By Ken Okomma
Anytime a Northerner opposes the independence of Biafra from Nigeria, I am not surprised because the North has been made to believe that they will lose a lot if Nigeria ceases to exist. They have no access to the sea; they will no longer have people to rule over; they will lose their source of wealth in the South, especially the oil wealth; they may lose Ilorin emirate to the Yorubas; they will no longer ride roughshod on non-citizens as the countries of such citizens will no longer accept the killing of their citizens or burning of their churches and property anytime there is a disagreement between two people.
So the North has very serious reasons to oppose the emergence of Biafra. But thank God for a handful of Northerners like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who believe that the North will do well anytime.
But what reasons, for goodness’ sake, does the Southwest or Edo State have to oppose Biafra? They share no boundaries with the proposed Republic of Biafra. Whether Igbos eventually get a republic with some parts of the South-south or they get a republic made up of Igbos alone, they will not take any land belonging to the Yorubas or the Edo people or incorporate them in their proposed republic. But let us leave the Edo people and concentrate on the Yorubas in this discussion, because the Yorubas are the loudest opponents of Biafra.
I have read many articles and social media posts and comments by Yorubas shouting themselves hoarse, opposing Biafra, condemning those who ask for it, blackmailing those who talk about Biafra and pointing out to them all that they will lose if they leave Nigeria. Most times they talk of of war and South Sudan anytime Biafra is mentioned, even though the proponents of Biafra are asking for a peaceful exit via a referendum.
Recently I read another of such sweet-coated articles in Writers War Room by one Ayodele Adeyemi (Biafra: How Prepared Are We for the Consequences?), trying to list all the Igbos will lose – from the ridiculous to the bizarre – if they leave Nigeria. It made me wonder again why the Yorubas are so fixated on Biafra exit.
If Biafra is mentioned casually on Facebook, Twitter, Nairaland or Punch website, it is most likely that the first person that will ridicule or attack the post will be a Yoruba person. Sometimes even when Biafra is not mentioned in an article or news item, a Yoruba person will bring it into the discussion and start the attack.
You then begin to wonder: Why are many Yorubas so afraid of the exit of the Igbos from Nigeria, even though they pretend that it does not worry them? Definitely I have seen some Yorubas who don’t care if Biafra succeeds as well as those who even support it, but the majority of the Yorubas give unnecessary opposition to it that is difficult to understand.
The Igbos don’t cause destructive riots or mayhem in Yoruba land. They don’t harm Yorubas in the Southwest or Southeast; the Yorubas don’t harm them too. They and the Yorubas have lived in relative peace for many decades, even though they always bicker like two co-wives. The Igbos always invest in any place they reside unlike many other Nigerians that make money in other places but would always repatriate their wealth home. Yet one hears many Yorubas always call Igbos names and tell them to go back to their land. To many of them, any wrong thing in Yoruba land is caused by the Igbos, and once the Igbos leave Yoruba land, all will be well with Yoruba land.
Surprisingly, these same members of the Yoruba ethnic group who want Igbos to leave their land with all their wahala are usually the ones who are vociferous in their opposition to Biafra. It is difficult to understand. One would think that this group of Yorubas would be too glad anytime they hear of Biafra, so that the Igbos can leave them alone. But no way.
The Yorubas have access to the sea. They have seaports and international airport. They have the biggest commercial centre in Nigeria, which is Lagos, which is even richer than many African countries. They have many educated people and professionals. They have industrialists, entrepreneurs and business people. They have rich people. They have an arable land. They even have oil in Ondo and Lagos. They are a homogeneous people with Yoruba as the language that is common to all of them; so there will be less bickering among them were they an independent nation. The Yorubas would have gone far ahead of the present Nigeria if they were a country even for 20 years now. It is obvious that Nigeria is pulling the Yorubas back like it is also pulling back the Igbos, the Niger Delta and even the Middle Belt.
In spite of all this, it is shocking that most Yorubas always condemn any mention of Biafra, either with direct verbal attack or subtle discouragement and blackmail.
