RESURGENT BIAFRA AGITATION: BORN IN ERROR,
IGNORANCE AND FRUSTRATION for Jan 15 2016 My Command Event
I am very cautious getting myself into any debate or conversation concerning The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), its many hydra-formed iterations, and their resurgent Biafra agitation. I had taken this position because I suspected that the agitation was born in error and ignorance, and the personal frustration of many of the frontline demagogues of this new nightmare and their supporters and sympathisers. I also believed that at best, the agitation was at regional level and that no inadvertent helping hand should be lent to it to make it national.
I first spoke on this resurgence a few weeks ago at the funeral of a friend’s mother and even at the event I could only muster up a few vague words of warning. But today, at this platform afforded me by the Yar’Adua Centre and Nextier’s Development Discourse, we will proceed to the task at hand, a conversation on this new resurgence. What are the errors, the ignorance and the frustration? And what should be done about them? Why have the protest garnered such national and international attention in the last several months?
Let me deal with the not-so-distant past: the last presidential elections. There were errors of perception, understanding and knowledge. Muhammadu Buhari was presented by his political detractors—and perceived by many honest Nigerians fooled by this dangerous rhetoric—as a rabid Moslem fundamentalist, who was secretly behind Boko Haram and who, on coming to power, would islamise the whole of Nigeria. I call this The Buhari bogey! The seemingly stern and starchy appearance of Buhari and his not being seen with any known close friend in the South-East outside his military colleagues aided the misperception. But as morning shows the day, Nigerians and the world have seen of President Buhari in the first eight months of his presidency evidence that show him far from being a jihadist. From my personal experience, no Nigerian leader can embark on a mission of proselytization and hope to succeed. The same goes for leaders with ethnic, tribal, sectional and/or regional agendas against the overall national interest.
On the other side, there was also the error of perception of President Goodluck Jonathan. I have, before now, said a few of what I know and what determined my position in the contest between Buhari and Jonathan. I do not intend to say anymore except that the findings and revelations that have come out thus far have not proved me wrong.
I would like to believe that these two mis-readings and misperceptions led substantially to the pattern of voting in the South-East in the last presidential election. Voting along regional lines, or voting en-bloc against a candidate is normal and should not be itself a problem. But we must hold with apprehension the fear that lead to such voting and its subsequent contribution to this resurgence of protests. What happened in the South-East was not too different from what happened in the South-West in 1999. It was a similar experience in 1999 when the South-West did not vote for me because I did not emerge from the stump of ‘correct’ political stock in Yorubaland and I was perceived to be a likely stooge of those who supported me from outside the South-West particularly from the North. They were proved wrong inn the frist few ears of my presidency and, in the following election, I got as much support from South-West as I got from anywhere else.
The solution is for leaders and elders in South-East to caution realism and sanity among the youth and for the President to prove that Nigeria is his constituency, he should act like God who gives rain to the good and bad, the just and the unjust, in the world equally as the world belongs to God in totality.
The agitators also suffer from the error of misreading the history of Nigeria or not reading it at all. There is no going back in our history. Going back from where we are will be at an unbearable cost. I will come back to this issue momentarily.
This brings me to what I term as ignorance as part of the cause of the agitation. The Nigerian Civil War ended forty-six years ago. As a participant in that war and as one used by God to bring the war to a humane and brotherly end in the field, I have said on many occasions that I have fought one civil war too many in Nigeria.
No right-thinking person who has experienced the horror of war will ever agitate for more war. Most wars stem from real and perceived injustices and invariably wars emanate from a desire to correct such injustice. Our civil war was not any different. But at the end of almost all wars, jaw-jaw takes over from the boom and devastation of the gun. That is the path of wisdom, prudence and political sagacity. If the elders abdicate their responsibility to the immaturity, inadequate experience and unrealistic idealism of the young, it normally leads to disaster. Let me quote from my introduction of the 2015 edition of my book on the Nigerian civil war, ‘My Command’:
“There is not much to say that has not already been said. As this book is presented to a new generation of readers, I only ask that they read it, compare with other stories that have been told whether in response to the first publication of this book, or not, and reach the conclusion about war that all well-meaning Nigerians must reach: Never again.”
