Biafra @ 50: Resurgence of people’s power

Posted by News Express | 3 June 2017 | 2,374 times

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Abraham Lincoln, Republican was the 16th President of the world’s largest democracy - the United States of America – between 1861 and 1865. 

He was such a renowned statesman whose presidency was credited with many feats, among which was the January 1, 1863 issuance of the Emancipation proclamation and his earlier facilitation of freedom for rebellious slaves, which happened in 1862. This may have motivated his successor, Andrew Johnson, who in 1865 abolished slavery. Above all, this great citizen of the world, Lincoln, is still remembered today for his major scholarly but commonsensical and impactful definition of the concept of democracy. He affirmed: “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

In essence, Lincoln can rightly be said to have canvassed the position that there is no democracy without the people. In Nigeria, however, since the advent of civil rule in 1999, democracy that has been practised is more or less a government that is formed by the elite, ruled by the elite, and fundamentally advances the interest of the elite.

The elite’s take-over of the entire structure of governance, despite the constitutional stipulation in section 14(2) (c) that, “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution,” is therefore a major source of conflict and agitations.

Among the salient agitations in the country is the version spearheaded by a group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), in which there is now a mass movement canvassing self-determination for the people of South-east of Nigeria, in line with international laws.

The agitations for self-determination for South-East has seen lots of avoidable extra-legal killings of unarmed civilians by the security forces, leading to the compilation of report by the United Kingdom-based Amnesty International, which recorded these unfathomable atrocities. 

But the campaigners for self-determination are not deterred by the barrage of needless violence unleashed on their unarmed members by armed security forces. 

These agitators have, therefore, demanded that the international community need to conduct a referendum to decide the future and prospect of their agitation for self-government, under the name of Republic of Biafra. But the status quo, and those officials who benefit from the dysfunctionality in the structure of Nigeria, have insisted that the unity of Nigeria cannot be subjected to agitation for possible dissolution. They are dead wrong, because injustice has no capacity to exist for too long.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430CE) had rightly stated: “If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?

One of those beneficiaries of the skewed system of federalism that operates in Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, SAN, who ought to have known better given his privileged position, has rather decided to play the ostrich; by asserting wrongly that no amount of agitation or advocacy can bring about restructuring of the badly structured nation-state called Nigeria.

His words: “Their ‘agitation’ and ‘provocative rhetoric’s’ cannot achieve their dream.”

He warned those behind the quest for restructuring to avoid demonstrations because, “it is a complex process.” 

What sort of a Minister of Justice - who swore by the Constitution to defend the Fundamental Human Rights as encompassed in Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution – should be asking people not to exercise their fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly and movement?

On another breath, this minister said although Nigeria’s federal system had been experiencing challenges, its reforms could not be done in one fell swoop. Besides, democratic means should be deployed to reform the federal system, according to Malami.

He argued: “Federalism is imbedded in our Constitution, as contained in sections 2, 3 and 5. It is not out of place to state that as far as our constitutional democracy is concerned, the idea of restructuring is not a function of advocacy or agitation. It is about constitutional accommodation and or alternative constitutional amendment.

“As things stand, restructuring requires amending the Constitution to accommodate referendum or, in the alternative, a constitutional amendment to the 1999 Constitution which, in this case, must be supported by majority of legislators in 24 states of the federation as enshrined in Section 9 of the Constitution.”

But current Justice Minister has failed to appreciate the enormity and essence of the constitutional provision in section 14 (2), which affirmed that: “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria, from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority.”

Besides, Article 1 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, states: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, solid and cultural development.”

So, it is a fatal error for officials of the Federal Government to play god, and arbitrarily dismiss the clamour by a large percentage of the people of the South-east of Nigeria for their peaceful advocacy for self-government. 

If one may ask Malami, was ‘doctrine of necessity’ in our Constitution?

Doctrine of necessity was cited by the National Assembly to bring in the then vice-president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, as acting president, when his then boss, Umaru Yar’Adua was flown abroad for medical emergency, from whence he passed on. 

