THE VIABILITY OF BIAFRA AS A STATE
SPEECH BY PROFESSOR STANLEY DIAMOND OF THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH IN NEW YORK;
AUTHOR OF "NIGERIA, THE MODEL OF COLONIAL FAILURE" AND
"THE BIAFRAN POSSIBILITY" AN ARTICLE IN THE AUGUST-NOVEMBER. ISSUE 0F THE AFRICAN SCHOLAR:
ON THE OCCASION OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BIAFRA, IN NEW YORK, DECEMBER 7, 1968.
I should like to make a few remarks about the very important issues that were raised by Professor Sklar. I think that the first remark with reference to the people of the middle belt is interesting. They are now supporting the Nigerian Federal Government, for fear of being dominated by the re-emergence of the Northern emirates when this situation is over one way or the other. I should like to say that the problem there is no longer a problem for Biafra or for the Ibos speaking peoples in the erst-while eastern region. The middle belt movement for autonomy within the federation was one of the most important revolutionary movements in pre-civil war Nigeria, and is one which should be encouraged and which will find its own solution within a restructured Northern Region. I say a restructured Northern Region, no reconstruction on the basis of the present paper constitution, but in terms of the actual fair balance of power. The middle belt represents approximately half of the territory of the Northern region and approximately one third of its total population and was the center for dissidents stimulated in part by the parties of the South.
So far as the Ibo speaking people are concerned which was another point made by Professor Sklar, 1 think it is sad to note that it was not just a question of some of the Ibo leaders being progressive initially as was then defined as being progressive, with reference to-the formation of united Nigeria. They and the entire lbo population were in that term, progressive population of Nigeria. That is to say, they identified themselves primarily as Nigerians. This was to a much greater degree than was true among the Ibo speaking people than was true in the northern part of the country. That is to say that the Ibo was a traditional Nigerian Unitarian. Now that they are no longer Nigerian Unitarians, our problem is to discover why that is the case. They are now Biafran Unitarians. They have never been in that sense a narrowly parochial people; which is one of the reasons why they have caused so much irritation and reaction among other peoples in Nigeria.
Biafra has emerged as a symbol of all of the major tragic problems which we face in the post war world. Problem of national self-determination, number one. Now the problem of national self-determination is very complicated. National self-determination implies that there must be a nationality to determine itself and all future developments. Classes of social economic interest, economic exploitations national relations, etc., depend upon the formation of this national arena arid it seems to me that what we have among the Biafrans is the emergence of a genuine nationality, in my judgement at least and perhaps in several other people, the first emerging modern nationality, self-determined as such in all of the sub-Saharan black Africa. Itís not enough to dismiss the development of nationalities as being parochial, it is not. Nationalities form the seed bed for the entire, for all possibilities of growth culturally, socially and economically. Of course, nationalities donít have to coincide with states or political balances, but in a plural society ēwhich the old Nigerian presumably was, it was not possible f or the Thor speaking peoples to develop their own thrust towards nationality which then defined as Nigerian nationality, in safety and for the benefit of themselves and others. Therefore, they are now Biafrans and that will not change.
Biafra is another symbol the symbol of the whole problem of emerging nationalities in the so-called undeveloped or ex-colonial world. Itís the symbol of the problems of cynical big power manipulation; symbol of the problems of genocide; symbol of the helplessness of the impotent United Nations. When we look at the photographs of the starving children, I think that now we respond in a way that has an echo from the second world war, at least it does in my mind, and I think it does in the minds of others who are old1 enough to recall those days. That is to say, we have come to understand that Biafra is being turned into a large concentration camp and these figures are the figures of concentration camp inmates. Therefore, along with the other factors that I have mentioned, we confront. Biafra as the symbol of the modern nightmare. One of the remarkable features which is emerging on the part of the Ibos speaking people in particular is that they have been able somehow to be inside of this situation and at the same time to be outside of it. That is, they have worked very hard in order to make these factors as clear as possible, as evident as possible for all of us. That is, we have come to recognize Biafra as something more than a relatively "exotic" area in a remote part of the world. We see it as a symbol of our own problems universally and we see it also as a potential nucleus of growth for all of the sub Saharan Africa and an example of what can be done, what should be done in the remainder of the under developed world.
