The spasms of rage that followed the incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra and Director of Radio Biafra, in some parts of South East Nigeria have morphed into a theatre and taken a life of its own.
From effervescence of anger, the Biafra secession protest has solidified into a commonwealth of irredentism, leapfrogged to the top of urgent national troubles and compelled a deregulated debate on the sanctity of Nigerian unity.
The agitation discomfits President Muhammadu Buhari: the ferment is from a geopolitical zone where he is not particularly popular. The Nigerian military reads his ‘’body language’’ and decodes it’s a clue to declare its readiness to ‘’crush’’ the Biafran quest.
Let me shoot straight: There is no justifiable reason for the Nigerian military to present itself as a battle-starved, bloodthirsty force, eager to waste peaceful protesters. The proper place for the troops to show their might is not on civilian streets of the South East: it is in the frontlines of the North East where the soldiers are locked in combat with a ferocious death cult.
The cheap diagnosis that some Igbo moneybags are funding the protest to make the country ungovernable for President Buahri, an Hausa-Fulani muslim, is nonsense. Nothing of that sort is responsible for the clamor in the South East. The ongoing protest was facilitated by Nigerian government. And it did so by confusing Biafra with Biafraud.
Nigeria has a reflex tendency to panic and overreact whenever Biafra is invoked.
The Nigerian state officially categorizes ‘’Biafra’’ as an obscene curse word that must not be spoken, a blasphemy that must not be uttered. This is why it would elevate any parrot that mouths ‘’Biafra’’ in an endless loop to the status of an adversary of the Nigerian state!
The government is yet to acknowledge the recurring permanence of the subject of Biafra in the Nigerian polity. It is yet to accept that there will always be people who take the name of Biafra in vain. They would wrap their petty agendas around ‘’Biafra’’ and run with it.
The protest in the East is a direct consequence of the ascendance of fake Biafra. The Nigerian government venerates Kanu as the oracle of the Biafran memory. It defers to him as the custodian of the pristine Biafran narrative.
As a result, his secessionist messaging, which was before now only tolerable to the ears of a marginal illiterate and semi-literate Igbo demographic, has risen in value and is commanding a wider circle of interest…like a rediscovered work of a master painter.
The government bought the lie that Kanu is charting the course of secession of the people of South East Nigeria. It treats him as a national security threat instead of a low-grade misbegotten conman that he is. This is what transformed a hallucinating impostor into a folk hero and ‘’freedom fighter’’.
At the moment, Buhari doesn’t know how to handle the protest. He calls it a joke and banks on the hope that this is a street parade he can sit out. This is a conflagration that doesn’t have much fuel: it will be short-lived. The protesters will sooner tire of marching and quit for physical fatigue.
That’s a possibility. But a more likely scenario is that, as the Nigerian government lengthens Kanu’s incarceration, the protesters will harden in resolve. And as the echo chamber perpetuates the notion that his ordeal typifies the victimization of Igbo people in Nigeria, more sympathizers will join the clamor.
The government finds itself in a mess. It cannot release Kanu for fear of his next step. It cannot continue to detain him while the protesters surge in the streets and declaim his martyrdom.
If only the Nigerian government knew that Kanu’s Biafra was a balloon of baloney waiting to be punctured!
The Biafra of Kanu imagination is an insular enclave, peopled only by haters of the Hausa and Yoruba tribe. His Biafra is an officially xenophobic country. A country that celebrates the Nazi-like supremacy of the Igbo race and scorns other human beings outside its borders.
Kanu’s Biafra is a lazy bid for escapism. It is an offer to subscribe to a blame enterprise. A society where your only civil obligation would be accusing other ethnic groups of orchestrating your misfortune.
The Biafra in Kanu’s head is a hoax. What the government needs to do is to articulate a robust counter message and responsibly demonstrate that Kanu’s Biafra is a phantom mission that cannot be terraformed.
