Biafra As An Ideology And Identity – By Law Mefor

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“If you understand devotion, you will understand the Biafran, the essential core Igbo character…”

There is an aspect of the Biafra struggle that is essentially glossed over: Biafra as both an ideology and identity. To achieve both territorial Biafra and paying sufficient attention to its preparatory stages that may take many years, Biafra as an ideology and identity plays such a fundamental role. Biafra does no longer need to invoke the thinking of secession, which made the Nigerian government to unwittingly remove the Bight of Biafra from the map during the civil war.

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Biafra as an ideology and identity gives rise to what may be called ‘Biafra of the mind’, as a precursor to Biafra as a sovereign state or a Biafra within sovereign Nigeria. Both are possible and none can be achieved without the Biafra of the mind.

Biafra now means different things to different people, even differing in content and meaning is Biafra among the agitators. A closer look at the two constructs will reveal why. First, ideology: Ideology is a comprehensive set of normative beliefs, conscious and unconscious ideas, that an individual, group or society has. An ideology is narrower in ambit than the ideas expressed in concepts such as worldview, imaginary and ontology. Biafra, taken in this context can therefore be an ideology. This can easily be explained away if we see the Biafra idea as a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political paradigm and policy.

Biafran and Igboist cannot be said to be synonymous even though the latter mirrors much of the former since they are not mutually exclusive. All Igbos can be said to be Biafrans but NOT all Biafrans are Igbos. This has to be so since the land area delineated in history as Biafra goes far beyond Igbo land space to stretch to even far-flung Cameroon and beyond.

For the avoidance of doubt, ancient Biafra, predating Nigeria, initially comprised over 29,848 square miles (77,310 km2) of land, with terrestrial borders shared with Nigeria to the north and west, and with Cameroon to the east. Its coast was on the Gulf of Guinea in the south.

Ancient Biafra’s northeast bordered the Benue Hills and mountains that lead to Cameroon. Three major rivers flow from Biafra into the Gulf of Guinea: the Imo River, the Cross River and the Niger River. The territory of Biafra is covered nowadays by the Nigerian states of Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Abia, Delta and Akwa Ibom.

When taken in full context Biafra goes far beyond mere geographical expression to encompass the meaning and essence of being a Biafran. Being a Biafran encompasses though not limited to the following; First, Biafran means possessing a set of attitudes and attributes that brook no failure yet gregarious. It means being groomed to accept early in life responsibility for one’s success and failure.

The Biafran is a personality growing from a culture that is substantially individualistic and exerting the individual to the very limits yet egalitarian. It is a culture of possibilities and approaching life with courage and optimism. Being a Biafran therefore means embracing self-reliance at individual level and self-determination at societal level.

Being a Biafran is a life that imbues one with resilience and strength of character that prepares one to be capable of surviving anywhere on earth. Little wonder people say where you do not find an Igbo (Biafran) man is not fit for human habitation.

Biafra is about a culture of equity and live-and-let-live. Like the Athenians of the ancient Greece, being a Biafran is being a democrat – where the minority have their say and the majority have their way. For the Biafran therefore, democracy and participatory governance are a given and a way of life. This condition makes him or her to abhor any form of slavery and deeply develops in him, a strong judicial instinct. Such were the principles enunciated in Ahiara Declaration by Emeka Ojukwu during the Biafra war.

Then Biafra as an identity; Identity is a tag that goes with certain attributes. Where it comes to ethnic groups it sometimes brings with it ethnocentrisms, which are the feelings that our cultures or ethnic groups are better than others – the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture. As a counteracting factor, it equally attracts stereotypes and prejudices, which can be for or against the people in question when it is a negative evaluation of them by another people. What the Igbos have suffered in Nigeria are heavy doses of prejudice against them by other Nigerians.

Biafra is made up many ethnic nationalities apart from the Igbos. Igbos appear to have most appropriated Biafraness much more than the others for the simple reason that they are the dominant ethnic group. The self-determination agitators, especially IPOB do not want to fragment the enclave and limit the struggle to just the Igbos, thus giving all the contiguous ethnic groups a fair chance to answer their ‘papa name’ or somebody else.

Biafra is therefore an identity if we consider the fact that identity is a condition or character as to who a person or group is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or group or the state or fact of being the same one as described.

Some of the distinguishing characteristics of being a Biafran have already been enunciated. Save to add that Biafra as an identity simply suggests that possessing such characteristics marks one out as a Biafran. Birth is not enough to make one a Biafran for one may be Igbo and still not possess such characteristics owing to environmental interference in upbringing. As they say, the hood does not make a monk, neither is there any monk without the hood.

There are Igbo men and women that do not behave as Igbos at all, just as there are Yoruba and Hausa who behave like typical Igbo people. It is therefore a matter of orientation much more than the implicit qualification that may be conferred by birth or consanguinity.

So, for the typical Igbo man, he is a Biafran true and true for indeed he has been socialized to be one and not a fluke. If you understand devotion, you will understand the Biafran, the essential core Igbo character.

Biafra is therefore an ideology as well as an identity. Other cultures that share such Spartan attributes may be Japanese, Jewish and one or two others. Igbos as typical Biafrans have proved their mettle in all walks of life leaving in their trail a catalogue of firsts for which they are being acknowledged as one of the most educated and highly achieving immigrant populations in the America and Europe.

In Nigeria, they topped the pack. They went to war for self-preservation after being visited with two successive pogroms in Nigeria, and lost. But for their resilience, devotion and optimism, they bounced back from that debilitating civil war, which ended without any policy of reintegration for them, and twenty pounds for those who survived and had bank account regardless of the amounts they had more in the banks before the war.

Being a Biafran in truth and in spirit almost always guarantees success. But because it promotes individualism and atomization of interests, organizing and leading the Igbos is extremely difficult. They are best organized by situations but when the threats and challenges blow over, they splinter again into their individual cocoons.

They are by their very nature agents of development because they are innovative, creative, daring, sociable, entrepreneurial and hard working. Their visible success gives them away like goldfish, often attracting envy and recrimination.

But Biafra is their identity and their approach to life their ideology. Igbos giving up their ideology and identity will mean death. The snail may try but it cannot caste off its shell. Blessed are those who are proud to be called Biafrans (Excerpts from the forthcoming book, “Biafra as an Ideology and Identity by Law Mefor”).

  • Law Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist; email: lawmefor@gmail.com; Tel.: +234-803-787-2893

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