On Biafra, I Tussle to Stand



By Tony Monye

I always refrain from debating tribal subjects, regardless of the allures of temptations. They can be quite distressing. It’s been my experience for years. In this column, I am committed to canvassing leadership and human development, strategy and corporate policy-making, because that’s what Rham Durham Consulting Ltd – a firm that pays the bill on my behalf – specialises in, but then the enticements and concerns for the question at hand irresistibly grew in magnitude. Tribal concerns aren’t my strong points. I think of the whole all of the time; I think. I just seem incapable of grasping tribal matters – especially of the Big Three – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Ethnic wahala oftentimes is steeply laced in thickly coated and incomprehensible sentiments, which I am unable to decipher. Come to think of it, isn’t our tribal affiliations one of the chance events of our lives? I wonder if you chose yours. Well, I didn’t, in spite of a wish.

Just a few days ago, I was with a group of well-lettered men – all less than 45 years (post-Civil War babies), most of whom have maintained friendship links in excess of a decade of years on the mean and the Biafra question reared its head. When the question came, I heaved but there was no relief rather worries strolled in copiously – worry for the group, upset by its composition and concerned for the anticipated sentimentalism. Just some short digression here… it doesn’t quite sit well with me each time the country’s 1967 – 1970 conflict is referred to as the Civil War. I’d suggest we call it the War of Unity. Although needless, it was one conflict that challenged, ‘confirmed’ and ‘strengthened’ our unity as a nation. Back again to my fellas. The group suffered some near unhealthy variegation, with membership from all the various major ethnic groups in the country. It however enjoyed a slight tilt in favour of the southern tribes. Igbo or Yoruba, your guess remains good. When it began, again, I felt deeply unsettled; abortively searching for an exit route for I had lost some comfort to it. I made myself clear from the outset, with some guts, opting to sit on the fence because it felt cool and preserving. I understood quite brilliantly all the participants weren’t pleased but none openly admitted. And, they chose to ignore me. I was however hoping I wouldn’t be exposed to yet another scene of sentiments trouncing lettered-ness but, alas, in the end it traced the usual track.
As the discussion raged on, it was obvious massive raw emotions were being let out of their (excluding yours sincerely) kens given the topic. Enjoying the coolness of the fence, I gave the debate my two ears, one heart and my mind, not my tongue. I was honestly hopeful I would get some education. Regrettably, I heard some extremely harsh, irritable words that ought to have been left unsaid. The blame is on the system. It still doesn’t help, for in Nigeria, quite unlike in the West, there are yet no red flag with regards to what can be said in public. So, the system expresses over-the-limit tolerance of blatant tribalistic words, insults and emotions. Sentiments from all the participants had more than a field day, with a few at varied time taking exception to the contributions of other individuals.

I spotted that two discernible trains of contextual fore-exposures predominated, shaping opinions and arguments. One was a participant’s place of birth and, the other, tribal affiliation. Other viewpoints (economics, market opportunities, geopolitical relevance etc) certainly had been lifted up and pushed to the rear burners. In the face and unbroken attack of intimidating emotions, these learned, time-tested and salient lookouts appeared stupid, of less worth and imprudent. Those with very early exposure and experience of multi-ethnicism tended to be broader in their outlooks and contributions whilst those with mono-ethnic, uttered narrower and more cloistered views. Generally, in my estimation, I thought their opinions and understandings were a bit too slight for comfort. What was stretching the most was their insistence on peering only through their particular windows and, having no desire to even steal a peek through someone’s opening, which could have presented a world of new thinking. Usually, it went like this – the Igbo bloke couldn’t reason through a Hausa chap’s argument and vice versa. The same outplay of obstinacy went for the Yoruba fella. There was something cagey about the three southern minorities in the mix. A notch or two above the margin, they cautiously backed the arguments for Biafra. Several times, voices were raised, tempers caught fires but calm always, after a moment, triumphed and we went through this cycle twice or thrice. A few times, I had the urge to throw in some bits and bobs, correct what I considered half-right suggestions, flame-clasping contributions and terrible accusations but somehow I was able to hold back.

