It was the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who in 1947 famously declared that “Nigeria is not a nation but a mere geographical expression.” Likewise Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state had also in August 1966 declared that “there was no basis for Nigerian unity.” Of particular note is the attitude of the independence leaders; the duo of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa who took over the reins of power at independence both of whom in words and deeds never failed to demonstrate their disbelief in Nigeria. While Ahmadu Bello in his book and autobiography “My Life” published in 1961; famously derided the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914,” Tafawa Balewa who became the prime minister at independence was no different. In 1948 while addressing the legislative council, he declared that “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign or willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.”
Fast forward to 2005 and the Central intelligence agency (CIA) in the same vein broadly concluded that “while currently Nigeria’s leaders are locked in a bad marriage that all dislike but dare not leave, there are possibilities that could disrupt the precarious equilibrium in Abuja and lead to outright collapse.” The conveners of PRONACO, notably the late Beko Ransome Kuti, and Chief Anthony Enahoro amongst others had similarly premised their campaign for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) on preventing the inevitable scenarios of eventual violent collapse. As is evident, the expressions of even those who have been opportuned to steer the ship of state demonstrates the extent to which Nigeria was and remains the mere geographical expression Chief Obafemi Awolowo once called it. It is thus no accident that every profile or introduction of Nigeria from the CIA World Factbook, the Tony Blair Foundation, Encyclopaedia, BBC country profile, the International Crisis Group (ICG), books, journals and government publications all begin their introductory profile or description of Nigeria with a labelling that aptly depicts Nigeria as a nation with deep ethnic and religious divisions.
In reality, Nigeria has historically been so divided that not even the independence struggle could unite them as was the case in other countries. Many do not realise that much of the casualties of the independence struggle was suffered not at the hands of the British colonialists as would be expected but at the hands of Northern leaders who in expression of their opposition to the call for independence by Anthony Enahoro in the federal parliament unleashed the infamous 1953 Kano riots that killed hundreds of people. These deep ethnic divisions also explains why Nigeria is the only country where nationalist pro-independence leaders could not win an outright victory in the post independence elections thereby making it possible for the Northern people’s congress that had opposed independence and severally expressed their disbelief in the idea of Nigeria to ironically form the first post-independence government. Subsequently every Nigerian leader has operated within a tribal prism without paying any attention to nation building. This crude resort to tribal alliances and the attendant domination, marginalisation and exclusion of other ethnic groups alongside other injustices is at the heart of Nigeria’s fault lines and existential crisis.
One Nigeria for all intents and purposes has been a scam. Neither the leaders nor the people believe in it beyond the lazy desire to share oil money. While a civil war was fought on the fraudulent premise of keeping Nigeria united, the war has been futile as the real reason behind the war was a desire to control the crude oil resources and not because there was any genuine desire to keep Nigeria united. This informs the sustained oppression and exclusion that trailed the aftermath of the so called war of unity in place of nation building which should have been the case had there been a genuine intention to keep Nigeria united without any ulterior motives. From a beginning that was marked by ethnic divisions Nigeria has continued on the trajectory of dangerous and increasingly violent divisions. In the absence of true federalism, justice/equality and abundance of leaders who abhor the necessity of nation building, Nigeria’s growing contradictions has birthed reactionary forces amongst which are MASSOB, MEND, OPC, Boko Haram and now Radio Biafra. These are all legitimate responses to a state that has failed to respond to its contradictions through nation building and other progressive policies of national integration. The vacuum created by the absence of nation building has naturally been filled by reactionary forces; some violent that has taken centre stage tearing at the fragile fabric of the nation.
A recent reminder of Nigeria’s deepening cleavages came from no other than the Oba of Lagos who threatened a section of the country with drowning in the sea if they didn’t vote for his preferred candidate, while Muhammadu Buhari as President has started off with appointments that clearly demonstrate sectionalism. Buhari himself later alluded to giving preferential treatment to those who voted for him during a question and answer session in the course of his visit to the United States. Not minding that we are in a democracy, this is a president who campaigned on the idea of changing Nigeria for the better yet has retreated to undemocratic practices and blatant sectionalism. It is no surprise then, that Radio Biafra has gained more popularity riding as it is on Buhari’s divisive policies that is further weakening the already fragile state. Radio Biafra is therefore a creation of Nigeria’s contradictions, exclusion, oppression, tribalism, born to rule system, injustice, inequality, apartheid and internal colonialism. In that regards, Radio Biafra is a legitimate reaction to Nigeria’s falsehood as a nation and successive bad leaders that has only made things worse.
Unlike some others, I don’t subscribe to the idea that Radio Biafra and its adherents are incapable of violence or war. History does not support such assumptions. Nothing in life has ever been written in stone and the lesson from Boko Haram and the near daily suicide bombings it now undertakes in a country where we once assumed that fearful Nigerians would never want to die for anything is a reminder that the truism ‘never say never’ is very true. Just like Boko Haram, Radio Biafra and its adherents could become radicalised enough to wage war and be successful at it. All through human history, the fear of death has never prevented or stopped warfare. Neither has it even stopped armed robbery here in Nigeria. War is a spirit and those who are sufficiently inspired or motivated would be willing to give their life for what they believe in. Millions across the world fought against colonial masters with vastly superior weaponry in the struggle for independence. Hundreds of people die daily in the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Europe but that has not deterred those desperate enough to seek a better life from embarking on the perilous journey.
At independence, no one could have imagined that Nigerian would descend into tribal war in a few years, but when the conditions made war necessary, the war was fought with an unbelievable tenacity of purpose and resilience by the Biafrans who resisted Nigeria’s onslaught for almost three years with practically bare hands. Lesson is; no group should be pushed to the wall on assumption that they will not or cannot wage war. It would be a costly mistake as there is no precedent of any nation that survived a second civil war and Nigeria will not be an exception. Besides self determination from colonialism of all forms is a fundamental right enshrined in the United Nations charter. In this day and age the world is trending towards the use of democratic referendums to decide the quest for self determination and not war as the Scottish referendum recently demonstrated. In that regards it is entirely lawful to allow any region or regions that seek self determination to have a United Nations supervised referendum. In other words, if Radio Biafra succeeds in mobilising a critical mass of its target audience for self determination through for example a signed petition of up to half a million people, the Nigerian government would be bound by international law to let them have a referendum and in case of refusal, Radio Biafra would be within its right to wage war having exhausted all peaceful and legal means.
Truth is; Radio Biafra will not go away as far as the many injustices that birthed it remains. It will continue to grow and haunt Nigeria up to the possibility of open warfare except and until there is extensive dialogue between all Nigerian nationalities and an inclusive nation building constitution and leadership is constituted to aggressively initiative an all encompassing project of nation building. That is in the least, the only chance of permanently burying Radio Biafra and others like it. The alternative will be Nigeria’s inevitable disintegration sooner or later as even the Bible and the Koran in their divine wisdom did declare that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Those who have ears let them hear!
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu