Biafra crisis

Biafra crisis

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 From September 15TH to October 14TH 2017, the Nigerian army carried out the second of its operations in the Eastern states of Nigeria code named operation python dance 11, the military was targeting the Biafra agitators mainly members of the banned IPOB group, this young Igbo movement is demanding the secession of the Eastern Nigerian territories and the actualization of the independent state of Biafra, although this operation seems to have achieved its purpose of undermining Biafra agitators, who had well advanced their propaganda agenda and were now threatening to cripple the Eastern states, it would be very premature to declare Biafra buried. The military intervention came on the heels of the Northern, "Arewa in Hausa”, youth coalition, Igbo quit notice. The Arewa youth had on the 23rd   June 2017 instructed all Igbo Easterners resident in the North to leave the 19 Northern states by the 1st of October 2017, this dangerously set the tone in the whole country threatening to destabilize the country. 

 In light of this realization, all the; "ancient genius”, of the African people must be deployed in attempts to find an acceptable solution, meant to establish peace and stability; the facilitators of progress. In the past decade of democratic rule Nigeria has witnessed an increasing rise in Biafra agitations and calls for Eastern secession, this Biafra agitation is the singular biggest modern threat to Nigerian unity, it is more dangerous to the stability and unity of Nigeria than the other serious challenges Nigeria faces, which include, the Fulani headsman conflict, Boko haram insurgency, and the Niger Delta conflict. Nigeria has already suffered one devastating Biafra war and it is in neither Nigerian, nor African interest to see Nigeria bleed again. An estimated one million precious African lives were lost during the Biafra war, billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure was destroyed, and the nascent nation suffered deep psychological scars it is yet to recover from half a century later. It is important to realize that this destruction occurred at an era that was far less technologically advanced in comparison to the current, meaning the protagonist were using far less advanced weapons and the capacity of the state to wage war was far limited by the underdeveloped, colonial agro based economy; yet, with all these mitigating factors the destruction of the state was still catastrophic. A second full scale war in our generation will certainly be a disaster that will shake the African, and world conscience, it could possible surpass the horrors of the Liberia-Sierra Leone conflicts and the Congo wars. 

 In order to understand the Biafra agitations, it’s important to grasp their source, which is rooted in the tribal nature of the Nigerian state, its foreign constitution, evolution, and the events that occurred prior to and during the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war; "Biafra war”. Although, Nigeria has many tribes, however, its destiny has gravitated around three major tribes, the Caliphate "Hausa-Fulani alliance”; dominating the Northern tribes, the "Yoruba”; aligned with western tribes, and the "Igbo”; dominating eastern tribes. 

 Nigeria as a state was constituted by British imperialism, serving international finance, and western capital interests, the British sought to gain access to valuable and critical resources, which were found in abundance in the then western Sudan territories, for their industrializing nation. This meant Nigeria had to be organized as a modern state, which would be able to engage in modern partnerships, and contract in the western sense, on western terms of trade, this was meant to guarantee western investments; accessing critical resources. These resources were mainly found in Southern Nigeria, hence the South was coerced through war and treaty into submission. By 1886 the advanced south western Yoruba states were secured, while in the south east the Igbo dominated Aros theocratic regime, with major trade interests and weary of competition, from British, Royal Niger Company interests was decisively defeated in 1901; securing the entire South. 

 Northern Nigeria was, however, occupied for entirely different reasons, by the end of the century British imperial ideals of empire and race superiority expounded by man like Cecil John Rhodes, Miss Flora Shaw; "later Lady Lugard”, had fully developed and gained currency within the London imperial establishment; therefore, the North was occupied in the interests of Empire building and asserting racial dominance.

 The result was the fall of Sokoto, the sole remaining credible threat to British imperial dominance in 1903, Lord Lugard then strategically decided to make the ruling Northern; Islamic Fulani Elites, British allies rather than try to totally crush their power, which would have led to costly and unsustainable rebellions, he therefore appointed the relatives and close family members of the deposed Emirs and Sultan, to the vacant aristocratic positions and largely left the Caliphate systems untouched, giving them great autonomy in their domestic affairs, he went as far as promising the Sultan that Christian missionaries would not be allowed to proselytize in the North. This British-Fulani alliance was to produce the famed philosophy of indirect rule, developed by Lugard through his engagement of Fulani Elites, in "essence”; it is a pragmatic philosophy of how to govern Africans in the absence of a European settler minority, and this ideology is still applied from the British and American embassies till this day.

