Biafra and the burden of a warrior nation - Dare Babarinsa

When the last Biafran War ended in 1970, Nnamdi Kanu, the founder and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, was barely three. Whatever he may have known about the war he must have acquired from his parents, his peers, senior people who experienced the war first hand and from reading and the social media. He believed his parents were living in “the zoo called Nigeria,” and was determined to liberate them. He said he was ready to do this, even if it means getting himself killed. “Blood will flow,” he threatened. Now he is in hiding and on the run. He has a British passport, but it is not sure whether he has escaped to the United Kingdom where he has accumulated substantial wealth as a result of his Biafran agitation. However, he has a message for Nigeria and we should not allow his hate speeches and incredible tomfoolery to make us miss the message.

The message is that it is time we think about Nigeria and why the youths are angry. Why should any youth go and join Boko Haram when it obviously has nothing to offer? What is IPOB offering the youths that they are flooding to its banner, hailing Kanu, its ill-bred pied-piper as “the Supreme Leader?” There must be something fundamentally wrong that even the most bizarre merchandise find patronage among our youths and even some elderly ones.

In his giddy career, Kanu has solicited donations all over the world. He promised to build a television station and buy arms to wage war against the country he called “the zoo.” The military has declared his organisation a “terrorist group.” It is not clear whether any of Kanu’s benefactors would approach the court “in the zoo” to seek for a reprieve.

The Civil War was a costly event in Nigerian history. This uncivil sequel proclaimed by Kanu is still unraveling. Now that the military is involved in “Operation Python Dance,” no one knows yet the cost in human lives and limps. The wound may run deep and the scars may take long to heal, long after Kanu may have become an asterisk in the history books.

Many of the elderly ones in Igbo land have kept quiet about the IPOB challenge, hoping that it is a nightmare that would soon go away. However, when Operation Python Dance came to town, it is Kanu, and not the idea that he represents, that has disappeared. So some generations of Igbo, mostly born after the war, still believe that the idea of Biafra can be resurrected and pursued by violence with the promise of glory and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They need to know that this is 2017 and it is so different from 1967. Today, the international community would not allow war to be used as an instrument of political disputes. Even the powerful countries like the United States, Russia and China, carry their disputes to the United Nations and the World Court.

I have not met anyone who fought in the Nigerian Civil War who does not believe the war could have been avoided if there had been less arrogance, more tolerance and greater honesty of purpose. On August 15, this year, Kanu launched the Biafran Security Service, BSS, in Umahia, Abia State. Later that day after he inspected the Guard of Honour mounted by elements of the so-call BSS, he announced the formation of the Biafran Secret Service that would work hand in hand with the commandoes to defeat “the zoo.” It is incredible that anyone would take all these steps and yet would expect no repercussion.

The new Biafran agitation gained an upsurge after General Muhammadu Buhari was elected to power. There has always been a level of dissatisfaction since the loss of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to the incumbent. Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was the dominant party in Igbo land and there was no doubt about its continuing staying power in the South East. Therefore, the new power configuration in Abuja did not apparently favour the Igbos. Gone were the days when they were the controllers of the Jonathan Court. Even in the National Assembly where the PDP was well represented and they helped put Dr. Bukola Saraki in office as Senate President, the Igbos are occupying the invisible positions. In the ancient regime, they decided what happened and accumulated power greatly. Now the big men and women of yesterday are in abeyance or exile. The powerful Diezani Alison Madueke is now suspected to be an outstanding thief and is fighting multiple charges for allegedly stealing more than $2 billion. The other men and women of power in those days are now walking on tip toes. But they believe in Nigeria, a lesson that Ojukwu learnt to internalise after his return from exile.

Kanu finds it difficult to believe in Nigeria. He had lived for long outside the country and was not part of the great strides the country had made since 1970. Today, perhaps more Igbos live outside Igboland than those who live within. The Igbos have embraced their Nigerianness with enthusiasm. During the Second Republic, barely a decade after the war, Dr. Alex Ekwueme became the Vice-President to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Twice, while he was in his epic battle to become the President, Buhari picked an Igbo running mate. Now he is President and no Igbo man is in command of any of the security agencies. There are other instances that can be cited where the Igbos appeared shortchanged.

