To Biafra or Not?

The Option Of Secession, And The Chances Of Succeeding Therewith

by William Moore

To Biafra or Not?

Reading Chimamanda Adichie's ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ or Chinua Achebe’s ‘There Was A Country’, one wouldn’t exactly be accused of mis-translation if they assumed that the Igbo was a marginalised tribe treated somewhat similar to the way Jews were, which spiralled into becoming the second World War. Details of the Asaba Massacre, tales of the military blockades to starve soldiers and civilians alike, and the absence of any kind of reparation besides the 20 pounds dished out to some Igbos following the end of the war all point to a strain of exclusion at best, hate at worst. This has not been helped by the non-election of any Igbo person as Head of State since Nnamdi Azikiwe, speaking of whom was merely a ceremonial figurehead and famous for his fluency in Hausa language and culture as he spent many years in the northern region. In more recent times, importation bans have also been frequent – a move towards self-sufficiency which many Easterners regard as an attack on their way of life largely centred around foreign trading.

This history of memorised pain and the present bite that won’t stop stinging has registered on the skins of many Igbos, and one man has positioned himself to be the ‘bringer of freedom’ from it. His name is Nnamdi Kanu, and more than anything else, he wants to see the rebirth of the country that shortly was, Biafra. He has come far from his days of only talking on his Internet radio to leading a movement that landed him in prison before his relocation to England. If you ever had trouble spotting him, look for the Igbo themed Santa hat and the red, black and green with a half-risen sun.

As the national elections draw closer, Nnamdi Kanu has asked his followers to exercise their right to self-determination by not voting unless a referendum is held first. This referendum will allow the Igbo people to determine their fate with respect to existing among the collage of tribes that is Nigeria. As expected, his proposition has been met with mixed reactions. Some believe it is not in the interest of any Nigerian to disrupt the democratic process, and that he should wait till after the elections to call for any such measures, like the conducting of a referendum. There has been debate on whether the referendum is even needed or legal, and of course, his adherents are probably already ripping their PVCs into shreds to stand their ground. Depending on your disposition towards politics, power, and freedom, you have already picked a side. Regardless of the side you are on, the question still remains; does Nigeria need to be broken up? And is this the best way to go about it?

The question of if the country should be split or not is rather binary in nature, you are either for or against it. I would say, in line with the tenets of democracy, the people would have to decide, hence the need for a referendum. Scotland had one not too long ago, to decide if they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom, and England more recently had one, to decide if they wanted to stay in the European Union. The notion of a referendum is nothing new, nor is it an archaic practice. It is very much alive and well, even in more developed states you would imagine did little to marginalize any group. So, assuming Nigeria was open to one, is the best way to go about it, by taking the country hostage with voter participation or the lack of it?

Power in every space it has been present, has appeared to work only in its own interest. One can imagine for example, if the European Union held real power over the English, would they have even permitted them the opportunity to leave without their hand being forced? You only have to look at Spain and Catalonia for a first world example of the grip of power, that never easily grants privileges or even rights. In other words, how realistic is the idea of a referendum outside the scope of actions by the Igbos to force the rest of the country, and the present federal government to the table? From the first attempt, the history books remain emboldened in blood red regarding how that turned out.

Perhaps after all realities have been taken into consideration, the Igbos are only left with non-violent forms of protest as a largely landlocked region without any sizeable army to call its own. Previous protests have already drawn military action in some regions, with the name “Operation Python Dance”. Constitutionally, some argue that the deployment of soldiers on domestic soil is a violation of law and a clear-cut case of power aggression to show a taste of what lies in store in the event of further Biafran agitation.  At the senatorial level, if the Nigerian government’s track record of representation is anything to go by, then it can also be concluded that the system has been compromised beyond repair. This leaves the fight for a referendum more or less in the office of the citizen, and one has to ask; is there any safer method of pushing the agenda besides the withdrawal of Igbos from the political process?

Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher once refused to pay taxes as a means of non-participation in what he deemed an injustice regarding slavery and the Mexican-American war. In his opinion, when the government had failed the people or violated their moral conscience, it was the right of the citizen to refuse participation. Of course, the validity of this claim is still a topic of debate. Today, we have more modern suggestions like options that allow citizens to choose what their taxes are used for, as opposed to letting the government decide. This is a subject for another day; as for today, the issue still remains if the contemplation of Igbo withdrawal from Nigeria and non-participation in the political process as a method to achieve this.

If we are to give Thoreau’s actions any merit at all, then at the very least, it is worth our consideration. With 5 of the Nigerian 36 states classified as Igbo states (with many claiming the invention of other new states was deliberately done by the wartime Head of State Yakubu Gowon to break up the Igbos), and at about 20% of the country’s population identifying as Igbo, is it even possible to hold a valid democratic election without the tribe? Considering that to vote is a right that the citizen can choose to exercise or ignore, this means there is no crime being committed, at least on an individual level. Rather, a quiet protest is being held to force the hand of the country and even to garner international attention. The question to contemplate then is not if this is the right way to go or not in search of a referendum. The question, then is: how else can it be done without frustrating the regular democratic process?

If the Biafrans are only left with one feasible choice, can we even say they have a choice at all?