BIAFRA: To Be Or Not To Be (1) – by Chimaobi Eluigwe

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BIAFRA: To Be Or Not To Be (1) - by Chimaobi Eluigwe

The past few days have been eventful in Nigeria, particularly in the South East and South South. Protesters have besieged state capitals and economic nerve centres in these states, demanding the independence of Biafra. The agitations have been boiling for a while now but found an outlet after the IPOB leader was arrested and detained by the DSS.

Several persons have asked what my take on the issues is and I hesitate to answer because issues like these require more rigour than has been displayed by many individuals on both sides.

While supporters have mostly been evasive about fundamental problems that need to be addressed if an independent Biafra is to be viable, opponents have responded in ways that have ranged from the hilarious to the condescending. Non-Igbos have been mostly dismissive of Biafra, and understandably so. But the Igbo-born opponents have mostly indulged in abusive rhetoric and the assumption that all supporters are stupid ideologues who are either greedy manipulators or gullible fools.

Such condescension is unnecessary and quite unnerving. It is very Igbo to disagree. But hurling insults is both childish and counterproductive. It is funny how these abusive opponents use the same atmosphere of acrimony created by their needless rhetoric to “prove” that Biafra is unworkable because of a lack of unity. That is circular logic at its worst. Supporters are forced to respond with similar intensity, accusing opponents of sabotage and questionable Igbo-ness. A mess, indeed.

But thank God for individuals like Ibeh Samuel Samuel. His excellent piece not only elevated the discourse, but it did so respectfully and dwelt on the issues – the big issues. Sam, thank you for such contribution. I hope the supporters of Biafran Independence will take up the challenge and debate respectfully. This will enrich the debate and increase the intellectual rigour that needs to be brought to bear on sensitive issues like these.

I have my reservations about this current Biafra drive. This is partly because of some of its most visible proponents like the illegally detained Kanu. He may have his reasons for hateful speech and requests for arms, but I do not understand it. It may appeal to many individuals at the lower end of the totem pole but will certainly alienate the professional middle-class that is indispensable to executing a modern, non-violent drive of such monumental aspirations.

But my misgivings do not spring from doubts about the viability of Biafra. Both the silly and intelligent push back against these protests converges around a belief that Biafra is not viable as a nation, economically and otherwise. I do not agree.

Sam’s extremely helpful thesis on this not only assumes such non-viability but actually articulates them brilliantly. So well laid out were his opinions that a commenter on his page referred to them as “unanswerable”. As glowing as such commendation is, it may short circuit the exchange of ideas needed to firm up knowledge in society.

Therefore, I will attempt to offer my opinion on some of these stated bases of non-viability, using Sam’s piece as a sort of template.


Landlocked Status: It is often alleged that an Igbo Biafra will be landlocked. Assuming this was true, then Biafra will be the 49th nation in the world to be landlocked! And having Switzerland in same company is clearly no national death sentence.

Moreover, “The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea now gives a landlocked country a right of access to and from the sea without taxation of traffic through transit states. The United Nations has a programme of action to assist landlocked developing countries, and the current responsible Undersecretary-General is . . . .” I do not like the UN very much, but knowing that the global community is mindful of the peculiarities of landlocked countries is consoling.

And Biafra’s case will be better than some others who are “double landlocked”. With a dredged Niger River and surrounding communities that are culturally contiguous to the mainland Igbo, there should be no problems except in war. In the civil war, Biafra was hemmed in because the young nation had no Navy. With an advanced air force and marine force, blockades will be difficult to enforce. But war is definitely not the way to go.

Density: One argument I have heard repeatedly is that the south eastern landmass cannot sustain the teeming numbers of Ndi-Igbo if they choose to come back home in the event of Biafran Independence. This is untrue, and a casual analysis of global population densities will prove that. The South East has an area of about 16,000 sq mi (or 40,000 km sq), with a population of even ~60 million, that will mean a density of about 2,000/sq mi (or 800/km sq).

This density rating makes the prospective Biafran density less than Singapore, Hong Kong and over 10 other highly prosperous sovereign societies. When you add the fact that it is actually a silly idea to imagine that the naturally migrant Igbo will suddenly change and come home permanently, it leaves the density hovering around 1000/sq mi. This figure is very conducive in nurturing a prosperous Igbo Biafra.

Lack Of Mineral Resources: It is the unfortunate lack of self-confidence fostered by racial colonialism that breeds this kind of thinking. Let’s ignore the fact that Anambra State sits on the largest deposit of gas this side of God’s earth, and that coal and palm and literally hundreds of options are available to create a 21st century economy. (Some of these issues sit on the exclusive list in the Nigerian constitution, so let’s not start the argument of why the governors are not digging deep yet).