Kanu tapped into the well of discontents. He recruited his troops from the army of the unemployed, the disenchanted and the disillusioned. He learnt to take seriously his description of his fatherland as “The Zoo.” He learnt a new walk, not the hurried and disorganised fretting of the plebeians, but the measured steps of the potentates. He is “the Supreme Leader,” and he is responsible to no one except God. Some of his followers started worshipping him and were eager to kiss his shoes. His tailor went to work and changed his wardrobes. He had a hand fan with the logo of his dream republic and covers himself with a shawl with the Israeli’s Star of David. Israel has been a supporter of the Nigerian government since independence, helping to train the secret service and supplying the much-valued Uzi rifles. But Kanu is also in love with Israel.

Now trouble is in love with him. How can any leader in this modern world, when the world is moving away from autocracy, be opposed to election? In which other way is he going to test the popularity of IPOB? The current world can no longer tolerate leaders who
do not believe in elections. Democracy may be bad, but it is still the best invention of man to manage the chaotic mechanism of the modern state. When Kanu announced that his organisation would not allow the next governorship election in Anambra State, then I know he was in for it. How can his right to express his political views be greater than the right of Anambra people to elect their own governor?

When Kanu was released on bail, it was Osita Chidoka, the former minister of Aviation, who drove him home. When Chidoka joined the governorship race, I reflected may be that was the bargain. You rub my back and I rub yours. Then Chidoka emerged as the governorship candidate of the United Progressive Party and I was expecting a statement from Kanu urging his supporters to vote for this friend in need. Kanu has forgotten or may not know that Chief Emeka Ojukwu, after his return from exile during the Second Republic, participated in many elections. He believed in the right of the people to elect their leaders.

There is no country in the world that would tolerate the kind of activities embarked upon by Kanu and his fellow travellers. You do not recognise the Constitution, you refer to your country as “the Zoo,” you decide to form your own military and you say repeatedly that “blood will flow” and yet you expect to go home and enjoy the bosom of your wife. Impossible! I cannot imagine the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, PLO, calling Israel “the zoo,” or referring to Israeli leaders as “bastards, fools and imbeciles.” Kanu represents some Igbos but he does not represent all Igbos. He simply lacks the education, the upbringing, the culture and the language to step into the shoes of Ojukwu, the warrior or the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the nationalist.

Kanu’s short career has drawn our attention again to the fact that we need to look at the structure of our commonwealth. The late legal titan, Chief Rotimi Williams once said it was wrong and dishonest for the Nigerian Constitution to proclaim “We The People!” The present Constitution was drafted under the command of the military and approved by it. What is wrong with having a proper Peoples Constitution approved by a referendum? That is the message from Kanu’s futile and sanguinary struggle for Biafra.

Each attempt to look at the structure of Nigeria in the past had been aborted either by politics or lack of goodwill. In 1958, the Action Group had proposed the creation of four additional regions for the country to make Nigeria a Federation of seven regions, three in the North, two in the West and two in the East. The other leaders would not agree and in the end, the “Minority Issue” was referred to the Willink’s Commission that was dead on arrival. The Aburi Accord, brokered by Ghana in 1967, failed because our military leaders would not reconvene to hold another meeting to iron out their differences on the matter. Instead they moved to the battlefield, leading to the death of more than one million people. Note that the Berlin Conference that resulted in the Partition of Africa by the European powers lasted for two years. Yet our leaders would not sit down for one week to iron out their differences and agree on the future of our country. They would rather fight for three years.

I will appeal to Kanu to come out of hiding and face the consequences of his action. His army of lawyers would be waiting for him and his co-travellers. We thank him for his message that our great country needs constitutional reforms to embrace its destiny. Indeed, there is a lot to dialogue about and nothing to war about. The idea of Biafra as a warrior nation should never be allowed by the Igbos to materialise again. We have already paid the price. How can we pay for the same product more than once? We have learnt the meaning of a Civil War, not in the dictionary, but in lives, limps and aborted ambitions. Many young men and women left home for the war and never returned. Theirs was a one-way trip. If Kanu wants war, then he should be allowed to walk alone.

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