By Ayo-Bankole Akintujoye
A few months ago, I wrote about reasons why the call for Biafra, as is currently being done by IPOB, is crap and a sheer waste of time, for obvious reasons: secessions are not achieved with noise and grandstanding! It takes a calculated mobilisation of financial, military, and political resources to achieve it. IPOB has none. No central coordinating authority to present its course, no formidable military wing, weak financial capacity.
Even what constitutes the Biafran territory is still being argued, with several groups from the Niger Delta region disclaiming Biafra and declaring not to be a part of it; this technically invalidates the old Biafran map of the 1960s. It’s all noise, and a strong willingness to go to any length to make Nnamdi Kanu a hero at the expense of the lives of common Igbo men and women, while his family coast away abroad.
And to further reiterate their ignorant miscalculation, IPOB began to initiate attacks on the institutions of government and other ethnic nationalities, who have done nothing but accommodate their kinsmen and tolerate their continued quest for separation. An attack on the institutions of government reduces local and global sympathy/support, and an attack on other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, either physically, or verbally via hate speech, is historically proven to be self-destructive.
Having said that, I will like to speak to government’s use of the military to tame the fast-rising Biafra agitation. Like IPOB’s struggle, it is a dead-on-arrival strategy. Reasons are simple and not far-fetched. First, IPOB at the moment has not yet evolved into a full military threat on the continuing sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, other than the inciting speeches and recent attacks in Abia, and the consequent clash in Jos, Kanu and his men have to a large extent, been within the confines of a domestic civilian agitation group, and therefore could have been handled with the Police.
The use of the Military has further shown that the Nigerian Police is a failed organisation, and Nigeria is a failed state, at least to the extent of policing its citizenry and providing systemic and reliable security of lives and property. The military is not trained to handle civilians, and history has continuously shown that the use of the military in resolving domestic issues never ends well. It is for a reason that the armed institutions that defend external and internal threats are firmly separated by the constitution. Besides, there are countless other forces such as the NSCDC lying idle that can be deployed, without recourse to the military.
Second, Biafra is a strong ideology that has outlived at least two generations. And every era since the 1960s have had a Biafran voice, in various forms. There was Odumegwu Ojukwu himself, then there is Ralph Uwazuruike’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), then there is Biafra Nations Youth League (BNYL) led by Ebuta Ogar Takon, comprising mainly members from the Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Bakassi Peninsula, Rivers, Delta, and Bayelsa regions, among many others. Ideologies are difficult, if not impossible, to kill. Nazism still reared its ugly head in Charlottesville, Virginia recently, 72 years after the death of Adolf Hitler and the end of the world war. Even more prominent is the strong influence of Confederate sentiments and supremacist ideas in the USA up till today, especially with the emergence of the Trump presidency, 152 years after the defeat and dissolution of the Confederate secessionists in 1865!
What this means is that Biafra will not die. Not today, not tomorrow, and military action will only most likely exacerbate the agitations, rather than suppress it, as agitators are likely to resolve to armed defence at slight provocation. What I would have expected therefore from the Buhari government is to give unto Biafrans what they want. Give them Biafra. How? Conduct a referendum!
Giving the Igbo a referendum will put to sleep a crisis that has plagued this country for over 50 years. Irrespective of how tiny the fragment of the Igbo population that wants secession may be, we will never be able to assess the degree to which the Igbo really want Biafra just by listening to media show-offs by a few voices, until we conduct a referendum. A referendum, if won by Biafrans, will put an end to the fragile and battered unity Nigeria has managed to knock together since 1960, and its remaining constituent units can negotiate or renegotiate their terms of togetherness. Biafrans can then be allowed to go and govern themselves, as desired by the majority. If lost, then Biafra will be put to rest for good, at least, any agitator will know he only speaks for himself, and not for the majority of Igbo, and the law can be made to define the extent to which such agitations will be allowed or taken as treason.
As a government that rode on the back of democracy and the will of the people to effect change, the Buhari government must realise that a successful and peaceful referendum will engrave the name of the President in the hall of fame in Africa, as it will be recorded as one of the bravest achievements by any leader. Article I of the Charter of the United Nations clearly recognises the principle of self-determination as a fundamental human right, and upon which nations can maintain friendly relations and attain world peace. This fundamental right must not be denied the Igbo.
Finally, and more importantly, the Buhari government must defeat IPOB, and any other of such groups across the country with real and measurable development. That is the only true way separatist ideas can be subdued. Rwanda is an example of this, with a country healing well and living in peace after barely 20 years of a brutal genocide, Rwanda has emerged as a model for economic growth and infrastructural development in Africa, with Paul Kagame as the face of African leadership, stirring the country to greatness irrespective of racial or ethnic divides.
President Buhari has a date with destiny, to win the bigger war of peace and development, or relish in the victory of smaller battles against IPOB and other agitators; the choice is his.
Ayo-Bankole Akintujoye is a Political Scientist and Strategist. He has worked with some of the world’s biggest consultancies to advise organizations and governments in the areas of Strategy, policy formulation, transformation initiatives, and process improvement. He also holds a Master’s degree in Political science. He tweets from @AyoBankole