By Sunny Awhefeada
That Nigeria is tending towards centrifugalism is only not realized by those who are numb and insensitive to the reality of the moment. What began as a call for adherence to the ideals and tenets of federalism from the Niger Delta states at the onset of the present millennium took on different modes of agitation that even culminated in armed struggle ala militancy.
Two national conferences took place in 2005 and 2014 respectively. Then the buzzword restructuring took over and it is now being substituted by the lingo of self-determination as depicted in the enlistment of two of the nation’s biggest ethnic blocs, the Yoruba and the Igbo, into the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) headquartered in Hague, Netherland.
The Igbo took on the name Biafra which is redolent of the ill-fated thirty-month republic (1967-1970), while the Yoruba took Oduduwa, their progenitor. The UNPO is a conglomeration of aggrieved nations and peoples suffering from oppression and marginalization. It can be depicted as giving counter-validation to unrepresented, underrepresented, exploited and oppressed nations and peoples.
The road taken by the Yoruba and the Igbo is a familiar one which has become a compelling alternative in view of Nigeria’s unending narrative of injustice. History tells us that British colonialism coerced the many ethnicities that make up Nigeria into an unwilling marriage through the amalgamation of 1914. The reasons and terms of that union were as dubious as they were devious.
By the time colonialism was defeated in October 1960, the British entrenched the dubiety of 1914 by enabling a section of the country that never wanted independence in the first place to take over national leadership. The successors of Lord Lugard designed a system that will enable that particular section rule over the rest of the country in the fashion of neocolonialism.
That “mistake of 1914” as the prime beneficiary of that manipulation haughtily described the amalgamation has been haunting Nigeria since 1914. Efforts to redress that political fraud have been met with consequences of tragic proportions. It earned Obafemi Awolowo a jail term. He was lucky as he lived to tell the story. It led to two bloody coups in 1966 which snowballed into a tragic Civil War.
The tragedy of coups, real and phantom, that bedeviled the country throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s as well as the catastrophe of June 12 as well as the state murder of Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni compatriots were the very painful price that we paid for our inability to address or redress “the mistake of 1914”. If the soldiers who ruled us cumulatively for thirty years brutally suppressed all tendencies to address and correct the foibles of nationhood as enabled by the British, the civilians who succeeded them were restrained.
However, twenty years into civil rule and sixty years after independence we are still bedeviled by the sins of old as defined by inequity, injustice, exploitation, oppression and marginalization on all fronts. The Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri bloc seems to have consolidated the scheme to subjugate the rest of Nigeria.
It is the foregoing unacceptable condition that compelled the emergence of Biafra and Oduduwa as members of UNPO in the quest for self-determination. Again, history is repeating itself. Igbo had gone that way through the war of 1967 to 1970 and they were recognized by about six countries. The Yoruba also made a pretence to secession in 1967 when they threatened to leave Nigeria if Biafra was allowed to go. If that had happened then Karl Maier’s This House Has Fallen would have been a truism. This is so because had the Yoruba made good their threat, other ethnic groups would have declared their independence and that would have been the end of Nigeria. This is the lesson of history those presently running Nigeria aground must pause and ponder about.
However, it seems that the Yoruba and the Igbo are as guilty as the hegemons they are resenting. Two maps recently popped delineating the territories that make up Biafra and Oduduwa republics. The Biafra map encroached on Urhobo territories of Ughelli and Warri while that of Oduduwa enclosed Sapele and Warri too! This is an unacceptable and ugly depiction of territorial ambition and anticipated economic exploitation which is at the root of the Nigerian crises. The Yoruba and Igbo scrambling for Urhobo territory points to the inherent tendency of the nation’s big three ethnicities, Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo, to always swallow up the minorities.
This has become age-old. Prior to independence, the North swallowed up the minorities in that region as did the West and the East too in their regions. While the Tiv took on the North for their freedom, the present Edo and Delta area took on the West just as the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers movement took on the East. The agitation gave birth to the Willinks Commission of 1957/1958 which looked into the fears and aspirations of the minority groups. That agitation led to the creation of the Midwest Region out of the West in 1963.
Why should Urhobo be sited in Biafra and Oduduwa republics? Do they share a common socio-cultural history and language? There is absolutely no reason for grouping Urhobo with Biafra and Oduduwa.
Their destinies are not the same and it is an unacceptable affront. With a population of five million people the Urhobo nation is demographically bigger than sixty countries of the world that are in the United Nations. Urhobo territory borders the Atlantic Ocean, endowed with oil and gas, rich wetland and biodiversity, two seaports, an airport, four universities, arable land for agriculture and what more it has a distinct language with a well developed orthography and phonetic system. So, why are the anticipated Biafra and Oduduwa republics scrambling for the Urhobo nation? Is it to continue the sins of old? The Urhobo should be left alone to determine their future. They are more than ready and able to do so