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Published On: Mon, May 15th, 2017

(Editorial) Igbo and the curse of Biafra

What is the attachment of the Igbo to the Utopian idea of Biafra that it has become the only political agenda and a unifying force half a century after they were defeated in a suicidal war that virtually destroyed them as a strong component in Nigeria? This is a question confronting most Nigerians given that it has become a sour point in the relationship between them and the federal government.  Has Biafra become a stronghold, a curse, on the Igbo that will continue to perpetuate and reinforce their marginalization?

Biafra was fought for and lost 50 years ago by the Igbo. At the time it was declared, a generality of the Igbo agreed that it was necessary, even though not inevitable, to protest the injustice and mindless massacres of their people across the north without government intervention; and to assert their right to protect themselves and for self determination. It was a time the Igbo declared independence from Nigeria as a logical development of events arising from the January 15, 1966 military coup that toppled the first republic. The coup was led by mainly Igbo officers.

Before the war, the Igbo dominated every aspect of national life and government. The Igbo was Governor General, Senate president, head of the army and controlled its officers’ corps, the academia with the only two federal universities – Ibadan and Lagos – headed by them and the bureaucracy, etc. Biafra took away all these influence and political power and also one millions lives of the best of their youths and future; beside the unprecedented and massive destruction of its infrastructure, which was never rebuilt in spite of the pretentious and deceitful declaration of the three Rs – Reconciliation, reconstruction and reintegration. They were the envy of the other regions and the war was auspicious to cut them to size.

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Furthermore, there were deliberate government policies to ensure that they never recover fast enough to challenge the other groups. For instance, every Igbo was entitled to only 20 Nigeria pounds as the equivalent exchange value for any amount of Biafra pounds in their possession. Its effect5 was the complete impoverishment of the Igbo who were just emerging from 30 months of suffering and privations, and turned everybody into beggars. It was an act of blatant and wicked vindictiveness which was intended to cripple them permanently economically. Or so they thought!

To further consolidate their malicious vendetta the government chose to introduce the indigenization policy which transferred the ownership of foreign companies in the country to Nigerians in 1972. Needless to say, the Igbo were not considered in its formulation, because those saddled with the challenge of basic survival could not be the target or beneficiary of corporate investment policy. The effect is the near absence of the Igbo in corporate Nigeria today, belying the fact that an Igbo was the first Nigeria president of the Nigeria Stock Exchange.

Then quota system was introduced for recruitment and admission into federal service and schools. With only one state in a 12 state structure, they were virtually obliterated from any presence and representation in federal government. This structural injustice and marginalization has been perpetuated through the creation of more states and local governments with the Igbo, who were, by the 1964 census, the second largest ethnic group, having the least of everything – states, local government, senators, House members, revenue allocations etc. All these were not accidental, but conscious and deliberately policies to keep them down.

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Surprisingly, they have not succeeded, and even their worse traducers and detractors are perplex and bewildered by their incredible capacity to rebound and mount a credible challenge for leadership especially in the economic front. The fact is not lost on them that the Igbo still possess the potential to demand for their own pound of flesh and cause mischief. And they are waiting to finish what they naively left undone after the war – the extermination of the rebellious. It is a mistake their antagonists still regret and the agitation for Biafra is providing a convenient excuse to whet such appetite.

As a responsible newspaper, necessity imposes on us the burden to draw our people’s attention to this political machination against them and why their predilection to the illusory fancy of Biafra is feeding on the angst and stereo type against them. Such preconceptions have made it difficult for the Igbo to be generally accepted and reintegrated into the main stream of the nation. And as long as they continue on this delusional path of secession they may be shooting themselves in the foot and mortgaging the future of their people.

As a mental or ideological construct to draw attention to the persisting inequities in the system, Biafra may be relevant; but as a political objective to resurrect that which was dead 50 years ago, it will be a curse they may eventually destroy them. If Nigeria will not be, as many have come to believe, the Igbo will not be the catalyst for that eventuality. They have played their card and lost; they should let others try also.





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