The recent harassment or detention of human rights activist, Dr. Chido Onumah, by state agents is not only a sign that Nigeria is drifting towards full-blown dictatorship, the incident also goes to expose the hypocrisy of Nigerian leaders. Onumah’s crime, according to the state agents, is that he was wearing a t-shirt with the inscription: “WE ARE ALL BIAFRANS”, being the tittle of his best-selling book.
In the book, Onumah analyzed the myriad of challenges facing Nigeria, to posit that “the different manifestation of Biafra may well be a metaphor and, to that extent, we are all Biafrans as long as we seek to confront the clear and present danger.” The book, of course, had been launched since 2016, with the former Vice-President, Abubakar Atiku, and a number of government officials gleefully in attendance.
Therefore, Onumah’s ordeal is nothing but a growing sense of intolerance or, rather, what Wole Soyinka referred to as an “unprecedented level of paranoia” being witnessed in the current regime, while he was condemning the unwarranted detention of another activist, the Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption crusader, Omoyele Sowore.
Biafra re-emerged as a hot topic since a group from the eastern section of Nigeria, under the aegis of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), heightened its demand for freedom from Nigeria, not long after Muhammadu Buhari assumed democratic power. Central to their grouse is a history of bad leadership in the Africa’s most naturally endowed nation. Instead of dialogue, as in the case of other recent insurgents in the country, the Buhari regime not only clamped down on the Biafran activists with brute force, it also branded them “terrorists.”
Interestingly, however, as Onumah had long professed, all Nigerians have become Biafrans, by consequence. This view is consistent with an ardent admonition by the venerable Balarabe Musa, which holds that the perennial tendency to ignore the social challenges in the Biafran area is tantamount to ignoring the Nigerian future. Today, most of the problems enumerated by IPOB for its agitation, including acute poverty, massive corruption, injustice, kidnapping, lawlessness and lack of free speech are now being felt by the generality of Nigerians.
A perspective by the Afrobeat Prince, Seun Anikulapo Kuti, is profoundly instructive. In a recent interview, Kuti inferred that, like the Biafran agitators, every Nigerian actually wants freedom from the country, due to the worsening state of affairs. To nail the point, he asserted that the entire citizenry would not hesitate to “escape” from Nigeria, if the international community dares to leave its border wide open. And Kuti was on point! Today, there is mass exodus of Nigerians to both richer and poorer countries, and they never hesitate to dump their Nigerian passports to acquire the citizenship of their host countries. Some are even willing to embrace the harsh conditions in immigration jails in the foreign land as more hopeful than the situation in our native land.
No person has demonstrated more fancy for freedom from Nigeria and its failing amenities than the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari. For example, though Nigeria has its own assortment of holiday resorts, Buhari is always in hurry to vacation abroad. Though the country has a national hospital building, which can be equipped to an international standard within six months—to also serve other Nigerians, President Buhari readily opts for foreign clinics. Instead of Nigerian higher institutions, he prefers foreign schools for his children. Instead of promoting made-in-Nigeria automobiles, which can help spur employment opportunities for the teaming youths, the country’s president uses only foreign cars. Needless to mention that, to him, rule of law in the country no longer means a thing.
But Muhammadu Buhari is not alone.
Other Nigerian leaders are equally guilty. In short, the sole reason they still associate themselves with the country is the unhindered opportunity to loot the resources needed to sustain their affluent lifestyles abroad. The worst is that these Nigerian leaders stash the looted funds in foreign banks, at the cruel expense of the masses. Only people who despise the citizenship of their country exhibit such patterns.
Even if the Nigerian leaders somehow happen to love the country, besides its money, the phobia with Biafra is insincere. Progressive nations witness calls for secession from time to time, especially where some groups feel oppressed. What matters is how the leaders address such demands. Moreover, the history of secession in Nigeria did not begin with Buhari or Biafra nor will end with Biafra or Buhari. Groups, particularly, Oduduwa, Arewa, and Niger Delta had at one time or another threatened secession from the country. Yet, such terms have not been deleted from the human history. The truth is that Biafra has come to represent a people. Its agitation has come to serve as a threat to the gross misrule in Nigeria.
At the same time, while the calls for equitable and just government deserve every commendation, outright secession is not the panacea to the problems; after all, the leaders of Biafran descent themselves, including governors and legislators, have not been able to show the desired example within their states. Yet, the current approach where anything associated with the term Biafra is disparaged with impunity only goes to grow the agitation. As Senator Ben Bruce once appealed at the floor of National Assembly, the dictatorial attempt to efface Biafra or its history is far from the solution.
The solution is an equitable, visionary and dynamic leader, who has the zeal, the competencies and capacity to unleash the abundant potential of Nigeria to greatness. The solution is a true democracy where government can thrive through inclusiveness, free speech, and dialogue.
SKC Ogbonnia writes from Ugbo, Enugu State, Nigeria.