But when the Igbo speaks of economic independence, he speaks of his innate confidence in his ability to innovate and work hard to create a modern economy. To believe you need metals and fluids beneath your feet to survive is sooo 19th century. Biafrans believe they can leapfrog into the global economy and carry Africa along. Methinks, there is no real reason they can’t.


Economic Rationale for Independence: In the 1990’s, the American business community witnessed a lot of mergers and acquisitions because bulk and balance sheet size were the craze. At some point, the diversification began to impact the bottom line. Not too long after that, some of those merged companies began to demerge. HP is now splitting into 2 after Carly Fiorina merged them with Compaq years ago; Ebay and Paypal etc. When diversification ceases to yield value, smart management teams break up the behemoth into more homogenous business entities.

And research has shown that the smaller, nimbler companies do better than their larger predecessor. Research has also shown the same applies to nations. Of 5 British colonized nations, namely, India, Malaya, Sudan and Nigeria, only Nigeria remains united. The others have split into India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Sudan and South Sudan. With the exception of South Sudan, all the newer, smaller and more homogenous nations have higher economic growth rates than when they were cobbled together.

A recent research in The Economist shows that more homogenous societies prosper better than diversified ones. These are facts. A Biafran economy (as well as Arewa, Odua etc) will grow faster than Nigeria is currently doing and will end up better for its citizens than a bulkier, mismanaged Nigeria. A true federalism (or better still, confederation) may simulate these advantages a little, but it may take the threat of total breakup to have decision makers opt for these less drastic measures.

Trade: Another brilliant argument against Biafra is that the entrepreneurial nature of the Igbo requires a large market to thrive. This would have been a stronger case if nations do not trade with each other. Igbos are all over Africa and the world doing business. Such trade volumes will skyrocket with Biafran independence, as manufacturing picks up. This is because the local infrastructure will receive the boost that only localized sovereignty can bring to bear.


Moral non-equivalence: Older opponents of the current Biafra agitations consider it a trivialization of the true Biafran experience. They believe the blood, tears and sacrifice involved are too sacred for men of suspect motive to handle. I agree! They also believe that the primary raison d’etre for seeking Biafran independence in 1967 was self-preservation. A people were being slaughtered and they sought refuge in Biafra.

So these opponents hold that there is no such situation now and that the leaders of the current drive for independence are falsely creating a moral equivalence between the actions taken in 1967 and those of today. I also agree. To induce a similar level of patriotism in the youth today, the Nnamdi Kanus tell tales of Fulani oppression, constant killings and generally create an aura of fear. This is the only tool they have got to gain followership.

While it is true that there are clear cases of marginalization and scary anti-Igbo sentiment prevalent in Nigeria today, we are far from 1966-7. The reason these people push fear is because they and even their wary opponents wrongly interpret the true reasons why Biafra is suddenly very appealing and popular. To unearth that reason, we must look at a concept hardly associated with nations or societies.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs posits that man has a range of needs, from very primary and existential ones (physiological) to higher needs (psychological) that he seeks to fill after those earlier primary needs are met. The needs range from Survival to Safety to Sense of belonging to Self-Esteem to Self-actualization. I believe social groups also climb through this pyramid.

The East declared independence to meet the need for Safety and ended up fighting a war for Survival. After the war, they have mostly re-integrated seeking a sense of belonging that remained elusive for a while.

The democratic dispensation began to meet that need gradually. But the administration of GEJ (like him or not) did something for the Igbo that was somewhat new. In addition to the Igbos rebounded success in all spheres of life e.g. commerce, finance, education, law etc., GEJ showed the Igbo a level of deference that was consoling. He not only appointed them to powerful positions in finance and the military, he honoured their late sons and daughters e.g. Ojukwu, Chinua, Dora etc., in a most glamorous way. That restored a level of group self-esteem to Ndi-Igbo and resulted in near total loyalty in the last elections. That met need for self-esteem seems to be threatened by the current administration.

The Igbo are responding by climbing one step up the needs hierarchy into self-actualization. The current Igbo who seeks Biafran independence are not necessarily scared they’d be hacked to death by a government squad (that explains the largely peaceful protest), but HE WANTS MORE!

He knows he can be much more than he is now. He has travelled the world, broken records, written best-sellers, had films made of him and his novels, won elections in foreign countries, acquired billions in enterprise, won sports trophies, built cars and computers, won awards in art, been knighted by England’s royal house, and much more. So he asks, why can’t I break the final barrier i.e. build a world class nation? Nigeria was held together at the price of his blood, but has failed spectacularly. So why not Biafra?!!

That is the deep yearning driving the recent appeal of Biafra. Even though I believe that Biafra is viable, I do not believe it is an absolute prerequisite to the Igbo actualizing himself. You will understand my ambivalence and neutrality soon.


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BIAFRA: To Be Or Not To Be (2) - Chimaobi Eluigwe

BIAFRA: To Be Or Not To Be (2) – Chimaobi Eluigwe

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Kenneth Igiri

Very well researched. God bless you.