Speaking with one voice breeds autocracy, panders to charlatans and quacks, and reinforces the pretensions of an elite few. It stifles independent thought, free speech, innovation, reforms and progress. In addition, history has instructed us on the perils of speaking with one voice: it nudges nations down the path of destruction.
Not surprisingly, history is littered with the broken dreams of countries that spoke with one voice. Nazi Germany spoke with one voice. It was a voice imposed by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi barbarism and eugenic lunacy. What became of Nazi Germany? Biafra spoke with one voice. It was a voice compelled by Chukwuemeka Ojukwu’s towering arrogance, crass despotism and willful disdain for reason and caution. He labeled those with alternative views “saboteurs” and imprisoned or executed them. What became of Biafra? And the Soviet Union ultimately imploded because of its Procrustean enforcement of her institutionalized speaking with one voice. Thus, the Igbo need a consensus; not one voice.
The Igbo need diversity of opinions, perspectives and ideas that will be subject to discourse and debate by the vibrant, knowledgeable and independent-minded. These discourses and debates can, sometimes, be acerbic, discordant, and cacophonous. They must respect the rights of dissenters and iconoclasts to their loud and acidic mouths and unruly and caustic pens, even, in profanity of the sacred, violation the sacrosanct, and debasement the exalted, etc. For from the contentions, controversies and clangor of free speech, societal vitality and virility are strengthened and the public good flourishes: a people’s collective mind is enlightened; their intellectual horizon widened; their freedom nourished and their creative energies stimulated and unleashed.
A consensus appreciates all the contending viewpoints, thoughts and convictions, sieves through them and charts a common denominator. It provides the overarching ideological and philosophical foundation for a people’s collective politics. It gives them a unified sense of purpose, thus, nudging proponents of different political persuasions and convictions – liberals and conservatives, communists and capitalists, nihilists and anarchists, conformists and dissenters, etc – towards a common political goalpost.
Neither the Hausa/Fulani nor the Yoruba speak with one voice. The
political conservatism of Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Belewa and Shehu Shagari was not in conformity with the quasi-liberal politics of Aminu Kano, Abubakar Rimi and Baralabe Musa. However, the North has a consensus: northern hegemony. Some of the most ardent critics of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency were Yoruba. Moshood Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo were not aficionados of Obafemi Awolowo, and were quite vociferous in their denunciation of him. And, in 1999, two Yoruba, Obasanjo and Olu Falae, were set against one another by rival powerbrokers. However, irrespective of their political hues and bents, the Yoruba have a consensus. SG Ikoku once called it, “Yoruba irredentism”.
Before the civil war, the Igbo had a consensus: steadfast commitment to a united Nigeria. This was informed by the incontestable fact that the Igbo are the number one beneficiaries of one Nigeria. We are hamstrung by scarcity of land; we have a population density more than three times that of the South West. It is a problem further compounded by the large tracts of infertile land in Igbo land. Our admirable qualities of adventurism, barging industriousness and restless entrepreneurial spirit were to unyieldingly spill beyond our regional confines. Therefore, operating within an expanded frontier – one Nigeria – is to our advantage.
This earlier consensus was splendid; it proved marvelous. We acquired a preponderant influence across the entire range of the Nigerian social life: federal bureaucracy, academia, business, and the professions. And the Igbo dominated political party, National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), controlled two (Eastern and Mid Western) of the four regions that made up Nigeria, and was also part of the ruling coalition at the federal government. Our dazzling overall success elicited the cry of “Igbo domination” from the other ethnic groups of Nigeria.
Ojukwu”s declaration of Biafra repudiated this earlier consensus. With the war his Biafranism provoked, the Igbo tumbled off a pedestal of success, pride, and even, arrogance and triumphalism into an abyss of death, defeat, sorrow, dispossession, self-pity and persecution complex. In many ways, especially, psychologically and attitudinally, Biafranism set us back by more than one hundred years. Moreover, the fear and distrust of other Nigerians the Biafran propaganda instilled in us leave us paranoid and bitter, and longing for Biafra. Thus, we reject reality, Nigeria, and grasp at shadow, Biafra, which makes it impossible for us to experience the full depth and dimensions of our political and social lives in Nigeria.
For a consensus, the Igbo must choose between Nigeria and Biafra. We cannot simultaneously be Nigerians and Biafrans, that is, both consummate insiders and irascible outsiders. As bonafide and consummate Nigerians, we are campaigning for an Igbo president of Nigeria, and, at the same time, as unabashed Biafrans, repudiating Nigeria and agitating to secede from Nigeria. According to an Igbo saying, “If you are pursuing two bush meats, at the same time, you will lose the two”.
If we choose Biafra, we will then completely reject Nigeria, and devote all our energies and efforts to the actualization of Biafra. This will involve the resignation of all the Igbo in the service of the Nigerian government, including the military; withdrawal of all the Igbo from the politics (including every election) of Nigeria; massive exodus of Ndigbo from across Nigeria to “Biafraland”; and the channeling of all our economic, political, diplomatic and martial resources towards the attainment of Biafra. If, on the other hand, we choose Nigeria, we will then utterly abandon Biafranism, banish the proponents of Biafra from Igbo land, direct all our resources to the destruction of Biafranism, and also, fully support the federal government in a ruthless extirpation of Biafranism.
Without this momentous choice, we will remain in our present political ambivalence, and its attendant continued misdirection and frittering away of our emotional, sentimental and political energies. We will continue to shoot ourselves in the feet, as neo-Biafranism continues to squander the goodwill and political capital we need to fully gain the trust of other Nigerians and possess all our rights and entitlements in Nigeria, including the presidency.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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