I stand with Biafra. But not the type Nnamdi Kanu is trying to create. I stand with a different kind of Biafra that can exist within the realities of the current complexities. Before "both sides" start throwing punches at me, allow me to explain what I mean.
I have often asked myself what do people really mean when they say stuff like "We want Biafra," " We want restructuring ", “We are marginalized". Of course, I know what the politicians mean when they say that, but I am more concerned about what the masses think when they say that. From my understanding, I realized that underneath it all, the call for self-determination or cry against marginalization is really a desire by people for the good things of life. They want roads, good living conditions, health care, and jobs. In other words, they seek development. In reality, these needs are not limited to the SE. They exist in every single region in Nigeria. It is the same thing fueling the Boko Haram campaign. When people are disenfranchised by reason of lack and poverty, they will seek alignments within their comfort zone that allow them to vent their frustration. So when I hear "I want Biafra", what I truly hear are the words, I want Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. In reality, what they are advocating for is, in large part, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Wellbeing; Quality Education; Clean Water; Equality; Decent Work and Economic Growth. The obvious lack of these goals drives people to seek extreme options in the hope of a breakthrough. In summary, it is really a huge cry for survival.
Dubai is an Islamic nation. It practices its own form of Sharia. It is the favourite holiday destination for many Christian families in Nigeria (including the clergy). But when you travel to Dubai, you do not see sharia. You are not provoked with religion in any form. What you see is development. The level of development trumps any reservation you might have of this Islamic country.
If there is a Biafra that should be pursued by the agitators in the SE, it should not start with a political Biafra (with the potential of leading to anarchy), rather it should be an economic and development Biafra. If the leaders understand that what the people really need is Development and Jobs, they can within the current environment pursue policies that can make the SE the hub and model of economic development, commerce and inclusive growth not just in Nigeria or West Africa but for the whole of Africa. And there is precedent for this. Allow me to give some examples in and outside of Nigeria.
In April 2004, President Obasanjo over disagreements with Lagos on the creation of new Local Government Areas decided to withhold LG allocations to the State. What President Obasanjo did was the equivalent of an economic siege; a tactic known in war as a way to starve your enemy to submission. What was the response of Lagos? It took the FG to the Supreme Court and in Dec 2004 got a judgment asking the FG to release the funds. The Obasanjo led FG refused to obey the SC order, In fact, Femi Fani Kayode the Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to the President in May 2005 said "The position of the Federal Government is, no reversal to the 20 local governments recognized by the 1999 Constitution, no money for Lagos local governments”. The Lagos State Government, led by Tinubu looked inward, improved its internal revenue generation system and took on the responsibility of funding its Local Government all without FG’s support. Today, Lagos does not need the monthly stipend from the FG. It learned from that experience to be self-reliant. That’s why we can boldly say today - Lagos is a country.
We also have the example of Hong Kong. Despite being a part of China, HK has been able to maintain a separate political and economic system from China. Except in military defence and foreign affairs. It achieved this not just through its unique political history but mainly because it is one of the world's most significant financial centres with the highest Financial Development Index score higher than that of mainland China. It consistently ranks as the world's most competitive and freest economic entity and it is the world’s 8th largest trading entity. Even without military power, HK commanded so much economic power that it made China declare it a “Special Administrative Region”.
French-speaking Quebec in Canada is another example. So far, it has had two referendums asking for independence from Canada. The last referendum was held in 1995. With over 95% turn-out, they came within 0.58% “Yes” votes to declare independence. In spite of this, Quebec has remained a province of Canada and, with its vast natural resources, it has diversified to other industries like aerospace, information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. These many industries have all contributed to helping Quebec become an economically influential province within Canada, second only to Ontario in economic output.
