Metro [OPINION] Pro-Biafra Sentiment , The Way Out - Obi Ume-Ezeoke & Olisa Iwobi



It is noteworthy that most Eastern elites are rather quiet on their personal views about the raging pro-Biafra agitation. The reasons for the stance are not far fetched. The Easterners of non-Igbo extraction are understandably cautious and apprehensive that a Biafran State could translate them from one form of inequity to a worse situation under Igbo hegemony than the present Nigerian experience.

1. The Igbo elites themselves are mindful and equally apprehensive of the substantial private property holdings which many of them have acquired in other parts of Nigeria, which might be forfeited. Again, there is the fear that critique against Biafra could earn reprisal or punitive action from the pro-Biafra agitators. Further, there is the concern as to whether any emergent of a State of Biafra could survive the pull of contra-indications on its own, given the difficult nature and manner of Igbo socio-political interactions. Yet if the truth must be told, the generality of Easterners are convinced that the present dispensation and political structure of the Federation has greatly engendered inequity and injustice against the Eastern part of the country. The old Eastern Region, as one of the three major Federating Units in the contract of the Federation, ought to be restituted. The restitution will be achieved only by the creation of a federal territory to fill the political vacuum created and perpetuated by the absence of any central platform for the Region.


2 It is our opinion which we have earlier expressed that true national transformation lies in the balanced development of the country. There is no more time to waste because Nigeria is on edge, with flashpoint of agitations here and there. Now is the time for urgent and appropriate action. The action hinges on the Speech by General Murtala Mohammed in respect of the Proclamation of Abuja as the new Federal Capital Territory on the 3rd of February, 1976. The General, in that proclamation of Abuja, recognized the tripartite foundation of Nigeria’s political architecture and promulgated also the creation and upliftment of THREE other places namely; Kaduna, Lagos and Port-Harcourt as “Special Areas” of the Federation, something akin to Federal Territories. Unfortunately, ten days after that landmark promulgation, the General was killed in a bloody coup on the 13th February, 1976. His strategic vision for National transformation got buried with him. And 40 years on, Nigeria is yet to find her way out of developmental obstacles. And that is why we are where we are today, with insidious prediction of disintegration.

3. President Muhammad Buhari (PMB), coincidentally and fortuitously worked very closely with General Mohammed. Mr. President was privy to the Proclamation for Federal jurisdictions by his then boss. There were historical antecedents that well informed the late General’s vision for real time national development. Ever since 1946, the three pre-independence Regions have been and remained the major and main Federating units of Nigeria.

That is, the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions are very significant and have immutable political boundaries that constitute government entities. General Mohammed envisioned equitable and balanced development of the three Regions for progress and prosperity. Neglect of one Region will adversely affect the others and retard the march to true national transformation. The thirty six States are minor Federating units and are at liberty to develop at their own pace. Federal resources, presence and ambience must be established based on the three regional parts and parties, for the fair and equal participation to the contract of the Federation. Federating Unit remains that part of the Federation, the natural or typical boundaries, of which cannot be unilaterally altered by an act of the central government. The establishment of Federal Territory to the Eastern part of Nigeria is the critical necessity for genuine peace, even development and sustainable stability of the Federation. General Mohammed foresaw this immediately after the Biafra/ Nigeria civil war of 1967-1970.

4. The structural defect of the Nigerian Federation, consequent upon the abrogation of the three Regions as the base government entities, replacing them with States creation by fiat, was at the core of the Proclamation by the foremost Nigerian military ruler and patriot, General Mohammed. He recognized that Federal jurisdiction within the tripartite regional boundaries in the contract of the Federation as the most important geopolitical factor or consideration in transformational development and proper integration of Nigerians. There is limited capacity of States to evolve adequate national integration and socio-economic infrastructures for the well-being of Nigeria. General Mohammed had an acute and intense political mind. He understood Nigeria.

He saw it actively from the onset of military intervention in 1966 through the Civil War of 1967 to 1970. As soon as he assumed power as the Head of State, he effectively checked official corruption and set about to restructure and reform Nigeria. His landmark Proclamation of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory and other regionally distributed Federal territories to date, remains the only way to remedy the defective structure of the Federation and effectively get Nigeria out of the woods. With the movement of the national Capital to Abuja, the Federal Territory of Lagos over the years had acquired a vast-agglomeration and array of infrastructural facilities, and socio-economic amenities with its obvious ambience of formidable federal presence in tandem with the special area as envisioned by General Mohammed. The Federal Territory of Lagos though has been subsumed under Lagos State in the 1979 Constitution, has achieved the developmental stride for the Western Region.