So far as Nigerian patriotism is concerned, I donít believe very much in these latter day patriots. I also spent a good deal of time in Nigeria, and their patriotism is their defense of an authentic national Nigerian identity for the North, for the West, but very much to be denied for Nigeria as a whole. This was not their fault; this was a part of the heritage of the colonial super -imposition and the character of the society which was left behind by the British. Though we donít really know how many have been killed, prior to the war the population of Biafra was about 14 million, a which is the fourth largest on the African continent and out side the remainder of Nigeria the largest in West Africa. The area is about 30 thousand square miles, and has the highest population density in Africa. It averages out to about 500 people per square mile. It is made up today of 20 provinces; 11 Ibos provinces and 9 minority controlled provinces has, or had, over 300 secondary and higher educational institutions; it had two -universities including a teaching hospital, law school, engineering institutes. It had a primary school enrollment of about one million two hundred and fifty thousand; a university enrollment of over three thousand. Among the professionals, Biafra had 500 MDís, 700 lawyers and 600 engineers (the proportion of engineers to other professionals in Biafra is far above that in other parts of Africa.) Its agricultural resources are pa1m oil and palm kernel, certain amounts of cocoa, large timber resources, rubber, and so on. Minerals we know petroleum, natural gas, certain amounts of coal, ore and some others. The industries I wonít bother to mention, but they range from tires and textiles to gramophone records, cosmetics, stationery and plastics. Prior to the war, the volume of foreign trade was estimated at about 200 to 500 million pounds per annum. The gross national product was about 552 million pounds per annum and the per capita income about 38.4 pounds per annum which was at that time roughly 100 dollars per capita, quite high for sub-Saharan Africa. So the question of Biafra must be answered in the affirmative. The risky question is, "Is Nigeria viable?" It is now held together through a mechanical coalition of forces, which are focused upon what seems to be a vast scapegoating operation in Biafra. I doubt very much whether the present military regime is going to be able to sustain the kind of political tensions which boil beneath the surface and I think the federal troops in Lagos, the flower of the federal army, so we understand, are there basically for political purposes of Biafra visualized as a principality, as some kind of a private preserve for the present leadership? Of course not. Those of us who have either been there or who have spoken to Biafrans, who have a little understanding of the sub-Saharan black African scene, know full well that the ideology of the Biafrans in this respect was to establish every conceivable kind of productive association with the remainder of Nigeria and with the remainder of Western Africa insofar as that was possible within the structure of the other governments in West Africa. This ranged in cooperation for harbors, road networks, merchant shipping, air lines, ports, customs common currency, higher educational exchanges even common diplomatic representation in those countries which would accept common diplomatic representation. But the one issue which was not negotiable was political sovereignty. Political sovereignty in order to have fair representation, national representation and to have the right to protect the lives and the property and the future of all the people of Biafra. So I donít think it is a question of narrow or parochial nationalism but rather the formation of a nationality which can emerge as the nucleus j of growth to which associates of a very significant character with the balance of west Africa including Nigeria, and with other parts of sub-Saharan Africa also could attach themselves. I call to your attention that Zambia and Tanzania, the two countries which have the most intelligent and progressive nonmilitary leadership in sub-Saharan Black Africa have recognized Biafra not because they are recognizing a balkanized dutchey of some kind, but because they have fully in mind both the humanitarian and larger political implications of this so-called secession.
I have indicated the economic resources which are available. I have indicated the emergence of the authentic Biafran nationality. This has four perhaps aspects to it. Ibo migrants who numbered in the millions throughout Nigeria, had Pan-Nigerian experience, therefore a kind of cosmopolitan experience, and yet retained their ties to each other. This was a factor in the modern formation of the Biafran nationality. A second factor was the solidarity provided by their improvement unions, located all over the old Nigeria. A third factor, an obvious one, is that these people have been through a terrible time. They have been united through war and through prosecution. In most under developed areas a foreign military presence has been catalytic and so it has been also in Biafra. Letís not obliterate, however, the deeper historical texture. The Ibo speaking peoples have been the national revolutionary population in West Africa. . This goes back for two generations. The fourth factor is that an industrious, self-modernizing independent population, having developed a national conscious" ness, would refuse to become an instrument of neo-colonial control and would therefore help to catalyze, as I have mentioned before, autonomous developments elsewhere in Africa.
K.W. J. Post is perhaps the canniest English commentator on Nigerian affairs. Heís at the University of Manchester after spending several years at Ibadan. He wrote a brilliant book called "The Nigerian Federal Elections of 1959" and his sympathies, if one can use that term with reference to Post, have been traditionally western, as a matter of fact. Now Post writes as follows, "Given the nature of Nigeria as a colonial creation, the probable impossibility for the present leadership of running a plural society of its size and complexity, the economic and emotional heritage of the civil war, it seems inevitable that the question must be raised whether it might not have been better to allow Biafra to secede." This article was written in January of 1968. At that -time he said such a suggestion if made public would doubtless raise a storm of abuse since unity and secession are such emotion laden words. Yet it is difficult to see the Federation of Nigeria as a great moral force to which one must automatically have a commitment. Rather it seems to be a category of those other British Federal experiments during the process of decolonization, Central Africa and South Arabia. There is too, the most reactionary forces were placed in control and they were also failures. If Biafra were truly another Katanga, an obvious maneuver by neo-colonial interests, it would be a different matter, but it is to be hoped that this article has demonstrated that it is not. If one seeks interests to label as neo-colonial, the candidates are all on the other side, including the Soviet Union.