AGITATION FOR BIAFRA BY IPOB WILL NOT GO AWAY THROUGH STATE VIOLENCE
he Nigerian military this past week declared the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist group. This is an unfortunate and knee-jerk reaction to a legitimate protest movement against the Nigerian state. This declaration by the Nigerian Army also came within hours of another pronouncement on IPOB by the governors of the South-East. They stopped short of calling IPOB a terrorist group but declared it an unlawful group which is no longer allowed to operate in the South-East. For starters, IPOB is a peaceful social movement calling for self-determination for the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria.
This declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group by the Nigerian state or the outlawing of IPOB's existence by our weak Igbo governors is a dumb and cowardly act by a state and her national and regional leaders who lack the basic skills in dialogue and conflict resolution.
We know those who are terrorizing and traumatizing Nigerians through their misrule: they are in Aso Rock, our state houses, our national and state assemblies and also in Sambisa forest or in the homes and sites of those Northern oligarchs who are sympathetic to Boko Haram.
We may find these 'terrorists' also in our religious institutions among those preachers who are threatening people with God's punishment, preaching about ancestral curse all in a failed effort to properly analyze the reason why Nigeria is failing Nigerians. These are false prophets who use our strong faith in God to exploit the poor or incite them to violence or laziness of life by promising them miracles without work, hope without praxis. All these and many more make it impossible for Nigeria to stand on her feet and these traumatize our people.
My contention here is that no matter what anyone thinks of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB and those who follow him, such agitations for Biafra will not go away through state violence or proscription. This is because poor and disinherited young people in Nigeria are angry and hungry. They cannot fold their hands when their ethnic and national heritage is being despoiled by a few clueless husks who parade themselves as national or regional leaders.
Nigeria is a sinful state which operates a structure of injustice which is destroying the lives of most Nigerians especially the poor and vulnerable, women, our youth, and our seniors and elders. Most Nigerians feel the pain of this sinful state, but do not know how to express their frustration and thus die in silence.
Nigeria has been run and sustained by unrighteous and egocentric office holders. These few men and women, mainly of the military extraction, have continued to build and sustain unjust socio-political and economic structures in Nigeria and undermined the emergence of genuine constitutional democracy in Nigeria. They have made it impossible for the Nigerian state to establish any unified and inclusive institutions and have stifled the social and political space for the better angels of our nation and of our nature to arise.
The last two weeks have seen an increase in the presence of the military in the South-East, especially in Abia State. There are several conflicting reports of impunities and senseless spilling of the blood of young Igbo men by the Nigerian Army.
Rather than institute a thorough investigation into these killings, we are being fed with denials and distorted narratives of what happened. Now the response of the Nigerian state and the South-Eastern Governors are these shameless and insensitive declarations which can only worsen an already tense and fragile situation.
All these make me wonder why we are so burdened in Nigeria and in Igbo land with such poorly endowed political office holders. These men and a few women lack basic leadership skills and wisdom to govern. They are so disconnected from the social, cultural and spiritual imagination of their people and their yearnings for good government and the basic necessities of life.
Why are we so crushed under the Cross of failed institutions and visionless office holders who do not understand the lessons of history? Our office holders lack the basic common sense and intimation of values about why our nation is failing. They also fail to understand that it is their failed leadership which is making our young people so restless and they have no vision or plan on how to stop this unfortunate cascade down the precipice of despair and decay.
Why has our nation remained an extractive state where all that matters to our office holders is how to secure their position and expropriate our common treasures for themselves and their tiny reference group?
When confronted with conflict in the land, which are the necessary consequence of the unbearable pains and frustration of our young people, what do our political office holders do? The kill or maim the protesters to intimidate them, they tag them 'terrorists', 'trouble-makers', 'secessionists' etc just to find enough reason not to engage them in dialogue and thus justify any state violence against these innocent, poor and defenceless young people.
