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Biafra: The Referendum Ignored – By Nze Anizor


As we say in Pidgin English, ‘Confusion don break bone’ in the matter of the desire of some people in the Igbo states of South Eastern Nigeria to secede and become an independent nation of Biafra. As is natural, confusion negates clear thinking. Wrong decisions easily snowball into violence, with the attendant blood – letting. As a concerned citizen, I will proceed to point the agitators towards realizing their objectives, in fact, the only alternative I see, the other option being a war.

It is common to hear calls for a referendum to determine whether the South East should leave Nigeria or not. As has been pointed out severally by legal experts, referendum is alien to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A constitutional amendment is required to allow for such an exercise. Considering the requirements for such an amendment, it is safe to say that any attempt to amend our Constitution to allow for a referendum will be dead on arrival under the present circumstances. It will require huge consensus building across the entire country. The chances of that happening is almost nil consequent upon the acrimony generated by the present quest.

Since a war is out of question, seeing as it will not achieve any meaningful purpose, and will definitely not result in a secession, we must turn our minds to the only viable option.

The ill – fated attempt to create a Biafra state in 1967 got off the ground because then General Ojukwu was the legitimate leader of then Eastern Nigeria. He was the known and accepted representative of the people. He could therefore declare the new nation, and levy war on behalf of that nation. 2017 is a far cry from 1967. Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) do not represent the generality of the South East. IPOB is at best a popular private organization. It is not the legitimate representative of Igbos at any level. Igbos have elected leaders and representatives at all levels of the government. IPOB cannot declare a new state and be taken serious by any reasonable person. It can neither declare nor levy war on behalf of the South East. Therein lies the conundrum it faces. Granted it seemingly has a wide – appeal, but that has its limits. Who are those open in their acceptance of IPOB’s leadership? Some Igbos resident abroad, who probably believe they are out of harm’s way and romanticise about the Biafra quest; many people who operate within a certain economic sphere of the society; some non – Igbo members of the opposition party, who see the Biafra agitation as a grand opportunity to discomfiture the Federal Government; some Igbo politicians who perceive that the grassroots appeal of the IPOB will net votes for them in the next general election. Note that I totally ignored those whose support for IPOB starts and ends in the social media. In this business, they do not count, and they hardly ever vote.

No elected representative of the South East has openly and formally called for a referendum yet. They will not because it is very far from their agenda. If things continue this way, in about five years or less, Nnamdi Kanu will lose influence or voluntarily de – escalate the agitation and another person and group will rise up. At its best, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) was as popular as IPOB is today. They had Igbos eating out of their hands and could shut markets at will. Their sun has set, and IPOB’s is rising.

While the agitators dissipate energy on a national referendum which is at best a phantom under the present circumstances, they overlook another referendum which is easier to achieve, and with such implications that it may be said to hold the key to the success or failure of the struggle for independence.

That referendum is the gubernatorial election scheduled to hold in Anambra state on Saturday, 18th November, 2017. To make matters easier, Nnamdu Kanu has already publicly declared that no election conducted by the Federal Government can hold in the South East until a referendum is held to determine Biafra. Thus neither he nor his members can validly claim to lack motivation in the matter of the Anambra election, which I prefer to call the ‘Anambra referendum’. To get any hope of success, IPOB must carry out its threat to stop that election from holding. They do not need a violent confrontation to do achieve this feat. A simple sit – at – home on November 18, 2017 will suffice. To achieve success, all they need is to ensure that less than 10% of the registered voters participate in that election. That will be the first real message to both Nigeria and the international community that IPOB has the control. If they fail, they will just be another group of wannabes craving public attention and adulation. Since they already have those persons who normally have the highest turn out in elections, the task won’t be difficult to achieve. Currently, some gubernatorial candidates have openly identified with the ‘Biafra’ agenda. Fortunately, they are all contesting for the governorship under the same political party, the UPP. The first step will be for them to withdraw their candidacy in obedience to Nnamdi Kanu’s vow that the election will not hold. The battle will not be easy because those ready for the election, and they are many, will battle all the way to neutralize the IPOB. Many of the young people who scream ‘Biafra or death’ today may collect money from the politicians and vote in the election, and continue their agitation the next day. The women will be hard put not to be swayed by the free salt and wrappers to be distributed by the politicians. In reality, Anambra will be a worthy dress rehearsal for Kanu and his supporters because they will face similar challenges, albeit on a larger scale, during the 2019 general elections.

