BIAFRA: Is Secession an Automatic Solution?
BIAFRA: Is Secession an Automatic Solution?
By H.T. Soweto
Agitation for a Sovereign State of Biafra has brought to the fore once more the debate over whether or not secession of any of the constituent part that make up Nigeria can automatically guarantee a better life for the long-suffering people. Indeed it is not uncommon to hear, during an argument be it on radio, television, newspaper stand or in a bus, a commentator declare with a tone of finality: “the solution to Nigeria’s problem is for Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa to go their separate ways”.
To start with, there is nothing new in this debate. The entire 56 years of Nigeria’s existence has been dogged by one agitation or the other from different ethnic groups over issues of marginalization in the distribution of economic and political privileges, resource control and separation. In fact without the bayonets of the Colonial police and army, Nigeria as a united entity may not have survived much beyond the 1914 amalgamation. Equally, ever since independence, repeated crises have meant that a united Nigeria has often only survived this far by the increasing use of State force to put down dissent.
Without doubt, one of the primary cause of the internecine ethno-religious crises that have characterized the political landscape of Nigeria over the last 56 years is the undemocratic manner Nigeria was created by British colonialism through the 1914 amalgamation without seeking the democratic consent of the people of the over 250 ethnic groups which make up the vast geographical area subsequently known as Nigeria as to whether or not they wish to live together as one and how. But, while this only creates the basis for ethnic rivalry, it is the inequitable system of capitalism based on private ownership of the means of production that provides the combustible material for ethnic crises by ensuring that Nigeria’s vast wealth in human and natural resources does not translate into an even and harmonious development of society as well as the satisfaction of the basic needs of the working people regardless of their tongue or tribe.
However, while fighting for unity of the working people, Socialists recognize and uphold the right to self-determination. Right now, faced with an upsurge of protest, we demand that the Igbo people be allowed to freely and democratically determine whether they want to secede or stay. We also condemn the repeated killing of unarmed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) agitators by soldiers and police men on the orders of the Buhari- government. We hold that members of the IPOB, MASSOB and BIM have the democratic right to agitate for issues of concern to them including the right to secede. Hence, we demand the immediate and unconditional release Nnamdi Kanu and all others incarcerated and adequate compensation paid to families of the murdered agitators.
That being said, Socialists would however like to warn the working masses and youth not to ever fall under the illusion that secession of any part of Nigeria can automatically guarantee any fundamental solution to the crises the working people face. Examples of the secessionist struggle elsewhere on the continent, especially the recent South Sudanese experience, shows that secession will not necessarily lead to Eldorado for the working masses if the capitalist system is not defeated.
In fact without putting an end to this rotten capitalist system, secession of Biafra will only lead to a replacement of one set of capitalist ruling elites (i.e. the Hausa/Fulani/Yoruba ruling elite) with another (i.e. Igbo ruling elite). But since capitalism cannot harmoniously develop society the experience would be the same, if not worse, for the working masses and downtrodden of a new capitalist Biafra Republic just as when they were in Nigeria.
It is instructive here to recall that each time any member of the capitalist ruling elite had the opportunity of coming to power; they only enrich themselves and their cronies and in most cases do not even bother to try to improve the lives of the masses of their own ethnic group. Obasanjo’s eight year rule as Nigeria’s president did not yield any fundamental improvement in the wellbeing of the working people of his Yoruba ethnic group. So also while Jonathan ruled for 6 years as Nigeria’s president, his hometown, Otuoke, not to talk of the entire Niger Delta region did not experience any real transformation. So ineffective was Jonathan’s government, the first time someone from a smaller ethnic group would occupy such a powerful position in Nigeria’s history, that it could not even carry out the environmental cleanup of the Ogoni and other communities in the region affected by oil spill even though this was a major demand of the agitation in the Niger Delta region over the decades. The same goes for the Northern parts of the country whose ruling elite, the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy, have succeeded in ruling Nigeria for more than half of its existence. Despite this fact, the North remains an epitome of poverty, illiteracy and destitution a fact which contributes to Boko Haram insurgency.
In addition, it is an incontestable fact that governors in the South East and South South states are some of the most corrupt politicians in Nigeria. If these Governors had judiciously utilized the federal allocations and internal revenue each of the states has generated over the last 16 years alone, many of the socio-economic crises ravaging these areas could have been addressed. Alas, despite all of the potential for development including the legendary enterprising spirit of the Igbo people, the mass majority of Igbo people have been condemned to a miserable existence.
On the basis of the above outlined perspective, the working and toiling masses must fully understand that any agitation for secession that is not combined with a mass movement to guarantee democratic rights, including for any minorities within a new state, end capitalism and enthrone a democratic socialist system will only translate to moving from frying pan to fire. Without socialism, a Sovereign State of Biafra would lead to a dead-end for the working and toiling Igbo working masses. Under socialism, the key sectors of the economy will be nationalized under democratic workers control and management. This will end corruption as well as the rule of the minority rich who makes their profit by exploiting the mass majority while allowing for a socialist plan of the economy to meet people’s needs. This would be an example to workers and poor in the rest of Nigeria and West Africa which, if it was followed, would open the way to a wider breaking with capitalism and beginning to democratically plan the use of all the region’s resources in the interests of working people.