What are the Yorubas afraid of about Biafra? Some people have said that if the Igbos leave Nigeria, the balance of Christianity and Islam will disappear and Nigeria will become a predominantly Muslim country. Some believe that the Igbos serve as a buffer between the North and the Southwest. Whenever there is an attack from the North, Igbos are usually the victims. So if they exit, the Yorubas may become the recipients. Maybe they don’t want that.
There is also the view that the age-long rivalry between the Igbos and Yorubas makes the Yorubas not want the Igbos to leave, for fear that the Igbos will succeed in their nation if they leave Nigeria. That will mean leaving the Yorubas behind. So the Yorubas will prefer to be the first to leave Nigeria, when they are ready.
Like Mr Bayo Adeyinka said in his honest open letter to Chief Bola Tinubu some months ago, many Yorubas are not happy with the level of progress the Yorubas are making in recent times in education, entrepreneurship, industrialization, self development, community development, governance. They have lost grounds to the Igbos and South-south even in education where they had a head start for many decades. So maybe they fear that they are not ready to stand on their own in the event of the exit of the Igbos from Nigeria.
It is, therefore, insulting to see educated people like Adeyemi and many online and on-air commentators and analysts give the most bizarre reasons why Biafra will not work. An example is Adeyemi’s claim that “the degree that a Biafra citizen is holding may not be recognized in Nigeria again.” How ridiculous? As presently constituted based on the statistics from exam bodies like WAEC, NECO and JAMB, do other parts of Nigeria have a higher exam standard than the Southeast? No. And even if a citizen of Biafra is requested to write an exam in Nigeria as requested by the US, the UK and other Western countries from Nigerians now, what is the big deal about that? When Nigerians, including Igbos, take such exams in Europe or North America, don’t they excel? If Nigeria creates a policy not to employ Biafrans, Biafra will respond in kind. Nigeria will not be the only country in the world available for international relations.
Some 30 years ago nobody heard of Dubai; nobody visited it. Beirut in Lebanon was the Middle East hub. But insecurity scared travellers away and the UAE seized the opportunity to push up Dubai. If Nigeria or a future Oduduwa Republic makes itself unfriendly, people will naturally seek friendlier climes. And many places, including the future Biafra or Igbo Republic, will be willing to grab that traffic.
Another of his reasons was that “whoever gets trapped in the other’s country may not enjoy his stay in terms of security, equity and justice.” What is this fixation with getting “trapped” in the other side as if nations must part through war and then continue warring forever? Between 1922 and October 1, 1961 Southern Cameroon was part of Nigeria. Since they were moved to Cameroon in 1961, has there been a case of people being “trapped” in the other’s country? Don’t they enter Nigeria freely and reside peacefully and vice versa?
Then the next point is this one that is always harped on by many scaremongers: “A citizen of Biafra will be an illegal alien in Lagos that may not be allowed to own property or do business until his papers are perfected; all previous property and businesses may be reviewed and/or revoked.”
Why this constant threat and blackmail about property and investment that Igbos may lose if they get their country? Are Adeyemi and those Yorubas who think like him planning to confiscate Igbos’ investments in their land? Let me not talk about the provisions of the United Nations on the protection of the investments of countries that separate. But note that the reason there was “abandoned property” in 1970 in some parts of Nigeria was because Biafra did not succeed as an independent country.
If you seize the property of the nationals of an independent country, you have declared your country the enemy of that country. You should also be ready for the consequences of such an action. Besides, if the Yorubas create insecurity in their land through the seizure of the property of their neighbours, it will be to their detriment, as other nationals don’t like being in a place that is not peaceful. So this group of Yorubas should stop hoping that the property of the Igbos will be available for seizure. It will be a regrettable action if taken. The trouble will not worth it. Thankfully, there are some Yorubas who don’t think this way.
