of Obafemi Awolowo is largely misinterpreted as a Yoruba agenda, those of Nnamdi Azikiweepitomize an Igbo schema, while those of Tafawa Balewa are seen largely as Hausa/Fulani plots to corner resources of Nigeria to the exclusion of others. Is this really the case?
Conceptualizing a region or defining the ethnic or tribal aspirations of Nigeria’s peoples vis-à-vis the actions and inclinations of a ‘privileged’ few is an irrational proposition. This proposition is a major reason for distrust, misgivings, and general lack of unity amongst Nigeria’s ethnic groups. The real enemies of Nigeria generally share common mindsets; and their outlooks transcend social, ethnic, political, and religious divides.
Ethno-political competitions are not new in Nigeria, and it is this fierce competition that mainly stands as a reason for state creation in Nigeria. The history of state creation has always hadat its core the supposition that the problem of elusive development of areas of occupancy of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities is better solved through a process of self-governance and self-determination. It is not surprising therefore that the same year that the Civil War started in Nigeria, precisely on 27th May 1967, General Yakubu Gowon created 12 states viz: North Western State, North Central State, Kano State, North Eastern State, Kwara State, Benue-Plateau, Western State, Midwest State, East Central State, South Eastern State, Rivers State, and Lagos State. On the 3rd of February 1976, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed created additional states, for a total of 19 states. The new states were: Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Imo, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Sokoto, and Zamfara States. Also created was the Federal Capital Territory at Abuja. Yet, additional states were created on two different occasions by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime. On 23rd September 1987, IBB created Akwa Ibom and Katsina states, for a total of 21 states. On 27th August 1991, he also created Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Osun, Taraba, and Yobe states, making a total of 30 states. General Sanni Abacha’s regime on 1st October 1996 created six additional states viz; Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Nassarawa, and Zamfara states to bring the final total of states created till date to 36. The creation of these states at the various times were done largely in response to the self-determination quests of the federating units of Nigeria.
When we understand the fact of Nigeria as a plural nation-state with over 250 ethnic groupings, we come to terms with some of the reasons why the demand for state creation has yet to abate. Among the current top contenders is the clamor for an IjebuState, proposed to be excised from the current Ogun State. It requires no rocket science reasoning to know that if and once the agitation for Ijebu State becomes successful, the Remo peoples who will be a minority within Ijebu State will likely demand a state away from under what will be termed ‘Ijebu Domination.’ This same trend will continue across Nigeria until Nigeria is divided into over 250 states, along mostly tribal and ethnic lines.Is state creation along ethnic nationalities line, or at worst secession from Nigeria plausible solutions to the problem of perceived marginalization of the Nigeria’s peoples? This question and its objective answer should guide us in developing a response to the ongoing crisis.
The facts of our co-existence stare us in the face, although we oftentimes choose to shy away from them. The truth is that:
1. Nigeria has been raped, plundered, abused, and left to die by her misleaders. All Nigerians are direct victims of such rape and abuse. There is no denying that fact. What cannot also be denied is the fact that ALL Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic stock or states of origin, are victims of those abuses and rape of our resources.
2. The criminals who robbed, and still rob, Nigeria of her glorious past are UNITED in their mission. They are Yorubas, Ibos, Hausas, Ibibios, Kanuris, Fulanis, Ikwerres, etc. They SOCIALIZE together, their kids attend school together and are encouraged to intermarry one another.
3. Government appointments and positions have been largely based on who-you-know, rather than where you hail from. Nepotism is not limited by ethnicity. Neither is favoritism confined to familial delineations. Beneficiaries of inordinate largesse and illicit gains at the expense of fair and equitable distribution of resources have godfathers and patrons across state and ethnic divides of Nigeria.
4. Funds meant for national projects have been looted indiscriminately by the thieving cabal whose members are as culturally diversified as Nigeria is.
It is necessary to pause at this juncture and consider the following:
1. Funds are shared between states and LGs by the FG every month through a derivation formula agreed by all. They are called Monthly Allocations.
2. Every month, whether the states make efforts to improve their own economic lots or not, they get largesse in Billions of Naira from the federal Government. The breakdown of Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) disbursement for the month of August 2015 (being the latest published allocation data) can be assessed at http://www.finance.gov.ng/images/faac/faac2015/faacrepAug2015.pdf.
3. Each state, and its Local Governments are governed by persons indigenous to such States and Local Governments. Now, isn’t it wise to ask what the indigenous elected leaders of each State and Local Governments have beendoing with the monthly allocated funds meant for developmental projects in the States and Local Governments? Do we ever bother to ask for accounts of stewardship by our elected LOCAL and NATIVE officials, or we develop penchant to ignore their criminal acts because they are “our kinsmen/kinswomen”?
4. Now, given the criminal records in governance of our indigenous misleaders, have we ever paused to ask ourselves an objective question, say “if the secessionist agenda succeeds, are those not the same thieving criminals who will become natural leaders of the new nation, or nations? What would have changed?
I strongly believe that working in concert to stamp out corruption by ensuring that corrupt officials are no longer idolized nor welcomed with open arms in our societies will get us faster to realizing our potential as a nation than a clamor for state creation or secession. Policing elected public officials irrespective of our relationship or affinity with them, and participating in the political process as agents of change will generate needed public awareness against waste and profligacy. If we run now, we will run later… that’s the solid truth we must come to terms with!
Dr. Adeleke Otunuga
5 January, 2016.