By Osita Ebiem
Igbo people live and carry on businesses in various parts of Africa including all the nooks and crannies of the extant Nigeria. But there is a specific and identifiable space or territory that is known and referred to as Igbo land, Igbo country or state. The word Igbo represents the people, the land, space or territory they occupy and the language they speak. The global Igbo population is 50 million.
This autochthonous Igbo territory is located in the southeastern part of Nigeria. More than a hundred years ago, through a colonial fiat, the people and their land were forcefully and without their consent, incorporated into what is today known as Nigeria. And since the last twenty something years, the people have continuously campaigned to opt out of Nigeria and become a separate and independent country.
As a people or national group with the same set of culture, language and many other common historical antecedents, the Igbo have the fundamental right to declare, pursue and achieve this desire for self-determination and independence. In doing this they do not need any referendum to determine if they should live free and independent within their ancestral autochthonous territory. To live free and independent is their natural right. They do not need any intervention or permission from outside to take charge of their affairs and collective destiny.
One thing that is worth clarifying from the onset of this discussion is that the prevailing call for a separate independent state in the southeastern part of Nigeria is solely Igbo’s post-colonial agenda. It was embarked on by the Igbo in their own and for their own interest. It is a new initiative that is fundamentally different from the 1967 or Ojukwu’s Biafra. This is an Igbo-only pursuit that is entirely sponsored and supported by Igbo people who are native to the afore-described geographical territory known as Igbo land.
It is important to reiterate here for the avoidance of any ambiguity that Igbo people in their quest for self-determination and independence are not coopting or annexing the lands of their neighbors. They do notice and support the fact that many of their neighbors such as the people of Niger Delta and many others are also engaged in their own separate quest for self-determination and independence from the Nigerian union. The Igbo are always ready and willing to work together and share necessary information that will aid all groups who are engaged in the process of self-determination and independence from Nigeria.
The geographical extent of Igbo national state under discussion embraces the lands and people within the pre-colonial Igbo state map and jurisdiction. This means all Igbo people and land everywhere both within and those outside the traditional Igbo states of Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers states.
The current Igbo assertion of their right to freedom and independence is mostly informed by the people’s desire to restore their national sovereignty and independence as it existed before the 1884/1885 Berlin colonial “European scramble for Africa” conference. The European colonial powers had convened in the said conference to solely divide up Africa as it would best protect and advance their business interests. In the process they distorted existing Africa’s national states and political boundary maps to the detriment of the native peoples.
The Europeans sat down at the table and carved up arbitrarily the continental Africa as it favored their business interests while completely disregarding the native peoples’ pre-existing autochthonous national and political boundaries. To say that this singular act has done the most harm to Africans is an understatement. This particular insensitive colonial dabbling has been singularly responsible for more than 95% of all the seemingly endemic socio-political conflicts and economic retrogression as they exist today in Africa.
The Igbo like many others in Africa have suffered severely from this colonial mistake of the Berlin conference. After so many years of pain and suffering resulting from thence, the Igbo have now decided to take their fate in their own hands and work to restore themselves to the original or at least close enough state in which they were before the European meddling. The first and foremost step toward achieving this self-dignity is of course freedom and independence through the principles of Self Determination as it’s defined in the United Nations Charter.
The Europeans did not vote or hold any referendum in order to carve up Africa and arbitrarily create states where national boarders did not recognize where different peoples belonged. Instead peoples with different and opposing world views were deliberately lumped together and pronounced citizens of the same countries or states. So, there is no reason why Igbo nation should cast votes or hold any referendum to decide whether they are Igbo or if they should live free in a separate and independent Igbo state or country. No one ever needs a referendum to assert who they are. A people like the Igbo are who they are and have the right to choose how they live and manage their own affairs under the United Nations principles of Self Determination and peoples’ right to independence.
The Igbo as a people are very qualified to exercise this natural and UN’s rights and do not need to cast any vote to decide or choose to engage in this self-dignifying act of self-determination. Engaging in such an act like a referendum or any other form of vote casting by the Igbo to decide if they should go their separate ways from the Nigerian union is rather degrading and an exercise in self-deprecation. It is an exercise in self-doubt where a people dilly-dally endemically in the morass of indecisiveness. Pathetically unsure of how to answer the simple question of should we be who we are or be known and defined differently with the identity chosen for us by other people who had little or no knowledge about us.
The Igbo have the capacity and are determined to exist in a separate modern sovereign political independent state where Igbo people are solely responsible for the social and political wellbeing of their people. The Igbo recognize that it is only through the reestablishment of their full sovereign independence will they be able to fully assume the responsibility of accounting for the security and prosperity of the citizens of such Igbo state.
It should be solely an Igbo choice and right to determine and define themselves for others and not the other way around. As a people the Igbo have a unique, distinct and distinguishable identity which is different from those of their neighbors. With this understanding the Igbo have therefore chosen to exist separate and independent from the rest of the Nigerian state. On the basis of their fundamental right to self-determination and independence, the Igbo do not have to offer any other reason or explanation for their choice and decision to live free and independent from the rest members of the Nigerian union.
