“At the heart of the current protests and agitations are the same questions which have for long plagued Nigeria and which have over the years resulted in one form of violence or the other”.
Over the past couple of weeks several states in the East and in the South- South have witnessed protest marches involving thousands of Igbo youths in a renewed bid for the actualisation of the State of Biafra. The protests have been characterised by the waving of the flag of the defunct State of Biafra and display of the map of the geographical area the protestershope will comprise the new nation. This development although not new is serious cause for concern. While the likes of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASOB) led by Ralph Uwazuruike and the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) led by one Ben Onwuka had in the past led similar agitations, the scale of the current protests suggests that Nnamdi Kanu who is the arrow head of the movement at this time has been able to tap into the deep seethed emotions of many who still consider the creation of the State of Biafra the only way by which the igbo people of Nigeria can lead a meaningful existence. That there is something different about the scale of the protest this time has even been confirmed by a statement released by the Nigerian Army in which it reminded the protesters of the duty of the Nigerian Army “to suppress insurrection, and aid civil authority, if called upon to do so as a result of the ongoing pro-Biafra agitation.”
Whilst these matches and protest continue, Nigerians from all walks of lives have expressed divergent opinions not only as to the credibility of the organisers of the protesters but also with regards to the dangers the protests pose to the peace and stability of the country. As a matter of fact, some have been quick to point out the fact that those behind the current agitation for the creation of the state of Biafra appear to be the younger generation who did not witness the carnage and waste of human lives and resources brought about by the civil war. Writing in the Vanguard, Ochereome Nnana stated as follows:
“If you check the age profile of the pro-Biafra multitudes fuming with ballistic wrath and thronging the streets in the Igbo-speaking cities of the East and parts of South-South, you will find out that they are mostly the youth born long after the end of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war over 45 years ago. The oldies among them couldn’t have been more than teenage soldiers.
The bulk of the young men and women are teenagers and many are in their twenties: the so-called “angry generation”. Their parents and uncles must have told them about the civil war, in addition to what they must have read. They were told that the aborted struggle by Igbos and Easterners to abandon Nigeria and establish their own independent republic, Biafra, was to establish a “land of freedom” where they would be free from “internal slavery”.
I have also seen pictures of the protests and it is very true that many of the participants are indeed young and were not yet born at the time of the civil war and therefore do not know that a very likely consequence of their actions could be immense suffering for their kin whose interests they profess to protect. However whilst the protesters may be young in age, they appear to be asking and posing questions which are perhaps as old as Nigeria itself. They talk of marginalisation, they speak of lack of opportunities, they argue that years after independence and the end of the Civil War, the Igbo have still to be fully integrated into mainstream Nigeria. Indeed what can be considered the underlying currents behind the protests and the renewed agitation for Biafra was contained in the letter of the Ohaneze Youth Council to President Muhammadu Buhari in which it stated as follows amongst others:
The snippets of agitations and disenchantment building up in certain quarters of the Igbo nation are not to be entirely faulted as it is the result years of compounded neglect…Despite the oil producing status of Abia, Anambra and Imo States, the youths from these concerned States of Abia, Anambra and Imo have been consistently excluded from the Amnesty program of federal government which several Niger delta youth presently enjoy. It is on this note that we call on Mr.President to ensure that the Amnesty program is extended to the youth of these oil producing South eastern states.
“We call on Mr. President to correct the lopsided appointments made thus far by ensuring the appointment of more Igbo citizens into sensitive government position as Head of government boards and Agencies.May we on this note make our pressing demand that the Head of the Civil Service of the federation be appointed from the South-East to ensure balance and equity in the top hierarchy of our nation.”
What the above indicates is that at the heart of the current protests and agitations are the same questions which have for long plagued Nigeria and which have over the years resulted in one form of violence or the other. Similar questions have been asked by many of the hundreds of ethnic identities that make up Nigeria. Indeed the unfortunate Boko Haram insurgency can also be attributed to a perceived sense of disenchantment (real or imagined) of members of the insurgency with the state of affairs of the nation and their prospects in it. However one choses to look at the issues, it is clear that the protests call into question for the umpteenth time, the structure of Nigeria and the aspirations of the millions of its citizens who call it home. Are these concerns real? Is Nigeria structured in a manner that fosters a feeling of collective unity and identity amongst its people? Or are we simply struggling to maintain a united front when in reality we should be asking ourselves serious questions about our collective destiny as a nation? I will next week examine in some detail these questions and more particularly in the light of the current protests which I believe, despite the seeming legitimacy of some of the issues underlying it, are ill-timed and ill-advised.
To be continued.
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON