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Nigeria: Ethnicity, Development and Biafra’s Quest for Self-Determination

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Undoubtedly, Nigeria has entered a period of political uncertainty. With the next presidential election fast approaching, some politicians and experts are strongly advocating for, among others, a constitutional review considered as the best way to preserve peace and ensure stability in the country. The reviewed constitution will take into account the ethnic diversity and provide for equal representation of southern and eastern regions in the federal system of governance.

In an early September interview, Maazi OluchiIbe, a historian and a former lecturer at Gregory University, a private educational institution named after Pope Gregory, located in Uturu, Abia State of Nigeria, talks to Kester Kenn Klomegah, about the political developments, the reasons for economic disparity and the Biafrans’ unquenchable desire for political freedom and self-determination.

Do you consider an urgent constitutional review as the first step towards national integration in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

I think it is better to look at this issue from the perspective of who, in the present-day Nigeria, wants integration. If the Hausa, Fulani, or Yoruba want integration or re-integration for that matter, they are welcomed to it. There is a section of Nigeria that has long gone beyond the idea of integration. That part is the Biafra which has been under forceful military occupation by Nigeria since 1970. Biafra gave Nigeria a clear, unambiguous path to integration at Aburi in 1967. What Biafrans saw clearly in 1967 is what the rest of Nigeria is contemplating today. Biafrans are also telling Nigerians today that that we saw 53 years ago is no longer tenable. Possibly in a couple of decades, Nigeria will wake up to that reality too.

The net minimum for any look at the Nigerian constitution is a simple declaration for a plebiscite amongst the people of Biafra for self-determination. That remains the only basis. However, it is important we let those who feel concerned and who think that a mere constitutional review will solve the Nigerian quagmire, to know that history our guide. Every Nigerian constitution was watered on the blood of Biafrans. From 1945, to as recent as August 25th, 2020 when young Biafrans holding a peaceful meeting were shot to death at Emene Enugu, it has been genocide and countless killings of Biafrans. What then is the guarantee that the next constitutional review will not follow suit?

We will not cease saying that what ails Nigeria is beyond constitution making and reviews. What ails Nigeria is the forceful amalgamation of incompatible entities into a geographical expression. Is it not callous that pre-war Europe made up of multi-ethnic nations who were mired in ceaseless wars until they unbundled through the creation of ethnic nations will turn round in Africa and create exactly what made old Europe unstable for centuries? Even the two Germans that were separated in 1945 have joined back together as one nation. That is the natural order of things. Same Europeans came to African and forced ethnic nation, some as twice the population of an average European nation, into forceful unions with others as large and they think it will stand? No, it will not stand as the former USSR has proved, ditto, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and in Africa, Eritrea, and Sudan. To further muddle the waters, the British allowed two contentious expansionist religions that are almost equal in population to live in one geographical space called Nigeria. What sort of idiotic experiment was that? Imagine what it has caused since 1914 in terms of human lives, mainly the lives of innocent Biafrans. No, it is not a constitutional review matter. 

Why are there rising blatant criticisms about the current constitution adopted in 1999?

Simply because Nigeria has never had a constitution. Even the so called ‘famed’ 1963 Republican constitution was a gross failure and that was why the army step in a mere three years after its proclamation. The current infamous 1999 constitution was merely a baring of the fangs that in the past were covered with a glove. The ‘good’ thing about this constitution was that its criminal creators did not hide the fact that it was a creation of a military decree. Imagine the impunity and the blood cuddling guts of declaring a military decree as emanating from ‘We the People!’ That very first statement in that piece of paper was and is a blatant lie and they are not hiding the fact.

What are the narratives and the reasons for underdevelopment in the Biafra State?

Some of the greatest disaster that befell Biafra from the war of independence were so subtle that an unconscious mind will hardly notice them, while many were so conspicuous that they scream to the high heaves for all to see. For instance, the divide and rule system introduced by the British colonizers where perfected by the Fulani oligarchy that took over Nigeria with Biafrans at the receiving end.

Across a once peaceful land compared to what was obtainable in other sections of Nigeria, the conquering caliphate army imposed all sorts of divisions, ethnic, geographic, demographic, and so on. That is why today, they would rather want Biafrans to fight within themselves over artificial boundaries they created to divide us, like their British did. Such externally imposed divisive tendencies does not call for economic development. But, we are more conscious of such subtleties now.

In addition, there is what Professor Chidi Osuagwu, defined as the deprivation of Knowledge and its concomitant effect over the decades on Biafran economy. Professor Chidi Osuagwu, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo state, had done an article on Igbo deprivations in Nigeria from where the excerpt on the missionary school’s take over came from. Immediately after the war, the Nigerian caliphate government struck at the lifeblood of Biafran development, that is, the Missionary Schools. They took over the mission schools after the war aimed at slowing down and degrading the booming educational Sector in Biafraland that was the driver of Biafran progress. Today, the state of education in Biafralandviz-a-viz what was obtainable pre-Biafran war of independence speaks volume.

