BY DELE MOMODU*
Fellow Nigerians, the roof is on fire. And the owners of the house should not sleep and snore lest they get badly burnt. Please, let no one treat or dismiss this Biafra controversy as humbug because it is very serious and has the potential of spiralling out of control and snowballing into an unprecedented conflagration of unquenchable propensities. War has never been a tea party.
I was about seven years old when the Nigerian civil war broke out in July 1967. I was a child but not too young not to know and understand some of what was happening. I certainly felt the tremor of it even in far-away Ile-Ife. We knew something was definitely wrong when we suddenly noticed the inexplicable disappearance of our neighbours and family friends. The most painful for us in my own home was the forceful separation from our prayer warrior and spiritual Guru, Papa Fineface. Papa Fineface had migrated from the Eastern part of Nigeria to Ile-Ife many years earlier. Suddenly like a wisp of smoke he was gone! At that time, we called such citizens of Nigeria from that part, Ibo. Much later, I somehow learnt that the people should actually be addressed as Igbo. Well, we continued to use the two names interchangeably till today.
The civil war that started like a joke raged on for about three years and sent many innocent casualties, running into millions, into despair and sorrow. Hundreds of thousands went on a journey of no return to their Maker. Many more lost their limbs and other vital body parts. Others parted ways with all their worldly possessions. Some still carry the scars of war till this day, more than 45 years after the war ended.
The post war trauma is certainly even far worse. I have read many Nigerian civil war accounts, as I grew older, in newspapers, books, novels and memoirs. By any of the accounts, the pogrom was maniacal and the extent of man’s inhumanity to man was heartrending. Unfortunately, History is no longer a compulsory subject in our school curriculum. Therefore, there is no point blaming those beating the drums of war. Most of them were either too young to appreciate the horror of the war or worse still had not even been born at the end of the war. It is therefore easy for them to romanticise the ideals which they fight for and issue a call to arms even though they know nothing about the horrible plight that they would want to plunge their people and their country into. If they could just travel down memory lane and see for themselves what the true meaning of war is and why it should never ever be contemplated on our shores again, maybe they will begin to see some sense and reason. It is a shocking shame that despite the graphic images of sectarian violence that we have witnessed all over the world in recent times, in other climes, those in the know who have lived abroad and had access to such information and images will still feel that they must unleash similar violence on their own country and people.
The reason for the preamble thus far is to settle one fact; that I knew a bit about the Biafran war even if I did not experience it directly. This is why all men and women of good conscience should urgently reach out to the young folks stoking the embers of revolution, secession, war, or whatever they wish to call it and beg them profusely to kindly perish the thought. Such ideas have no place in Nigeria of the 21st century. We thought that they had been consigned to the dustbin of history but alas that is not the case probably because that history has been denied the propagators of these ill-thought and ill-conceived notions. The bigger plea should even go to the Federal Government of Nigeria. My reason is simple. The government is about to pour petrol and explosives into the towering inferno by reacting angrily to a battle that is in its infancy and can still be nipped in the bud without casualties.
As for me and our house, we did not know of anyone called Nnamdi Kanu until he was arrested and locked up during a visit to Nigeria from his base in the United Kingdom a few months ago. At the very best, some people knew him as the founder of a pirate radio station called Radio Biafra. I’ve never tuned in to it and so wouldn’t know what profanities it disseminated that led to the government chasing its owners. I’m aware that even about 20 years ago, when I participated in the Radio Freedom (later changed to Radio Kudirat) from the same United Kingdom, it was impossible to track us down. We communicated with the central operations, located in a Scandinavian country, remotely by telephone. The rest was left to the engineers to sort out.
Today, technology has become even more advanced and volatile. The whizz-kids of science are on the rampage. And don’t forget that the Igbo people are naturally brilliant in all spheres of human endeavour. They are endowed with genes that we could liken to those of Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Pythagoras, and Bertrand Russell combined. If the Black man would ever venture into Space exploration, I’m sure of the shock that awaits us; an Igbo would not only land on the moon, he would have a permanent abode there and a shop to sell all common needs to us. Such is the dynamism of the Igbo geniuses that I often refer to them as the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans of Africa all rolled into one.
It is usually an exercise in futility to ban anyone or anything. I was once told by my former Literature teacher at the then University of Ife, Okot p’Bitek, who was a visiting Professor from Uganda, about how one of his controversial works, Song of Lawino, was ostracised by Government because of its atheistic proclivity but all that it did was that many readers rushed out in search of the book and soon it was all sold out. Many reprints came thereafter and the literary giant was smiling all the way to the bank whilst the object of the ban was roundly defeated.The same thing happened to Salman Rushdie when he released a book of complete heresy The Satanic Verses, according to Muslims in 1989 and a Fatwa was placed on his head. That was what attracted people like me to find, buy and read this much-talked about work of esoteric literature. As a matter of fact, when I could not get a copy to buy initially, I had to photocopy the only one in circulation which was owned by my boss for life, Mr Mike Awoyinfa of the Weekend Concord fame. I still bought an original copy much later. The hype generated against the book actually worked wonders in its favour. Salman Rushdie, from relative obscurity became a household name from then onwards.
