War in Nigeria: Victory remains elusive, 50 years on

• Being conclusion of article by Prof Wole Soyinka, which was first published yesterday.

This leaves us with the other line of approach, the line of frankly subjective or reasoned, pragmatic preferences. It is a positioning that admits, quite simply, I am a creature of habit and prefer things as they are. Or: I like to be a big frog in a small pond, and allied determinants.

Such individual and collective preferences for nation validation offer sincere basis for negotiation and resolution. Once conceded, we proceed to invoke the positives of cohabitation that render fragmentation mostly adventurist and potentially destructive. Habit is a great motivator, but it should not be permitted to transform itself into categorical controls that make any existing condition “non-negotiable.”

Independence surely means more the severance of ties with an imperial order. It need not go so far as to dictate the dismantling of its bequests but certainly leaves open the option of placing it in question. Propagators of the inflexible “nationalist” line unabashedly attempt to shut down this questioning. They distort even the stance of those whose preference is that the nation remains one, but base their pleading strictly on a pragmatic platform, not as the manifestation of a divine will. The unity of any nation is not only historically subject to negotiation; nation is itself an offspring of negotiation. So, what is so exceptional about those who inhabit the Nigerian nation space? Nothing. Except we wish to situate them outside history.

Should Biafra stay in, or opt out of Nigeria? That is the latent question. Even after years of turbulent co-tenancy, it seems unreal to conceive of a Nigeria without Biafra. My preference for “in” goes beyond objective assessment of economic, cultural and social advantages for Biafra and the rest of us.

Today’s global realities make multi-textured nations far more compelling, not only for outside investors – tourists included – but equally inspiring to the occupants of any nation space. The West African region is marked by an intersection of horizontally and vertically formed groupings and identities, the result of colonial intervention in the race for territory. The result has proved often dispiriting but just as often stimulating. It has gone on for long, with developmental structures whose dismantling strikes one as being potentially perilous even for the most resilient and endowed of the resultant pieces.

Among many analogies, I have heard and read Nigeria described as a ticking time-bomb. Ironically, I see in this very fear a strong argument for remaining intact. An explosion in closed space is deadlier than in a wider arena, which stands a chance of diffusing the impact and enabling survival. My preference for remaining one is thus reinforced by that very doomsday prediction, not by any presumptive law of human association.

Among the lessons learnt today is that changing the content of geography texts does not obliterate the fundamental attachment to an idea. The Bight of Biafra was renamed during the civil war – to expunge the secessionist consciousness – but that ruse has clearly failed. Orders from a section of Igbo leadership for restoration of the original name is a warning that the Biafran narrative has not ended. When added to the widely spread observance earlier this year of sit-at-home protests to mark Biafra Day on May 30, it would be wise to respond with a fresh understanding to the pulsation of the new Biafran generation.

• Professor Soyinka, playwright and poet, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.


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