Another week. Another Monday. What to write about? I imagine most newspaper columnists have to confront this poser at least weekly. Two facts render the process of fashioning a response to the central poser more onerous. First, is when the column in question is an adjunct to one’s day job. So, there are professional columnists ― members of newspapers’ editorial boards, whose job descriptions and KPI measures include the one column a week. And there are busybodies like myself ― armed only with strong convictions on a broad range of issues, and minded now, and again to hyper-ventilate. And because it’s a hobby, this department of the commentariat often does not pay well, if at all.
So where is the incentive to write? Especially when the character of our domestic space ― running round in increasingly tighter circles ― means most hobbyhorses have been ridden to near exhaustion. How, if at all, does it help that the most interesting corner of the ongoing national conversation is pendente lite? True, we may not be able to put out on the particular cases. But is there a case for outrage at the revelations surrounding the alleged use of national security appropriations as a political slush fund? And how may our expressions of outrage help or mar the successful prosecution of these cases?
Then again, is it just me? Or are there qualities to the ongoing trials reminiscent of Stalin’s show trials? The point, maybe, being to browbeat the opposition, without new truths being revealed ― or justice, of any description, served? All of which would not be unusual, or especially cruel. H.L. Mencken (one of the most influential writers of the first half of the twentieth century), remember once argued that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety), by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
“Biafra”, it would seem is our latest bogey. The movement for the resuscitation of the once-failed republic raises more questions (permit the cliché) than are answered by the single noun solution it proffers. First, though, to the much larger worry of what failures there are in how this country is organised that make its constituents easily roused by spectres and ghosts ― Niger Delta militancy (before that the Odua and Arewa Peoples’ Congresses), Boko Haram, etc. And then why are we blessed with a leadership ever willing to exploit these dreads. Whatever the answers to these and related questions are, it is self-evident that they may provide enough space and adequate motivation for the constituent parts of our federal state to contemplate some form of separation from it.
In the case of Biafra, how may we properly organise this process? By all means, through a national referendum that allows every Igbo to vote to either remain in this accursed place, or go to the Elysian Fields that their collective ingenuity has long promised them. But which the Federal Republic of Nigeria has unfortunately long since held back from them. Nonetheless, any such plebiscite must be preceded by a proper spatio-temporal definition of the El Dorado for which our Eastern compatriots yearn. For it would be most unfair to have non-deserving nationalities smuggle themselves into that space; and create for them a new set of straw men.
So, Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, and Delta States will not be part of Biafra. Except, of course, the gentle denizens of these places also decide at some later date to exercise that fanciful right “to independence, up to, and including secession”! The old Soviet Union, despite making much of this right, did properly fear that it may lead to its own balkanisation. And so did everything possible to render it in mythic proportions.
The mechanisms for a separation are thus as clear as day. The reasons, however, are not so. Archbishop J. A. T. Robinson (an early twentieth century Anglican clergy and the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich), it was who said that “the ultimate character of reality must be personal”. And my sense of the Igbo experience in Lagos State barely supports the “marginalisation” mantra. I try to secure a stall in Idumota, and I get one only after being cleared by an Igbo. This is central Lagos, remember. Igbos are in the higher echelons of the judiciary, legislature, and the executive arms of the state’s government. Across the country, they make up key rungs in the commercial supply chain, providing sub-spec medicaments and vehicle spare parts.
Not only is this inclusiveness not a feature of the Igbo states. But neither do they support the fable of Igbo exceptionality around which the current movement for Biafra is based.