BIAFRA: 50 YEARS AFTER

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The Nigerian system is still plagued with iniquities

With the warning issued last Friday by the Nigeria Police Force against market closure in the five South-east states being planned for today by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), we hope critical stakeholders will work to avoid needless violence. But the central question which the authorities must ponder upon remains: Why does Biafra keep recurring and featuring in our national political landscape 50 years after its declaration and 47 years after the end of the Nigerian civil war?

Today presents an opportunity for such national introspection. On this day (May 30) in 1967, the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, then a Colonel in the Nigerian Army, declared secession of the then South-eastern region which he proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. That marked the beginning of an avoidable civil war that claimed the lives of millions and set back the development of the nation.

While it is true that genuine grievances of Igbo people are being diminished by a plethora of mostly self-serving “Biafra Platforms”, they must nonetheless be addressed in the interest of national cohesion and stability. Besides, there is a school of thought that strongly believes that, apart from the insanity called Boko Haram, every separatist movement in today’s Nigeria is fuelled by gross inequities and brazen injustices created and sustained by the current structure. The Biafra narrative must, therefore, be seen as a metaphor for a country that does not work for the greater majority of its people.

However, it should worry critical stakeholders that the ghosts of the civil war are still hovering all over the place, especially for the Igbos. The situation is not helped by the disposition of the current administration. Statutory government appointments; federally funded physical and social infrastructure and even ongoing plans and discussions about further investments in national development clearly suggest, even to casual observers, that the South-east is continually being short-changed.

In rationalising this unfortunate state of affairs, Labour and Productivity Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige last week reduced a serious issue to the political arithmetic of the voting pattern in the 2015 presidential elections. “Politics is a business in a way, you invest in a business and you reap a profit. But we played bad politics; we made a bad investment because they (South-east voters) invested in the (Goodluck) Jonathan presidency. They invested in Jonathan more than the South-south where he hails from…even in a family where the head goes to the farm to harvest his yams, those who accompany the farmer to the farm get more share,” said Ngige.

As tragic as that may seem, Ngige is only taking a cue from President Muhammadu Buhari, who said from the early days of his administration that the distribution of opportunities under his watch would be determined by the nature of support he got at the election. Against the background that the beauty of participatory democracy lies in creating equal opportunities, government must be prevailed upon to build an inclusive society.

At the colloquim on “Biafra: 50 years after’’ organised by the Yar’ Adua Foundation last week, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo spoke on the strength of our diversity as a nation. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the current administration is mindful of that diversity and the imperative of building a society for all, beginning with giving the South-east people their dues regardless of how they voted at the last election. That explains why the lopsided appointments under President Buhari only reinforced the perception that the Igbos are yet to be fully re-absorbed into the one family of Nigeria.

We hope the administration will work to put that right in the interest of our country.