Image: the author, Emeka Ugwuonye
Some people had claimed, rather erroneously, that the Biafran movement was a weapon fashioned against Buhari’s government. By this, they implied, probably without fully appreciating it, that just as Boko Haram was viewed initially as a weapon against Jonathan, the Indigenous People of Biafra [IPOB] must be a weapon against Buhari.
But that is all wrong. Any keen student of history would see that IPOB took decades in the making. Nnamdi Kanu is only giving vent to the inevitable explosion of the sentiment for Biafra. The fact of history was that after the end of the civil war, the rest of Nigeria saw the Igbos as a conquered people that could be subjugated and exploited, especially with the help of the Igbo elites. And so was it.
But there is something unique about the manner in which this happened. It was not really a conscious or deliberate policy to exploit the Igbos for the benefit of the rest of the country. It happened or it appeared to have happened only because Nigeria was cursed with a horrible system of government that encouraged mediocrity, ethnic rivalry and dictatorship.
When you consider the fact that the same military officers that operated in the battlefields of the Nigerian civil war actually have dominated Nigerian politics since the end of the war, you have to come out with the impression that the war was never over and that the battle lines never changed. All that would inevitably lead to MASSOB, IPOB and many more to come unless we sit up today.
I had predicted at the outset that Buhari’s greatest challenge would be how to deal with the Biafran movements. Buhari was particularly vulnerable because of the pattern of political divisions under which the original Biafran territories ended up in the opposition party such that whenever the PDP Senators took a position on anything, it would be like the Biafrans taking a position. They were the Biafrans. That meant that the country fell precisely into the geopolitical division coextensive with the geopolitics of 1967.
What will Buhari do now? He cannot order the army to shoot at unarmed civilians. If he does that, that will immediately place him on a trajectory he never imagined. Buhari wants or hopes to end up a great President. He does not want a situation where he ends up the opposite. The situation on the ground is a political banana peel for him. It is very easy for a leader in his position to slip and crash. But at the same time, Buhari cannot fold his arms and not do something. The honey moon is over for him and his government.
However, there aren’t many good options available to him. That is how dicey the situation. The first option seems to be the one he has taken – to demand that the Igbo elites should find some way to calm the situation down in the East. This is why the Igbo Governors are reported to be earnestly convening a meeting with IPOB and MASSOB and similar elements.
In fact, the President could threaten these Igbo governors with declaring a state of emergency in their states if the situation is not calmed down. But the danger is that the Igbo Governors and the Igbo elites in general are not trusted by the average Igbo people because the same Governors and elites have connives in the exploitation of the Igbos.
Indeed, the worst enemies of the ordinary Igbo man have been the Igbo elites – the Ohanezes and the Igbo Governors. The Governors in particular sowed violence, underdevelopment and corruption in Igbo land. They cannot be trusted to truly speak for the average Igbo person over this matter. So, this first option has limited potential for success.
Another option, which may end up being part of the first, would be for Buhari to use these Governors to settle the leaders of the current Biafran movements. Billions or naira distributed here and there might get Uwazurike and other leaders of the movement to calm down, at least until the money finishes. That will buy Buhari time and establish a procedure for any future uprising. Settlement has always been an option for governments.
Yet another option is to sow a division between the South East and South South over the matter. If you successfully antagonize the Igbo speaking Biafrans with the non-Igbo speaking Biafrans, you will again play the card that was successfully played against Ojukwu. But that is harder now because South South politicians are squarely in opposition politics to Buhari and have been fighting for their political lives. The situation in Rivers State and Bayelsa does not encourage this option for Buhari.
We shall continue to watch and observe. But it seems clear now that Buhari’s original description of his government agenda will be discarded. His real agenda will emanate and be based on things unplanned by him such as the new Biafran movement.
Emeka Ugwuonye Esq.