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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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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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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.

A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.

Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.

The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.

Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.

Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.

First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.

We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.

In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.

Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.

By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.

Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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