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MKO Abiola and the Biafra Conversation

By Udo Silas

This Biafra phenomenon just would not go away. No matter how much we wish its clamor dissipates, it remains, made potent in the main by movements and individuals whose main motives may be less than altruistic. But that is for another day.
Even when one would have thought that the return of Emeka Ojukwu to Nigeria after his sojourn in exile would signal a new beginning, it has not been so. Truth is Ojukwu returned to Nigeria but Nigeria did not receive Ojukwu. The facts speak for it. In 1983 Ojukwu lost the senate seat to an unknown. In 2003 he was only able to muster 3 votes in nearby Bayelsa. In 2007 he got a paltry 155,947 votes. His score in that election represented just 0.44 percent of the total votes cast.
So it is now obvious that whatever the politics, whatever the imperatives, coercive or contrived, that necessitated the home-ward journey of Ojukwu from exile did not and cannot equate as closure in the same way it cannot be put as an assertion of the failure of the biafran struggle. Think about it. If the war was so repugnant, if the war brought sorrows, tears and blood to families, then why is the talk of secession and/or Biafra, often met with nostalgia even by those who never saw or met its hostilities?
To many who profess Biafra, the war did not end. It never ended. The war is still on. Not the war of Nnamdi Kanu. Not the war of young Ndigbo men hugging the streets with cudgels, limbs and blood. But the war is still on. Let’s hear how Emeka Ojukwu, the very personification of Biafra put it.
“I still believe that the one thing that will bring peace, absolute peace to this country, the type of peace we want attached to development, is to liberate ndigbo and there is no better act of liberation than accepting that they have equal right in Nigeria”
So while Ojukwu came back home, the Ibo’s of today want to go home. That is understandable. The idea, the very imagination of a land that allows for expression beyond the real or perceived limitations that Nigeria offers, is at once romantic and attractive. But they miss the point. Home is not the war Ojukwu fought years ago. Home is not the geographical delineations in physical landscape or the dilapidated earth that stretches from the River Niger to the hinterlands of Arochukwu. Home long ceased to be the geography of Biafra. Home is every Ndigbo. Biafra was always in the head. It was like some kind of ethos that erupted from a volcano. It was not a land thing. It is a like a communal bond made in the cosmic. Its home is in the person. That was Biafra. And still is Biafra. However, all biafrans still needed to live in a place.
Whereas Ojukwu understood this perfectly, what he failed to contextualize, strategize and elucidate was the hows and whys of achieving it. Wait a minute. Who was Ojukwu speaking to when he asked that Ibo be liberated? Whose duty is it to liberate each other in a nation, any nation? Was he speaking to a person, group of persons, a government or even an apparition? Who or which entity is responsible for denying ndigbo equal rights in Nigeria? Seriously, who was Ojukwu speaking to?
While we may never know, not being clairvoyant, who Ojukwu was speaking to, we may allow some allusions, and conjecture reasonable deductions. Let us rejig a little. MKO Abiola is believed to have won the presidential elections of 1993. And then he died. Some say the state in conjunction with foreign rogue governments killed him. There was uproar in the land. Then something extraordinary happened. As if by decree, the two prominent presidential candidates for the 1999 presidential elections, in two, well three political parties where all Yoruba. The story as it then was was that, it was done that way to appease the Yoruba. While Olusegun Obasanjo ran on the ticket of the PDP, Olu Falae ran on the joint AD/APP ticket. Now, who was it that took the decision to appease the Yoruba? Who or what is this unseen hand or voice that decides such things in a vast land such as ours? Who introduced the Yoruba nation to this unseen hand? Is this the unseen hand that Ojukwu was talking to? Cant Ndigbo cause an introduction to this unseen hand? Why hasn’t Ndigbo been able to force an introduction? Is it possible that the unseen hand has not deemed it fit for ndigbo to become a statement in our book? What exactly did the yorubas do right to provoke the unseen hand to take a liking to it?
Well, Mko Abiola did not fight any war. But he died. Ojukwu fought a war but he lived. Maybe if Ojukwu had died in war the story would have been different. Even then, those were different times, different situations.
But in truth, even when MKO Abiola was a Yoruba, he was not a Yoruba candidate. It wasn’t MKO the politician that won that election. It was MKO the man. He had everything yet he was everyone. The haves and the have-nots. He represented ideals higher than the calling of religion or ethnicity. He dared us to challenge our understanding of our true beings when he proposed and ran a muslim/muslim ticket, unthinkable at the time. Our individual faith was thus subsumed in his choice. We cared less not because our faith did not matter but because our faith was strengthened in MKO’s display and acceptance of our weaknesses. And that’s a strong point. Religion is stronger when it discards especially, the twin masks of origin and ethnicity. MKO preached God without mentioning his name. He touched lives without building monuments to faith. He was not a politician. He was just a man that came for a time. That and his strong personal economy prepared him to seize his chance.
But individual prosperity, the kind that Mko had, is in itself adrenalin that triggers political lust. Ndigbo possibly has men with such vast accumulations. Ndigbo certainly have men who are ready for the often turbulent intercourse of wealth and politics. But it is doubtful if they have men, ready to articulate a deliberate understanding of how to bring the unseen hand to eat at its table. We are talking about men of conviction and understanding. MKO did not go about whining a return to a forgone land that exists in the romantic. He did not go about begging or insisting by other means not political for the highest office. He captured his moment by sheer conviction and purpose. Even when forces of retrogression assailed him, he took his conviction to the next logical conclusion.
As long as Ndigbo continues to beat the piano of war, it is doubtful if the unseen hand would give it a thought. Methinks it is a time for a new strategy. Ojukwu said; “In the three years of war, necessity gave birth to invention. During those three of heroic bound, we leapt across the great chasm that separates knowledge from know-how”
That is the spirit of Biafra. Properly harnessed, it can trigger a conversation that would force the unseen hand. Even if Biafra was to be, it is still the same people running it now that would run it. Haven’t we always had south-east governors’ forum? How about Ohaneze? It is in their time that ‘Aba made’ disappeared. Even in its derogatory implication of the sub-standard, it was a pointer to the creative ingenuity of Ndigbo. But ‘Aba made’ has since given room to ‘Made-in-China’. Today Ndigbo live in and import from China. But Ndigbo should have since become our China. At a time when Ndigbo should resurrect the can-do spirit of Biafra by giving us our silicon valley, we still don’t get it. At a time when Ndigbo should collectively beget and nurture more Innoson motors they are allowing the Tata of India leave us behind.
Yes, it took Ndigbo over 44 years after the war to produce its first Chief of Army staff, but Ndigbo doesn’t need to wait that long to get its first Nigerian President. It is possible. Everything is possible. The options I see do not include secession. Firstly, Ndigbo could begin by identifying, locating and cutting a deal with the unseen hand. It could deliberately embark on instigating deep and profound scientific innovations and inventions, reminiscent of the famed inventions during the war. Who knows, we may yet produce many Samsungs, Nokias and car assembly plants from the ashes of that war. This may force the unseen hand to a deal. Economic independence may be a game changer. Who knows? Lastly. Ndigbo can nurture, grow and guide her own MKO to wait for his time. It is possible.

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