Biafra and the menace of political pickpockets
By Ugoji Egbujo
Biafra was essentially freedom. Hunted and massacred, with nowhere to go, Biafra was flight to safety. Biafra was a sanctuary, made sacred by the blood of freedom fighters. The cost was monumental. Millions of lives cut short, a nation decimated. Biafra must therefore invoke sobriety. Biafra should be kept out of the reach of children and charlatans.
The images of widespread kwashiokor should still haunt. But Biafra was also ingenuity. Biafra evokes nostalgia, of what could have been. It was a proliferation of enticing possibilities. But it was not mere huff and puff, not the work of rabble rousers. Biafra’s ghost has lingered. The injustices that birthed it have not been banished. That notwithstanding, Biafra shouldn’t become a tool for political opportunists, trying their hands at new tricks.
When Nnamdi Kanu came with his version of Biafra, it was a conspicuous counterfeit. It was all too glib, too shallow. To gain a foothold in the market, he had to rouse the rabble. So Fulanis became rams and Yorubas became goats. Hate was his gospel. 2015 proved calamitous for many politicians from the southeast and fortuitous for Kalu, the adventurer.
The politicians had myopically put all their eggs in one porous basket. Kalu’s Biafra became a face saving, relevance seeking, alternative to the wilderness of opposition politics, to which they were not accustomed. Nnamdi Kanu latched on the emotions of the marginalized and the grieving. The masses who had been told the APC was an Islamic anti Igbo party listened, and Buhari’s omissions didn’t help their disillusionment. A man who abandoned a university degree, unfinished, and eloped to London to hustle, must have the mindset of a gambler.
When Nnamdi Kanu went to the World Igbo Congress in 2015 to openly solicit for guns and bullets to defend Igbos, he made his opening gambit. He had a game plan. He knew President Buhari wouldn’t let a mosquito buzz in his ears and go unattended. And he knew that a prolonged detention would legitimize him and his Chukwuabiama. Years of calling Yorubas goats and Fulanis rams wouldn’t catapult him to where he desperately wanted to be.
He came back to Nigeria and walked into confinement. President Buhari took the bait and blatantly refused to obey court orders. The Army cracked down on indignant and energized IPOB members. Nnamdi Kanu’s coronation was complete. Initial doubts and frustrations had subsided, he was now a prisoner of conscience. Politicians clandestinely maintained a relentless stoking of the embers of Biafra. The base became intoxicated.
The prevailing harsh economic circumstances helped to sharpen the nostalgia of the Utopia—Biafra. Trump won in America, and politicians in Igbo land, frantically, started recalculating. They started courting the IPOB. Buhari made it exceptionally easy, even virtuous. They didn’t have to defend their flirtation with secession, they were simply fighting tyranny in the unlawful detention of an Igbo son. Kuje prison was besieged by politicians, who flocked there with commercial ideas.
Threading the line between remaining in trenchant condemnation of the antics of Nnamdi Kanu and clamouring for his release can be very difficult. The field is filled with loud, colour-blind, ‘Otimkpus.’ And they all believe that the door of the gold mine of Biafra, which they have opened, must be shut very quickly against all Igbo blasphemers. Under every breath of these hyperventilating folks is the idea that, on Biafra, you are either an IPOB supporter or an Igbo traitor. Traitors, of course, would at the fullness of time be slaughtered publicly at Ochanja market and their carcasses left for vultures.
The Biafra they conceive won’t be a market place of ideas and freedom. They have in mind a little Jewish North Korea. Nnamdi Kanu, they now project, is the next Kim Jung un. And many smart foresighted intellectuals have started positioning themselves for a political grab of Igbo land. And like pickpockets stealth is the watch word.
So they have joined in fanning this totalitarianism and calling it Biafra. A pickpocket can be seen but his ‘take’ must be invisible. In making themselves so obscenely visible, these intellectuals, defenders of the rule of law, make the Ochanja bound traitors so conspicuous, so identifiable. You prod them a bit and they would say “Oh no, the focus now is the release of Nnamdi Kanu.” And the army of perversely indoctrinated youths is allowed to blossom.
That high court judge knows the bail conditions are stringent. If a variation becomes absolutely necessary, two more Fayoses may join the crew at the next sitting. Everywhere is now a theatre. Members of the political opposition have found a very resonant vent in Biafra. Amongst those playing the roles of hired mourners are people who have made a career of branding Igbos insufferable prigs. Fayose didn’t have to eat amala at the bus stop this week. Fani Kayode will make himself much more visible at the next sitting regardless of Bianca Ojukwu. He doesn’t like being outshone. Many more will come. Every confused opposition leader is now an adopted Biafran.
Biafra’s unzipped pockets are full of political candies, and pickpockets are circling. Every self absorbed charlatan who comes in the name of Biafra is worthy of veneration. Curiously no Yoruba leader wants the South west secede. Even the South-South where all the crude oil is found , and who is the chief mourner of 2015, isn’t keen on secession.
“Afia k’ana azu.” That is the refrain that allows anything, just anything , to happen in markets. In the market you are warned not to rely on any moral principles. The repugnance of this shallow chameleonic acts should be prohibitive. But we have many selfish and desperate pretenders to leadership and an abundance of the impressionable. Biafra has been appropriated.
The average Igbo man wants equity and fair play, not violence. The Igbo is the most dispersed and the most entrenched group in Nigeria. The overall interest of the Igbo is not served by an acrimonious divorce and not by any instigation of widespread violence. The Igbo can flourish in an equitable Nigeria.
Pickpockets have gathered to prey on the emotions of the Igbo.