Kanu’s Biafra has become the single story. And he has been able to convert that narrow rendition into a lure for unwarranted rebellion. The Nigerian government must challenge his base Biafra and out it as a lunatic’s vision!
Kanu seeks to transport Igbo people into a future by shepherding them backwards into the past. And the ridiculous thing is that he has no plausible reason for pointing at the path of secession.
While Ojukwu’s Biafra emanated, almost necessarily, from the wanton pogroms visited on the Igbo people in the North and the active unconcern of the Nigerian government to the bloodshed, Kanu’s Biafra is a fancy fantasy.
Kanu touts secession for the sake of secession. He holds up secession as an end in itself. He believes that secession is the surefire solution to the presumed marginalization of Igbo people by Nigeria. That the gate of secession opens to utopian paradise.
Kanu’s Biafra is such an amorphous mass of wishful thinking that it is not supported by something as fundamental as a feasible map. What he purportedly refers to as “Biafraland’’ encompasses the landmass of South South minorities that would rather retain their membership of the Nigerian federation than experiment with Igbo domination.
Besides that, Kanu has not fleshed out the outline of his virtual Biafra. He does not have a template principle of functionality for the would-be country. He imagines that the new country will magically organize itself into a better estate than Nigeria, ‘’the Zoo’’.
Kanu plays on the marginalization complex of the Igbo people and their overly sentimental bond to the Biafran legend. He doesn’t have a mature or nuanced answer to the presumptive grievances of Igbo people. His prescription is… secession, secession, secession.
Secession according to his formula.
Kanu is too naïve to appreciate that Igbo people suffer less from anything than the delinquency of the Igbo elite. Igbo leaders often barter the wider welfare of the race for their own private gains. A homogenous Igbo country will be subject to a carryover of that attitude.
Which makes it very likely that Kanu’s Biafra will devolve into a consuming contest before the country reaches its first breakaway anniversary.
Kanu’s Biafra is totally different from the Biafra a predominant majority of Igbo know.
The real Biafra is more than a defunct country. It is more than a thirty months-long uncivil war. It is more than the scarcity of salt and food and empathy. It is more than the tally of the dead, more than the number of children who became photogenic kwashiorkor models.
The genuine Biafra is bigger than battlefield defeat and surrender. It is a cosmology that represents the Igbo people’s assertion of their humanity. It is a psychic redoubt. A vault of shared trauma and memory. A sacred myth all Igbos are engrafted to.
Biafra is the death sentence that galvanized all Igbo people into a heartbeat. It is the silhouette of a nightmare that abides in the present, a yesterday that renews itself with every perception of imagined or real peril.
Biafra is the instinctive flight across a synapse. It is the vehicle that conveys your immediate vulnerability to a bygone epoch.
Biafra is a tattoo of suffering and dignity, courage and horror, death and defiance etched on the Igbo psyche. It is an experience that thrives in the communal gene of Nd’Igbo.
Biafra is always there, latent and ubiquitous. It is a cultural currency. The bill of Igbo worth, the identity they cultivate, trade with and pass on.
The mention of the name of Biafra stirs a clear resonance in those whose sense of ancestry attunes them to it. It is a potent mantra. A reminder that says something new of the old.
This Biafra is a key theme in Igbo’s historical corpus. And it will remain so. It will never disappear. It will remain a relevant reference as long as the Igbo race procreates and replenishes the generations of their children.
This Biafra cannot be ‘’crushed’’. It cannot be tamped down under a soldier’s boots. It is an energy; invisible and invincible.
The kinetics of Biafra cannot be contained. It cannot be detained. It cannot be banned. It cannot be banished. It cannot be proscribed.
This Biafra is not an artistic map that can be drawn or erased. It is not a flag that can be hoisted or uprooted. Its essence is an ideal.
Biafra is a testimony for Igbo remembering, inventorying and navigation: Kanu’s parody is a race to drink from a mirage!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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