Biafra: 50 years after and the crisis of Igbo leadership, By Osmund Agbo

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Nnia Nwodo and Nnamdi Kanu

The year was 1970 and the day was January 15. On that date in history, Major-General Phillip Efiong, Biafra’s Chief of General Staff and interim Head of State announced the end of the two-and-a-half years armed conflict that took the lives of an estimated two million human beings. Though General Yakubu Gowon had declared no victor, no vanquished which was widely hailed, the reality on the ground was far from the magnanimous picture he painted. Every Igbo man regardless of prior financial standing was handed down a meagre twenty pounds to start all over. In fact, Igbos were let in to what was to come way before the war ended with the Abandoned Property Edict of 1969. Hiding behind that edict, the River State government actively sought to dispossess the Igbos of their estate. 

Today, by virtue of a strong work ethic, incredible can-do spirit and an abiding faith in the most high, it’s fare to say that the Igbo nation has successfully rebuilt to become one of the strongest middle class economies of the world. Fifty years after the fact, however, the Igbo man continues to be treated like an alien in the only country he calls his own. It’s been one hell of a treacherous journey on the path to integration. 

Every passing year, Nigeria’s Igbo problem continues to increase and their fate made worse. The prospect of a full integration with the rest of the country remains a pitiful mirage. Many Igbo youths are frustrated and getting increasingly agitated by an unspoken glass ceiling that tend to limit the extent of what is available to them in the context of Nigeria. To make matters worse, those that claim to represent them at the center made no pretensions of acting beyond personal interest. IPOB, a Biafran separatist group was born.

He neither commanded the majestic aura of an Ikemba nor wear the exuberant whiskers of the Biafran warlord. His dimunitive frame and frail stature stand in sharp contrast to the larger than life image that rivals that of a cult figure. To a good number of our people that calls him the Supreme Leader, Mazi. Nnamdi Kanu is Chukwuokikeabiama incarnate .To add to his mystery, every now and then he launches into the theater of the absurd, donning a yarmulke and dishing out blessings the way of a Rabbi. 

Following Mr. Kanu’s arrest and subsequent detention by the federal authorities, he became an overnight sensation. Among young Igbos, he represented the defiant face of a renewed struggle for self- determination. His movement should take the credit of re-igniting the flame. Soon after, however, the veil got lifted and the euphoria died down pretty quickly. It became obvious that our Lion king lacked any credible strategy to advance the struggle other than chest thumping and rabble-rousing. In his frustration, insults were hauled at anyone that dare query his method. From addressing other ethnic nationalities in unflattering ways that border on xenophobia to calling for armed insurrection against the Nigerian State, It was clear that Kanu had expended every goodwill needed in the struggle. From then on, most of his actions revolved around spewing verbose expletives and teetering on crass brinkmanship.

Another source of confusion is Mr. Kanu’s effort at international diplomacy. Wether it’s courting the recognition of Turkey, a nation that for long has been on the radar as a state sponsor of Boko Haram or his visit to the US as a guest of Steve King, the Iowa congressman known for his racist vitriol against black people. All these, while walking around, dressed like an orthodox Jew. Any attempt to question his modus operandi will earn you the opprobrious label of a sell-out and his boys will come after you, pulling no punches.

In recent years there has been a recurring pattern of self-defeating power tussle between Ohanaeze Ndi’gbo on one hand and IPOB on the other. Both group continue to jostle for relevance on who is better positioned to speak on behalf of the Ndigbo. For now, IPOB with all her baggages seems to be winning in the propaganda war. There is no doubt that public sympathy lies with them. The huge challenge facing Ohanaeze, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation remains the issue of credibility. Many still regard it as part of the old capitulating and self-centred political order, ever ready to mortgage the future of Ndigbo on a whim. 

The biggest target of Kanu’s diatribe is no other than the Ohaneze leadership whom he continues to accuse of having sold out to the northern oligarchs. In all fairness to Ohaneze, Kanu is yet to provide any iota of proof. Instead, the group under Chief Nnia Nwodo appears to have reinvented itself. It remains very focused and hard at work, making the case for Ndigbo despite all the name calling and distractions. The current president has also been able to galvanise similar group in the South west, South south and the Middle belt, and together they are making a stronger push for restructuring Nigeria. Sometimes it’s a little easier when you partner with others than when you go it all alone.

Recently I watched a BBC Igbo segment on the Biafran war that featured the only surviving minister of the First Republic, Mr. Mbazulike Amechi. In that interview, the elder statesman bemoaned one of the major mistakes made during the war. Ojukwu he lamented, rounded up notable Igbo leaders and put them out of circulation. M.I Okpara and Dr. G.C Mbanugo of the NCNC were thrown into jails in Uyo and Warri while Zik and a few of his cohorts were placed under house arrest. The Biafran leader might have taken those actions out of abundance of caution since he was clearly suspicious of the political class.
But then, Biafra missed out on the opportunity to tap into a rich reservoir of experience and wisdom that could have helped in the war effort or designing a pathway for sustainable peace. 

Just to be clear, IPOB despite all her shortcomings continues to play a vital role in awakening the consciousness of a nation to the plight of Ndigbo. Love them or hate them, we will forever remain indebted to the group’s effort. Nnamdi Kanu has a rendezvous with history. But now is the time for him to humble himself and play with others as a team. Before IPOB was MASSOB and he needs to remember that the light doesn’t shine bright forever. Ohanaeze on her part should continue to reach out across the divide. Our strategies may differ but in the end, we are all committed to the struggle.

Our ability to successfully navigate the murky waters of Nigerian politics depends on how well Ndigbo can merge the youthful zeal of a Kanu and the cautious wisdom of a Nwodo. Coming together under purposefull leadership will alter our trajectory and carry us far.

•Dr. Agbo is the President/CEO of African Centre for Transparency 

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