In many other civilized societies and working democracies, leaders listen to their citizens because they hold the office to promote the interests of the people. Protest is not an affront on the integrity and unity of the state. When people protest, they are crying, thus protests are point to the tears and agony of the people which indicate that the state is offering these young men and women death rather than life, and despair rather than hope.
Unfortunately, in our land, our political office holders, rather than dialogue and listen to the people crying from depths of despair, resort to violence, repressive laws, draconian edicts, retaliatory brutality and high-handed use of authority. These reprisal acts by the state and her agents are inflicting further pain on a weather-beaten populace and unnecessarily ratcheting up the tension in the South-East.
However, this has been a consistent pattern in Nigeria. What is happening now in Igboland is a new iteration of various layers of violence and destruction of Nigerians unleashed by the Nigeria state which has been run over a long time by a very corrupt and decrepit gang of opportunists and sadists from the Nigerian Military.
This excessive violent defense of the so called indivisible unity of Nigeria by the Army was, as we say in Nigeria, because they were 'following orders from above.' President Buhari must, therefore, take responsibility for the militarization of the South-East which has raised tension in the region. As Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Army, he authorized these senseless and unwarranted acts of violence and intimidation of young Igbo men by the Nigerian military in their ancestral homes. We should hold President Buhari accountable for the wasted blood of these young men.
Indeed, the first act of President Buhari upon return from over 100 days of medical tourism abroad was to pursue a senseless suppression of the legitimate protests of IPOB and many Igbo youth and millions of disaffected Nigerians.
However, the problem of the Nigerian state goes beyond Buhari or any single individual. Nigeria is stewing in the hot pot of the crisis of a post-colonial state. This crisis is a burden on the soul and survival of Africans and the Black race worldwide. We see signs of this crisis all over Africa in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa, Central African Republic etc. Each African country has its own painful manifestations of this African predicament. We must, therefore, look at our problems and challenges from a bigger picture, even beyond the Igbo prism.
My proposition is that the agitation for Biafra by IPOB offers a classic example of why the Nigerian state is unsustainable. I will offer two indications among many reasons which can be adduced to understand our present predicament.
First, Africans and Nigerians in particular should not think of the post-colonial state in Africa as a gift or as a perfect structure offered to us by Western White supremacists. Indeed, these states in Africa are traps which weak or dictatorial leaders and ruling elites in Africa have fallen into in Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan etc. What it means is that all and every evils and acts of injustice within the state should not be seen as inevitable. Rather these acts of injustice and cracks in the polity should be seen as signs that the state is not inclusive and that its constituent components are not properly aligned.
As a result, the post-colonial state should not be seen as an indivisible union. It doesn't have to be so if it does not offer her citizens equal access to human and cultural fulfillment. Indeed, I will propose that should any part of Nigeria wish to leave the union, they should not be forced to stay as happened during the Civil War. I am not sure that most Ndigbo wish to leave the union, but I know that some of us Ndigbo do not feel that we fully belong to this union because of the many exclusionary acts and injustice which we suffer in Nigeria.
This is not just about Ndigbo but indeed all components of the Nigerian state must maintain an eternal vigilance as to how the power dynamics in the state is either promoting and/or undermining the survival of citizens. This is why many people propose that states like Nigeria should engage in constant negotiation and re-negotiation of her collective existence in order to address the imperfections in the system by more closely aligning its structural components. This way, we can improve our institutions in order to promote, preserve and protect the common good from which all citizens especially the poor and the marginalized can draw as from a well pool.
Unity is not an enforced reality and sometimes an unregulated and uncritical union might simply be a fodder for all kinds of exploitation and disempowerment of the poor, minorities and those who are so righteous in their ways that they cannot compete through foul means as is the case in Nigeria.
United communities and nations are often held together not by force or threat. Rather, a well functioning and cohesive community emerges as a result of common values which help members of the community to achieve a sense of common identity and to pursue common interests and goals which benefit everyone. This is what should be sought in Nigeria through honest dialogue and courageous confrontation of the truth and the rejection of the unjust system, policies and programs and exploitative schemes which cause pains to many. This injustice is particularly a heavy burden which many Igbo people bear because they are still being punished by the Nigerian state as the continuing consequences of the genocidal war against her people during the Civil War.
