With Nigeria, Biafra & Boko Haram: Ending the Genocides through Multi-State Solution, Nigerian author and advocate for the division of the Nigerian union, Osita Ebiem, offers not only a compelling solution to the failed state that he argues Nigeria has become but a possible way forward for nations still struggling with the structures and boundaries artificially imposed upon them by their former colonial masters.
Ebiem presses his case by first throwing us back into Nigeria’s fractured past and making a solid case for why the country has become anomic and, arguably, a failed state. Talking about Africa’s present can’t happen without talking about colonialism. For Ebiem one moment that stands out is the British amalgamation of South and North Nigeria into the one colony just prior to World War 1.
That this threw together peoples of varying faiths, cultures and dispositions was of no concern to the British who predominantly made the decision for commercial reasons. When Nigeria declared its independence in 1960 it was as this artificially constructed conglomeration of peoples, and it is the seething, roiling of these peoples which is destabilising present-day Nigeria.
Ebiem offers as proof of the instability inherent in Nigeria the series of genocides and instances ethnic & religious cleansing that have been perpetrated in that country both pre- and post-independence. Though the list that Ebiem offers is far from exhaustive it is still troubling to see those numbers printed in black and white, especially as they are often recent events of which we (I) have remained largely ignorant of. Most of these acts of violence were perpetrated against the Igbo people, the worst being the genocide committed during the Biafran war of 1967.
Whilst part of the tension is clearly cultural and ethnic in nature, a good portion of it, Ebiem argues, lies with the religious discord created by the predominantly Muslim North and the rest of the country. It is into this turmoil that we see the birth of Boko Haram (ostensibly translated as “Books are forbidden”), a fundamentalist jihadist group that sees Western education and civilisation as a corrupting influence on Nigerian Muslims.
Osita Ebiem is a passionate writer, and he presses his case for the application of a multi-state solution to the Nigerian problem convincingly. However, several questions echoed in my head as I was reading the book that remained tantalisingly unanswered. If the multi-state solution is so self-evident, just what or, more to the point, who is holding the nation unified? It’s not Boko Haram, their intention being a separate political state in Northern Nigeria. It would have been nice to have a better idea on who these players were.
Another question that remained unanswered is just how does the application of a multi-state solution deal with the nation’s resources? Presumably the resources – these days usually the reason for intra- and inter-national conflict – are not distributed equally. How does Nigeria avoid following in the footsteps of Sudan and South Sudan?
Whilst I’m not convinced that the multi-state solution is the panacea that Osita Ebiem suggests it is – and I think that he oversells certain points, like conflating Boko Haram’s version of Islam with Islam more broadly – Nigeria, Biafra & Boko Haram is an engaging primer in Nigerian history and worth reading for those with an interest in post-colonial studies.
Reviewed on Sunday, 3 August 2014