Explaining the Dimension of the Re-newedAgitation for BiafraThe inveterate agitationfor Biafra can be explained on three diverse arguments:a. Ethnicallotment and rivalry Scholars of Nigerian politicshave tended to focus on ethnicity and inter-ethnic rivalry for federal control,to explain why agitation for Biafra tends to recur.
This perspective is bestrepresented by Jibrin Ibrahim’s argument that the current agitation for Biafrais led by the Igbo masses who feel disappointed by the failure of their eliteto capture federal power. According to him, the current agitation for Biafra”represents a complete fracture between the Igbo elite and their masses” due tothe inability of the former to capture the Nigerian presidency, and suggeststhat “the fact of the matter is that the Igbo elite has a strong empiricalbasis to read Nigerian political history as one of failure and frustration forthem. (Ibrahim 2015)Victor Adetula and Olly Owen also gave similar argumentson the renewed struggle for Biafra separatism with much emphasis on the eliterather than the masses as the main cause of the agitation. Adetula opines thatthe recent increase in Biafran separatism involves local elites negotiating forpower – “many groups in the country have never felt represented by the centralpower. Local elites play on these emotions for their own personal gain…this ishow local elites try to create greater political space for themselves.
“(Adetula 2015)Owen also claims that the recent agitations forBiafra represent “a bid for re-inclusion by political actors excluded frompower.” (Owen 2016: 8) He believes that the new flow in Biafra separatism isfired by the political elite in response to the significant repositioning ofpower at the federal level following the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathanof the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) whom the South East offered enormoussupport. The change in administration, according to Owen, has relegated manycareer politicians from the region from juicy federal positions in Abuja,making them susceptible to use instability as a form of political leverage andchannel of engagement with the federal government. (Ibid) While it is possiblethat some political players view the Biafra agitation as a route to political enclosurein the aftermath of the defeat of President Jonathan, these arguments cannotexplain the prevalent agitations for Biafra under the Jonathan regime, as wellas their methodical despotism. Ikonta offers a constructivist view of the ethniccompetition argument, linking the re-emergence of Biafra separatism to the interfacebetween history, institutions and political actors. His argument is that,although Nigeria is democratizing, the country’s political institutions haveremained largely authoritarian, constraining political actors, but at the sametime, offering them incentives to organize along ethnic, as opposed to civiclines.
According to Ikonta, these actors are forcedunderground into armed rebel because of impediments to their ethnic project andtheir inability to use civic strategies to build a winning electoral alliancedue to election-rigging by the dominant ruling elite.(Ikonta 2012)b. Economic Aggravation Another arguments for the pushiness of the Biafraagitation focuses on the effects of economic aggravation. This argument seesthe current agitation for Biafra as a struggle by youths expressing dissatisfactionover their standard of living – a condition which they face because of widercontradictions of the Nigerian political economy.
(Ibeanu, 2015)The focus of this argument is that, Biafraseparatism is a political phase of economic frustrations of youths. Thesefrustrations are, however, perceived by these agitators as resulting from themarginalization of the South East in national economic life. The economic opportunities in the region have beencontracted, which has seen a very high level of unemployment even among highlyeducated youths account for the proneness of the area to separatist agitationsand insecurity. This is deepened by a view that other parts of the country areunduly privileged by the federal government.
It is widely acknowledged thatgroups are more likely to rebel when they feel disadvantaged vis-à-vis othergroups in the society. (Gurr 1970) On the other hand, insecurity is a major hindranceto the development of the previously buoyant regional economy, (Ukiwo 2012)thus creating a cruel circle of insecurity and underdevelopment. c.
State-societyRelations The third perception for the persistence of Biafraseparatist agitation connects it to the nature of state-society relations in Nigeria.Ukiwo attributes the renewed agitation for Biafra to state violence – definedas “any act by the state or its agents that causes physical or mental injuryagainst the person or property of its law-abiding citizen or group ofcitizens.” (Ukiwo 2009: 12) According to him, the absence of state violence inthe immediate post-civil war era and its rise following the violent militarycoup of 1976 explain the decline and resurgence of Biafra agitation in thepost-war period. Onuoha, in his own view,attributes the reemergence of Biafra separatism to the opening up of Nigeria’spolitical space following the country’s change to democracy in 1999.
He opinesthat since 1999, Nigeria’s political atmosphere has been diversified followingthe entrance of new non-state actors, such as ethno-nationalist movements, intoit. According to him, the post-1999 political space is typified by”confrontation between state-led nationalism and state-seeking nationalism ledby non-state actors.” (Onuoha 2011: 403) In the contest, the state-seekingnationalists appear to be losing out to the hegemonic state-led nationalistproject, prompting a change of approach by ethno-nationalist groups and strengtheningof the demands for fresh spaces and comparable structures of power. The resultof these is the increase in ethnic agitation for secession.