The post-colonial state in Africa was created to serve first the interest of the West. Secondly, it exists and is sustained by a few elites in particular African state and sometimes by the dominant ethnic group (in Nigeria, the Hausa-Fulani for eg., in Kenya the Kikuyu etc). Those who, for instance, are singing the hymn of one Nigeria are only those who are benefiting from this failed structure of violence and structural injustice. They are either the elites (the political and religious class from both majority and minority groups) or those from the dominant ethnic groups (particularly the Hausa-Fulani) who are benefiting from the present structures.
The elites and those who are benefiting from this dysfunctional and unjust structures of sin in Nigeria will sing the hymn of 'an indivisible Nigeria' because as the country stands today they are not losing anything: for eg. when they are sick they can afford to go abroad to receive the best treatment the world can provide, they and their families can afford to spend their vacation abroad, study abroad, shop abroad, work abroad etc. So why will they really border that our hospitals in Nigeria are simply places where the healthy go to become sick, and those who are sick go there to die?
They will not mind that 'one Nigeria' means that our nation's teachers and professors are on strike and our universities are closed down because their children are all studying abroad. They will not worry about the absence of water and electricity because they have their own private boreholes and multiple gen-sets for their homes and they can afford to take care of themselves even if the nation is burning. Furthermore, should their 'one Nigeria' experiment fail, they can 'check out like Andrew' to any of their choice countries in the West.
The, one-Nigeria advocates will not worry about violence and crimes because they could have a whole detachment of the military to guard them. They will not worry about the plight of Nigerian seniors and pensioners who are dying because they have no pension or social security because they themselves know that when they retire they will enjoy their loot or spend time with their children and grand children who are living abroad to do their medical checkup and enjoy a taste of the good life. Millions of Nigerians from Aba, Ogoni, Jalingo, Lafia, Ajegunle will want a one Nigeria if it gives them basic necessities of life, guarantees the safety of lives and properties and provides them social security. Who wants to walk away from a beautiful marriage? People seek for divorce because their marriage is not working, maybe they are being cheated on by their spouses, beaten and bruised etc.
When we link this unacceptable situation in Nigeria to the agitation for Biafra we see why this movement is a valid cause to pursue and why I whole-heartedly endorse such agitations.
How I wish other young people throughout the nation can become as heroic as these young Igbo men and women who are saying to the darkness, 'we beg to differ.' Why will any Igbo young man or woman sing the hymn of an indivisible one Nigeria when the memories of their relatives lost during the Civil War are still fresh in their minds; or when they see that their Igbo names already attract some suspicion from other Nigerians and that being an Igbo could sometimes be a deficit in Nigeria? Why will they wish to belong to this country when they observe around their states that their land is so under-developed and that most developments in Igbo land have been the result of community self-help? Why should they want to belong to one Nigeria if they see that most Igbo political office holders are petit-bourgeois who are so corrupt and so authoritarian and compliant with this oppressive system and could sell their own people and family just because they want money, titles or power? Why should any young Igbo man or woman or any young Nigerian today for that matter be connected to the Nigerian experiment, when they have no hope for a job unless they know somebody or apply 'bottom power' if they are females ?
Indeed, we must do an analysis of power in order to understand why the Biafran youth are agitating that they do not wish to belong to this contraption called Nigeria. This agitation will continue because as the Catholic bishops so presciently declared in their recent prophetic judgment: "Our country is currently passing through a phase that is marked by tension, agitation and a general sense of hopelessness and dissatisfaction. This, we believe, is as a result of years of injustice, inequity, corruption and impunity. There are agitations in many sectors of the country against the lopsidedness in appointments into key institutions and sensitive national offices as well as marginalisation and unfair distribution of resources and amenities. We, therefore, urge government at all levels to engage the aggrieved sections of the citizenry in a conversation worthy of a democracy."