By consciously shutting down economic activities in Biafraland through strangulatory policies, significant amongst them the £20 policy, that is, giving Biafrans only £20 without putting into consideration whatever holdings Biafrans held in their prewar bank accounts which the conquering army confiscated. Their nationalization decree of 1972 that turned over all major companies and conglomerated into the Nigerian caliphate governments’ hands. Other examples are the policy of importing from far away Lagos instead of nearby Port Harcourt and other natural seaports available in Biafraland. Mind you, Port Harcourt seaport was opened as far back as 1917, but today lies fallow. The cumulative effect of these policies was the forceful dispersal of Biafran youths from our homeland. Today they remain the largest economic migrant group the whole of Africa.

These glaring constraints naturally forced an implosion leading to insecurities which were in turn blamed on the people and used as an excuse to militarize the land. Biafra is the most militarized region today in West Africa, if not the whole of Africa. Why not militarize the North with an ongoing war that has lasted over ten years?

Let us also not forget that by consciously imposing political leadership akin to the warrant chiefs the British imposed on Biafraland during the colonial period, the present Nigerian system has a grip on what gets done and what does not in Biafraland. What brings home the truth of the parlous economic situation in Biafraland today is not to compare it with what obtains in Northern Nigeria but to recall the fact the pre 1967 economic indices showed the then Eastern region (Biafra) as the fastest developing economy in the world.

How do you envisage women’s role in the current struggle for freedom, peace, and development in Biafra State?

Biafran women are the most resilient in Africa if not world over. Possibly no other group of women have passed through what they did and are still passing through in contemporary history. These were women who lost children, siblings, husbands, fathers, and mothers in the genocidal war Nigeria imposed on Biafra in 1967. 53 years after they are still forced to endure rapine, and harassment in their very homes and farms by terrorist herdsmen buoyed by Nigerian government. Yes, they are very patient but whenever their patience dissipates as it has, you are going to be confronted with a different level of struggle. No other people know this more than the British who thinking that Biafran women were as docile as their British counterpart of the early 20thcentury crossed the invisible line. The now famous Aba women war of 1929, remember was fought solely by Biafran women based on same issues as has been confronting their nation since 1970.

It is only in this part of the world that you have women having equal if not superior rights to men. That was why when confronted by the British judicial panel over the Aba women’s war, on why the women listened to their menfolk and went on rampage, the angry women leaders of the revolution had retorted, ‘here, men do not speak for us!’ This, when published in the British press in the 1930s was picked up by British women suffragettes and became their catchphrase, ‘here men do not speak for us, as reported by Harry Gailey. Gailey authored “The Road to Aba: A Study of British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria” and was published by New York University Press in 1970.

Is human rights violations becoming a thorny issue in Nigeria? Why armed northern Islamic attacks on Christian-dominated southwestern and southeastern States?

Human rights violations and armed Northern Islamic attacks on Christians have gone beyond the description, ‘thorny.’ It is now an existential threat. It is a choreographed, preplanned attempt at not just ethnic cleansing but a grand Islamization conquest in their quest to ‘deep the Koran into the Atlantic,’ as promised them by their forebears. This is happening with impunity with tens of thousands killed as the world watch without lifting a finger. What did we do? Is it wrong to be Christian and Biafran? What makes our own Christianity different from that of the rest of the world that they have refused to help? How come all the international news media have refused mentioning the daily carnage? Who says Biafra with its 95% Christian population, an ancient democratic and republican system, sharing the best of contemporary Western ideas cannot be helped to be a bastion against militant Islamism that poses a great threat not just to Biafrans but the rest of the world? It is unbelievable.

Does Buhari’s administration recognize all the issues you have discussed above?

How can someone who subscribes to the philosophy that ‘Western knowledge’ is bad recognize any of these issues? These issues are diametrically opposed to his ideals and what he has come to execute. He has been sincere in stating, in clear terms, all he has been doing are pro-militant Islam and anti-westernization and modernity. Buhari’s administration is completely blind to these important facts. The federal government would rather exacerbate them than otherwise.

What are the expectations from regional organizations, especially the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and of course, the African Union?

They do not exist. There is no point wasting energy on things that do not exist unless we want to get entangled in an empty academic exercise. When last for instance did ECOWAS or African union make a statement on the daily bloodshed in Nigeria?

Unfortunately for ECOWAS, Africa and the Western world that have refused to raise a finger and are all seating on the sideline waiting for Nigeria to implode, that implosion will come sooner or later and when 200 million refuges start streaming all over Africa and into the Western world, a world that could not handle six million Syrian refuges, maybe, then all our eyes will open. This is the time for the world to halt the recalcitrant marauding Nigerian legal and illegal security forces bent on decapitating everything on their path to the total domination of our space.

This is the time for the world to force Nigeria to a round table. This forced amalgamation of 1914 has not worked and will never work. Our situation is not that of a window dressed constitutional review. We are all worlds apart. There is simply two diametrically opposed cosmological views that cannot live side by side in this space. It happened in India and in 1947/8, the British did the right thing – separated Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan. That right thing – separation, is our minimum demand.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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