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Nigeria: Against confessional states in Africa

Friday 18 December 2015, by siawi3

Source: http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/96213
2015-12-07, Issue 755

Biafra: Is Nigeria too big for all?

Abdulrazaq Magaji

If those crusading for a separate state are doing so because of the failures of previous governments to serve the needs of Nigerians adequately, that is not a good enough reason to seek secession. The grievance is shared across Nigeria. Moreover, the idea of a separate nation based on religious and ethnic calculations is unworkable.

Now that moderate and responsible leaders of thought in Igboland have cautioned against the madness over Biafra, it is perhaps apt for ‘outsiders’ to say something. All along, it seemed ‘outsiders’ who joined the fray jumped the gun since this is a matter that Ndigbo can and, is capable, of resolving. Ndigbo has finally confirmed what Nigerians knew all along that the ballyhoo over Biafra is just shakara!

It is all shakara because Biafra died forty-five years ago when none of the agitators, without exception, was born. All the foolish talk by upstarts to pull down the zoo and fight till the last man are a rehash of the highfalutin and incendiary grammar which then 33-year old Colonel Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and his co-travellers aboard the tragic Biafra bus treated the world to in the mid-60s. If, indeed Nigeria is a zoo, as Biafrans want others to believe, they have been part of the zoo for too long to now opt out!

Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu belonged to a country. He died a Nigerian; not as a supposed citizen of an imaginary country. Nigerians could not have forgotten Ikemba Nnewi’s wise counsel in the heady days of June 12 when he admonished General Ibrahim Babangida and Chief MKO Abiola of the 1990s ‘to be wiser and show more maturity’ than General Gowon and General Ojukwu of the 1960s. Again, it was the same Ikemba Nnewi who, around the same time, instructed Igbo traders in Lagos to stand up to ‘Area Boys’ who wanted to run them out of business. The logic, valid for all times, is that the resolution of the civil war means Nigeria is home to all Nigerians!

The Igbo have really integrated. Not even Boko Haram has dampened the integrationist spirit of the Igbo as many of them still thrive in their businesses across Yobe and Borno states. Many Igbo families still live in Bama, many more are into the fish trade in Baga and Gamboru just as many remain in several other places where only lion-hearted men live. And, let’s give this to them: the Igbo are lion-hearted. It should not be a problem to harness this staying spirit for the good of Nigeria.

Back to the wise counsel of Ndigbo! After disowning the Biafrans, one well-meaning group of Igbo elders even urged Nigerians to ignore ‘aliens’ who do not and, cannot represent, Ndigbo. Several associations of Igbo traders and businessmen as well as Igbo communities outside the south-east have been expectedly unsparing in their condemnation. Of course, the bandits have their own agenda which is at variance with the common interest of Ndigbo. But, what must worry Nigerians is the call for secessionists to be ignored!

If truth be told, there is no difference between these Biafrans and Boko Haramists as they both seek to dismember Nigeria. While Boko Haramists seek the creation of an untenable Islamic caliphate, Biafrans seek the establishment of a new country, out of modern Nigeria, that encompasses non-Igbos. The imaginary map of imaginary Biafra, apparently drawn by imaginary minds encompasses the south-south and part of north-central geo-political zones is another sign that the agitators need the services of mental health experts.

There is nothing wrong with ignoring agitators of Biafra. At best, they may resort to the antics of Niger Delta militants before the federal government adopted a wrongheaded appeasement policy to placate them. At worst, the Biafrans will use the window period to arm themselves and launch an insurgency in Igboland just as Boko Haramists did in parts of the north-east. The Biafrans will be taken serious the day they carry out their threat to bomb oil-installations!

Biafra fits in the several narratives told by Nigerians about their country. And the narratives basically revolve round breaking up Nigeria along geographical, ethnic and/or religious lines. What this means, in the opinion of tale-bearers, is that Nigeria should be three or more countries and not the ‘contraption’ of a united nation of Nigeria that Lord Lugard put together in 1914. Well, it must be conceded that many misrepresentations about Nigeria, including the idea of break up, are hatched outside the country’s shores. Biafra is a foreign grown idea foisted on Nigeria by potential arms dealers.

Biafra grew out of the funny idea that a north-south religious divide exists in Nigeria. But facts on ground do not support this. At best, the idea of a north-south divide is a deliberate distraction. It is a myth and a hare-brained thesis being forced down the throat of Nigerians. Sadly, the myth is serving the warped aim of its proponents which is to distract Nigerians from the crass incompetence of successive governments. Today, attempts to debunk the myth are not helped by a lazy Western press that continuously parrot a Christian south and a Muslim north.

The funny idea that Nigeria could, should and would break up fails to take into account God’s own hand in the historical events that gave birth to the ‘contraption’ called Nigeria in 1914. If we begin with the seventeen states that make up the so-called Christian south, can we, in the real sense of the word, carve out a country from there to reflect the christianness of southern Nigeria? Is the predominantly Yoruba-speaking south-west, where there are as many Muslims as there are Christians, part of a Christian south? The average Yoruba Muslim may be liberal with his religion, but there is nothing to suggest that s/he will succumb to the idea of a Christian Republic of Oduduwa. The Muslim population in Yorubaland is enough a minority group.

In the whole of southern Nigeria, it is only in the south-south and the south-east geo-political zones that we find minority indigenous Muslim populations. We can hardly shy away from the fact that we have a significant number of indigenous Igbo who are Muslims just as we have many indigenous Muslims in Rivers and Edo states whose interests must be considered when people babble about a Christian south!

Religion is the common denominator that binds various ethnic groups in the south-south with mainly Igbo-speaking south-east geo-political zone. It was this religion that informed the political expediency when the various ethnic groups in the south-south shelved their Tom and Jerry relationship with the mainly Igbo-speaking south east. But beneath this seeming rapport, the peoples of the south-south know there is no true love in the friendship of a dog and a leopard. Like other minority groups, the people of the south-south know they are safer in a united Nigeria where their interests and destiny are better protected and safeguarded.

Of the three geo-political zones in the north, only the North West is predominantly Muslim in the strict sense. But, even at that, all states in the North West have indigenous minority Christian populations. The north-east and north-central geo-political zones are a different kettle of fish as Christians in all the states in the two zones cannot be considered an insignificant minority. None! In fact, Muslims are a minority in at least two states in the north-central zone. And, by the way, which state in the north-east is, in the real sense, predominantly Muslim? It might be interesting to note that the population of indigenous Christians in southern Borno almost equals the entire population of some states in the so-called Christian south. Yet, we still talk of a Christian south and a Muslim north.

Let’s help Biafrans out of their dilemma. If their hot air is the product of frustration with incompetent leadership that watched idly while the country was run down, then they share the podium with Nigerians. But, if their frustration emanates from their political miscalculation in respect of Goodluck Jonathan, then they should join Ndigbo to negotiate the way forward. If the Biafrans disagree and insist on confrontation, there should be ways and means to restrain them from becoming the proverbial leper whose handicap renders him unfit to milk a cow; yet the same handicap does not prevent him from wasting milk by spilling it.

This beautiful country that Biafrans prefer to call a zoo is big enough to accommodate all animals. The dust over Biafra will soon settle and its proponents will realize theirs is a country that was never intended to be. But that will be after precious lives are lost, limbs broken and a few skulls get cracked. At the end of the day, Biafrans, not the Igbo people of south-east Nigeria, will get their fingers burnt. Of course, there is a price to be paid by secessionists: some will go to jail and a few smart ones will miss jail by taking boat rides to Gabon.

Any talk to the contrary is hot air. Na shakara!

Abdulrazaq Magaji is based in Abuja