An expedition around ‘Biafra’ by Steve Osuji

Good morning agbero: I got some Biafra lessons or shall I term it Biafra treatment at a jammed bus terminal in Lagos last year. It was in the heat of the season between Christmas and early New Year. One was caught up in the usual bedlam that characterises the feisty period especially at bus parks. The family was going on home ahead, and to get them on a booked bus at the park was one helluva struggle.

Fares had risen by between 100 and 120 percent (from about N5500 to between N8500 and 12000), depending on transport company. But service quality, if there were any, had dropped drastically as most transport firms were obviously overwhelmed by the throng of passengers.

These companies with hundreds of bus fleet do not seem to understand that they need to employ well-trained managers and workers to run the business. Many still depend on or prefer drop outs and touts (agberos) to run what is a cash-churner. Poor scheduling, lax timing and lackadaisical attitude often mar what would have been the best quick turnover service business in Nigeria today.

So in place of efficient and fluid movement of commuters and their luggage, what we have at most bus parks today is endless melee; bickering among frustrated passengers and listless workers. Having missed one’s scheduled departure by over two hours at the park; raw-nerved and testy, one got drawn into one of those ‘Biafra’ arguments that have become rampant everywhere one turned today.

Biafra banters: “If we had our Biafra, there won’t be this kind of ‘mass return’ in the first place as most of us would be at home,” an able young man quipped near me. He could have been a passenger or a denizen of the park. He seemed dead serious and sure about his assertion and I, distraught and now unguarded, dove into the fray right after him.

“You young people will not let us hear word about this your Biafra… were you there during the war; where is the boundary of Biafra; do you think you can survive in Biafra? Do you know the meaning of Biafra?”

I had let out these salvos of questions before it occurred to me that I had goofed. There was a moment of silence as I became the object of attention of the motley crowd waiting to board. The mild morning harmattan wind filled the void.

“Oga, if you say this kind of thing in Onitsha or Aba boys go carry you o!.” the quiet chill in the young man’s voice superseded the morning cold; the message was not lost on me and everyone around. I had already exited the arena mentally as a few other young men rushed in admonishing ‘Oga’ further as respectfully as they could manage. At the bottom of their argument is: we will eventually get Biafra peacefully or otherwise. Those who are bound to perish would perish anyway and the remnant would inherit Biafra. But more noteworthy, ‘traitors’ beware!

Donald Trump is a ‘Biafran’! The Biafra fever is catching on almost all over Igboland albeit among the teeming underclass population. And the most moving, if ribald revelation one picked is that the air is thick with dangerous propaganda and mischief. An uncle who had heard me try to redirect some youths called me aside and asked declaratively: have you heard that Donald Trump has promised to recognise Biafra?

I laughed unrestrainedly, loud and loose. “And you believed that?” I asked still laughing. “Well I don’t know for you people again,” he answered with resignation tinged with pain in his voice. I must have punctured his balloon.

The intensity of the Biafra fervour and Nnamdi Kanu’s near deification today is a pointer to how much difference 20 months can make in the life of any people. Looking back over these months, it could be said that President Muhammadu Buhari has fed the Biafra monster so well he could almost be accused of being a member!

For instance, if Mr. President had determined to reciprocate with only 3% federal largesse for the supposedly 3% votes from Igboland, he needed not have made a global proclamation of that point. No man announces the disownment of a son who still lives under his roof. It is this ill-humour that may have governed the president’s abominably skewed security team and overall personnel.

It is a team that gives him no benefit of a balanced advice; and indeed, would kowtow to his idea to lay siege to a territory considered hostile to his government. Thus military ‘operations’ (e.g. Python Dance) were heedlessly unleashed where mere improved policing was needed.

Fashola magic? Notwithstanding, in recent memory, the road to Biafra land may be said to have been the smoothest this last festival. From Lagos all the way through Shagamu, Ijebu-Ode, Ore, Benin (by-pass) Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, down to Owerri bear marks of certain responsiveness. FRSC would probably report fewer accidents along this route this time.

Those who knew these roads would remember when we would detour into thick forests only to resurface on the highway a couple of kilometres ahead. The hitherto horrific portions of these roads bear patches of fresh macadam, a testimony that indeed, someone is at work. And reconstruction work (which started in the last administration) is ongoing at Ondo-Ogun axes.

All these, it must be said, bear the imprint of the indefatigable Babatunde Fashola who be-straddles three ministries including Works. Would he deliver the 2nd Niger Bridge before 2019 and that may well be the most strategic political statement this government would have made in ‘Biafra’.

The annual movement of (conservatively) five million people eastwards is a phenomenon requiring a detailed study as a model of development. Though the region still remains rustic and uncharted and power supply its bane today. The place is largely in darkness being under the vice grip of an egregiously lax power firm.

How a power ministry in Abuja can coordinate power supply in Umunze or Umuchoko must be one of the wonders of modern times. And how one distribution company would deign to light up about 10,000 communities across five states is one of the numbing incongruities of modern Nigeria. Until we elect to tweak our various systems and make them smart, we will continue to wallow in needless abjections.

IDPs bombing: bumble, bumble

It’s scary. When you think this GREAT WAR is about over and someone sensible would work out a closure, worse things happen. One is really troubled that this government may lack the capacity to properly defeat the REAL enemy elements in the Northeast of Nigeria.

What manner of a national Air Force would drop bomb on a crowded place whether they be displaced people or a village square? Even if it were a Boko Haram settlement, the NAF jet could not have been under any serious rocket attack so why pulverise the target below? Even if it be a BH enclave, did the bomber isolate the women, children and perhaps the Chibok girls therein? There is surely more to this bombing…

The same way there are hundreds of unanswered questions on the so-called terror ‘war’. Who are we still “seriously negotiating” the release of the Chibok girls with? Who has the N500m voted for the repairs of the Chibok girls’ school? Who are the financiers and masterminds of BH? Who is in charge of the IDPs camps and the rehabilitation of the Northeast? What do Borno Elders know about this crisis they are not telling the rest of us?

One is afraid that this so-called ‘war’ will never end at this rate…

 

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