The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) released a statement on Friday calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to hold a referendum on the independence of Biafra and in doing so MASSOB may have unleashed the main catalyst that will either settle the Biafra matter permanently or suspend it for another generation.
The organisation started in 1999 and until last week had never called for a referendum on the independence of Biafra to be held. The group’s philosophy is hinged on the principle of non-violence as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi and the leaders claim to have a 25-stage plan to achieve their goal of obtaining independence for Biafra peacefully. How peaceful the group’s activities have been is open to question, however. When a house belonging to the Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, was torched during on of MASSOB’s protests accusing fingers were pointed to members of the group.
Calling for a referendum appears to have brought MASSOB in line with other secessionist groups all over the world. Within days of the call it has received attention from none other than the only daily newspaper in Scotland that supports Scottish independence, The National. The newspaper referenced an article written by a Nigerian writer, Hussain Obaro, calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to organise “British-Scotland” type of referendum to determine if Biafra should become independent or not.
A Referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.
It is therefore a double-edged sword. Risky as it may turn out to be, calling for a referendum is the only way MASSOB and all the other groups agitating for Biafra’s independence can gain any form of international recognition or respectability.
Nigeria’s biggest international partners will definitely lend agitators of Biafra their ears; the United Kingdom have only recently conducted one that bothered on the unity of their country while the world’s most powerful democracy, United States will be more willing to speak with people asking for a referendum than a group threatening to disrupt the peace and unity of an ally nation.
Hurdles lie ahead on the road to organising a referendum to determine Biafra’s independence, though. Firstly, will Biafra include the South-South region or just the South-East? In other words, do the indigenes of Niger-Delta consider themselves Biafrans or just the Ibos?
Secondly, if Biafra does not include the oil rich Niger-Delta region how many Ibos will vote to be part of an independent but landlocked country?
Even if the questions raised above are settled amicably, the Federal Government of Nigeria still do not owe anyone an obligation to conduct a referendum to determine the separation of Biafra from Nigeria.