Putting aside the statement of the justice minister, it is worthy to note that while all the pros and cons of the conversation around the theme of self-determination, as canvassed by groups such as IPOB and MASSOB, are still going on, the events that happened on May 30, 2017 has provided ample evidence of the potency of people’s power.

This is because, even as the federal might was wrongly unleashed by way of mass deployment of military hardware and armed security forces all around the South-east, to intimidate the population and dissuade them from complying with the sit-at-home directive issued by  the Indigenous People of Biafra in Memorial of the Declaration of Biafra, since 50 years ago. There is now a unanimity of opinion that over 95 per cent of the population of the South-east complied with the directive to stay back at home and pray for the repose of the souls of the over 3 million Biafrans (through the pogrom and starvation of children) that were massacred by the Gen Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Government, aided by Western powers of Britain, United States and then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), now Russia.

The total compliance with the directive to sit-at-home on May 30, also rubbished the futile effort made by the governors of South-east states to stop the people from complying. 

This can only be described as the resurgence of people’s power, and is a perfect opportunity for all hands to be on deck to address all the systematic anomalies foisted on the Nigerian state by the political and ruling elite, which inhibits the proper functions of federalism in Nigeria.

This call for fundamental re-thinking of the workings of democracy in Nigeria can be likened to a scenario graphically depicted by Prof John Keane in his book, The Life And Death Of Democracy.

Prof Keane wrote: “There were desktop philosophers, outspoken literary agitators and hard-line militant activists, none of them much in agreement about what needed to be done. Some critics (like the controversial French philosopher Jean-Claude Milner) accused democracy of being founded on disrespect for pluralism and, ultimately, on genocide.” 

“Worryingly . . . most of the new foes of democracy claimed to be true friends of people, which implied something more disturbing: if, in future, they managed to get their way with the world then it was absolutely certain that monitory democracy would be destroyed in the name of democracy.”

In line with the above wise affirmations, the genuine lovers of the Nigerian nation must think out of the box and find workable solution to the overwhelming rise in the agitation for self-determination. We can't wish it away. Neither can we succeed in using the force of arms to arm-twist the people into abandoning the clamour for Biafra. 

Little wonder that such international organisations like Amnesty International have challenged Nigeria’s armed security forces to desist from deploying brute and crude force of violence to maim or kill the agitators.

The Nigerian security forces must exercise restraint when policing demonstrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Biafra War on 30 May, and avoid a repetition of the bloodbath caused by their heavy-handed response last year when more than 60 people were gunned down,” said Amnesty International.

Last year’s heavy-handed response against pro-Biafra activists further stirred up tensions in the South-east of Nigeria. The reckless approach to crowd-control favoured by the security forces when policing peaceful pro-Biafra protests has left more than 150 dead since August 2015, not to mention cases of enforced disappearance and unlawful detention,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Despite overwhelming evidence that members of the Nigerian security forces fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse pro-Biafra gatherings, resulting in the death of at least 150 people, no person suspected of criminal responsibility has been brought to justice,” Ojigho noted.

Be that as it may, the larger significance of what transpired in the entire South-East of Nigeria, and spanning to sister-states of Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta, has shown that truly there is something  stronger than all the armies of the world and that, precisely is, an idea whose time has come (apologies to a philosopher). The time has come for Nigeria to be restructured and made to work, in such a way that all segments of the federation will have a sense of belonging. 

It is no longer acceptable that the South-East is treated with the short end of the stick in the body politic, to such a brutal extent that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government failed to appoint someone from that geopolitical zone as one of the service chiefs. 

The current administration must also redress all the imbalances, such as the skewed location of strategic military infrastructures to other zones, with none in South-East, while the greatest percentage of these strategic national defence assets are located in northern Nigeria. Why the fear to site these military infrastructures or some of them in the South-East of Nigeria: Are Igbo not Nigerians?

Besides, the South-East, just like other places, must also feel the impact of federal presence, such as building of refineries and other strategic infrastructures of roads networks, and the second Niger Bridge. 

But, above all, let there be referendum to decide the future of this country.  Let nobody chorus the old song that it is not in the constitution, because this same constitution, weak and imperfect as it is, still sees the people as the owners of the sovereignty.  

Let the people decide. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via

Source: News Express

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