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Sifting facts from sentiments over Biafra, can it work?

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map of Biafra

Nigeria became a unified country in 1914. Since then the country has faced
some serious trials against its unity, the most serious during the civil
war which took place 1967 – 1970. It was a war that resulted after one of
4 regions at the time (the Eastern Igbo-dominated region) sought to secede
from Nigeria after years of political unrest. This secession attempt was
the culmination of the various contradictions within the Nigerian state.
Before the Igbo secession that led to the war, the Yoruba of the then
Western region as well as the Hausa-Fulani dominated Northern region had
also contemplated and sometimes threatened secession. The civil war and
the victory for the Nigerian forces put paid to secession attempts – for a
while.

Forty six years after the end of the civil war, the agitations for
separation have resumed, with each wave seeming to gain momentum than the
last. If the Nigerian state continues the policy of either ignoring such
agitations or meeting them with punitive force, the present South-East
geopolitical zone (the South-East) and the rest of Nigeria could be
heading for a messy divorce with serious political and economic
consequences for both parties. Following the return of democracy in 1999,
there was the formation of the Ralph Uwazurike led Movement For The
Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). Things however
did not escalate significantly until 2005 when MASSOB reintroduced the
Biafran Pound into circulation. The move was met with unexpected
excitement in the South East and the Obasanjo government moved to stem the
tide by arresting Uwazurike, keeping him incarcerated until the Yar’Adua
government released him in 2007. Moves like the launch of the Biafran
Passport in 2009 led to several arrests of Uwazurike and his group’s
members, culminating in the Jonathan administration declaring the group an
extremist group in the same bucket as Boko Haram in 2013. The arrest in
Nigeria of the UK-based Radio Biafra “director” Nnamdi Kanu has brought to
the fore the clamour for a separatist Biafran nation. The rise of IPOB and
Nnamdi Kanu shows that except the issue is tackled at its root, newer,
more sophisticated movements among ever younger generations demanding
Biafra will keep rising.

This report does not make a case either for or against the Igbo Nation’s
independence. The purpose of this report is to empirically examine Biafra,
its history, its viability, the level of support it enjoys and objectively
provide a case for or against Biafran secession. We have examined the
available data and conducted interviews on the economics and politics of
independence, and we have sought to present our conclusions in an easily
understandable form. Our methodology for gauging support included first,
the use of an online polling engine to capture the internet savvy (and
mostly educated – over 70% with a minimum of BSc) Igbos located across the
country, and second face-to-face (on the ground) interviews to survey
Igbos resident in the South East and South South. We quickly observed that
discussions on the issue of a Biafran state can be volatile. Online, it
often devolved into ethnic shouting matches, and on the ground, it
sometimes lead to dangerous encounters for our correspondents. For
example, our correspondent was arrested by the police in Ebonyi for
conducting the survey and the survey forms seized.

Both polls, online and offline, asked questions around whether respondents
wanted a referendum on Biafran independence and then what their responses
would be if the referendum was indeed carried out. A surprisingly large
percentage of online respondents were in favour of a referendum to
determine if the South East and other regions should pursue independence
(79.1%). Few of the respondents were in favour of maintaining the status
quo (24.6%) – i.e. Nigeria’s present “unitary federal structure”. Few of
the respondents were in favour of full independence too (23.5%). Most
online respondents preferred autonomy (26.2%) and limited autonomy
(including resource control) (25.7%). Most offline respondents wanted full
independence. On the issue of a referendum, most people, in both surveys,
want to have at least a shot at a referendum. If this happens, and the
Igbo people vote to leave Nigeria, the task will not be easy as the
economy, politics, culture and society of the Igbo Nation is more-or-less
fully integrated into the larger Nigerian nation.


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