By Tochukwu Ezukanma
At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus saw a man that had been sick for thirty eight years, and asked him, “Do you want to be made whole”? It was a question that seemed irrelevant and insensitivity. But then, some are sick but do not want to be healed. Many are in school but do not want to learn. The Buhari administration is fighting Boko Haram but does not want to defeat Boko Haram. So, that seemingly irrelevant question of Jesus was actually pertinent.
Ralph Uwazurike of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) once said that, “When I started talking about Biafra, I did not know what I was doing. But, as democracy allowed me the right to express myself, I started talking about it, and as, people started listening to me, I continued”. That is, by his own admission, he started talking about Biafra not because he desired Biafra or had a strategy on how to actualize Biafra, but because democracy guaranteed his right to free speech. With time, he became wealthy and renowned from talking about Biafra. Finally, he fizzled out; nobody hears of him lately. It is therefore possible to be talking about Biafra without wanting Biafra.
Nnamdi Kanu is significantly different from Ralph Uwazurike. Unlike Uwazurike, he is media savvy, colorful and flamboyant. He is dashy, with a streak of showmanship and histrionics. He is a rabble-rouser that has successfully incited the passion of an impressive number of Igbo that now constitute a formidable (committed, fanatical, and almost, suicidal) following. His incongruent followers consist of the ignorant, youthful, adventurous and idealistic, with a fair sprinkling of the educated, elderly and realistic. Although his organization has more than its fair share of the ignorant and roughnecks, even, within the ranks of its leaders, it is somewhat well disciplined and structured. But, as you listen to the pronouncements of Nnamdi Kanu and observe the activities of the members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), you wonder if they really want Biafra.
Nnamdi Kanu’s demand for a referendum to determine if the people of his “Biafra Land” want to remain in, or secede from, Nigeria is reasonable. After all, there had been a number of similar referendums in different parts of the world: Spain for the people of Catalonia; Canada over Quebec’s independence, United Kingdom on Scotland’s independence, etc. However, the Nigeria government has made it very clear that it cannot, on the short run, hold such a referendum because the Nigerian constitution has no provision for it. Therefore, a referendum on Biafra is contingent on a constitutional amendment.
The Nigerian Constitutions can only be amended by the Nigerian legislature. First of all, 2/3 of the federal legislators both in the senate and House must approve of such an amendment. After which it will require the approval of 2/3 of the state legislatures across the country. The governors have significant influence on the legislators. Therefore the future of the Biafra referendum, and by extension, the emergence of Biafra hinges on the Nigerian legislators and their gubernatorial mentors. All these political office holders come into office through elections. IPOB should then be advocating elections, and campaigning for the election of “progressive” legislators across Nigeria that are sympathetic to the IPOB cause; and will amend the constitution to provide for a referendum. Paradoxically, IPOB is opposed to elections in Nigeria; it is doggedly campaigning for an election boycott, especially in “Biafra Land”.
There cannot be a referendum in the South East, the kernel of Biafra, without the consent, or at least, the acquiescence of Igbo political and traditional leaders. Therefore, an understanding between IPOB and Igbo leaders is a sine qua non to a referendum. Secondly, not all Igbo are pro-Biafra. Before the referendum, it will be expedient to inform, persuade and convince these Igbo that are not pro-Biafra on the need to vote for Biafran independence. In educating and convincing them on the necessity of Biafran independence, Igbo political and traditional leaders with their power base and mass following will play pivotal roles. Their power structure and existing channels of influence on the masses will be very vital in this process. Therefore, IPOB should have been in working partnership with Igbo kings and political leaders in the bid to prepare and mobilize the “Biafran” masses for the referendum. Ironically, IPOB is antagonistic of the Igbo political class and traditional rulers. It characterizes most of them as saboteurs, sellouts and slaves of the Hausa/Fulani.
Some Igbo are passionately pro-Biafra. Some others are pro-Biafra but with some reservations. There are also many that are fervently anti-Biafra. Presently, it is unlikely, but not impossible, that the pro-Biafra Igbo will win in a referendum on Biafra. The IPOB is insisting on the inclusion of the Ijaws, Efik/Ibibibo, Idoma, Urhohobo, etc into Biafra. These are groups that want to remain in Nigeria, and have repeatedly stated their refusal to be part of Biafra. Their inclusion in Biafra, and consequent, participation in a referendum will invariably increase the number of people voting against Biafran self-determination; thus making the defeat of the referendum inevitable.
IPOB has no military option; its only viable option is a referendum. To get the Nigerian government to agree to a referendum on Biafra will be herculean. It will demand exceptional international credibility and adroit diplomacy on the part of IPOB. IPOB will have to rouse the world conscience against the Nigerian government on a scale comparable to what the African National Congress (ANC) did to Apartheid South Africa. Over a period of more than two decades, the ANC effectively startled the world conscience with the evils of Apartheid and orchestrated an encircling global diplomatic alliance against South Africa. It was diplomatic isolation and international economic pressure that brought down the Apartheid system.
Kanu’s speeches are not strategic, and do not betray any knowledge of global geo-political dynamics. They are jumbles of inflammatory statements directed at his followers, and insults and threats against the Buhari administration and Igbo leaders. His farrago of incendiary statements, insults and threats cannot bring about Biafra. It is planned out, mapped out strategic steps towards a referendum that will bring about Biafran independence. Why is Kanu ignoring this reality and dissipating IPOB’s resources on activities that are essentially undermining the prospects of a referendum?
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria