50 Years After Biafra: No Longer A United People

Biafra. Image: AFP


If there is one thing that negatively had impacted on the Igbo race since after the Biafra war which ended fifty years ago, it is lack of unity among the Igbo people, the breaking of Igbo solidarity, the disintegration of the Igbo nation.

Before the Biafra war, there was the Igbo State Union, which galvanized interests and opinions of the Igbo people all over the world. Through this union, the Igbo people were able to build consensus of opinion on practically every issue that confronted them.

It was the Igbo State Union that stimulated development activities in in virtually every Igbo community and also encouraged the building of schools and the award of scholarships to deserving Igbo children, which saw to the dramatic rise of Igbo people in the education sector so soon after they had joined the Nigerian nation.

The war ended in January 1970 with majority of the Igbo divided among themselves. While those who live in one contiguous geographical area were romped together into a semi autonomous political unit called the East Central State, others who live outside this area were made to dissociate themselves from the mainstream Igbo, who were regarded as “rebels”, and who must be made to pay for their crime.

To that effect, these other Igbo groups began to change both their names and the names of their towns to non-Igbo sounding words in order for them to “belong”. Igbo towns like Umuibekwe was changed to Rumuibekwe, while Ibuzo becomes Ibusa, etc. This, perhaps, paid, as many of their people were comfortably accommodated into the federal government scheme of things, while the “rebel” Igbo were neglected or marginalized.

Subsequent creation of states saw the East Central State, or the core Igbo state, split into five states. In these newly created states, everybody Igbo person begins to see him or herself as lord and will no longer have anything to do with the other person outside his or her enclave. Each of them becomes inward looking and hardly looks outside to see what will benefit the entire Igbo nation.

Under this new political arrangement, each state has its own Governor and other local politicians who hardly see beyond their individual states. As “local champions”, most of them were concerned only with their own political future, without sparing much thought on the interest of the Igbo as a collectivity.

The implication is that every Igbo person begins to see the Igbo interest differently, and according to his/her individual perspective. The people no longer speak with one voice, but in cacophony of voices. The matter is not helped by the republican nature of the Igbo, where every Igbo person plays his own game, coupled with the existence of multiple political parties that dot the Nigerian political landscape.

In the circumstance, it was not difficult for some external interests to begin to cash in, to exploit the people, to divide them, and to create new set of Igbo leaders through political sponsorships and promising them various political positions. No doubt, these new set of “Igbo leaders” begin to dance the tunes of their different pay masters, while paying mere lip service to Igbo interest.

During the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference when Dr. Alex Ekwueme spearheaded the reorganization of the country into six geopolitical zones, the aim was to play down on these multiplicity of states, most of which are no more than glorified local government councils, so that people with similar interests could be grouped together as one zone for them to begin to speak with one voice. Though the proposal was accepted in principle, but it was never given a force of law by the makers of the 1999 Constitution who deliberately refused to incorporate it into the Constitution.

Here, even though we now have a nomenclature called the South East Zone, where majority of the Igbo belong, the Igbo people still could not come together as one body, to chart a common cause and pursue a common interest. It is still every man on his own, no leader, no unity.

Yes, we have Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the umbrella sociocultural organization of Igbo people that claims to champion Igbo interest, but Ohanaeze only barks, and does not bite. Yes, we have the South East Governors’ Forum that claims to give political and economic protection to Igbo people, but the South East Governors merely romanticise over the problems confronting the South East Zone, but does not have the will power or courage to squarely face them. Yes, we have the South East Professionals Association that claims to promote the economic interest of the Igbo, but the group merely dances around the economic plight of the Igbo, but does not have the wherewithal to turn the table around.

What now we urgently need is an Igbo leader and a body that will both back and bite, a body that will give the present Igbo narrative or plight in Nigeria, meaningful force and sense of direction. We need a body that will give protection to the Igbo, in order for them to freely pursue their legitimate aspirations under the sun. We need is a rallying point for the Igbo, a father figure, who will give protection and who will courageously speak for the Igbo at all times.

For now, we have not yet seen that person, and that body. We are still in search. Please, God, help us!