 By the time of independence, the North and South had been amalgamated, and western civilization including Christianity had been embraced by the Southern lands especially the Igbo dominated east, while the North remained rooted in its Islamic past, the Igbo enthusiastically embraced the new emerging world with all its possibilities for a rapidly progressing people, whose progress was rooted in appropriating western civilization, the Igbo learned quickly gaining confidence, and dominated entire sectors of the emergent economy, they established themselves as a middle class and became relatively rich in the process. 

In the North, however, things remained totally indifferent, because the policy of the conservative Emirs was to limit western influence as much as possible; therefore, the Northerner never fully embraced the new world but remained rooted in his traditional systems and worldview, trusting in traditional experience and wisdom, this meant the North developed limited skills to function in the emergent world, restricting progress and leading to endemic poverty. The North had long been part of the International Islamic world, this meant that the Hausa-Fulani aristocracy and the other North Eastern Elites, who dominated Northern Nigerian realities sought to maintain their ancient power structures, and forward planned for the future on the basis of traditional modes of thought. 

   A full half a century later, Britain had gone through two world wars and could no longer hold on to its possessions; therefore, pragmatic London understood it had no choice but to prepare its colonies for independence or risk losing all influence after costly unsustainable wars. Therefore Britain began to carefully prepare its priced Nigerian colony for independence on the Basis of Lugard’s principle’s, Nigeria was to be held together by marrying a conservative North exercising hegemony over a rich modernizing South, this arrangement was meant to hold Nigeria together by harnessing the critical inertia of a united strong North, this would guarantee the desired "reliable”, independent Nigeria to partner with. In line with this philosophy the forward planning western educated aristocrats from the Caliphate, united the small intelligentsia with the more established traditional leadership in their tribal bureaucracies, their chosen leader, Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello; therefore, emerged as the new voice of the Islamic North, all the time aided and abetted by British aides, Ahmadu Bello then established a policy of Northern consensus by exploiting the Northern Islamic culture of reverence for traditional symbols and institutions, resulting in firm and established Northern power over Republican institutions. 

 As the British were preparing the North to take over all Nigeria, in the South an entirely different phenomenon was taking place the "Yoruba-Igbo” dominated Southern intelligentsia had united, and were seriously agitating for independence, at first this was under Yoruba leadership, this however changed with the return of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Azikiwe was an Igbo intellectual from Onitsha popularly known as "Zik of Africa, he was to take over southern agitations. 

Nigeria was; therefore, granted independence on the 30th of October 1960 under a Federal system of governance, comprised of three Federating units, North, West, and East, this maintained the model where the Hausa-Fulani retained principal political power at the centre, and absolute power in the North, while in the East, and West regions, the Igbo and Yoruba retained regional control respectively.  This meant the state established relative tribal and regional balance in all institutions, with a politically principal Northern character and a Southern bureaucracy; although, this left the South feeling constrained by what it perceived as archaic Northern hegemony. However, after independence Nigeria made significant progress throughout the three regions particularly in education.

 In 1964 Nigeria had disputed elections that led to the collapse of the Western region, leading to social unrest, this state of affairs was unsustainable and eventually led to a group of mid-level army officers taking advantage of the confusion and carrying out Nigeria’s first military coup, the fact that 23 of the 32 officers who carried out the coup were of Igbo origin, and that only Northern and Western Elites were killed during the coup, including Ahmadu Bello, all exacerbated by the fact that General Ironsi, an Igbo emerged as the first Nigerian Military Head of State; meant that it was perceived as an Igbo coup, meant to tilt the political balance of power in favour of the East.

 As the new state was thus poised, the New Nigerian military council was dominated by Igbo officers, like Lt Col Odemugwu Ojukwu; an oxford graduate, who was appointed the military governor of the Eastern region, while Lt Col Hassan Katsina son of a Northern Emir was appointed governor of the North. Hassan Katsina tried to warn the council of the potential consequences of their decisions; however, General Ironsi ignored him and instituted military decree number 34, this was a major restructure of the polity that established a unitary state, establishing a totally unacceptable state of affairs to the Hausa-Fulani "Caliphate” North, who interpreted it as an attempt by the Igbo to seize direct control of the whole state, after seizing the centre; using the instrumentality of the army, they understood that the more advanced South would have total dominance in a unitary arrangement; therefore, riots were instigated in the North, in which people of Igbo Eastern origin were killed. 

