MAY 30th 2017 has gone down as a date that the Igbo people showed, with total accord, that they are dead serious about their quest for freedom. The sit-at-home call by the pro-Biafra groups, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, was observed by Ndi Igbo all over the country, with the South East totally locked down.
Streets and highways were empty of commercial or vehicular activities, except for the vehicles of law-enforcement agencies which patrolled to maintain law and order. The skies over major cities such as Aba, Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri and Umuahia were patrolled by military jets and helicopters. Unlike other times when the pro-Biafra groups called for mass actions through peaceful street protests which led to loss of lives as a result of shootings by the army and police, no one was in sight to be shot.
Already, the initial mockery that greeted the Biafra independence campaign about two years ago is giving way to a new template for reality check. When IPOB called its first protests just before its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested in December 2015, former President Olusegun Obasanjo mocked the protesting youth, saying they were "looking for money".
Others said they were unemployed youth given money by some politicians to carry out the protests for undisclosed political gains. In other words they were rented crowds. Already, Obasanjo has changed tones, saying that if the Presidency is given to the Igbo in 2019, the Biafra issue will disappear. The last we heard from him was that the youth should be "begged" to drop their agitations.
Even to the mockers and doubters, it is obvious that if a referendum is allowed today, the "Biafrexit" yes will be overwhelming. Those of us who are still holding out the faint hope that Nigeria can still be amended to correct the inequity flaws that retard it and make its citizens unhappy won't be able to do much. We have become a miserable minority. Unless care is taken and soon, if the masses begin to respond in this manner to calls for boycotts of the civic activities that make us all Nigerians, such as elections, the forth-coming census and what not, overwhelming pressure might force that referendum to take place. As I said, the result is likely to be an overwhelming "Yes". What are the scenarios that will likely take shape thereafter?
Number one scenario, if the Nigerian State succumbs to a referendum, it is likely to be restricted to the people of the South East. Nigerian is unlikely to concede the former Eastern Region (which is the definitive geo-polity frequently portrayed as Biafra by its promoters) as the breakaway enclave. It will not give up the oil and gas resources that feed its treasury with free rent. It is also unlikely that the non-South Easterners will sign to be included in the Biafra. So, it is far safer for the Biafra activists to scale down their geo-political boundaries to a landlocked South East.
That being so, I dare say that being landlocked is not the end of the world. Switzerland, Austria, Botswana and Rwanda are landlocked, yet they are either developed or rapidly developing countries within their continents. Those who are predicting doom for a landlocked Biafra could be seriously mistaken. During the war, when the population of the defunct Biafra was largely on the run, there was no fuel scarcity. Biafran scientists created machines and technologies to fight the war and keep the system running.
A peaceful, landlocked Biafra, with the sheer power of the Igbo creative might unleashed, can only take-off like a rocket, though the initial stages will be very trying. Biafra might become the first African country to export the type of technologies that we currently buy from Europe, America and Asia to African countries within ten years. People should always remember that it is not natural resources that make a country great but its human resources of which the Igbo boast one of the most premium qualities in Africa. Even at that, the resources (oil, gas, coal, limestone and others) are there in enough quantities to serve the needs of the republic.
On the other hand, Biafra could run into an initial face-off between factions such as IPOB and MASSOB for supremacy. MASSOB might claim it restarted the struggle that won the independence while IPOB which is far more radical could claim to be the group that won the independence. If this is not sorted out amicably, Biafra could face the South Sudan scenario between President Salva Kiir and his estranged Deputy, Riek Machar, though the South Sudan conflict is mostly ethnic-based as opposed to the fact that Biafra will be a country of a homogenous ethnic stock.
Another scenario is that Igbo property left behind in Nigeria will probably be confiscated. States can make laws to appropriate them. That is a sacrifice the Igbos who own property in Nigeria outside the South East must be prepared to make. You cannot eat your cake and have it. Nigerians will likely tell you that "out is out", as the Europeans are telling Britain after Brexit. Igbos who refuse to relocate to their country will be dehumanised as unwanted foreigners. Ndi Igbo, faced with the South East as Biafra, must be ready to start life afresh from the scratch, with the firm determination never to repeat the mistakes that makes Nigeria unworkable.
The break away of Biafra will likely lead to a break-up of the rest of this otherwise blessed nation. With a leg of the Tripod gone, the rest of the superstructure cannot stand for long. With the Igbo people gone to their own country, it is unlikely that the Yoruba people will like to live under the servitude of the North. They will become a very vulnerable junior partner to Arewa, a situation they are unlikely to live with for long. They will also want to go and form their own country. They already have fantastic natural geopolitical advantages which they will simply leverage on and move on with their lives. But will the North also allow them to go in peace?
The Ijaw nation, in particular, is likely to assert its independence. The North will, like Biafra, become landlocked. If Biafra goes, there is no way the rest of the country will continue happily ever after.
Nigeria is like an intricately knitted fabric. Cut the thread at any point and the rest will come undone. At this point, we probably have the last opportunity to sort out the problems militating against genuine unity in our country.
Time is running out on Nigeria as we know it. Already, the hearts of majority of Igbo people have left Nigeria. It will take some earth-shaking measures to bring them back.
It has nothing to do with giving them an "Igbo president". If, for instance, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in a most unlikely scenario, picks any of such individuals as Chris Ngige, Ogbonnaya Onu, Rochas or Okorocha Ken Nnamani to stand as a figurehead president, they will call Sokoto, Katsina or Kaduna every morning to take instructions for their daily work. It will make no difference for the Igbo or Nigeria.
There is no alternative to restructuring Nigeria to allow the federating units the freedom to develop at their respective paces within the overall Nigerian commonwealth. The Nigerian people need freedom. That is the irreducible minimum for real change.
If restructuring will not be possible, then let those who believe Igbo people will die if granted Biafra join hands in granting them independence. Allow them to "go and die" and see if they will actually die or become the toast of the African continent within the lifetime of most of us!