Tony Ademiluyi: Stoking The Ghost Of Biafra

One of the causes of the Nigerian Civil War which gave rise to the existence of Biafra was the brutal way the Igbos were treated in the northern part of the country in the mid 1960’s. Many of the northerners were seething with anger at the death of their political leader, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and his deputy in the defunct Northern Peoples Congress, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, an Igbo from Delta State was the mastermind of the coup and it was seen as a northern cleansing agenda. Igbos were massacred in their tens of thousands and they were forced to abandon their lucrative businesses in the north to flee for their precious lives. The then military governor of the eastern region, Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu emerged as the Igbo leader and rallying point for a better deal for the itinerant tribe thought to have a link with the Jews.  He encouraged them to come back home in droves as the north was no longer safe for them. The civil war which was a mere police action escalated into a strife that lasted for over two years with millions of Nigerians especially the starving Igbo children as casualties.

The Igbos seem to still be haunted by their decision to secede which was ironically foisted on them as a result of the blood thirsty desires of their supposed brothers. That acceptance of them as part of the tripod of the Big Three is not just there. The then National Party of Nigeria in a bid to make their party look Pan Nigerian zoned the vice-presidency to the south east without any corresponding constitutional function to that office. The office was so weak that the holder couldn’t even award any contract of any magnitude.

The fall of the republic saw a strange kind of vendetta against the Igbos. The Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was locked up in the kirikiri prisons while his erstwhile boss, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was given a preferential treatment under house arrest. The late Ikemba Nnewi was locked up also in the kirikiri for no justifiable reason. This was a man who held no public office and even lost a senatorial election to little known Dr. Onwudiwe, a commissioner under the then Governor Jim Nwobodo of the old Anambra State. He was even battling to retrieve his ‘stolen’ mandate before the soldiers struck. Buhari was the Head of State then when this state organized hate against the Igbos was perpetrated.

The geo-political balancing doesn’t favour them as they are the only zone with five states while the others have six. All efforts to have an additional state created have come to naught. The entire South East had just 96 local governments while the North-West where President Buhari hails from has a whopping 186. This has ensured that the east which has two oil producing states receives far less federal allocation than the North-West which doesn’t produce a drop of oil. The roads especially the federal ones in the zone show a lack of federal government presence and this has been the case for decades. It is so bad that it takes the efforts of wealthy businessmen to fix some of the dilapidated ones who have faced the reality of being their own local governments.

The present administration is not helping matters by pursuing a subtle agenda to perhaps punish the Igbos for not casting their votes for PMB. How would you explain the planned movement of the boko haram prisoners from the North-East to the South-East, a surreptitious way to expose the region to massive terrorist attacks?

The zone suffered an assault in the enfranchisement process during the last general elections. 7.6 million voters were registered for the elections and only 5.6 million had their permanent voters cards. Contrast this to the north-west which had 17.6 million registered voters and 15.1 million had their pvc’s. Buhari obviously has no need for the zone as politics is a game of numbers. The cabinet composition where the east was largely relegated to the background as has been its fate since the end of the civil war is no surprise.

A marginalized people have the right to agitate for a better deal. It is their prerogative and fundamental human right which is non-negotiable. A crackdown on that right should be condemned. Nnamdi Kanu who incidentally was based in the United Kingdom had the right to run a radio station to show the world the brutal marginalization of his people. He had that inalienable right of self-expression. He had the right to communicate the feelings of his people to the rest of the outside world. The best way to counter him was not in arresting him but by doing the things for the one that would make the radio station not worth being on air in the first place. His arrest only made him a folk hero. From parts of Delta to Enugu, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Anambra were massive protests in support of him. Vladimir Putin of Russia and Binyamin Netayanhu of Israel also roundly condemned the needless arrest. The Irish Resistance Army sprung up to fight for a better deal for the Irish people who were under the heavy yoke of British rule. Crack downs only made them popular and their cause worth fighting for till they got what they wanted by getting a part of Ireland independent of the United Kingdom. The mafia rose up as a result of the unfair treatment meted out to the people of Southern Italy who demanded a much better slice of the Italian cake. Separatist groups spring up because of the systemic imbalance and the best way to redress the crisis and pull them back into the union is to give a listening ear to their demands and sincerely work on meeting them one at a time. Incarcerating Kanu and making him get massive global support would be bad for Buhari’s image who is seen as a tribal bigot. He needs to reassure Nigerians that he is a unifying statesman and not a divisive politician.

The trial of Kanu is needless persecution of someone trying to make a case for a bigger slice of the pie for his people whose economic contributions to the country cannot be overlooked or dismissed with the wave of the hand. He is crying using the mass media of the short wave – an extremely potent tool that his people should not be slaughtered like rams in the north on the altar of religious bigotry, they deserve to handle bigger responsibilities in government, need to feel more government presence in their zone amongst a plethora of legitimate requests. The PMB administration can score a few points by giving the South East critical federal government attention and dousing the feelings of alienation and being hewers of woods and drawers of water currently being experienced by the Igbos. Keeping liberation fighters behind bars is certainly not the way to go.


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