Apart from exercising this right on the basis of their fundamental human, people and national right as conferred on them by Nature – simply for being alive and existing as a collective of human beings, this action by the Igbo is also provided for in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations. In UN’s Charter this principle of self-determination is prominently expressed. It partly states that all peoples everywhere have the right to self-determination and independence. By virtue of this right the Igbo can freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development without subjecting this choice to any vote or referendum. The Charter does not in any its section subject the exercise of this right to a vote or referendum.
Based on the provisions of these rights bestowed on Igbo people by God, the United Nations and other international and local legislative bodies the Igbo do not need to base their pursuit of freedom on anything else. It is their fundamental human right to live free and assert themselves as a people separate from other people. They do not need to elect or decide whether they want to live free and separate from other Nigerians. The mere wish and desire to live free from Nigeria is enough reason.
Why 1967 or Ojukwu’s Biafra is different
For the benefit of those who have continued to confuse the 1967 or Ojukwu’s Biafra with the prevailing Igbo agitation to free themselves from Nigeria, we will try to point out some of the differences. Ojukwu’s Biafra of 1967 is different in many ways from the ongoing move by the Igbo to free themselves from Nigeria. We have already alluded to some of these differences but here we will just mention one more or two additional points. Firstly, the circumstances and conditions that produced Ojukwu’s Biafra are very different from those of the current agitation. Secondly, Ojukwu’s Biafra boundaries are not the same as the present Igbo campaign for independence. The new Igbo state does not necessarily have to bear the same name, Biafra.
The first Biafra was produced by the pogrom of the Igbo and the other ethnic nationalities which made up the then country of Biafra or former Eastern Region. On the contrary the current agitation for Biafra independence is not based on any such complaints. In as much as there are very obvious evidences of official and systemic policies of Igbo marginalization, persecution, oppression and exclusion from participation in the governance of the Nigerian state but the ongoing Igbo move to be independent is solely based on the principles of Self Determination as expressed in Article I of UN’s Charter.
Hence the Igbo as a people do not wish to seek any form of redress, equity or justice within the context of the Nigerian state. They would rather live free and separate from the rest peoples in Nigeria and manage their affairs by themselves. This therefore rules out any form of Igbo participation in the new call by other stakeholders in the Nigerian federation to restructure the country and devolve power to regional powers.
Another significant way in which the current Igbo move to be independent from Nigeria is different from 1967 or Ojukwu’s Biafra is that the map of 1967 Biafra did not include Igbo people on the western side of the River Niger. Instead since it was based on the colonial map of the so-called Eastern Region of Nigeria it included the peoples and lands of others who are not Igbo. Again 1967 Biafra map was based on the arbitrary creation of the colonial masters for the ease of their economic and administrative convenience. It is not different from the present Nigerian state which has not worked. The so-called Eastern Region was also a colonial concept created to enhance the colonists’ commercial and administrative interests. In the new state we are founding, it is not our intention to create another Nigeria merely with a different name by yoking together peoples with different and incongruent world views and cultures in one country.
The current project to free the Igbo from Nigeria cannot be equated with the clamor by some sections including some Igbo individuals, for the restructure of Nigeria by devolving power to the local regions. This so-called restructure movement is based on the so-called Ojukwu’s Aburi Accord as some people like Nnia Nwodo of Ohaneze have recently pointed out. The Aburi Accord had outlived its usefulness and is no longer valid. It cannot satisfy all the ramifications of the current Igbo needs and aspirations. So, Aburi Accord is essentially the same thing as the restructure-Nigeria agitation by different political blocks. When adopted, the restructured Nigeria will allow different sections to control their natural resources and some of their political autonomy while retaining their membership in the Nigerian federation. The Igbo are not interested in retaining any form of umbilical attachment to Nigeria once they are detached from Nigeria. They want a clean break and total independence from Nigeria
At this point we may need to allay the concerns of some Igbo who erroneously think that being independent from Nigeria will limit the wider reaches of Igbo business and adventure. The truth is far from that. Igbo independence does not restrict the Igbo or their business influence. That the Igbo reside and carry on businesses in other parts of Nigeria and Africa does not mean that they have to be indigenous citizens of all the countries where they live and do business. The truth is that there are several local and international laws that provide and protect the rights, lives and properties of all legal residents in various countries everywhere. And these rules and regulations will continue to apply long after the Igbo have become a sovereign independent country. So long as any Igbo live and do their businesses in conformity with the prevailing international and local laws in the territories and jurisdictions in which they reside, they have no reason to worry about their lives and properties in places other than their own indigenous lands. In fact, it is only an independent sovereign Igbo state that will be in the best position to work through local and international laws and standards of host governments to effectively protect and seek the redress of any infringements of any Igbo people’s rights anywhere. More than anything else, what the Igbo need and must fight to have now is a free independent Igbo state.