The Anambra referendum will be a tough act to pull. First of all, the people of Anambra state will wonder why their state will be the testing ground for IPOB’s influence. Second, for many of the young IPOB members, dancing on the streets is one thing, not voting for Gov Obiano or any of the other gubernatorial candidates because Nnamdi Kanu said so is an entirely different proposition. Many nay – sayers will likely remember that Nnamdi Kanu is from Abia state, and should not be allowed to cause ‘trouble’ in Anambra state. Many will suddenly come to the realization that they prefer ‘restructuring’ to secession. And so on and so forth.

The second option for IPOB in the Anambra referendum is for Nnamdi Kanu to smartly backtrack from his ‘no election’ declaration. He should then throw the weight of IPOB behind a political party, probably the UPP based on present circumstances. If the relatively unknown UPP then wins the gubernatorial election in the state, then the Anambra referendum must have been on. It is up to Kanu and the his team to assess the above options and determine which they are more likely to achieve. Personally, I believe the second option is more in their interest. I very much they have the mettle to stop the forthcoming election in Anambra state. But that’s just my opinion, and I may be wrong. It’s their call.

Once the IPOB have the Anambra election under their belt, they will set their sights on 2019. They shall adopt UPP, and instruct all their members to register in and join the party. They will then proceed to take control of the party in all the wards and states of the South East. They may not need to bother about extending their control of the party beyond the South East because they have no interest in the Presidency of the country. The game will be to ensure that every elected state House of Assembly member, State Governor, House of Representatives member, and Senator representing the South East is a member of their party. Or at least 90% of the representatives. That is when the real game will begin. They will have elected representatives who will speak and the world will listen. Nnamdi Kanu may get into the Senate and be the leader of the party’s caucus in the National Assembly. It is then that they can raise motions to allow for a referendum under special circumstances, without running the whole gamut of an amendment of the Constitution. They can stage a sustained walk out of the National Assembly to press home their point. In fact, they can officially shut down the entire South East to prove irrefutably to the world that the region wants out of Nigeria. The mere fact that a section of Nigeria has voluntarily withdrawn all forms of representation from the government of Nigeria will be a bold and unequivocal statement which the world cannot afford to ignore and will not ignore.  Whether our Constitution provides for a referendum or not will become mute. It will be circumvented, and the referendum will hold. No shots will be fired, and none can be fired. The agitation for independence will quickly transmute from a private wish to a regional agenda. Any killing of unarmed persons will attract international attention. In the undesirable outbreak of a war, the break – away state will have a chance of attracting recognitions and support from other nations.

This is a long and tortuous route, no doubt. It entails hard work, but there is no gainsaying that it represents probably the only chance of success if the Igbos actually want to leave Nigeria. It requires a minimum of six years of painstaking work to attain.

The world did absolutely nothing when the Hutus set about massacring Tutsis in Rwanda. The Tutsis had no option but to fend for themselves, and the end of that genocide came from their own hands and efforts. In 1967 to 1970 when then Republic of Biafra had a legitimate government, it still did not garner enough support and lost the war woefully. Imagine a situation where a private, nondescript organization without form or substance talks Igbos into a war. The result will be absolutely horrendous.

The danger we overlook under the present confusion is that if some Northerners get violent in an effort to enforce the stupid eviction order on Igbos, the world will treat it as nothing more than a minor disturbance, entirely within the purview of the government of Nigeria to control. They will not view it within the prism of a people seeking independence because as far as anybody is concerned, nobody is seeking independence from Nigeria at the moment. Forget all the propaganda about what the United Nations or Israel said, and what the Pope did not say. Those are old wives tales best suited for an isi ewu joint.

The path to a successful secession is hard enough, but it is even harder if one’s goal is a bloodless separation. It calls for hard decisions and enormous sacrifices, but then which foolish child wakes up from sleep, rubs his eyes, and decides he wants to secede just like that?

Setting up a rogue radio station may be cool to some people. Raining abuses on other ethnic groups and non – supporters may attract a wide following among the uneducated and the ill – educated. Marching and dancing on the streets will attract the attention of passers – by, and cause traffic jams. Converting to Judaism may give the fickle – minded the false psychological boost that support from Israel is assured. Confronting the security forces and losing a few lives may give followers the impression that they are warriors and ready for a war. Unfortunately, none of the above actions or strategies will assure a successful secession. Only a carefully thought out, well – executed plan has a guarantee of success. It is not a sprint; it is a marathon.

Will this prescription work? Maybe, if IPOB has both the structure and the patience to pull it off. The politicians will fight them all the way because they will naturally prefer to keep what they have to falling under the thumb of a man who they do not really know. But this option is guaranteed to sort out the current confusion, and safeguard the Igbo lives likely to be threatened by the current fumbling and wobbling.


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