OBASANJO

ON BIAFRA, MR. PRESIDENT, YOU ARE RIGHT… AND YOU ARE WRONG

Look at the state of federal roads in the East, and again credit must be given to you since you constructed the only two federal roads in the South East –the Onitsha-Owerri road, and the Port Harcourt-Enugu road, but since then sir, successive administrations have not done anything in the area of road construction.

Only two weeks ago, a Federal Government’s delegation went to the South East to assess the state of roads and was appalled at what they saw. Virtually all the federal roads in the South East have collapsed and have become deathtraps. Attention has not been paid to any of them. Look at industrialization, in the years when it was state policy for governments to own industries virtually none was sited in the South East apart from ANAMCO. During the era of President Shehu Shagari when government was setting up steel rolling mills, none was set up in the South East. I recall at the time it created quite a stir.

It is because of the absence of federal presence, that today the South East has become the migration centre of Nigeria. Every day, thousands of young Igbos migrate to other parts of Nigeria in search of a means of livelihood because their environment lack infrastructure to sustain them. The unemployment situation in the country is worse in the South East. The average Easterner is a petty trader because there is virtually nothing else to do. That kind of scenario creates a depressing atmosphere which breeds extremism and makes radicalization a creative alternative. It is the same thesis or logic that has been used to explain the rise of Boko Haram and it is a similar theory that informed the Niger Delta militancy. Disaffected youths, alienated and unable to find viable means of livelihood, resort to violence in order for the society to hear their voices. It is therefore not exactly correct as you stated, that the renewed call for Biafra was by a bunch of rascals and miscreants, 419-ners and thieves. No sir, there is a renewed call for Biafra because successive generations of young Igbos feel alienated in their own country.

So they find the promise of Biafra an Eldorado, an elixir, utopia, something that provides irresistible attraction. It is like an open sore that keeps festering. The situation has not been helped by the prevailing atmosphere in the country. In recent times, there has been a growing atmosphere of Igbophobia in the country. Beginning with the unfortunate statement of the Oba of Lagos, to the abortive attempt of the former governor of Lagos State to repatriate some Igbos to the East, the occasional bloodletting in the North, where hundreds of Igbos are often massacred at the outbreak of any violence, the Igbos have suffered grievously at the hands of a central government that often appears distant and uninterested. The average Igbo is sometimes hunted and scapegoated for whatever is wrong in the society. Think about it sir. A president of Nigeria, elected by the Nigerian people has stridently refused to appoint any Igbo into his government, except those he is constitutionally mandated to appoint.

My challenge to you sir, is to review your position on Biafra. Whereas it may be true that some of your Igbo friends and associates like those you mentioned may have assured you that there is nothing in the renewed clamour for Biafra, I want to say to you sir, that often it is not the wise or the eminent that starts social upheavals or revolutions but the ordinary people and the working class. The big men you refer to as your friends may have since lost touch with the people and do not know what is going on. You can conduct a private investigation or a survey on the streets of the South East. I assure you sir that you will be surprised by what will be revealed. As a patriot, indeed a foremost one and one of the icons of the Nigerian state, you have a historic responsibility to mediate in this unfolding crisis, as you tried to do in the case of Boko Haram.

The Federal Government should not treat the issue with levity or iron boots. I would have thought that the lessons of history would have opened our eyes to the fact that such tactics rarely work. It did not work in the case of Niger Delta, Boko Haram and the Odua People’s Congress. How then sir, do you think it will work in the case of Biafra?

There is still another issue sir that would seem a mere coincidence. If it were so then it is a curious coincidence. The South West set up OPC and clamoured for power shift, it got it; the Niger Delta set up the Niger Delta militant groups and agitated for resource control and power shift, it got it. Boko Haram emerged and demanded that power must be given to a Muslim Northerner and it got it. In that context, could the renewed clamour for Biafra be a tool for achieving political power which has been tried and tested and proven to be successful? So instead of being a platform for separation, it is really a strategy for greater inclusiveness. The challenge facing our country today is to create engagement for millions of the teeming youths. Social conflicts of various forms will grow as pressure on resource grows. These conflicts will take different forms and shapes. The challenge of leadership especially for statesmen like you, is to ensure that this agitation will not boil over and that the state does not inadvertently stoke them by employing extreme brutality so that we do not have a repeat of the Boko Haram scenario. Thank