Secondly, agitation for Biafra will continue because Nigeria has failed and failing political, cultural, social and religious institutions which cannot sustain the lives and security of her people or the future economic, social, political, cultural and spiritual good of her young people. As Brasilian economist, Celso Furtado pointed out, there can be growth without development. Development is not simply the presence of physical structures-bridges, new houses, new churches, new states and local governments etc. Development occurs when there are sustainable institutions and sustainable participatory practices driven by local processes which create an inverse-curve in the direction of better and optimal living standards suitable for human and cosmic flourishing.
The polarization in a state like Nigeria is not the result of ideological differences. Rather, it is because of widening income inequality, sweltering heat of inexcusable suffering, and systemic inter-generational poverty. This polarization is also the consequence of endemic sequestration of marginality along the arcs historically doted by previous acts of expropriation, violence, war, and hatred unleashed on particular ethnic groups, minorities, the middle class and majority of Nigerians who are left in the broken lower rungs of economic, and social progress. Polarization can occur even in highly developed economies when people's incomes are shrinking and where they have no ladder of upward social mobility or when a particular people or group is held down by institutionalized prejudice and structures of marginality.
When the Nigerian government which has a 'monopoly of legitimate violence' (Max Weber), rather than using its authority to unleash the ingenuity and creativity of our people, resorts to the use of overwhelming violence to address the polarization in our country, caused by failed political leadership and failed political and religious institutions, it makes the emergence of sub-alterns like IPOB inevitable.
IPOB is unleashing what economist Joseph Schumpeter calls 'creative destruction' in the Nigerian state. However, unlike what Schumpeter proposes that such 'creative destruction' should emerge through economic growth and technological change and innovation; our young Igbo people lacking the needed skills or political stratagem for social mobilization are simply initiating creative destruction through legitimate protest. As crude as their approach may have been, they have succeeded in shaking and razing the sinful bastions of injustice in the land and drawn the attention of the international community to the execrable acts of the Nigerian state against her peoples. Buhari and his ilks have been put on notice!
We may not all agree with the method of IPOB or the style or utterances of Nnamdi Kanu, but sub-alterns are like that: they speak the language of protest, revolt and rebellion as the Igbo say, ara ka mma n'okorobia.
Sadly, the Nigerian state, unschooled in how a new reality emerges from a non-inclusive and repressive social structure, and led by an effete and intellectually limited leadership has fallen into a trap by responding with heavy-handed violence.
I am convinced that we need such groups as IPOB to subvert and interrupt the present trajectory of history in Nigeria. As Ndigbo, we need such groups as social movements which should shame our Igbo political and religious elites. These highly privileged group-including this author-have failed to advocate and fight for the survival and long term future of the Igbo race in the contending narratives of inclusion and exclusion in the Nigerian project. Nothing seems to come to any part of Nigeria without a fight, and Ndigbo have failed in coming up with any plan or strategy and are so divided; IPOB is uniting young Igbo, succeeding where our religious and political leaders have failed!
As a Catholic priest, and professor of African studies, my faith and my study of history tell me that such groups as IPOB are prophetic because they help us to see clearly in order to better read the signs of the times. These young men and women deserve our respect and solidarity and not our condemnation.
I call on the leadership of IPOB and all young Igbo men and women who are unsatisfied with their lot in Nigeria to identify with this group, while adopting all legitimate means under the law to reject and denounce the sinful, unjust and exploitative and unworkable institutions in Nigeria.
We all know that Nigeria as it is today has not offered any of us the ideals of a true nation-state. It is, therefore, sinful to defend this status quo with any kind of logic. We must seek an urgent national dialogue or implement decisions already made through such dialogues in the past.
Those who do not like IPOD should come forward with a better alternative, rather sit on the sidelines; that is the value of a free society. However, this agitation should go on for the future of Igbo race, Nigeria, Africa and the world!
Stan Chu Ilo, is a research professor at DePaul University, Chicago, USA