Errors mixed with ignorance will lead to wrong decisions and wrong actions which will exacerbate an already uncertain situation. Great apprehension sets in to make the situation worse; this is particularly true for the youth—who with or without education–have no employment and look onn the future with despair and uncertainty. They become desperate, frustrated and they try to visit their frustration and anger on anything within their reach. That, to me, substantially explains the misfortune of most of the resurgent Biafra agitators. They need to be understood, because lack of understanding with its appropriate remedy will drive them further into the hands of demagogues and opportunists who will thrive on their desperation and frustration, turning it into criminality and extremism against their parents, community leaders and elders, regional leaders and elders and against national unity, ethos and values.
Without local and national solutions to their bruised sense of disappointment and anger, they will carry their menace beyond their homes, communities and region and will nationalize and even internationalise the crisis putting a different twist to it. There are always sympathetic do-gooders out there who will feed and fuel their agitation, baseless as it may be. Our solution, which must be at the family, community, local, regional and national levels, must be embarked upon separately and collectively.
Biafra as a secession issue is dead and nobody should follow that way. It can again only lead to disaster. But I see this resurgent Biafra agitation not for secession or creation of an independent entity from Nigeria but as a cry for attention, amelioration and improvement of socio-economic conditions and situation especially of the youth in Nigeria in general, but in the South-East in particular – a call by the youth of that region for transformation.
The solutions lie in education, awareness-raising, youth acquisition of skill, youth empowerment and youth employment. By education, I imply more than basic education, or literacy and academic attainment. Knowing enough about ourselves in this country, our different groups history, our national history, culture, characteristics and what each group added to the whole and what each group can still contribute to the whole; Nigeria is what it is because each group is a vital and dynamic part of the whole. In my part of the world, when a young person behaves uncharacteristically, people ask, “Are there no elders in your family.” It means that he or she has not been given an education and an awareness that is more than school education. Let us speak well of ourselves collectively and cohesively among ourselves. It is also part of the way to national unity and future greatness of our country. This is essentially a family, community, state and national responsibility. At all levels, we must neither shirk nor abdicate our responsibilities in this regard. We must not succumb to fear, intimidation or threats and name calling.
The devil finds work for idle hands and fills empty minds. We must neither allow evil to find work for our youth nor to fill their unoccupied minds with satanic ideas, thoughts, decisions and actions. Three ways to achieve this are jobs, jobs and jobs. At the community, state and national levels, conducive environment and conditions must be created for promotion of private sector entrepreneurs and investors, both local and foreign, to make our different areas as irresistible for investment, job creation and wealth generation destination as possible.
Again, innovation must come into our thinking and action in the areas of employment generation and wealth creation. In addition to the traditional ways of doing things, let us also think and act out of the box. Innovation is not hard to be brought about in this digital age and times.
Not too long ago, in the South-West, there was a problem of Odua People’s Congress (OPC) which was created to frustrate Abacha’s self-perpetuation ambition. So were the Egbesu and MASSOB initially. Later, Arewa Peoples Congress (APC) joined them. Different approaches – political, economic and social - were devised to deal with their menace when OPC became a Frankenstein. One of such approaches that worked so well was to encourage them to form vigilantes, guards and protection groups formally and legally. They were hired and paid thereby leaving the menace perpetrated through informality to the good and gainful employment through the formal. The emerging economic situation at that time also helped. Biafra agitation can also be looked at as an industry for those who are looking for money by hook or by crook.
Above all things, good governance at all levels is the key solution. The welfare and well-being of the citizenry must be the main pre-occupation of government at all levels.
I cannot end without reiterating that Biafra agitation as a means of calling for secession is a hopeless and futile exercise in which nobody should embark. However, I see it as a symbol of desperation, despair and frustration of the youth being expressed for all to hear and redress in the South-East and elsewhere in the country. But Biafra – never again. Youth education, welfare, well-being, empowerment and employment for ever must be our collective duty, obligation and responsibility.