When a vital part of history is removed from the national conversation, it leaves a lot of room for speculation and because the actual problems will never be addressed, they will keep recurring. This is the story of Nigeria and Biafra. History teaches us that when an idea like Biafra refuses to die, it will take one person to bring it to life at the perfect intersection in time. It is because of this that the existence of Biafra is only held back by the absence of a worthy champion and if we intend on having a united Nigeria, we have to stop dismissing calls for Biafra as the senseless ramblings of the gullible.
A lot of the problems facing South-East Nigeria, ground-zero for Biafra, are not peculiar to the region, if anything, they are part of the Nigerian story. Every region has their own claim to neglect by the centre, which they believe is unique to them, but secession is something South-Easterners have cried for longer and louder than anyone else. The question now is, why is that?
For one, there has not been an Igbo leader of Nigeria since Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966 and no Igbo civilian has led Nigeria since Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1960; the irony being that latter’s role was mostly ceremonial and the former had one of the shortest reigns in Nigerian history. By many standards, this should not be a big deal but Nigerians take it seriously. There is the need to feel that it is a ‘brother or sister’ that is calling the shots and a lot of Nigerians also believe that their regions or states will get preferential treatment. Although, you only need to look at Ogun state and Bayelsa state to know this does not happen.
Take it or leave it, in the unlikely eventuality that Igbos get a president in 2019, a lot of pro-Biafra agitators, especially of the political class, will keep quiet. Just look at the South-South and Goodluck Jonathan story. The massive campaigns, legitimate and propagandist, from all corners of the region to get one of their own into Aso Rock and the fight to keep him there in 2011 and 2015. It doesn’t mean that we should give out the presidency just to make some people happy, even though there is obvious precedence, but, whoever is president needs to take proactive all-inclusive measures to make every Nigerian of whatever persuasion feel equal and needed.
In Igboland, a lot of the infrastructure was destroyed during the war and very few of them have been rebuilt in the way that they should. Rural areas in the region do not have tarred roads and, asides from the problems of corruption, there are too many roads and too little funding for state governments to fix them all.
More importantly, the failure of the Nigerian state to provide basic needs is one of the chief reasons the Biafran idea has refused to be buried. It is difficult to convince anyone staring at the facts that Nigeria is working as well as it should. Based on almost every metric, Nigeria is not working or is underperforming, whether it is infrastructure, employment, education, and health care. Even as Biafrans are clamouring for their just right to self-determination, there is massive famine in the North-East, a looming population explosion is on its way and Nigeria is nowhere near prepared. Pro-Biafran agitators look at all these and wonder how we are all so calm. They see a sinking ship and the rest of us see business as usual. They see themselves as people with their backs against the wall and like people with their backs against the wall, almost any option looks better. This might not explain their anger, but it puts things in perspective.