But in the worst case scenario of losing their property in any part of Nigeria, the Igbos will continue their lives unperturbed. They lost everything during the Nigerian Civil War. They lost money and property. Their land was devastated. Government-induced starvation was visited on their children with about two million dying of kwashiokor. Their positions in the military, civil service, academics, governance, and the corporations were taken over. But before 1980 (only ten years after that bitter war), they were fully back to reckoning, with the whole of Igbo land rebuilt, and Igbos occupying different positions in Nigeria in spite of the blatant or subtle marginalization that still exists here and there. No visitor to Igbo land would know that there was war there between 1967 and 1970. And it was not the Federal Government of Nigeria that rebuilt Igbo land.
Igbos are survivalists. On many occasions their businesses and churches are burnt and destroyed in different parts of the North. They are killed at every opportunity. But they always count their loss and trudge on. The good thing is that if they have their own country, nobody will kill them or destroy their property in Nigeria without their country asking questions.
The other point is the issue of war and South Sudan which many naysayers raise anytime Biafra is mentioned. It makes one to wonder if there are no countries that ever left the parent country without war. Is South Sudan the only country that has ever separated from its parent country? Why don’t they ever remember that India parted ways with Pakistan and Bangladesh parted ways with Pakistan? Look at India and look at Pakistan. If they were together, would there be any peace or progress in that country? What about Eritrea that left Ethiopia? What about the Republic of Ireland that left the United Kingdom or Croatia that emerged from Yugoslavia or Singapore that emerged from Malaysia? What about the many other countries that emerged from the former USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and other countries? Are they embroiled in war? Are they all hungry and angry that they left?
Is marriage by force even when it is not working or when it is causing deaths, pain and retrogression?
The Yorubas know that Nigeria is not working the way it is structured. President Muhammadu Buhari has not helped matters with his cronyism. But rather than counter the Igbos’ call for exit with a call for restructuring, which they had been championing for decades, many Yorubas waste their energy condemning or ridiculing the Igbos. Their reason is their false belief that their ethnic group is in power. No, sweethearts! Buhari and the far Muslim North are in power. The Yorubas are not in power. The actions and appointments of Buhari make it abundantly clear that the Yorubas are not equal partners in this administration.
There are some Yorubas that have gone overboard and voiced it out that they are hopeful that in the event of an eventuality, their brother Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will become the President. They should pray harder. No matter anybody’s opposition to Buhari, nobody who loves Nigeria will pray or hope for anything to happen to him in office. We don’t need that again in Nigeria. Even if anything happens to him, the far North will seek ways of having another Northerner replace him sooner or later. Power means a lot to the far North.
The Igbos want progress and freedom. They abhor the mediocrity and regress which Nigeria has increasingly represented. They believe that there is so much they can achieve if they had the opportunity. They worked hard for Nigeria’s independence and got imprisoned at a time some people were saying they were not ready for independence. They would fare better in Nigeria if Nigeria were working well like other modern states.
But they don’t want to be part of a country that is filled with religious extremism, killings, burning, intolerance, tribalism, mediocrity, marginalization, quota system, and the like.
Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965 because Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) insisted on meritocracy, while the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) insisted on affirmative action (or quota system) for Malays. As tiny as Singapore is with 719 square kilometres and five million people, it is a country of note because its “core principles are meritocracy, multiculturalism and secularism.” No country built on these principles suffers underdevelopment.
In spite of the sad way Singapore was expelled by the Malaysian parliament when Singaporeans were not around in the parliament, both countries have very good relations today and are progressing at their own pace without any insinuations of seizure of property and businesses and the like.
This set of Yorubas should focus on finding solutions to Nigeria’s backwardness by asking for restructuring of the country rather than acting as busybodies who show the Igbos all the beautiful reasons why Biafra will not work. They cannot claim to love the Igbos more than the Igbos love themselves.
Igbos are not stupid or blind. They know what they want and what is good for them. Nigeria, as it is structured, is not good for the Igbos, and from how other parts of Nigeria are faring, it is obvious that it is not good for other ethnic groups too. If the country is restructured and governed well and fairly, nobody will talk of secession. But the direction of the nation is not raising hopes.
So should the Igbos fold their arms and continue with this motion without movement because of fear of the unknown? God forbid!
- Ken C. Okomma
- Asaba, Delta State
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org