A few reasons why the Biafra agitation in Nigeria might not be a good idea

For months now, secessionist groups Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have been carrying out protests to secure the release of Radio Biafra director Nnamdi Kanu and ask for self-determination. Protests had gone from peaceful to violent at different points and lives have been lost but the Nigerian government has continued to detain Kanu who holds both Nigerian and British citizenship.

According to UN laws, the people asking for self-determination are within their rights to do so. But the Biafra situation is a bit different; the people of the region are not united in the cause. In a survey by SBM Intelligence, only 23.5 percent of respondents were in support of full independence which MASSOB and IPOB have been clamouring for. Several Igbo leaders who witnessed the 1967 civil war are also mostly against independence. Besides, those familiar with the history of Biafra have at different times pointed out a huge difference between Odumegwu Ojukwu‘s agenda and the present agenda. As things stand, the leaders of the secessionist movements around seem to be exploiting the mediocrity of some youths, as some who earn as little as N70,000 in a month donate up to N20,000 to the Biafra cause. SBM’s survey lays credence to this opinion in a way; 79.1 percent of people involved in its survey (most of who are educated and employed) were in favour of a referendum to determine if the south east should pursue independence — a civil way to go about such cause.

More than the call for independence or autonomy are other important issues that could be taken away from SBM’s report on Biafra. Will Biafra be a viable nation? Some argue that the answer to the question could only be yes if the south-south were to be part of Biafra, but this is highly unlikely. However, many of the respondents to SBM’s survey believe that even without the south-south, the south-east alone could make Biafra a viable nation. But how would Biafra look without the south-south?

“The resulting country will be landlocked, totally surrounded by the very hostile Nigerian state. Much of the land is infertile and erosion ridden, meaning the new nation will have a hard time growing its own food,” notes SBM in the report.

The report also point outs the pressure that increased population would bring. In 1966, the Igbo
population was put at 12 million. It has now grown to 33 million, according to the CIA Factbook. But of this number, roughly 45 percent is estimated to live outside Igboland. In the event of secession, they may be forced to return.

The Igbo land as it is, is not united. There are several clashes, mostly about land boundaries. Such would intensify with increased population pressure.

Oil revenue

Assuming it had kept 100 percent of the oil revenues generated in Abia and Imo states in 2014, the independent Igbo nation would have made roughly N40.2 billion in 2016. However, it would have lost over N46 billion. The region received N81,483,542,502.84 in gross statutory allocation in 2014, N5,233,631,081.04 as 13 percent share of derivation, equaling N86,717,173,583.88 in gross total oil receipts. This was the south east in Nigeria; Biafra would have made just over N40 billion. If Nigeria could struggle in the face of commodity crash, what buffer would an oil-based Biafran economy use to weather a similar storm? How about financial and industrial structures? Who would start new banks? Would the Nnewi industries rely on the market provided by the nation or still rely on the Nigerian market (Nigeria may ban products from Biafra)? What about millions of Igbo people who have built empires in different parts of Nigeria? Are they ready to make such sacrifice just to have a new nation? Respondents to SBM’s survey understand these challenges and they would rather retain Nigerian citizenship in the event of secession.

The report concludes that it is difficult to find positives in the Igbo independence story. “The region has no tourist draws, no significant solid mineral deposits apart from medium grade coal.” While Nigeria will also count its losses if the Igbos gain independence, the new nation will suffer more.