They chattered about the IPOB protagonist and his ideas for the nation of Biafra. Almost everyone confessed, regardless of tribal origin, to feeling scratchy with his un-stylistic, uncouth and undiplomatic blabbing; they all acknowledged sighting exuberance. Some argued for his many flawed notions, questioned his suitability, and even his persona for cause-driving; many positioned his vision was broader than life, depriving meaning off his struggle. One of them accused him of being sociopathic, needing help. Another raised fears he could be pawned by the many wily, behind-the-seen politicians around him. Only a few doubted the authenticity of his passion but most agreed such struggles needed more. A Northerner alleged the IPOB character was gleefully embracing easy-thinking, counselling it could be misleading. Another reminded Biafra was before him and the ‘ideals’ of Biafra would remain after him, even after all of us. Then came the Solomon in our midst. With a voice, slightly above a whisper, he only wanted to know who’s regarded as a Biafran. Loaded silence drooped on us for a moment. Appearing seemingly simple, that piece of question turned out the most difficult and about the most divisive request of that evening, as many doubted the willingness of some of the South-south states to romp along. I recalled he had earlier warned no side would win, presenting a lose/lose picture. A larger arc of the crowd agreed. It was when someone suggested the country was sitting on a cask of gunpowder, fearing the Yugoslavian experience might come to pass that I spoke. Refuting it, I warned there wasn’t some legroom for an alarmist. Although I felt like registering my displeasure at the tone of the conversation, I fell short of it. Only a fool walks down a silly alley twice. This boulevard is, of course and off-thought, much sillier than silly. Nigerians are wiser. Wait a second, are we truly!
At the end, I left pretty less informed, richly more confused and more concerned about our corporate existence as a nation called Nigeria than before. I had completely and irredeemably squandered two hours. Such is life, sometimes. Summarising, I felt their contributions were too ethnically jaundiced and I could easily figure out the many holes in their submissions and ideas. As a Nigerian, I can, with smiles buried in my face, understand our propensity towards ethnic nationalism. It’s not puzzling and there are absolutely no issues with it. Ethnicity is an important part of our togetherness as Nigerians. It is more or less like race relationship is to the Americans. I think denying it is simply denying what essentially makes us Nigerians in the first instance.

Today, contrary to my avowed decision, I am making my contributions, hoping my blokes are reading. But let’s get some basic facts of yours sincerely straight. One, like the others in the group, I am a post-civil war child. I neither heard the sound of the artillery nor the cries of victims of the conflict.
I only received many sad tales about it, beginning in the eighties. Two, I have come to terms with all the circumstances of my birth – parentage, tribal affiliation and country. That comfort is well-settled. My desire for friendship sees no tribal and racial barriers rather it is driven by, and sweetened by steady growth in, shared values. Three, I have lived in the East as well as in Lagos (place of birth and upbringing). I served my country in Ikwo, Ebonyi State after university education at UNN. Four, I am an avid student of Nigeria’s history, especially the many accounts of that unnecessary conflict. It’s quite unfortunately, most of the accounts stood honesty on its head, parading half-truths.
Now I would like my friends to hear my un-coloured voice. The landmass, along with its composition, has never been, in unhidden terms, the challenge. How can an un-intended but beautiful creation of the British that is fanning so much envy across the continent (and, possibly across the globe) like Nigeria be a cause for concern? The ‘growing’ ethnic spirit keeps slurping life off the great and undiminishing Nigerian soul. Sadly, no one else treats Nigeria with contempt, scorns and derisions as much as Nigerians. Let’s query our supremely hypocritical leaders and elite given the very disconcerting, disquieting and continued systemic rot. They, not anyone else, are the grave turncoats of the country’s dream of nationhood. The massive discontent in the land is one of their most laborious creations. There are, nevertheless, many logical, reason-driven geopolitical, economic and market sentiments backing the continued existence of our nation as one under God (or Allah). The emotional arguments are without count and are unceasingly increasing daily – minute by minute. Playing victim of the Nigerian state offers none of the ethnic assemblages sans help. Besides, we are experiencing democracy, which presents a breezy resting orchard for all the tribes. Let’s enjoy some respite in it for much longer, preventing the entry of a few dogged rascals, who, for personal prize, would extract extremely weighty price from all of us. These scoundrels are hell-bent on giving flame to a slowly extinguishing fire.

Another of the so many beauties of the country is in its geography along with its constitution, as none of the ethnicity-based political parties can make it to Abuja without the support and connivance of one of the others. If you lose at the polls tomorrow, the day after presents another chance to try again. Let’s join hands together as we create order, fair-play and true nationalism in the Nigerian sense whilst expressing our ingenuity for positive attainments and advancing growth in all the economic indices, for that’s the country we yearn for. Nigeria is one big secret, still waiting to happen on the rest of the world. And, in the final analysis, belongingness is a feeling phenomenon. I feel the whole. Therefore, I belong to the whole. On Nigeria, with grand ease, I stand.

––Tony Monye, Managing Partner Rham Durham Consulting Ltd