By Ezeibekwe Ogechukwu and Ifechidere Ugwu
“Ubuntu: I am, because you are”
The word Ubuntu is part of the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” which means that a person is a person through other people. The philosophy of African Humanism comes into play as the sense of community is explored. This is essential as it is seen as one of the building blocks of any successful African society. One of such societies could be Biafra.
One of the key reasons for the Biafran War was for the Southeast region to break out of Nigeria, become an autonomous region. This was largely due to the pogrom in the North and other events that culminated in Ojukwu declaring Biafra and the ensuing war that claimed millions of lives.
Post-war events didn’t see so much bloodshed. Instead, more systematic and psychological means of warfare were employed to ensure the crushing of any hopes people of the Southeast had in kickstarting their lives. These means came in the form of policies such as Awolowo’s 20 Pounds and the Indigenization policy which was the final nail in the coffin for Biafrans.
Following the events of the past few decades in the country, glaring evidence suggests that the war is still on as the Igbos are still at a disadvantage politically. Mostly seen as the stubborn and disrespectful, the Igbos have become easy targets and a reason why nothing works in the country.
Recent comments from a few miscreants on social media suggest that the Igbos were responsible for the destruction of properties in Lagos and other parts of the country during the #EndSARS protests. These comments were made where evidence suggests that these properties were destroyed by hoodlums who attacked peaceful protesters and tried to hijack the protests.
The recent #EndSARS protests should be seen as a time for deeper reflection for Igbo youths all over the world and in the country especially. While the country tries to bounce back from the effects of Covid-19 and more recently #EndSARS protests, the people of the Southeast should use this time to ask themselves pertinent questions regarding the region in relation to Biafra.
Biafra as we mostly know was a dream of our fallen heroes who wanted a country free from the shackles of an unholy union and could thrive on its own.
Sadly, this was not to be. One of the effects of this is the emergence of Zealots in the person of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, whose comments over the years have been quite controversial.
His most recent comments during the #EndSARS are nothing short of disturbing. These comments have been used as a reason for attacks on individuals in the Southeast and are currently being seen as a reason for a massacre in Rivers State. Both by the Nigerian Army.
The author of the 1976 novel, Sunset at Dawn, Chukwuemeka Ike popularized the term, Biafranisation. A phenomenon he tagged a revival of the Igbo ingenuity, grit, innovation and resourcefulness that were spontaneously employed during the war. A Biafra defined not by territorial boundaries, but by character and identity.
A question that is often asked is ‘How can the Igbo manage a Biafra when they cannot manage a South East region?’. A question that I find puzzling because the world is aware of the human resource quality of the Igbo people.
Igbo people head some of the most renowned global offices. But the irony is that the ancestral home of this highly revered people has become the direct opposite of what the people are or are meant to represent.
The worst in the society has taken over the leadership, leaving the region to ruins. An excuse that is readily whipped out is that, such poor leadership is a Nigerian problem and that the region has not reached its economic heights because of the constitutional limitations of Nigeria’s fiscal federalism.
Dr. Opata, a lecturer of UNN (University of Nigeria) was fond of saying that Biafra will resemble Burundi if it succeeds today, because of one reason — food. Unfortunately for the excuse givers, production of food is not within the exclusive list.
Let us rewind to the years between 1960 and 1966. Michael Okpara, the last true transformist leader led an Eastern region that produced half the world’s output of palm kernels and was a net exporter in agricultural produce, exporting cotton, cocoa, groundnut and other cash crops.
Over 50 industries sprouted around Umuahia, Aba, Enugu, Okigwe, and Onitsha within the same period. Today, the food insecurity in the East is alarming and has become more obvious with this regime’s land border closure policy and the flooding and desertification problem in the North.
Additionally, if the Agatu area in Benue and other food-producing parts of the North decide to halt trade with the East, hunger would ensue. A nation that is not food secured cannot survive.
This, did the Igbo people experience firsthand during the war, when the young country, Biafra, was blockaded, and thereafter forced to surrender.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s goal of restoring an independent state of Biafra is one which should not be taken seriously.
The events of 1967–1970 have suggested to us that the leaders/elites will employ the most extreme measures to maintain a “United” Nigeria. While there’s no inspiring reason to believe in One Nigeria, it is also imperative to be as realistic as possible by coming to the reality of Nigeria not breaking up anytime soon. This is where the Biafran Ideology is meant to come into play.
The Biafran Ideology: This simply means Biafranisation over Biafra
The activities that triggered a declaration of the state of Biafra on May 30, 1967, were justifiable. The pogrom, the disregard of the Aburi accord, the coup and targeted killings are little or non-existent now.
In fact, Nigeria is unfair to everyone today, except those in government. In 1967, the Igbo people had only one enemy and found unity in suffering and pain. Such is not the case now. Today, South East leaders are the biggest oppressors of the Igbo people.
More so, the reasons for desiring Biafra in 1967 are almost not valid today. The coming together of different ethnic nationalities to form an independent country outside Nigeria cannot happen today with the new turn in political aspirations. Thus, as the term ‘Biafra’ was not original to the Igbo people between 1967 and 1970, the map, arrangement and the name cannot be claimed by the Igbo people alone today.
Furthermore, and explicitly important to note is a tendency to ride on the wave of sentiments that the lost war and the further injustice trigger. More Biafran agitators are driven by what Igboland can be if it ceased to be a part of Nigeria than practising how to make the region as desirable as they would want it in a new country.
It begs one to wonder if the hubris of keeping a struggle alive is more important than developing the region. For the past years, Biafran agitators have avoided any attempt at developing their region. The focus has long been on the Federal government yielding to a referendum while the more direct and closest detractors plunder and pillage what is left of Igboland.
A Biafranisation would rather understand the consequences of the unabated deterioration and underdevelopment in the region, by galvanizing and harmonizing the human capital resources of the Igbo people, both home and abroad, to form a bloc that would design and implement a new future for the region.
The devil’s blame game on the federal government has become abysmally too stale and embarrassing because it expresses indolence, victim-mentality and a sense of misplaced priority.
The resourceful people of the old Eastern region made make shifts inventions during the war. They refined the fuel that powered their war tanks, made bombs and other weapons of warfare. They made airstrips, trained soldiers within the shortest possible time. Most impressive were the concerted efforts to refurbish and rebuild their war-devasted home.
The late. Sam Mbakwe led his people in a crowdfunding system to build the airport in Owerri. Young volunteer men and women offered their time and energy to fix and build roads, bridges, houses and industries. The onye aghana nwanne ya cultural concept was activated with people moving to help their neighbours for they knew that the development of the region was hinged on the development of the people.
This spurned the now less functional Peoples Club of Nigeria in 1971 by a small group of successful businessmen led by Chief Titus I. Ume-Ezeoke. The club was created at a time of despair and hopelessness after the devastating effects of the Biafran war which ended in 1970.
The communal-capitalist economic model, Igbo apprenticeship system, that is presently under the Harvard Business Review was brushed off and reactivated after the war to help the people rise from the ashes. They embodied a dream, a Biafranisation that became an identity and not merely an approved distinct national territory.
From history, when the Igbo people are coerced to work together by fate or circumstances, magic always happens.
There has been no recent communally driven invention because work has not been done. This is a clarion call to all Igbo youths especially, to declare a state of emergency on the underdevelopment of Igboland and innovate political, economic, socio-cultural interventions to drive the necessary growth and to create a befitting homeland.
Biafra as a geographical location is already lost. However, as an ideology, it’s not. Now is the time to put it into practice. That we lost the war doesn’t mean we have lost Biafra.
Biafra lives in its people and not in the location.
Article first appeared on medium