Abuja, as the Federal Capital Territory has today acquired the status of such territories as geopolitical entities replete with the ambience of Federal presence in consanguinity to the Northern part of Nigeria. This is in consonance with the 1967 Proclamation as a necessity for even and equitable development. The only missing link in that laudable vision for real time development is the omission of the Eastern part of the country to acquire the same status of a Federal Territory just like the other two Federating Units in the contract of the Federation.

5. Let it be clearly appreciated that the vacuum created by the neglect of Federal presence in the Eastern part of Nigeria is at the core of the separatist thinking and political misgivings against the Federation. Indeed, the agitation for Sovereign State of Biafra is a manifestation of grievances and frustration occasioned by absolute lack of adequate infrastructural amenities and equitable Federal resources capable of generating real time development in the Eastern part of the country as an equal partner in the negotiation for the Federation.

The singular omission to restitute the Eastern Region with a Federal jurisdiction has supported some of our national ailments, stunted development in nearly every aspect of our national life. In the best interest of our succeeding generation and national transformation, it is important for the Federal Administration to redress the imbalance and enthrone equity, fairness, justice and integration in the fulfillment of General Gowon’s Administration policy of the three “Rs” – Reconciliation, Re-habilitation and Reconstruction upon which the Biafran surrender rested in 1970 which was juxtaposed in the General Mohammed’s vision of a better nation. In addition, the 4th 'R' of Restitution should be vigorously implemented. The centrifugal pull to just one or two places of Federal presence by a country as big as Nigeria increases the pressure and cost of Federal administration, breeds dependence syndrome of States and heightens social tension in the polity. A federation where Federal presence is vested in only one geographical location would be skewed and bugged down by internal contradictions, little better than a Unitary State. A Federal territory carved out of the former Eastern Region as the third pillar of support to the Federation would mitigate the trend of wholesale migration mostly by Easterners to Abuja and Lagos attracted by the lure of Federal ambience and national economic power. This, sometimes, to the discomfort and distrust of their other fellow Nigerians, indigenous to the two places. Several examples abound where Federal Territories have been utilized as tool and strategy to achieve balanced development, national cohesion and integration as expressed by General Mohammed for Nigeria forty years ago. Countries such as India, Malaysia, Brazil and South Africa Federation have achieved strides using decentralized Federal municipalities.

6. The raging agitation by the youths of the Eastern Nigeria for the restoration of Biafra has reawakened the spirit of Biafra. The mode of protest is unprecedented in the history on Nigeria. It behoves on the Federal government to handle the situation with utmost tact and diplomacy. Forceful repression is a very bad option and ill-advised. It will not help or enhance the image or resourcefulness of the Nigerian security services. The international community is closely monitoring the events. As the greatest experiment in black civilization, we must get our acts together and prove to the world that we can also do it.

Mr President should revisit the Proclamation of General Mohammed on creation of Federal territories designed to set Nigeria on the path of peace, progress and prosperity. The system of Federal territories surely would cohere the Federation and build Nigeria and Nigerians more closely together as one nation. The postings of federal officers between such territories would obviate ethnic sentiment and suspicion, promoting wider balance of diverse investments across the Federation. It would also make the country safer, attract more foreign investment, create better opportunities, generate employment for the youths. That is exactly what is required to exorcise the spirit of Biafra for good.
Without prejudice to the deliberations and decisions reached at the recently concluded National Conference, the move would reasonably have the unanimous support of the Legislative Houses of Nigeria. History would reveal those members who would withhold assent to such a resolution as the real enemies of the Nigerian Federation, and not the pro-Biafra agitators who actually are our unemployed children.
It is commendable that respected and prominent voices, including Professor Wole Soyinka, Reverend Mathew Kukah, Sultan of Sokoto etc, have eloquently spoken on the way out of the current challenge. It may well be the greatest test of the Buhari Presidency. Mr President is enjoined to muster the will and boldly engage the challenge as a statesman by adopting General Mohammed’s visionary model for Nigeria. PMB, a fellow Northerner and former Army General, may have stood beside General Mohammed on his drawing board. It is time to show real leadership and implement the vision of his late boss and fulfill the promise to give real national presence and ambience to the Eastern part of Nigeria, a promise General Mohammed did not live to actualize.

The recent election clearly and overwhelmingly brought General Buhari to power at this critical stage of our nationhood. But it also demonstrated the dire need to more effectively bring back the Eastern Region back to national fold. The Federal government and the political party in power must be mindful that without such a Territory to the East, the country Nigeria cannot truly transform, but would needlessly continue to stagnate and may as insidiously predicted, continue on its slide to disintegration.

As a warrior, and for all his fearless mien, General Mohammed saw it and avowed that the solution to the Nigeria problem lies with balanced political and development structure, good governance and accountability. President Buhari and the Nigerian leadership are urged to follow this vision.

Contributed by:

Bernadine Obi Ume-Ezeoke.

Emmanuel Olisa Iwobi.

[email protected]

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