By Ireke A Kalu Onuma
“Free speech is precious, and free speech is fragile, and we do not get to choose who exercises it, or how they exercise it. One of the many uncomfortable truths of freedom is that our right to express ourselves affords everyone else that right, too, and that means that someone is going to say something that offends us beyond measure.” – Cort McMurray.
Across the South East, either by choice or out of fear, the cities and hinterland were grounded. At the beginning of the day, the fear was, not if the day would be observed, but a hanging fear, that there would be bloodletting. As I write no concrete report of abuse or death has been reported. The consequences of the day, is deep and reflective of the inner tremors threatening the country.
The idea of a determined pursuit of self determination isn’t new to us as Ndigbo, and the waves of excitement isn’t new either. The goal today to most was to defy the Nigerian State and prove that we are serious and aren’t about to give up on our dreams. Now that the day has been observed, a few issues are to be put in perspective.
With the elders always wary of the cost of conflicts and the emerging elite class, asking for a time to think about our next move, it seems that the majority are not just going to take the bullshit anymore. On behalf of the majority, the Nnamdi Kanu’s are beating their chest and proclaiming victory. The theme here isn’t about the victory or cowardice of one or another, but the realities of What Next, which comes the morning after.
The Elders are right in asking for caution; the majority, mostly fed up with poverty, lies and the deception of the political class, are also right not to want anything to do with being asked to wait. However, we have a war to win, winning a battle is far from being a yardstick to measure the next conflagration. We need to rein in our emotions, we need to start asking more from ourselves and begin the difficult part of this whole thing, which is to start building consensus and coalition.
That we feel like we’ve defied the government of the day yesterday, isn’t a victory at all. We are no where near the goal. The journey isn’t even started. We need institutions, we need men, money, a working knowledge of the historic essentials of a robust economy, we need the ideas, framework and even a Constitution to guide us henceforth. Those who argue, like I heard yesterday, that all these would be done as soon as we get Biafra, are not serious. They are either ignorant or simply too dim witted to appreciate the enormity of the challenges before us. We are simply putting the cart before the horse.
Anyone clamouring for Biafra as a physical manifestations of our struggle, must study in details and not piecemeal, the history of the Biafran nation of yore. What was the challenges and opportunities that were before them? How did they face it? Why did they fail? Pretending we can do any better without knowing these and more is lame. I have been calling for a step back from all these conflicting clamouring and take a cold hard look at us. Biafra can become a reality, but it must be brought about by a serious planning.
My task here is not to introduce a new concept of how the FIRST Biafra failed or fell apart. This is a separate topic of discussion some day. What I’m interested in is this: how IS the “absence” of a defining Biafran ideology in the events of the past 7 years (When Uwazurike’s MASSOB, were spitting fire and “rescuing”, us from our enemies and called for the first seat at home) and, if you think about it, in the events of the past two-three years of Nnamdi Kanu’s, IPOB, influenced the continuing absence TODAY of any defined ideology, and how this absence is influencing the current Igbo leadership who skirt around this lack (or even try to reconstruct a sham) of ideology in the last 50 years.
Using the rhetorics of Biafra to score cheap points and divert attention to the failures all around, as has become the habit of some political adventurers, is sickening. The men today who mouth how Ndigbo have been maltreated by Nigeria, have done worse to us. The lips that today claim to be our spokespersons, are the links, who have betrayed us, over and over again in the past. The fate of Ndigbo cannot be guaranteed by these men. Some major surgical procedures must take place in our society’s political landscape to expunge these tumours from our system.
Democratisation of the Igbo society is needed. If like is been reported, many stayed at home out of duress, then we have a problem. We must not succumb to the tyranny of the majority, simply because we are so frenzied about having our way. If as much as a meaningful minority have a different view and attitude towards the clamour for Biafra, we should slow down and work through it until we reach a consensus. We cannot be running from pharaoh and then drowning in the red Sea of our making! Our people deserve to be reassured. Fear is an element of defeat. There is no elegance in uncoupling our attachments with and to Nigeria only to enslave ourselves with or by any kind of tyranny.
We are still many years away from getting a clear picture of what direction we are heading. 50 years, in a human life is a whole lot. But for a nation, simply nothing, in terms of historical direction. After 50 years, and after the euphoria of having made a statement, what next? I am a proud Abiriba man. I am a proud Igboman. I am a proud Biafran. I am all these, sequentially. But I am a cautious member of all three, who thinks that, we must agree, plan and decide how best to proceed, before we embark on this journey. It would be foolish of us, if we are not fully prepared and equipped to confront the Nigerian behemoth and thus committing the same mistakes our father’s did.
On what front, Umunnem would we say we are fully ready and covered. Arms? Soldiers? Police? Ideology? Money? Intelligence? Diplomatic? How are we planning to deal with the mayhem and reprisal attacks on our people across the nation? This would surely happen. How are we going to deal with the massive influx of refugees? If there’s a plan or anything resembling it, I would be glad. But am sure there’s none! I am not a coward or a scaremongering fool, but I feel, knowing what I know today, that we wouldn’t last the three and half years our father’s did. Cautiousness isn’t fear, as we say in Igboland. War is tough. War isn’t a joke. We must in all sincerity exhaust all options before us, before picking war up as the last option.
These are no idle concern. We are dealing with a society that, due to unknown reasons, “lost” an all-powerful ideology, an ideology, unknown before then in Africa, capable of uniting a broken people and sustaining them for three and half years against all odds. The lack of desire to fill the ideological vacuum is unbelievable and sad. In our case, the dearth of ideology-building of the Uwazurike and Kanu revolutionary drive acquires the qualities of a numbing process.
There was a viable ideology when Biafra was created. And this took root all over the Biafran country and all through the course of the war, hence the glaring ideological vacuum in Igboland today and amongst the more vociferous groups makes no sense. The post-ideological epoch, which has spanned more than four decades began on the territory of the South East immediately after the war, when it became “more important” to align with the Northern political establishment, so that we can be “accepted and reintegration”.
In our present circumstances, it is beneficial to look into our immediate post war activities and actions, which has defined how leadership emerged and continues to emerge in Igboland, as opposed to our “nzogbu nzogbu” attitudes towards Nigeria with its numerous weaknesses. The current happenings across the North, with the Boko Haram insurgency, crippling the whole region give us much food for thought.
For the three and half years that the Biafran State existed, what was the “Biafran ideology?” It’s no secret that, in understanding our collective past, it is difficult to speak of just one driving ideology — there were several successive ones that had the same name. The foundation of the history of Bifran ideology is clearly laid out in the [Ahiara Declaration ] which combined the utopian vision of a future classless society with effective political instruments for practical adaptation.
In conclusion, the Biafra that was the rising sun and hope of the black Africa, was at the time, a relevant phenomenon and idea. At the inception of the war, the geographical area that was Biafra, had more Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Artisans and Professionals of all sorts that any other part of black Africa per square miles. Among other things, to reinvent Biafra is to reawaken the spirit that strives and will rest for nothing less than the Excellent. To reinvent Biafra is to reinvent a relevant and vitally indispensable people!
From the evidence of yesterday and the past 50 years, ARE WE ANY WHERE NEAR THAT?
*Onuma is the Administrative Secretary of Ndigbo Lagos