Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The ugly ghost of disintegration which plagued our country after the collapse of the first republic has reared its head again. In recent times the call for a break away of Biafra was started by Ralph Uwuazuruike who formed the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra MOSSOB during the Obasanjo presidency.
His organisation which generated initial frenzy appears to have lost its impetus which has now been seized by Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. Kanu has added more drama to this campaign by establishing a radio station which consistently yells for Biafra with his virulent hate speeches spewing out loud and clear.
I read some news items and commentaries on the reinvented Radio Biafra of Kanu in the newspapers and the social media before I listened to its toxic messages. It was 2015 at the Port Harcourt Airport where I took a stroll in the car park as I awaited the arrival of my delayed aircraft and saw a group of taxi drivers crowded around a taxi cab whose radio was blaring out the hate messages of Radio Biafra. The assembled listeners, mostly Ibo paid the kind of attention to the radio that I have never seen in my life, not even amoung a Church congregation.
I joined them in listening. That was the day I discovered what hate speech really means. The station was churning out messages of hate directed at people from northern Nigeria. As I listened, I discovered that the writers of those scripts were nothing but prolific authors of falsehood and fabricated venom. Beginning from a distorted account of what led to the crisis of 1966 and the civil war that followed, they located the origin of the massacre of Ibos in the north and all other problems bedeviling Nigeria today on northerners. Their views were skewed and distorted. As I listened to the station painting all northerners as Ibo haters and senseless mass murderers of the Ibo’s, I remembered the Ibos my northern family saved in our home at the heat of the 1966 massacres. How could any man with some sanity in him condemn all of us in one fell swoop as mindless murderers? But that was what Radio Biafra was doing.
Kanu wants Nigeria to be split and that informed his decision to form the Indigenous People of Biafra. This is nothing new. A man of more credible background and credentials, Odumegwu Ojukwu, created Biafra out of Nigeria and this country of his invention was able to stand its ground in battle for three good years against mother Nigeria.
Given the checkered history of Nigeria’s emergence as a country, the demands for its dismemberment do not come as a surprise.
The most quoted speech calling for Nigeria’s disintegration came in 1953 from Ahmadu Bello the Sardauna of Sokoto during a parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives in Lagos. As leader of the Northern People’s Congress Party, he had reached a gentle man’s agreement with leaders of the major Southern based political parties viz; Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Action Group and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC. By the terms of this agreement, if an issue national significance was to be tabled in that transitional parliament, the leaders of the dominant political parties would hold a behind the scene consultation before bringing the issue to the open.
The Sardauna was thus terribly shocked on that day in 1953 when he walked into the chambers of the parliament to find that a motion to be raised by Anthony Enahoro, an Action Group member was on the order paper. The motion called on the United Kingdom to grant Nigeria independence IMMEDIATELY. To complete his shock was the actions of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who stood up one after the other to deliver long, winding and seemingly endless speeches in support of the motion.
When called upon to speak, the Sardauna a man of limited academic credentials when compared to those of Awo and Zik delivered what he described in his autobiography My Life as the shortest but most important speech of his political life. “The mistake of 1914 has come to light and I should like to say no further,” he told his fellow parliamentarians.
Today, the Sardauna’s short speech remains the most famous quotable quote of the parliamentary debate that took place that day and not the fine Queens English contained in the motion of Enahoro and or the pompous English grammar of Awo and Zik.
But what did the Sardauna refer to as “the mistake of 1914?”
History tells us that in that year the colony of Lagos and the Southern and Northern Protectorates were amalgamated to form one country by Lord Lugard. His girlfriend, Flora Shaw, a journalist called it Nigeria. The new country thus created operated under the authority of the British Monarch through his prefect – the Governor General.
Eight years later, the 1914 Constitution was replaced by the 1922 Sir Clifford Constitution. Then came the 1946 Arthur Richard Constitution which defined Nigeria, for the first time, in terms of regions – thus dividing the still colonised country into three main regions: the Northern, Western and Eastern regions.
The 1951 Macpherson Constitution came into being after an unprecedented process of consultation with the peoples of Nigeria. Meetings and consultations leading down to its making were held at 5 levels – Village, District, Divisional and Provincial and then Regional levels – before the national conference. The regional conferences were held at Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna, respectively and produced a general consensus in favour of a federal system of government with a few differences as to its format.
Nonetheless, within three years of its operation, it soon became clear that the expansion of the political space and regional identities fostered by the 1951 Constitution were inadequate to handle the tensions and conflicts of the country. The then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Oliver Lyttleton stepped in by inviting the leaders of various political parties in Nigeria to attend a conference in London, in 1953. The outcome of that conference was the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution.
It was during the debates after a return from London that Enahoro surreptitiously introduced his independence NOW motion provoking the Sardauna to give his famous short speech about the “mistake of 1914”. Those who want the Sardauna crucified by history for saying 1914 was a “mistake” often forget what provoked and pushed him to making that declaration.
Today, history appears to be repeating itself. Nnamdi Kanus Radio Biafra for years mounted a campaign of calumny against northerners calling them unprintable names. Southern political leaders were not bothered. When a group of northern youths issued just one, repeat just one press statement calling on the Ibos to vacate the north on October 1, there was suddenly an outbreak of KATAKATA.