By Oduche Azih
Since Ken Okomma posed his question, WHY ARE YORUBAS AFRAID OF BIAFRA? a few weeks ago, I have been analyzing that issue from a number of perspectives. Most importantly I patiently awaited the response of my Yoruba friends to enable me compare and contrast with my own personal observations and my own reading of the conclusions drawn by Okomma himself.
The real question that should be on the minds of anyone keen on honestly building up our polity and/or resolving issues along the many gaping faultlines, is this. ARE YORUBAS REALLY AFRAID OF BIAFRA? I do not think so.
Many of our Yoruba compatriots actually believed the much publicised assertion by Dr. Femi Aribisala that NIGERIA CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT THE IGBO, long before he brought this opinion into the public domain. While he is obviously not alone, it is worthy of note that this opinion is neither necessarily true nor inevitable. Economically the South-West should be able to survive, and even thrive with or without Ndigbo. Most other observers are smart enough to come to their own independent conclusions.
The average Yoruba elite stands toe to toe with his Igbo colleague and is not exactly scared of competition. The true stories of Dr Eni Njoku, etc, when retold, only helps to muddy up the waters some more. We can however overcome all that baggage. Even with decades long institutionalized disadvantages in the aftermath of the Nigeria-Biafra War, Ndigbo trudged along, asking for no favours but demanding only a level playing field. We have the example of Dr. Alex Ekwueme recently telling the story of his experiences in his own words.
For Ndigbo to advance or keep advancing, you do not need to take anything away from the Yoruba. Most enlightened Yoruba know this. However the rabblerousers would want us to believe otherwise, that it must be a zero sum relationship. Aribisala’s warning in this regard is quite clear. Writer Chuks Iloegbunam has equally addressed this fallacy.
It is important to note that the vile and uncouth elements, who spew venom whenever Biafra and/or restructuring is mentioned, constitute but a very tiny minority of the important voices in Yorubaland. The tragedy however is that these few individuals reside full time on the social media platforms, fully occupy them, and create the impression that the Igbo and Yoruba, contrary to all visible indicators, are engaged in an all-out war and are at each other’s throats. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is exactly because of such characters, and the similarly worded response from the justifiably angry Igbo youth of identical pedigree, that Dr. Femi Aribisala wrote again a few months ago calling for a truce. He didn’t need to appeal to the majority of the elite. They know better. What is lacking is their readiness to get into the fray and routinely and frequently come public with their convictions.
Some anti-Biafra commentators often couch their opposition by advising Igbo youth and agitators to follow so-called official procedures. Which procedures, I ask? In a country(?) that has no constitution that we can call our own? President Buhari has gone out of his way to announce in faraway New York that he would never allow a referendum on the Biafra demand. The man is so limited that he does not realise that the matter is not exactly up to him. The country is going over a cliff and he is busy clutching at non-issues such as his personal likes and dislikes. That’s part of the problem. How I wish our president has both the intellect and temperament to follow the latest contribution to the Biafran debate by world renowned constitutional lawyer Prof Ben Nwabueze.
The persistent systemic dysfunction and distrust makes even talking to ourselves extremely difficult. That is why people offer opinions on the social media, under the cloak of anonymity. Many like me will never give an opinion that we will not be ready to defend, modify or clarify in public among peers, over beer or whatever. That is why my name is signed on every opinion that I express. Operating in that mode, I can hardly be expected to offer gratuitous insult to anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them.
Perception is part of reality. Most of those who have weighed in on Ben Okomma’s article have mostly avoided dealing with his main question. If Biafra is such a bad and unviable proposition, and one is not gaining an unfair advantage from the current arrangement, why does a Yoruba person, (Note that I didn’t say most or typical-o!), find it irresistible to play the devil’s advocate on that issue. One writer confessed that the furthest east he has ever been in present day Nigeria, is Warri. That still did not prevent him from propounding a solid understanding of the geopolitics and economics of Eastern Nigeria. For him Biafra just cannot work. It is this very overt passion on display that is bothering Okomma. He just can’t get it. Neither can I.
Then again, it is quite possible that the fear of a potential downturn in economic prospects in Yorubaland, especially Lagos, without the leavening vibrancy of Igbo participation, is scaring the living daylights out of some segments of Yoruba society. The leading lights of Yorubaland cannot claim to be unaware of this potential, and the current faulty sentiments at the lower rungs of Yoruba society. They fully understand the available tools and methodologies for stopping the rush to the brink, even if a peaceful split turns out to be inevitable.
It is now a cliche that Ndigbo are being blackmailed, by those who should know better, into dropping their demand for equity and fairness in the affairs of the Nigeria. Whereas equity is not another name for Biafra, sworn enemies of Ndigbo are giving the impression that they are inextricably bound like two sides of a coin. They are making Nnamdi Kanu’s case for him by insisting on making no accommodation whatsoever for Ndigbo demands. Truly, nobody knows how this whole matter is going to pan out. However, we should all commit to peaceful outcomes, no matter what that outcome is. It does Nigeria no good to spend our time and intellect building case files for the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Buhari had better watch out.
Among other things, Ayodele Adeyemi wrote, “A citizen of Biafra will be an illegal alien in Lagos that may not be allowed to own property or do business until his papers are perfected; all previous property and businesses may be reviewed and/or revoked.” Excuse me! On which planet does this youngman live?
Ayodele Adeyemi easily gives himself away as an arch opponent of the Biafran dream while valiantly striving to dismiss that notion in subsequent rejoinders. It is doubtful if he succeeded in his effort to feign indifference. It is even surprising that he would endeavour to alter the public perception of his position and motives. Why bother? As I will soon elaborate, such a venture as the agitation for Biafra, or Kurdistan for that matter, can never get the support of everybody. Serious minded analysts have fulsomely berated the US and it’s allies for stubbornly hanging onto the concept of a united Iraq at a time the Kurds are exercising all the recognized powers and duties of a sovereign nation. So it is with Biafra.
Ayodele got it wrong when he wrote that to mention Biafra to an Igbo man was equivalent to mentioning the Holocaust, a kind of raw nerve I presume. I believe that that was not his intention. Semantic error and all that. The truth is that Biafra, to all Ndigbo, is like the biblical promised land. Not yet realised.
If Moses had waited for all children of Israel to agree in toto with his leadership, they would still be wandering in the Sinai Desert to this very day. It is on record(?) that a good many of his contemporaries actively undermined him. Comparing that with the experience of Uwazurike or Kanu, one can easily observe once again that nothing is new under the sun. So much for opponents of the Biafran project insisting that ONLY when every Igboman or woman is on board, will they take the agitation serious. Or perhaps when Gov Aminu Masari of Katsina State says that it is ok. Did the Pharaoh ever concede until his hands were forced?
One other point is that most of those who set out from Egypt never made it alive to The Promised Land. Not even Moses himself. Their children did. I point this out to show how unimportant it is if Nnamdi Kanu gets to raise the Biafran flag or gets sworn in as its head of state.
Again when the people of Israel were later taken into captivity to Babylon, their children born in captivity kept hope alive. They found their way back home when the time was ripe. That their parents died and were buried in foreign land did not deter them.
I am not a biblical scholar, but the parallels were too good for me to ignore.
In conclusion, each and every Yoruba elite will have to decide for himself/herself if indeed the independence of Biafra portends a disaster worth averting. The irrational fear expressed by the likes of Ayodele would imply that Biafrans would be trooping home also with our many daughters happily esconsced in their husbands’ homes in Yorubaland. It will never come to that. Trust me.
Oduche Azih writes from Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached through: email@example.com
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