President Muhammadu Buari has said there will be no referendum for Biafra under his watch. His jingoistic position reminds one of the fix the wartime British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, unwittingly found himself in the thick of the Second World War, over the freedom being proclaimed for all peoples of the world. Churchill had said; “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire…” That inglorious interview was published in New York Times, November 11, 1942.
Of course the British Empire collapsed soon after the Second World War despite the haughty stance of Churchill, and nations under the colonial British Empire went their separate ways, including Nigeria. As a face-saving measure, Britain later created what is called the British Common Wealth – a loose association of nations once under the imperial British rule - an amorphous body fast declining by the day but still symbolizing the extent Britain pillaged the world.
Let it be known that Nigeria has committed almost all the mistakes committed by nations that failed and mistakes are meant to be corrected to avoid their oft disastrous consequences. Yet, our leaders pretend. The Nations that would fail will fail, unless their leaderships do the needful. Buhari’s proclamation that he would not be the last President of a united Nigeria, if left at the level of mere desire, may blow in our face. He has to rise resolutely to the real issues fuelling the separatist agitations sprouting round the country.
I do not think that disintegration of the USSR was exactly the aim of Mikhail Gorbachev when he mounted the saddle as President of the soon-to-fail Soviet Union (1990–1991). He came with Perestroika ( listen)) as a political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which he championed since the 1980s, and his glasnost (meaning “openness”). Such feeble policies proved to be mere palliatives and could not cure the maladies the Soviet Union was enmeshed in. Thus, amiable Mikhail Gorbachev, who called Jesus Christ the first socialist for being the first to seek the welfare of mankind, woke up one morning only to discover that all that was left of the once boisterous and strongest union on earth were only files. Even Russia hosting Kremlin, the USSR capital, was also a separate country, and Mikhail Gorbachev an erstwhile President of a country that only died a day before. In fact, he had become a tenant in his Government and had to make frantic efforts for his own safety while the then President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who he opposed his election, mocked him.
The Soviet Union, in aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, and the subsequent collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, it broke into no fewer than fifteen sovereign countries. What followed was the pseudo-democratic Republic of Russia, though it still retains much of the autocratic air it has always been famous for.
If the USSR example is not convincing enough, let us look at a few other examples to prove that the desire of a President to hold a country together even by force rather than through negotiations is never enough. We have at least 10 states that disappeared completely in the 20th century alone, most of them greater than Nigeria.
One striking example is the case of Czechoslovakia, which existed between 1918 and 1992 and was forged from the remnants of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. During its brief existence it was one of the few bright spots in Europe, managing to maintain one of the continent’s few working democracies prior to the Second World War. Betrayed by England and France in 1938 at Munich, by March of 1939 it had been completely occupied by Germany, and vanished off the map. Like the Biafra agitators of today, the ethnic Slavs in the eastern half of the country demanded their own independent state, breaking Czechoslovakia in two in 1992. Today, it exists as the Czech Republic in the west, and the nation of Slovakia in the east, and Czechoslovakia history.
Like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia was a by-product of the breakup of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of WWI. Basically made up of parts of Hungary and the original state of Serbia, it unfortunately did not follow Czechoslovakia’s more enlightened example. Instead, it maintained a somewhat-autocratic monarchy until the Nazis invaded the country in 1941, after which it became a German possession. In 1992, when internal tensions and rival nationalism resulted in civil war, the country then split into six smaller nations (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro,) making it a textbook example of what happens when cultural, ethnic, and religious assimilation fails.
Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia broke up because, like Nigeria,they lacked a common identity and language, and was instead home to various ethnic and religious groups, most of whom had little to do with each other - to put it mildly. In effect, it suffered a large-scale version of what Yugoslavia suffered, when it saw itself similarly torn apart by ethnic nationalistic ferment.
In yet another ill-fated attempt to bring unity to the Arab world, Egypt’s fiery socialist President, Gamel Abdel Nasser, thought it would be a splendid idea to unite with his distant neighbor, Syria, in an alliance that would effectively surround their sworn enemy, Israel, and make them a regional superpower. Thus was created the short-lived U.A.R. and finally came to an anti-climactic end with the death of Nasser in 1970.
It can be seen that Nigeria joining these poor examples is not impossibility if things are left to just drift away. President Buhari, therefore, has to do the needful not only with Biafra but with other splinter groups. It is now time to make a square facing to true federalism in Nigeria and become happy together, without any zone feeling superior or inferior. It is time to restructure Nigeria.
However, there is a big lesson to be learned from what President Muhammadu Buhari has said twice and in both cases, outside the shores of Nigeria. The first was when President Buhari at an interview with the Al Jazeera female reporter while on a state visit to Qatar earlier this year, and when asked about the IPOB protests, replied thus: “...We fought a 30 month civil war. At least 2 million Nigerians were killed, and for somebody to wake up, maybe he wasn’t born when there was this fighting in Biafra, and say he wants Biafra again..., We have Multi-party democracy now. Let them organize themselves and vote for (to have a) state within a state”.
The other was in his most recent visit to the US, President Muhammadu Buhari had advised Biafra activists to toe the path of democracy by joining a Political Party to advance their interest within a united Nigeria, advising them to completely forget the clamour for referendum for an independent Biafra. The President stated this just last week during a news conference in New York to mark the end of his visit to United States for the 71st United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA).
What I understand President Buhari to mean is that there is nothing the Biafrans would not get within Nigeria if they become well organised. Before we disagree with Mr. President, can it truly be said that the South East is politically organized? Depending on where one stands to look at, the South East, to me, remains the most politically disorganized zone in the country.
Attempts have been made to establish All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as a Political Party for the Igbos. But APGA was soon hijacked by self-serving individuals who manipulated the platform until the party shank in dominance to Anambra State. Throughout its history, even when Dim Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu was still around, APGA has been synonymous to Victor Umeh, Chekwas Okorie and Peter Obi.
The trio cleverly built a cult correlation between Ojukwu and APGA and used same to manipulate electoral prospects while keeping the Igbo elites completely out of the Party, including its founding members. The APGA case is a classic example of lack of political dexterity and patriotism, which the Igbo leaders clearly lack in organizing for the common good of their people. That was what President Buhari is taunting and challenging the Igbos to prove him wrong about.