NIGERIA – What to do about Biafra


Col Emeka Odumegwu-OjukwCol Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukw

By Ray Ekpu


WHEN Lt Col Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared the former Eastern Region the Republic of Biafra there were 18 military installations in the country before the 1966 coup, according to Major Abubakar A. Atofarati. They were 14 in Northern Nigeria, three in Western Nigeria and only one, the 1st Battalion, Enugu in Eastern Nigeria. So it was clear at the start of the war that the dice was heavily loaded against the Eastern Region.


Ojukwu probably thought that the big powers would support Biafra because of their revulsion against the pogrom that occurred in Northern Nigeria. The second reason was that the Eastern Region carried substantial crude oil in its bowels and the big powers would probably like to intervene on the side of oil. That did not happen. Only five countries, Gabon, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Zambia and Haita, all of them with nondescript credentials in the power game recognised Biafra. As we all know Biafra collapsed irretrievably after 30 bloody months.


So far there have been three still born republics in Nigeria; Isaac Adaka Boro started the Niger Delta Republic before the civil war. He took up arms and gathered his ragtag army and told them: “The war of liberation is on. A Niger Delta Republic is declared.” His republic lived for 12 days only before the long arm of the bigger republic caught up with him. The second still born republic, Biafra, was declared by Ojukwu. It lasted for 30 months. The third still-born republic was declared by a brilliant medical doctor, Major Albert Okonkwo, who was in the Biafran Army. Even though the people of the Mid-West were not interested in being dragged into the war Okonkwo seized their territory and declared it the Republic of Benin. This republic, like the others before it, also crumbled like a cook-book cake.


What makes Ralph Uwazuruike (MASSOB) and Nnamdi Kanu (IPOB) think that their own republic will survive? But first, should we take them seriously? Olusegun Obasanjo thinks we should not. He says: “This is a fake agitation. These are boys who want to take people unawares and get money out of people in the name of Biafra. The people who are doing this are the same people in 419 business. They are the same people you will find in drugs all over the world. To them this is another source of making money.” This may well be so because even some of those who have contributed money to the cause have expressed some doubts about the integrity of the agitation.


One Chioma Amaryllis, who says she was a Public Relations Manager of Radio Biafra and Kanu’s girlfriend, has released a video denouncing Kanu and his gang. She says she hails from Mbaise in Imo State, but lives in the United States and had donated a lot of her hard-earned money to Kanu. But on coming to Nigeria she found nothing on the ground to show it was a serious business. She calls it a fraud. It may well be so but the Biafra agitation has developed a life of its own and it is out of their hands now. It has followers in Nigeria and the Diaspora who are donating money for the cause.


If Ojukwu did not win what makes Uwazuruike and Kanu think they will, arms or no arms?


A few years ago when the idea was an infant, a senior security official had sought my opinion of the group. I suggested that he should engage them in a conversation so as to find out what was biting them. He shouted “No way,” the equivalent of what we would call in street language “tufiakwa” (God forbid). I asked myself if he already had a stone-solid and irrevocable view on the matter why did he seek my opinion. I answered that he was probably looking for an opinion that will reinforce his own and therefore reduce what social scientists call “dissonance.” Unfortunately, he did not get it from me.


Over the years, the Federal Government has initiated several policies aimed at national integration. Such policies include Creation of States, the National Youth Service Corps programme and the Federal Character Commission, among others. Unhappily, these efforts have not brought the desired fruits because some of these policies, for example, state creation, only succeeded in creating new problems of their own.

The main problem is that our Federation is too centralised to be truly useful. You do not prescribe homogeneous solutions for a heterogeneous entity and expect them to work. For this Federation to work seamlessly, it must go through a serious measure of political and fiscal restructuring. We need a new architecture that will involve reducing federal responsibility in education, health, roads, water resources, policing, transportation, industrialisation, agriculture, mining, power etc.


It is obvious that the Federal Government cannot cope with its present responsibilities. State governments now repair federal roads, fund federal universities, federal health centres, and funds the Nigeria Police Force which is federal, sometimes with a refund and sometimes without. Whether there is a refund or not there is evidence that the Federal Government does not have the wherewithal to deal with these heavy responsibilities. This neglect resonates in the states and the state governments bear the brunt of the agitations for an improved standard of living by these young agitators.

However, it is the states of the federation, not the Federal Government, that have the primary responsibility of improving the living standards of their people. All the states receive “awoof” money from the Federation account every month. Here is how the Ibo States stand in the sharing ranking: Imo 15th, Abia 17th, Anambra 19th, Enugu 29th and Ebonyi 36th. Ogun State is 25th and Cross River State is 30th yet both states appear to be doing much better than the Ibo States. Why? It is because both states are high in internally generated revenue (IGR) and perhaps better management of their resources.


In IGR, Cross River State is 7th while Ogun State is 8th. The Ibo States: Enugu 9th, Anambra 14th, Imo 16th, Abia 31st and Ebonyi 33rd. This poor ranking of the Ibo States in IGR obviously affects their standing in the human development Index (HDI). This index comprises three main pillars among others. They are poverty, education and health. States that lead in this area are Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Lagos and that is because they also lead particularly in IGR. In IGR Lagos is first, Rivers 2nd and Akwa Ibom 6th. In the HDI, Abia is 11th, Imo 12th, Enugu 13th, Anambra 25th and Ebonyi 28th. This means that the five Ibo states must pay particular attention to raising their IGR substantially as well as investing their funds in life-lifting enterprises for the benefit of their citizens.


The agitations for Biafra are basically concentrated in their domains even though it seems ostensibly aimed at drawing federal attention to their wish list. If the agitation escalates the first casualties will be their citizens and their businesses that have been disrupted many times now. If there is no peace how then can they govern?

I am almost certain that the Biafra agitators know that they will not get Buhari’s blessings for a republic of Biafra. Buhari fought the war to prevent the bifurcation of Nigeria. He will not like to see Nigeria dismembered. Ojukwu threw in every wit and weapon and even promised that “even the grass will fight.” In the part of Biafra where I was I didn’t see the grass fight. I only saw the grass suffer.


If Ojukwu did not win what makes Uwazuruike and Kanu think they will, arms or no arms? Their agitation has gained considerable attention already and will receive, believe it or not, some attention from the Buhari government. Some people think the long ignored second Niger Bridge which is now on the priority list of Buhari’s Administration is a beneficiary of the agitation. I have no way of knowing if it is true or not.


What should we do? (a) The Army is talking of crushing them. They are unarmed and the talk of crushing unarmed civilians in a democracy is revolting. Don’t crush them because they are not palm kernels. (b) Some people have suggested they should be ignored. Obasanjo tried that method with the Niger Delta agitators, calling them criminals. He said he wasn’t going to talk to criminals but when their agitation reduced Nigeria’s oil production from 2.2 million barrels a day to 700,000 he begged them to come for a meeting. He put Asari Dokubo in a presidential suite and pampered him.


That conversation he had with them led to Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty programme. Now the guns have fallen silent and there is an outbreak of peace in the Niger Delta. (c) Engage them in a conversation, I vote for this approach. In the first place, it is only a discussion with them that will bring out their grievances. There is the African proverb that says you cannot barb a man’s hair in his absence.


As I have already said, the agitation has developed a life of its own but the agitators will not have the republic they are asking for. Refusing to talk to them is the equivalent of pouring petrol on the problem. The flame can turn into a conflagration we can do without.



By Ray Ekpu




Source :


The Guardian (Nigeria)