Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has called on the Nigerian government to be more diplomatic in handling the agitation for the ‘Republic of Biafra’. Soyinka spoke as a guest on Channels Television’s programme, Channels Book Club.
- Fresh agitations for the Republic of Biafra came into the spotlight recently with the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, the Director of Radio Biafra
- Soyinka said, “You may destroy the people that carry the idea on the battlefield, but, ultimately, it is not the end of the story.”
- He therefore advised the government to consider what it could do to make the agitators feel that they belong and not alienated
- Soyinka also spoke on why he supported President Muhammadu Buhari at the last election
The past few weeks have seen protests across the southeast where the Igbos are in the majority, following the arrest last month of Radio Biafra director Nnamdi Kanu. He is now facing charges of criminal conspiracy and membership of an illegal organisation.
Commenting on the development, Professor Wole Soyinka said statements like “Nigeria is indivisible”, “This won’t happen under my watch,” “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable” would not help matters.
Last week, protesters took over the Niger Bridge, Onitsha, Anambra State blocking traffic and it took the intervention of security agents before they could be dislodged, leaving some persons dead in its wake. The Joint Military Task Force deployed to quell the protests reportedly killed nine of the protesters and injured at least 18.
Soyinka asked President Muhammadu Buhari to approach the agitation in a more diplomatic way, pointing out that he had said earlier that Biafra cannot be defeated.
He lamented that his opinion during the Nigerian civil war was not given the desired attention then.
“I remember I wrote an article during the war and I said at that time that Biafra cannot be defeated. People misunderstood what I was saying. I said once an idea has taken hold, you cannot destroy that idea. You may destroy the people that carry the idea on the battlefield, but, ultimately, it is not the end of the story,” he said.
Soyinka advised the federal government to convoke a fresh National Conference which would address the feelings of pro-Biafra elements.
“So, let us sit down, let us talk once again about restructuring the nation in a way that no one will want to leave. The agitations, for me, are not surprising. It was expected that it would happen sooner or later.
“So, I am referring to a genuine and authentic National Conference. Not like the one that former President Olusegun Obasanjo called which was meant to try to perpetuate himself in office.
“The one under Jonathan was extensive; it covered lots and lots of ground. It proposed some far-reaching changes, not far-reaching for me, but far-reaching. It is about time we went back to efforts like that; genuine ones like that,” he concluded.
He said the attitude of the government should be to sit down with the those leading the renewed agitation and ask: “What can we do to make the Igbo feel part of the country, what can we do to make them to feel that they belong and not alienated.
“This is what we are ready to push for in the overall governance content of the country. It is not to be carrying on that this will not happen under my watch; Nigeria is indivisible, Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable,” he asserted.
Support for Buhari
Soyinka confessed that he used to have a bad impression of Buhari and recalled when he once described the president as a “devil for whom in my calculation, no spoon existed long enough to justify the risk even of an impromptu snack.”
However, the world acclaimed literary giant said he changed his mind when he decided that the nation had a better chance under Buhari.
“We were left with two credible contestants in terms of catchment area for the nation. We had reached, in my view, the bottom. I became convinced that if this country underwent four more years under President Jonathan, the country would run aground completely. I looked at the record and said this cannot go on, this has to stop.
“Then I looked at this man who had contested elections three times before and said he would not contest anymore and then decided to throw his hat in the ring. I talked to people and I said do you know what you’re doing?
“And after weighing all the options, I said let’s try a new one. And since in electoral terms, he was the one, I guardedly, with reservations, announced that no, not a continuation under Jonathan.
“And so very reluctantly, I want this on record, because I made it quite clear, I weighed the two of them and I said this nation stands a better chance under Buhari. And what has been coming out now? Look at all that has been coming out? Look at the figures (loot) which virtually hammer one into the ground just the sheer enormity of the robbery of this nation that is getting exposed progressively. It shows that we did not make a bad choice,” he said.
Soyinka admitted that he was not totally satisfied with Buhari’s six months in office, but noted that the president has proven that there is such a thing as a born again democrat.
Forty-five years after a brutal civil war, Nigeria is facing a new wave of protests for a separate Biafra state, driven by long-standing complaints about poverty, neglect and injustice.
The past few weeks have seen protests across the southeast where the Igbos are in the majority, following the arrest last month of Radio Biafra director Nnamdi Kanu who is now facing charges of criminal conspiracy and membership of an illegal organisation.
Carrying Kanu’s portrait, the Biafra flag and chanting freedom songs, the protesters called for his release and a separate state. One slogan read “Biafra or death”.
Nnamdi Kanu, who heads the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) group, has emerged as the new face of the Biafra struggle. It was previously championed by the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), formed in 1999 by Ralph Uwazurike but internal wranglings split MASSOB and a faction led by Uchenna Madu, its former spokesman, is now working with Kanu’s IPOB group.
Anayochukwu Okpara, the IPOB coordinator in Abia state’s commercial hub, Aba, said last week that intimidation, harassment, arrest and detention would not stop the struggle.
“We will step up non-violent campaigns to demand freedom from Nigeria. We are Biafrans. This forced marriage should be dissolved,” Okpara averred.
TODAY.ng reports that not everyone in the ‘Biafra region’ supports the renewed agitations. Southeast governors have condemned the mass protests, questioning why the pro-Biafra campaign has re-emerged with a new government in place under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Chuks Ibegbu, of the Igbo Information Network lobby group, said the current agitation would not serve the cause. “We can no longer pretend that all is well when some groups capitalise on our sad experience of the past to try to railroad us into fighting another avoidable civil war,” he added.
On the other side, Patrick Odife, a 60-year-old textile trader in Onitsha, said “the Biafra flame is burning again because nothing has changed since the civil war”.
“The younger generation of Ndigbo (Igbos) are bitter about the structure of Nigeria. They believe that the structure is skewed against them, in politics, in education, in the provision of social infrastructure,” he added.
Most of those involved in the protests were not even born during the civil war but resentment has passed down generations.
“The southeast has been neglected by successive governments in Nigeria in the area of good roads, hospitals, seaports and jobs,” said campaigner Chukwuemeka Ezeobika. “Many Igbos were forced to abandon their properties in Nigeria during civil war and have not been able to recover them, making many feel “like a defeated people,” he added.
“The slogan ‘No victor, no vanquished’, declared by Nigerian head of state General Yakubu Gowon after the war, is a myth,” he said.
“Even the three Rs — Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration — introduced to heal the wounds of the war has not been faithfully implemented.”
In Aba, businessman Ndubusi Ikemefuna called for the government to treat everyone fairly, irrespective of tribe, religion and social status — and had a stark warning if that failed.
“The lingering Boko Haram insurgency will be a child’s play compared to the scale of ethnic violence that will consume Nigeria unless the right thing is done for all,” he said.