All media accounts have indicated a successful shut down of much of south eastern Nigeria yesterday on the orders of the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB). It was a joint action with the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, (MASSOB) although some reports quoted Ralph Uwazuruike of MASSOB as dissociating the organisation from the sit-at-home dimension of what was remembrance of the 50th anniversary of Biafra. Whether that is true or not, the Igbos are interrogating Nigeria. Sit-at-home is merely the chosen tactic at this point, the message is clear: we are not happy with things.
The question of who make up the ‘we’ would remain tricky. Do all Igbos agree with IPOB? A few days ago, Prof Nzodinma Nwala argued that it was wrong to regard the January 1966 coup plotters as Igbos because they couldn’t have obtained such a consensus. He was demonstrating how problematic the ‘we’ syntax can be when deployed in representational practice. There is a sense that IPOB is no more than a populist discourse of the national question in Nigeria in which the subject positioning of the Igbos is as victims of deliberate marginalisation or exclusion. Nnamdi Kanu who leads IPOB has been quoted as saying Igbos are not allowed to contest to be president of Nigeria or Chief of Army Staff or Inspector-General of Police.
Critical analysts would say that, as it is now, it is no longer a question of whether Kanu is factually correct or wrong in claiming that there has been no president or Chief of Army Staff, etc of Igbo extraction. Rather, his claims are to be understood within the context of struggling to get a particular discourse to establish itself as the right one and, from there, make it hegemonic or become the dominant narrative of the condition of Igbos in Nigeria. Once that happen, such a representation of Igbos will swallow all other contending ones which might still exist but will have to fight for space.
In other words, Igbos who may not see their interest in such a definition of the problem may end up grumbling under their breath but nothing more than that. The moment that happens, Nnamdi Kanu and those with him would have won the ‘war’ and be in a position to get whatever it is they want of Nigeria, including taking the Igbos out of Nigeria.
On this count, IPOB masterminds appear to be thinking strategically somehow by deliberately kick starting their campaign from the normative plank. They appear to know that once such a narrative which positions the Igbos as victims in Nigeria is hegemonic, they would have won the ‘war’. They seem to know that in the post modern war, the conflict party which sells the most fascinating narrative is the winner. When Nnamdi Kanu tells Aljazeera, for instance, that Nigeria is a country where an Igbo person cannot be president or service chief, he knows what he is doing. How many people in Aljazeera’s audience would have the time to try to find out if Zik is of Igbo extraction, if an Igbo in the person of Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the Vice-President within a decade of the end of the Nigerian Civil War; if Ngozi Iweala is of that identity, if there was ever an Ihejirika as Chief of Army Staff and so on? Mapped unto the counterfactualist tradition in the communication of politics and power by the Federal side ever since, it would not take long before Nnamdi Kanu would be ways ahead. That would be the second time the Federal government would be beaten in the language game.
But what might explain what is emerging as the Igbo paradox in Nigeria: the contradiction in Nigeria’s most outgoing and most well spread ethnic group but which keeps talking about walking away from the Nigerian family? Does the threat of walking away enhance or undermine that identity in Nigeria? Is IPOB bargaining for the Igbo Presidency through a low intensity conflict or just a case study in showing that a regional elite abdicated responsibility? That process has taken a murderous dimension in the case of northern Nigeria (Boko Haram) and dangerous dimension in the south-south (MEND, Avengers). Some people may not like it but the Yoruba bourgeoisie not only contained its own, it deployed it to achieve its own low intensity warfare as an approach to asserting itself. In doing that, nobody heard about walking away as such. Rather, what was put on the table was revalidation of June 12. They didn’t get the essential June 12 but they got their demand.
Even if it is agreed that the idea of walking away is always the idea of one tendency or the other within the Igbos, why is even that the case and why is such tendency almost always able to entrench itself to hegemonic status? This is more so in the current context when the Acting President Osinbajo was thought to have sent everyone to the drawing board once he said Nigeria can be discussed. Analysts broadly agree that there can be no better alternative to that. There is no meaning of Nigeria beyond what Nigerians say it is. So, opening up the space for inter-discursive engagement is the way to go in managing diversity and its headaches.
While critics note that IPOB is not an out rightly violent strategy, they wonder why the contradiction of even that approach seems not obvious to its ideologues. Elite of Igbo origin have ambition to join their counterparts to struggle for own share of whatever Nigeria has. IPOB’s discourse of Nigeria has the potential of blocking their being trusted with executive authority. Is everyone reflecting on how this could play out within Ndigbo itself?
IPOB, it seems, would test the conflict management capacity of the Nigerian State which seems irritated rather than take the ‘war’ at the conceptual level where IPOB is operating at the moment.