I will give only one more example nearer to home. When Professor Wole Soyinka released his prison memoirs titled The Man Died, Nigeria’s military authorities frowned at its rambunctious flavour and clamped down on it pronto but the attempt failed woefully. As a young man, the day I bought my personal copy would rank amongst my happiest days on earth. I had heard too many fabulous stories about Soyinka’s socio-political exploits and could not wait to settle down and savour the breezy work. Soyinka became my idol henceforth.
I have cited these examples in order to demonstrate the pointlessness and uselessness of locking up Nnamdi Kanu. What the government needed to do was to meet him on the field of ideas and pummel him with superior logic. They should have allowed him even to come on national television and explain his new concept of Biafranism. He should show the world if he was more brilliant and braver than our Oxford-trained Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who fought gallantly before absconding to safety while leaving behind a tale of woes. Nnamdi would have been asked to justify the claims in certain quarters that the Igbos are treated like second class citizens in Nigeria. I would have wished to be told that Azikiwe, Ekwueme, Okadigbo, Enwerem, Wabara, Soludo, Okonjo-Iwealla, Pius Anyim, Ezekwesili, Nnaji, Emefiele, Ovia, Elumelu, Kachikwu, Onu, Ngige, Onyiuke, Onyeama, and others are from Planet Mars.
Some of what Mr Kanu advocates are not much different from the current battles the Government is waging, especially against Boko Haram, corruption and societal decay. I am not even sure that the Government or those presently pursuing him have bothered to read the mission statement of Radio Biafra. I hereby produce it below:
“The ONLY PURPOSE for the existence of Radio Biafra London is to set a largely misinformed public free from the twin evil of tyrannical rule of a cabal of ill-educated and institutionally corrupt men and women and the sponsored sectarian killings directed against Christian Southerners living in Northern Nigeria by terrorists operating in the name of Islam. It will also serve to articulate a solution to the plight of impoverished and confused Igbo families abandoned by their leaders in Northern Nigeria to a fate worse than those endured by black slaves in plantations in the Americas.
Radio Biafra London will use and deploy every available resource to campaign for the rights of all oppressed indigenous peoples of Southern Nigeria to determine how they wish to structure their societies and live their lives. Radio Biafra London would broadcast debates on issues of national and international importance affecting the lives and rights of the indigenous peoples of Biafra and indeed indigenous people of all ethnic persuasions in Nigeria.
Radio Biafra London further wishes to give advance warning to all looters, embezzlers, kidnappers, sponsors of terrorism, child traffickers, corrupt judges, crooked university lecturers, murderous Nigerian security forces and all thieving individuals masquerading as public officials who steal public funds thereby preventing developmental projects from impacting positively on the lives of the ordinary people. These looters and workers of iniquity will be named and shamed. There will be no hiding place for common thieves who use the cover of high political offices to steal in the name of Nigerian politics. For Radio Biafra London, there will be nothing like no-go-areas in what can be reported, discussed and analysed. The governing principle of the Public-Right-To-Know of the issues affecting their lives will be rigorously upheld.”
There is a constitutional right to freedom of speech. It is only when it begins to tear at the very fabric of society that the right needs to be curtailed. There are many more voices agitating for a Biafra. They include Biafra Foundation (Voice of Biafra International), Biafra Liberation in Exile, Biafra Liberation in Europe, Lower Niger Congress, Biafra Liberation Council, Biafra State Coalition, Eastern Mandate Union and Bilie Human Rights Initiative. Some of them have been in existence for some time before Kanu’s Radio Biafra. Is the government going to muzzle all of these nebulous organisations?
The government should have called the bluff of those calling for the State of Biafra by doing what the British government recently did to the Scots in the matter of agitating for an independent Scotland when they allowed the Scottish referendum. All they need to do is to ask the Igbos to vote and determine where they want to belong, Biafra or Nigeria! I seriously doubt if majority of Igbo people would leave certainty for uncertainty.
The terrible danger of incarcerating Mr Nnamdi Kanu is the unnecessary apotheosis he is certain to enjoy if anything untoward happens to him. Except there is ample evidence to suggest and convince the government that he and his collaborators have procured arms and ammunition to wage war against Nigeria, I think he should not have been detained for this long. Whilst it may seem that he openly solicited for arms to wage war at the World Igbo Conference in Los Angeles in September 2015 it does not seem that this was an appeal made in earnest or more importantly that he was taken seriously by his audience. I do not believe that this is sufficient evidence to lock him up at this time. Indeed it shows that he is merely craving attention to his cause which unwittingly has been granted to him on a large scale by his unfortunate incarceration by overzealousness. If care is not taken we will have a situation where you may cut off one head of the Hydra only for many more to spring up. We must not allow that to happen!
Mr Kanu and his disciples have the right to dream of their Biafran Eldorado but how many Igbos share that belief is what we don’t know scientifically and we need to know. A people cannot be suppressed forever if the majority wish to go their separate ways but I’m reasonably convinced that there was no cause for alarm until the government reacted angrily against a motley crowd of agitators when it should have downplayed their relevance.
It is not too late to enter into dialogue with our dear Brother, Mr Kanu who has demonstrated clearly that he is now gradually amassing a willing, if not ready, army to help prosecute his proselytising mission…