 This led to a counter coup in July 1966, led by Lt Col Murtalla Muhammed in which General Ironsi and Adekunle Fajuyi military governor in the West were killed, in total 27 out of 39 officers killed were Igbo, 4 Yoruba, and 8 others from Southern minorities, in its initial impulse the coup was meant to be a first step in secession, by the North; however, pressure from senior middle belt officers together with heavy Anglo-American pressure prevailed on the coup plotters to maintain a united Nigeria. 

 These events are what laid the basis for the Nigerian civil war; the "Biafra war”, that Nigeria has never psychologically recovered from and they lay the basis for the modern agitations for Biafra actualization. 

 The Arewa youth Igbo quit notice is rooted in these past events, and reveals the different tribal characteristics and motives that are at the core of the Biafra agitations, it is important to understand that as dangerous and condemnable this statement by the youths was, it was; however, a reactive rather an initiative declaration, meant to express a burning Northern youthful feeling. The Arewa youth have over the past decade endured untold abuse at the hands of Igbo Eastern agitators, because of the exceptional-ism; tribal doctrines that have gained so much currency amongst the Igbo, these are broadcast and preached through various media especially IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s radio Biafra, it must be understood that Igbo exceptional-ism is not a new phenomenon, because Zik of Africa had already declared in a speech 11 years before independence; in which he said, "it appears that God has specially created the Igbo people to suffer persecution and be victimized because of their resolute will to live. Since suffering is the label of our tribe, we can afford to be sacrificed for the ultimate redemption of the children of Africa”, these are the words of a self-conscious, confident and proud people, that understands themselves to have a great destiny, and a lofty sense of self and are willing to pay a price to fulfil whatever self-imposed mandate they set for themself.

 This tribal pride has metastasized into tribal hate speech, that claims Hebrew ancestry, and elevates the Igbo to the sons of a deity while at the same time reduces the Hausa-Fulani to levels of the animal Kingdom, incapable of civilization; the entire state failure that is Nigeria is heaped on them as if they are the sole responsible element for Nigeria’s ills.

 The temperament of these two ethnicities, must be grasped in order to fully appreciate the roots of this dangerous crises, Arewa mainly Hausa-Fulani people are generally introverts rarely revealing their true dispositions, the North is given to action, and often conceals its true power; hence, the tendency for other people to undermine them, while the Igbo is almost the opposite, the Igbo is an extrovert and often full of self-confidence, he doesn’t shy to agitate for whatever he believes in at a particular time.

 Lt Col Ojukwu an oxford graduate and Sand Hurst trainee, belatedly recognized the jostle for central control, as the root of all Nigerian conflicts; yet he proceeded to rashly declare secession without a financial plan to sustain the certain resultant war, all the major powers except France backed Nigeria; hence, Nigeria won without accumulating a major debt, to cap his strategic errors, he invaded the Midwest region in an uncalculated military gamble that sealed Biafra’s military defeat. The current generation of Igbo youthful leaders; of Biafra agitation, who mostly didn’t experience the war have not learned from history, but actually in patently dangerous simplicity fanatically agitate without reserve, putting the whole Nigerian state in dire jeopardy.     

 It must be recognized that the Igbo was on an upward trend to modern statehood pre-colonialism, this was however arrested by the 1901 Aros defeat meaning he never materialized his historic project, this setback was further exacerbated by failure to mould Nigeria in his own image in 1966, leading him to default to his sub-national project Biafra. This historic failure and the associated defeat in the civil war had far reaching consequences for the Igbo people and Elites, because their leverage over the state, with its accompanying access to critical resources was restricted by their partial exclusion from the centre, this state of affairs has affected the Igbo people both emotionally and materially, and leads them to feel that they are living under surrender terms, lacking full inclusion as citizens of Nigeria, they feel Nigeria is restricting their progress as individuals and as a people. 

 On the other hand the Arewa youth have been in the struggle against the Elites, who they see as being from all tribes, it must be understood although Nigeria has the Anglo-Fulani alliance as its central governing matrix within its deep state complex, which upholds the visible governing structure and more positively maintains the diverse Nigerian polity as a viable entity, able to function with sustainable institutions, it is however false, to claim that the Hausa-Fulani people have themselves become a Nigerian Elite, and even to conclude that the state character of Nigeria has been determined by Hausa-Fulani culture and people, a multi-trans-tribal super Elite has evolved around the central matrix of Nigerian power, this Elite keeps a stranglehold of Nigerian institutions that guarantee access to critical resources, and in the process maintain the opulent lifestyles of the Elites.

 This Elite has become the main impediment to Nigeria’s progress, it is the responsible element for Nigeria’s underdevelopment, which is the natural consequence of fantastic corruption, centred on the exploitation of oil resources which are held in trust by the Federal government. The size of Nigeria and the relative bureaucratic incapacity of the North guaranteed a multi tribal elite that had the actual access to these critical resources, meaning the reality is that the ordinary Igbo is actually far better economically than the ordinary Fulani tribes-man, because the Fulani was never taught the critical skills to excel in a modern society and still subsists by ancient means.   

 In light of this reality this meant the Arewa youth mainly Hausa-Fulani have had as much incentive as any Nigerian, to demand their rights, and work against the corruption of the governing Elites; hence, they were in the struggle with all other Nigerians against the Northern military regimes of Babaginda and Abacha, there were in the trenches with all Nigerians in NADECO supporting Mashood Abiola a Southern Yoruba Christian politician who was unjustly denied power after he won elections, they overwhelmingly voted for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a Southern Christian Yoruba, because of a desire for progress and democracy, they see themselves as being politically and more importantly economically marginalized, as indeed is the rest of the country in their sight. Therefore it is with a deep sense of betrayal that they reacted and proclaimed the June Igbo quit notice; this notice, was a reaction to the overwhelming support the Igbo’s gave to Nnamdi Kanu after Kanu and IPOB called for a stay away and 80 % of Ibgo-land in a show of support acquiesced, in that event the Arewa concluded that the Igbos clearly wanted Biafra showing honour to a man that calls them cows; therefore, the Igbo had forfeited the right to continue living amongst them. The Arewa youths don’t have the same concern for the unity of Nigeria as the Northern Elites, who are fearful of a possible loss of critical resources in case of secession, the youths were concerned only with defending the honour of their people, which has come under assault for almost two decades with no response, there wanted to make their voices heard that they would not suffer abuse forever.  

 The original Anglo-Fulani complex has evolved into a western-Nigerian alliance of Elites; with western Multi-national Oil Corporations "not necessarily British” at the centre, this partnership, as originally intended has collaborated in the historic plunder of Nigerian resources, that under moral law and political theory were supposed to serve the Nigerian people and development. This century old alliance is the impetus behind the fantastic corruption in the Nigerian state, this corruption facilitates all the Nigerian conflicts which are mainly based on attempts to access critical resources, these include the most dangerous potential civil conflict, rooted in current Biafra agitations, this poses a danger for the very survival of the Nigerian state.

 The Elites must be alarmed enough to begin a comprehensive reform process of all Nigerian institutions meant to lead to economic progress and consequently raise the standard of living of all, it must be clearly understood that the ultimate cause and facilitator of all Nigerian conflict is the endemic poverty, and lack of opportunities that would lead to just upward mobility for young Nigerians throughout the whole country. Nigerian Elites should with urgency make a decision to extricate themselves from corrupting foreign influence, and contract on the basis of Nigerian national interests; this interest, should primarily be the welfare of the poor, they should channel all state resources towards developmental endeavours, abolish rent seeking, and encourage legitimate enterprise, leading to development.

 This will capture the imagination of the youthful nation, and reduce the ability of retrogressive groups, like Boko Haram and IPOB to recruit young Nigerians, leading to stability and progress. If the Elites do not yield to the tears of a long suffering nation, but rather continue on their current trajectory of self-interest, they will be risking all that they have acquired themselves and the very security of the nation, this could possible lead to fratricidal civil conflict, far worse than the Boko Haram insurgency.        

Kwanele Mkheswa / Johannesburg based senior analyst of Voice of Africa -   

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution   

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