How Biafra sentiment is raised at newsstands
Biafra, officially the Republic of Biafra, was a secessionist state in Eastern Nigeria that existed from 30 May 1967 to January 1970. It took its name from the Bight of Biafra, the Atlantic bay to its south. The inhabitants were mostly the Igbo people who led the secession due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. Other ethnic groups that constituted the republic were the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Ejagham, Eket, Ibeno and the Ijaw, among others.
The secession of the Biafran region was the primary cause of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War. The state was formally recognised by Gabon, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Zambia. After two and half years of war, during which over one million Biafran civilians died from hunger and starvation caused by the total blockade of the region by the Nigerian government, Biafran forces under the motto of “No-victor, No-vanquished” surrendered to the Nigerian Federal Military Government (FMG), and Biafra was reintegrated into Nigeria.
Of recent the agitation for an independent Biafra has hit a new level. I don’t know where it is coming from but supporters of the cause have grown more confident and optimistic about the realization of their desire. Take a walk around the newsstands; for example, you will be sure to encounter a crowd of young Biafra enthusiasts, and probably one or two elderly ones giving passionate lectures about the Biafra project. Their optimism and near cocky confidence often covers all eventualities, including the prospect of war, telling you how ready and equipped they are for just that. They will also tell you how the Federal Government has been dragged to an international court over the Nnamdi Kanu case, and how he would soon be released. The confidence is there, the optimism at an all time high, and the followers increasing.
The innocent Igbo person drawn to these crowds often finds the rhetoric of these elderly or youthful but sufficiently knowledgeable Biafra orators irresistible, especially when made up of stories of subjugation and domination of the Igbo tribe, the gory activities of Fulani herdsmen, and other stories sufficient to wipe out any iota of innocence in such an individual and replace it with the ever lingering desire and passion for Igbo interest as characterised by youths from the South East. But one would be tempted to ask just how possible this Biafra issue is. It is easy to get influenced by the positive attitudes of the Biafra orators around the newsstands but the activities of the Nigerian government imposes a reality check to make us begin to review things.
It is evident that the Nigerian government is not receptive to the issue. The attitude to the Biafra self-determination struggle has not changed since the time of the civil war. And without the government acceding to this, even the most stoic optimistic Biafra supporter would find himself asking questions about the possibility of this project.
The ears of the consistent newspaper stand Biafra supporter are always abreast with continually updated theories on why the government has adopted such hard line stance. Among the most acceptable view is the notion that since the intended Biafra cutaway contains a huge chunk of the much adored oil, the Federal Government wouldn’t be too eager to concede it to them, so they trump up the familiar and very convenient value of national unity.
A theory even has it that President Buhari is prepared to allow Biafra secede, only after he has separated the Igbo areas from that of the Niger delta, that is essentially separating most of the oil, from the “a little oil or nothing” actually. One needs no imagining just how receptive these ideas are to the young Biafrans at the newsstands.
At the newsstands, you’re also likely to hear the idea that some tribes are unsupportive of the decision by Biafra to secede because they are afraid of their own fate after that. There is also the issue of Christian minorities in the north, and how isolated and endangered a post Biafra would leave them.
For the pessimists, the educated Igbo youth and the one who has heard enough horrid tales about the cataclysms of war and wants to learn the lessons our president wants us to learn, these newspaper stands could change such perceptions and attitude and instead transform them into full hot blooded passion for the cause by simply giving you the reasons why Biafra must secede.
They will tell you that the scars of the civil war have not healed at all. Their arguments will try to convince you that your people came out of that war vanquished, defeated and absolved forever. They tell you about how you no more have a place in the politics of your country. They would paint vividly the pictures of the northern riots and Fulani butchering. It is at the newsstands you get to know the back story, discover the wider plots and conspiracies against your tribe. And by the time they are done, you are left feeling like you know nothing.
I’m not sure where the cocky confidence in the realisation of Biafra is coming from.
Chibuzor is of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.