In a short contribution titled “Biafra Without Our Consent?” which appears to have gone viral on social media, the celebrated and respected thespian Miss Kate Henshaw wrote as follows:
“I think the current generation of ‘Biafrans’ are the most funny people I have ever seen.
How dare you sit in your home or offices and draw your Biafra map and include places like Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, etc as part of your empire? Did you consult them? Did you seek their opinions? You are forcing people to join a country whose commander in chief you have already anointed- Nnamdi Kanu; whose currency you have already decided- Biafra Pounds; whose official religion you have already adopted- Judaism; whose God you have already chosen- Chukwu Abiama?
Do you not realize that you are doing to those people the same thing you accuse the British and Nigeria of doing to you? For carving my state into your ‘Biafra’ and renaming it without my permission and consultation, I have a moral duty to stand against you with everything I have. I am not standing against you because I do not want your freedom; I stand against you because I love mine too. I don’t stand against you because you don’t have a right to your country; I stand against you because I have the same right. I stand against you because your map is an insult to me and my freedom to choose were I belong. Be warned!”
Since she has not publicly denied it I assume that this beautiful and talented actress really is the author of these words. That being the case my response is as follows.
Miss Henshaw and those that think like her are being disingenuous and unduly hostile to Nnamdi Kanu and the concept and spirit of Biafra.
She has made a point that appears to be valid but that point is based on a false premise. That premise is that the southern minorities would be compelled or obliged to be part of Biafra without their consent. This is false. It is not true.
The truth is that each of the bordering ethnic nationalities, and even the Igbo themselves, must and will have their own referendum before going anywhere. It is entirely up to them what they do and where they go.
They cannot and will not be forced to go with Biafra if they choose not to do so. And neither can they be forced to remain in Nigeria if they choose to leave.
Everything that is done must and will be based on the free and fair expression of the will of the people. That is the basic point that needs to be grasped and clearly understood. Miss Henshaw’s fear is therefore baseless.
Yet we cannot leave it there. We must consider the wider issues that her concerns have raised. We must learn to be clear-headed and strategic in our thinking and actions. We must know what we wish to achieve and we must learn from history.
The cost of petty bickering, division, undue rivalry, pettiness and age-old suspicions amongst the southern ethnic minorities and southerners generally is extremely high. It has cost us virtually everything and it has stripped us naked and bare before our enemies and adversaries.
Someone is fighting for the freedom of his people and you lend your voice to rubbishing that person and that cause? That cannot be right and neither is it reasonable or fair.
The sooner that we southerners get it into our skulls that there must be unity between us the better. Without that unity we are nothing and we shall continue to fail and falter.
Yours truly has attacked and joined issues with the Igbo in a series of literary debates and articles in the past perhaps more than anyone else but now I know better.
Now I know that historical and intellectual debate is one thing and political expediency and pragmatism is another.
Now I know that we are fighting a collective cause and that we have a collective adversary and oppressor who seeks to destroy and devour us all.
Now I know that when my Igbo or southern neighbour’s house is burning, even if we are barely on speaking terms, it is in my own interest to help him to put it out before that fire spreads to mine.
Now I know that the “handshake across the Niger” that the late and great Ikemba, Colonel Emeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, the former Head of State of Biafra, once spoke about is the only way forward.
Now I know that whether we like to admit it or not Igbo and Yoruba co-operation, understanding and unity is a fundamental pre-requisite to the freedom and emancipation of the entire south.
Now I know that the more I attack my Igbo brothers the more I weaken myself, my Yoruba people and the south generally from the incessant and relentless attacks, humiliation and indignities that we collectively receive from the ruling core Muslim Hausa-Fulani north.
Now I know that what fuels and feeds northern hegemony and subjugation more than anything else are the petty rivalries and divisions between the southern ethnic nationalities. And it has made us utterly powerless and hopelessly weak.
The end-result is that we have all been turned into pliant and cowardly slaves. This has been the case since 1960 and it will continue into eternity if we don’t sit up, grow up and set aside our many mutual suspicions and differences.
The Biafrans are simply asking for their own country and for an affirmative referendum to give it legitimacy. No-one can be made to join Biafra against his or her will or by force. It appears to me that this is obvious.
In any case did Miss Henshaw or her forefathers give their consent to becoming a Nigerian in 1914 when the amalglamation took place?
Where is her sense of outrage about that? Did she warn the British or the north about that and did she promise to attempt to fight them because of it?
Were we not all just herded into Nigeria like cattle at the time? Were those of us from the south not just lumped together with a north that the British described as our “poor husband” whilst we were described as their “rich wife?”
Have we not been raped, sodomised, cheated, battered and butchered by that poor husband ever since?
Have we not been turned into second class citizens and slaves in our own country? Has Miss Henshaw protested about that and has she expressed her outrage and “warned” our collective oppressors as well? Does she not feel a sense of revulsion and outrage about that? Or is her outrage and warning reserved only for her fellow southerners?
The people of Biafra are fighting for the self-determination of their own Igbo people and anyone or any other group that wishes to join them. Is that a crime?
Would you seek to deny them that right and instead join sides with their oppressors and keep them in Nigeria by the usage of state-sponsored terror, guile, deceit and tyranny?
I do not accept the notion that the Biafrans seek to compel anyone or any group of people to leave Nigeria with them if they do not wish to do so.
That would be unacceptable and it is not their intention. Unlike Nigeria, being part of or joining Biafra is not by compulsion but rather a matter of choice. And that choice can only be made in a free and fair referendum.
If you do not wish to be part of Biafra and leave Nigeria then dont join them and instead stay in Lugard’s “happy” contraption. That is your right and your prerogative.
Yet the truth is that with or without you the Biafrans will achieve their objectives and realise their dreams and aspirations as long as it is God’s will and the desire of the Igbo people.
Whatever you and your people choose to do, either to go with Biafra or stay in Nigeria, do not allow yourself to be used by the retrogressive core north, the primitive forces of oppression and the asinine peddlers of lies, ignorance and falsehood to destroy someone else’s yearning for freedom from oppression and aspiration for liberty.
I say this because such an aspiration, yearning and quest is not only noble and pure but also deeply courageous. It is an aspiration that we should mirror and admire and not attempt to rubbish or belittle.
This is all the more so because it has been paid for by the blood and suffering of many that have been killed over the last 50 years for daring to voice it, including many young people and many children.
If Miss Henshaw’s Efik ethnic group had suffered just 10 per cent of what the Igbo have been subjected to since 1966 they would have agitated to leave Nigeria long ago or perhaps been driven into extinction by now. That is the bitter truth.
Finally let me say this: whether anyone likes it or not Nnamdi Kanu symbolises the Biafran struggle today.
He has earned it by the suffering he has endured, by the immense courage that he has displayed and by the gargantuan risks that he has taken.
He has energised his people and inspired and brought hope to millions of Igbo youth all over the world.
He has given them back their pride and self-respect which is something that no other leader has managed to do since the end of the civil war.
This is a beautiful thing and I wonder why anyone that lays claim to being enlightened or educated would attempt to besmirch or denigrate him?
Why try and demean him or discredit and belittle the views that he and his followers hold so dear? Whether anyone likes it or not the truth is that Nnamdi Kanu speaks for millions.
And many other ethnic nationalist groups in the south and Middle Belt have precisely the same aspirations and dreams of emancipation and freedom that he espouses, enunciates, epitomises and holds so dear.
The challenge that they are faced with is that, unlike the Igbo, they have yet to produce a leader like Nnamdi Kanu that can unite and rally them together under one banner and lead them to the promised land.