By Ibrahim Ramalan
Title: We Are All Biafrans Author: Chido Onumah Publisher: Origami Year: 2016 Pages: 214 Along the line of my quest for knowledge, I have always come across this cliché that Nigeria is a land of milk and honey: Arable land, mineral resources, and an enterprising population and in great numbers, a variable that makes a nation great. Regrettably and in spite of all of these, we have been in a pitiable lot. Whenever I begin to ruminate over these conundrums of my country, a whole lot of rhetoric questions kept ricocheting on my mind. Setting my eyes on this book, its title, ‘We Are All Biafrans’, only heightened a sordid hysteria and a sense of curiosity in me towards fi nding out why we are described by one of the age-long canker worms we have been battling to do away with as a country.
However, from the onset, as someone who has always shared patriotic feeling with each and every individual that believe in the Nigeria project, I did not see this book as only a work of art, which must be appreciated by its enthusiasts. Rather, a national question that must be answered, and by way of a review, I set out with a clearly spelt out mission of fi nding out why we (Nigerians that abhor such a word Biafra), would be described as such. And, I rhetorically asked: Does that mean we are consumed by the canker worm? Or have we in any way lost our bearing towards upending this pandemic? My curiosity was however, appeased by the fi rst sentence I encountered at the prologue of the book which reads: “Th e young Nigerians now threatening to actualize Biafra should forget or shelve the plan. Th ey should, through research and study, reconstruct the Biafra story…and answer the unanswered questions and supply the missing links in the story.” By this, the author has off ered these disgruntled youth agitating for a sovereign state of their own an olive branch, that if their quest for nationhood is faced and confounded by these myriads of challenges, why don’t they give up the veined struggle and join the Nigeria project, which is much more promising than their parochial, myopic quest?
Going further through the book, it appears however that the agitation Onumah describes has more to it than meet the eyes, because he metaphorically describes all of us as Biafrans, as long as we are seeking redress from one confrontation of danger such as the palpable feeling of alienation and marginalisation due to our deeply fl awed federalism in the country.
He believes that such feeling is arguably being felt from the south down to the northern part of the country. Hence, the basis for the author’s prophesies that Nigeria has been sitting on a time bomb that could go up anytime. He pivoted the corpus of his prophesies further on a great deal of revelations on how Nigeria as a country has paid dearly for being gullible and allowing politics to trump patriotism. How we have wasted much time and resources doing nothing and going nowhere. How we almost lost a part of our country to criminal insurgents, and have lost our status as the beacon of hope for the black man. How we have lost our common wealth to unspeakable corruption and much more. Now, before undertaking a tree-by-branch analysis of the book, it is important to know that this great book is a compendium of the author’s published articles in both traditional and online news outlets within the last three years (2013 to 2016), grouped into chapters one to fi ve. Chapter one, ‘Th e politics of 2015’, deals with the high-wire politics of the 2015 elections and its crucial stake in the survival of Nigeria as a country.
Th e author, through the star article of this chapter titled, ‘2015: Why Buhari Matters’, issued a warning that, “the impoverished millions of our country men and women, the wanton abuse of rights, the unmitigated corruption, alienation, internal colonization and exacerbation of the fault lines of the country were not issues that the current political order could tackle.” While the second chapter, ‘Dancing on the Brink’, focuses on the issue of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). In this, the author thundered that Nigeria is a big scam, a collapsed edifi ce that is in need of an urgent overhaul through a recognized form of representation that would carry everybody along.
He said: “More than fi fty years after independence, we have managed to alienate one another so much so that people still see themselves as northerners, southerners, and everything in between.” However, the author jubilated over a glimmer of hope that resurfaced through the convention of a National Conference. Dovetailing into the next chapter, ‘Unmaking Nigeria’, his jubilation was shortchanged when his recommendations couldn’t yield a desired result, after having postulated that many, if not all, of the problems that assail us as a nation are rooted in the structure of the country which has been left unattended to.
“My take is that majority of Nigerians do not really give a damn about the disintegration debate because to them the country started disintegrating the very moment it became a sovereign nation, when rulers had the opportunity to build a united and prosperous nation but they were so mired in their clannish and thieving ways to worry about that.” Pp.65 Reinforcing the above statement, the fourth chapter, ‘Of scoundrels and statesmen’, the author features some of the narratives of some individuals and groups in and out of government whose actions have either enriched our polity or reinforced it as the giant of Africa only in name. In the chapter, the author clearly spells out how most of our leaders have always failed to walk their talks and how this inability has torpedoed our growth and unity.
Th is mood precipitates into the next chapter, Chapter fi ve, ‘Last Missionary’, where the author reminds us that we are living in a deeply fractured nation and we could only ignore that reality at our own peril. He adds that unless we sit at a table to negotiate the terms of our co-existence as a people, our country would continue to ‘go round and round’. “Th ere are millions of our compatriots across Nigeria for whom this country provides no succor, there are millions who feel they have no stake in Nigeria, millions who feel they been left out of the gains that independence ought to bring.” pp.164. However, all hope is not lost because we could still retrace our steps as the author aptly put it this way: “What the current situation calls for is a bold attempt to confront Nigeria’s seemingly intractable problem: Th e structure of our federalism.” In as much I appreciate Onumah’s humbled intellectual contributions towards actualising the Nigeria Project, I think this project is bigger than Unomah himself and all that have written about it put together, although he was able to tackle the socio-political issues that have always bedeviled the progression of this country.
Probably, this work of art would go a long way in evoking a positive thinking in the readers and Nigerians as a whole. Essentially, the book is a potboiler of high order, intended to sustain the reader’s interest, remain true to the empirical evidence and deliver a message, all at the same time. I hereby declare that you go for it, grab it, savour it and keep it in your family library for generations yet unborn. In addition, this book is written in a simple, straightforward language to the understanding of anyone with a smattering of the English language. Th e font size and type face too is reader-friendly. One thing readers of the book may fi nd as its shortcoming however is the fact that some of the articles are not presented in a chronological order which makes it diffi cult for the reader to come to terms with the chain and sequential-ity of the unfolding of events. Such shortcomings slightly impede one’s understanding of the sequence of events presented in this epistolary tome. It is hoped that future editions of the book will correct these and the few typographical errors noticed. All in all, readers will fi nd it very informative and those saddled with the responsibility of leadership in the country may fi nd in it a useful guide in tackling some of the problems troubling the nation.