The phenomenon of Biafra (1) )
By Douglas Anele
The caption of this discourse is cloned from the title of a philosophical work entitled The Phenomenon of Man written by the French Jesuit philosopher and priest, Teilhard de Chardin. In the book, de Chardin detailed the evolutionary development of the earth from the geosphere to the noosphere or sphere of reason, culminating in what he called the omega point when consciousness will be “superpersonalised.” Similarly, in this series, I will trace the origin and nature of the Biafran phenomenon, its roots in the imperial colonial contraption called Nigeria, and dissect reasons for the occasional eruption of agitations for self-determination by disgruntled indigenes of different ethnic nationalities epitomised in the on-going movement for the resurrection of Biafra.
More specifically, I will beam the searchlight on events that have energised demand for secessionist referendum by Nnamdi Kanu and his group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), more than forty-seven years after the civil war ended, thereby putting a big question mark on the future of our country’s dysfunctional federation. Sentiments aside, the quest for self-determination will continue until Nigeria evolves into a confederacy of nations or she is completely dismembered, with different ethnic nationalities constituting their own independent nation-states. Why? Because of the faulty foundation for Nigeria laid by British imperialists, the skewed manner in which the colonisers in concert with myopic selfish Nigerians manipulated the transfer of power at independence, the born-to-rule attitude of prominent northerners as canonised by Sir Ahmadu Bello, and failure of the ruling elite to overcome ethnic and religious differences and create a genuine nation out of the various peoples of Nigeria since 1960.
Now, contrary to the indivisibility or indissolubility thesis advanced ex cathedra by the privileged few benefitting from the present skewed system, one of whom is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria is actually ripe for non-violent drastic reconstruction or dismemberment because, as presently constituted and governed, the country promotes poverty, injustice, indolence and bulimic accumulation by the ruling class. Unless drastic measures are taken as soon as possible to pacify the growing number of malcontents nationwide things might soon fall apart irrecoverably and guided peaceful change would no longer be feasible.
In my view, the best way Nigeria can be reengineered to unleash the creative ingenuity of the people is to turn her into a confederacy, with the proviso that each confederating unit has the right to secede after meeting certain agreed conditions. The process of turning Nigeria into a confederation or complete dismemberment can be actualised without violence or war, so long as a broad section of Nigerians recognise that the present arrangement is not sacrosanct and are willing to change it as civilised human beings without resorting to violence.
I completely disagree with those who argue that agitations for secession or self-determination must necessarily lead to war. They are simply using the disastrous errors of judgment especially by Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon and his group of warmongering northern soldiers and also to a lesser extent by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and his advisers in 1967 that led to the civil war to intimidate Nigerians making warranted demands for self-determination on behalf of a growing number of compatriots who are genuinely dissatisfied with the dysfunctional system we have right now. Although secession usually leads to violence and war, and agitations for it rarely succeed, there is no a priori or logical reason why this must be so in all circumstances. Singapore, one of the most developed countries in the world, left the federation of Malaysia in 1965 by mutual consent with the remaining part of that federation. Thus, Nigerians, especially Ndigbo, should not allow the terrible experiences of the civil war prevent them from raising the issue of self-determination once again and trying to reach a consensus about it, if they are seriously dissatisfied with the Nigerians situation. In doing so, they must use nonviolent means – violence is out of the equation.
None of those leading the movements for actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra has generated a well-reasoned philosophical template, ideology and blueprint that models the new nation they are agitating for so that the people can build a consensus around it, or manifested considerable moral-spiritual consciousness required for liberating Ndigbo from the strangulating grip of caliphate colonialism. That is a serious omission: without such a blueprint, the agitation for Biafra would not attract the critical mass of sons and daughters of Igboland that can help actualise it. That notwithstanding, it is disingenuous and completely irrational to insist, based on the naïve presumption that “our strength lies in our diversity,” that the Igbo (or any other ethnic group in Nigeria) must never be allowed to secede peacefully no matter the severity of maltreatment they have been enduring and the depth of discontentment, disenchantment and dissatisfaction they feel towards Nigeria.
In my opinion, arguments along these lines by leading politicians and so-called elder statesmen betray a myopic view of history, paranoia about radical reform of a decadent unjust system and tacit endorsement of a political economy that serves the interests of largely unproductive parasitic sections of our colonial amalgam. Consequently, the pious, pseudo-patriotic rejection of confederacy or peaceful dissolution of Nigeria based on the fiction that the country’s unity is not negotiable or indissoluble must be interrogated objectively to ascertain whether it makes sense and in accord with our circumstances. According to Protagoras of Abdera, “man is the measure of all things; of the things that are that they are, and of the things that are not that they are not.” Therefore, there is no human relationship or political organisation that cannot be radically reconstructed or dissolved peacefully if the parties involved, after sincere and realistic assessment of existing conditions, reach a consensus that the centre can no longer hold. That, in my opinion, is the hallmark of civilised behaviour.
Having said that, in order to understand the taproot of agitations for Biafra, it is necessary to step into history for information on how the geopolitical expression, Nigeria, came into being, which is also a prerequisite or background for any objective judgement about the extent we should go to preserve the so-called One Nigeria. The name ‘Nigeria’ was coined in 1900 by Flora Louisa Shaw, former colonial correspondent of The Times, who later became the wife of Lord Frederick Lugard.
Moreover, Nigeria is one of the unintended consequences of the scramble and partition of Africa legitimised by the 1884-1885 Berlin conference. Before that conference which led to the partition of West Africa, except Liberia, into territories under the colonial rule of Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, the various autochthonous peoples that constitute Nigeria had been living separately on the basis of their internal socio-political and cultural organisations for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years. They were neither consulted nor were their interests considered when the European powers at the German capital granted Britain responsibility for the areas around River Niger. Of course, in those areas even before the 19th century, several social and political formations had reached a high degree of development. There were large states with sizeable polities, highly centralised political systems and big metropolitan centres.
These include empires and kingdoms such as Benin, Oyo, Ile-Ife, Jukun, Bornu, Nupe and the Hausa states. Also included are communities such as the Igbo and the Tiv, described by scholars as acephalous, meaning that these settlements or groups of settlements did not evolve highly centralised governments or monarchical systems. Between 1801 and 1810, Usman Dan Fodio, a muslim cleric and reformer, led a jihad against the Hausa kingdoms and subjected them to Fulani hegemony.
As some historians have noted, what began as a crusade to clean up decadent islamic practices and convert nonbelievers eventually turned into colonial conquest, that is, a violent means of grabbing land and political power. It must be observed that the Fulani were not aboriginal inhabitants of northern Nigeria. According to Drs. Tunde Oduwobi and Obi Iwuagwu in the paper, “Nigeria: An Ethno-Historical Survey,” their original homeland is the valley around Senegal River, and they derive from “miscegenation between the local inhabitants and Berber immigrants – the one agricultural and Negroid, the other pastoral and Caucasoid.”
After the Berlin conference had recognised the paramount position of Britain in the areas around River Niger, a royal charter was granted to the Royal Niger Company on July 10, 1886 to protect British interests in the territories. With the possible exception of George Taubman Goldie, Lord Lugard played the most significant role in the making of modern Nigeria out of a heterogeneous collection of ethnic nationalities that previously interacted with one another mainly in the area of commerce. As a Captain in the British army, he led the famous Race to Nikki and signed a treaty with the traditional ruler there which placed Borgu (Bornu) under British protection. After the formal proclamation of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900, Lugard and his cohorts continued systematic subjugation of the area until 1903 when Kano and Sokoto fell.
To be continued.