Catalonia in Spain has been in the news lately for a referendum for independence fixed for Oct 1st. It is unconstitutional and would be non-binding. But if you know the history of how this region was persecuted during Francisco Franco’s dictatorial rule, you will understand the sentiment around their call for self-governance. But Catalonia has developed around its major cities and products, especially sports. You can’t discuss Catalonia without talking about Barcelona the City and the Football Club. That sense of pride is seen all around. They might not have attained self-governance, but they have made their cities one of the topmost tourist destinations in the world. The economic value is immense. These are all regions seeking one form of self-governance or the other. But instead of violent agitations, they have gone the route of creating mega economies such as have guaranteed them special status in their countries. Yet their desire for a separate State remains alive.
If the SE wants Biafra, they can have it by coming together to build and develop that region into one of the most developed economic blocs in Africa. They have the manpower, resilience and resources to do it. The SE has at least 10 solid minerals that can be mined and processed. We are talking about Crude Oil, Zinc, Coal, Bauxite, lead, limestone, Iron ore, Natural Gas, etc. Developing the regional economy forces the FG to deal with the SE on their own terms much like China has to deal with HK. The reality on the ground tells the story more distinctly. The human development index in the SE is appalling (as it is in other regions). There is youth unemployment. The people need jobs. They need development. Even though the SE receives the lowest allocation from the FAAC, the Governors still can't account for the trillions collected over the last 17 years in FAAC allocations to States and Local Governments. Between May 1999 to June 2017, SE collected about N1.9 Trillion in LG allocation from FAAC, yet there is little to no development to show for it. The State Governors are owing salaries and their State economy still depends on VAT collected from Lagos in the SW. They can't pay salaries without a bailout from the same Big Brother they want to dump. They go cap in hand every month to collect stipends from “Big Daddy” in Abuja. If you can't see why this is a bigger problem, then you need better visual/reasoning aids.
This season of deep economic woe provides an opportunity for SE leaders to come together and chart a path towards development. It must start with the Governors. They must forge a common identity and a common economic agenda. What happened to the South Eastern Nigerian Economic Commission (SENEC)? The Governors must realise that “Regional Integration” is the way to go. Together, they can create a vision of prosperity for the region and execute it with the characteristic South Eastern Zeal.
Leaders of thought like Emeka Anyaoku, Frank Nweke, Prof Ben Nwabueze to say the least, should join hands with the Governors to craft a vision of economic sustainability leveraging on the strength and comparative advantage of the SE. I am convinced that regional integration is the way to go. Obviously, the SE can't do it alone. They need collaboration. But if other regions like the SS see what is happening in the SE as a result of regional integration, it will be inclined to do the same and seek collaboration. Already leaders in the SW are discussing along these lines and the advantages are all too clear to see.
With stronger regions, we will have weaker centres. With strong economic regions, the political leaders will be more inclined to pursue the constitutional changes that guarantee true federalism. With stronger regions, the centre will be less attractive for political power. The issue of State Police can be pursued as a "Regional Force" rather than "State Police". The law can be amended to provide the operating guidelines to guarantee equity and justice.
The Biafra they should be selling is not one whose consequences will be felt in the destruction of lives and properties, but one which guarantees economic development, inclusive growth and jobs, jobs, jobs. If you can agitate for that, many (including this writer) will gladly line up behind you in support of your agitation.
Self-governance is not the same as self-sufficiency. Of what good is self-governance when you will not be self-sufficient? We have seen the result of over 30 years of self-governing States - Complete Reliance on Big Brother FGN. Seek economic self-sufficiency and you just might have the leverage to obtain self-governance on your own terms.
An Alternative Path to Biafra
Just reading the news that the President has signed the proclamation proscribing IPOB. That means that the only option left for IPOB is to go legit. If IPOB is dead set on pursuing a secessionist agenda at any cost, the way to go is to do it via the political route. Let IPOB transform into a political party. Let it field candidates for different positions at the LG, State and Federal level in the SE. If it truly has the kind of support it claims to have, then grabbing political power should not be a problem. With that political power, the elected officers will have one agenda and only one agenda – The actualization of Biafra. With political power, its elected officers can approach the National Assembly to set off the legal processes to kick-start the creation of a separate State. This is a much better approach than having to dance to a beat of a Python.