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“The rear both thing sin international law: the principle ofter ritorial integrity and right to self-determination.”
There is no doubt that the Igbos are an adventurous and ambitious people. Flowing in blood of the average Igbo man, I believe, is the desire to dominate, to get out of comfort zones and conquer new grounds. And since the love for adventure and wild sport comes with independent-mindedness, the Igbos historically had no kings, no rulers, to flog them into line, tosubject themto his own whims and caprices.The Igbos, therefore,think freely – having the rights to challenge constituted authorities. The Aba women riot of 1929 and the enormous difficulties faced in Igbo land by the warrant chiefs imposed by the British indirect rule system are worthy testimonies to prove that the Igbos are not conservative,at the very least. It would thenappearthat theIgbos have an inherent libido to challenge the status quo.
Permit me to say that it was the quest for adventure tinged with a strange dissatisfaction with the status quo that drove some Igbo soldiers to stage and spearhead the first military coup less than six years after Nigeria’s independence on January 15th 1966. The coup witnessed the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the then Saudana of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria. SirSamuel Ladoke Akintola, the then Premier of Western Nigeria, was also assassinated in the bloody couptogether withAlhaji Tafawa Balewa, then prime minister. It was also on record that top ranking Hausa and Yoruba army officers wereassassinated in that infamous coup led by Major Nzeogwu Kaduna. Yet, no single Igbo politician was killed in that coup. The coup successfully installed the late Aguyi Ironsi, an Igbo man, as the head of state.
AlthoughChinua Achebe, the African literary giant, and other Igbo intellectuals have struggled, all in vain, to convince the world that Nigeria’smaiden coup was not an Igbo coup, had no Igbo agenda, but there have been insufficient evidence to drive home their theory. In Achebe’s last work and masterpiece, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, Achebe decried the assumptions that the January 1966 coup was an Igbo coup, citing the involvement of a fewsoldiers from other ethnic groups but he could notname any prominent Igbo politiciankilled in that coup. Achebecould not explain why a coup led by an Igbo man, which installed an Igbo man as Head of State, an Igbo man who refused to punish the Igbo men (Nzeogwu Kaduna and others at large) who led the coup should not be tagged an Igbo coup.
Unfortunately, Aguyi Ironsi,rather than unifyingthe various federating units of Nigeria, introduced a unitary system of government which eventually sparked the fire of ethnic distrust and tribal domination in post colonial Nigeria – a major reason why the north led a counter coup in July 1966 to flush the Igbos out of power. The counter coup would set the stage for the civil war which lasted for almost three years between 1967 and 1970.
The civil war led by theBiafran warlord, Ikemba Odigmegwu Ojukwu,frankly claimed the lives of millions of innocent people, mostly Igbo, and property worth millions of pretty naira were destroyed. Hunger and naked starvation hovered over Igbo land for three years. Women and children, in an event now infamously known as the Asaba Massacre,were slaughtered by the federal forces, all to conquer Biafra – the land of the rising sun. As a matter of fact, Achebe described the civil war as a pogrom, that is, a deliberate effort by some organized bigots to wipe out the Igbo race.
A fine conscience cannot deny the fact that theIgbos were greatly disadvantaged during and after the civil war, many losing their life savings to greedy banks. Others who had huge property outside Igbo landbefore the warlost ownership to hoodlums and a few aristocrats who took possession of the property. As a matter of matter, the Igbos are still struggling to recover from the wounds of the civil war.
Today, about two thousand and six hundred weeks after the civil war, the agitation for Biafra has resurrected afresh and swept all over the country like wild fire during harmattan.IPOB and MASSOB, two ethnic militant groups, have been in the forefront of thisrenewed callforsecession. The groups are claiming that the Igbos havebeen marginalized and shortchanged in the unholy, cursed marriage called Nigeria. They, therefore, want an independent state of Biafra,which is notunlawful and illegal.
Very recently, a group of northern youths have admonished the Igbos to leave the north and relocate, tocarry their houses on horsebacks and flee the north in three months or less. The callmade by Arewa youths is not only condemnable; it is satanic and barbaric, the reason being that theIgbos are still part of Nigeria and consequently have inalienable rights to own propertyall over Nigeria. Even if the Igbos sucedes eventually, they remain rightful owners of whatever property legally owned in other parts of Nigeria. At best, theNigerian government may increase their land use tax because they arenowforeigners.
Let me state emphatically herethat the actualization of Biafra does not mean that every Igbo man in other parts of Nigeria should be stoned or that any Nigerian in Igbo land should be stoned; what a Republic of Biafra would mean is that there would now be a new citizenship status for the Igbosoutside Igbo land and for Nigerians in Igbo land. A declaration of Biafra in this modern age, like Brexit, shouldnotresult to bloodshed; there should be anationalreferendum to determine whether majority of the Igbos want to go or stay. There can be a peaceful Biafra; this is not 1966.
However, if the Igbos insists on divorcing Nigeria for good they must not subsume other minorities in the South-South geopolitical zone into Biafra except if a majority of the non-Igbo speaking nations there trust Biafra enough, enough to align with Biafra. Meanwhile, the old map of Biafra must be studied again and again and again by the bestIgbo geographers and ethnographers, so that the clear boundaries of Biafra will be known, to avoid a repeat of history.Let the Igbos go but they must only bite the portion of the cake that islawfully theirs.
David Ademule, a member of Amnesty International, is a student of human society and crime. He lives and writes from Lagos where he goes about carrying his enigmatic pen in his pockets.