Biafra: Understanding the agitation (1)


The Biafran struggle is as old as the Nigerian struggle. Long before the actualization of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Igbos whose sons formed the fulcrum of the nationalistic struggle had seen and expressed fears over the oligarchic ambitions and historical desperation to subjugate, intimidate and marginalize the Igbos by those with whom we share the Nigerian patrimony.

The seed for the persecution of the Igbo race was planted by the British colonialists. The foremost African nationalist and first indigenous Governor- General of an independent Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe in his speech at the meeting of the Igbo State Assembly(ISA) which held in Aba, in present day Abia State on Saturday, June 25, 1949, lamented the social, economic and political persecution which the Igbo had been subjected to.

In his words; “Socially, the British Press has not been sparing in describing us as ‘the most hated in Nigeria’. In this unholy crusade, the Daily Mirror, The Times, The Economist, News Review and the Daily Mail have been in the forefront. In the Nigerian Press, you are living witnesses of what has happened in the last eighteen months, when Lagos, Zaria and Calabar sections of the Nigerian Press were virtually encouraged to provoke us to tendentious propaganda.

It is needless for me to tell you that today, both in England and in West Africa, the expression ‘Ibo’ has become a word of opprobrium. Politically, you have seen with your own eyes how four million people were disenfranchized by the British, for decades, because of our alleged backwardness. We have never been represented on the Executive Council, and not one Igbo town has had the franchise, despite the fact that our native political institutions are essentially democratic—in fact, more democratic than any other nation in Africa, in spite of our extreme individualism.

Economically, we have laboured under onerous taxation measures, without receiving sufficient social amenities to justify them. We have been taxed without representation, and our contributions in taxes have been used to develop other areas, Out of proportion to the incidence of taxation in those areas.

It would seem that we are becoming a victim of economic annihilation through a gradual but studied process.” (Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik: A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Governor-General of the Federation of Nigeria formerly President of the Nigerian Senate formerly Premier of the Eastern Region of Nigeria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961). • 1886-1960).

Some people with whom I have shared this speech with argued that the Igbo race should have pulled out from the Nigerian entity even before independence since there have been clear evidences that they had always suffered persecution and marginalization even before the Nigerian independence was actualized. This is where my unique thought about the Biafran struggle comes in; I do not believe that the Biafran agitation is all about secession.

The Igbos should be the last group of people to secede from Nigeria because they have as much stakes as other ethnic nationalities in the Nigerian State, and some people understandably argue that we even have more stakes than the others, hence, if there are people who must secede from Nigeria, then, it should be any group of people who feel that the Igbos will not enjoy equal share with other parts of the country. The Biafran agitation is the agitation for equity, for real unity and for genuine brotherliness among all component parts of the country.

The Biafrans, are those who are being wrongly treated and mindlessly marginalized in a country they jointly own. What the Biafran agitators from the time of Nnamdi Azikiwe to the generalissimo himself, Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu till now that we have Chief Ralph Uwazurike of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra(MASSOB)and the newer Nnamdi Kanu of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the target in my own analysis has always been to draw the attention of the authorities to the marginalization being suffered by the Igbo people and to seek ways to stop them. In the famous Aburi Speech delivered by the Head of State of the Biafran nation, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, he was unambiguous about his real ambitions for the Nigerian nation. Secession was a last resort and in no way a first option.

Even in the heat of the war, on May 30th 1969, in a brief ceremony organized to formally hand over some mercenaries who were captured by Biafran troops as they assisted the Nigerian forces in their fight against Biafrans in return for oil gifts from the Nigerian government, President Ojukwu reiterated the futility of the civil war and called for a roundtable discussion between the two brother nations. His only insistence was on the Aburi Accord. What were the fundamental contents of the Aburi Accord?

The kernel of the Aburi Accord is that Nigeria should adopt a Confederal system of government, whereby the central government will remain, while component units will manage their affairs and develop at their own pace, and at the same time contribute to the general development and growth of the entire nation through making stipulated contributions to the central government from whatever they produce. This accord remains valid forty six years after it was penned and signed and remains the most veritable solution to Nigeria’s numerous political, religious and economic crises.

•Onwuasoanya wrote in from Owerri

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