Last week, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, took the pains to refute a Radio Biafra report that President Muhammadu Buhari had expressed some anti-Igbo sentiments in a recent BBC Hausa Service interview.
Also, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Shade Yemi-Essen, emerged from briefing President Muhammadu Buhari to tell State House correspondents that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission had jammed the signals of Radio Biafra and that her officials were collaborating with security agencies to arrest its operators.
‘’It (the radio) is not licensed by anybody to be on the airwaves in Nigeria.’’
The sudden awakening of a comatose NBC that unaccountably slept through the orgy of a hate campaign that suffused the Nigerian electronic media in the run up to the last general elections hardly merits commentary.
We know what the new dynamism is all about. NBC and the Ministry of Information are trying to win the favor of President Buhari, a survivor of NBC’s dereliction of its statutory duty. But it is difficult to forget that the regulator, now doing a chokehold on Radio Biafra, approved the relentless acid attacks of many radio and TV houses on the fault lines of the country.
To start with, the Presidency’s rebuttal was a grand advertisement for the station. It gifted RB the legitimacy of an interlocutor. The defense was a flattering admission that the government listens to the “pirate radio” and dreads its capacity to do substantial damage.
The label of prohibition couldn’t have proved anything but counterproductive. It boosted Radio Biafra’s rating. The unquenchable human appetite for the forbidden fruit drives people to lust after an outlawed experience. The appeal of the banned naturally translated to more Google searches for RB frequencies, website and social media accounts.
NBC’s claim that it has exorcised Radio Biafra from Nigerian airwaves is laughable. Who doesn't know that any person with basic literacy and a smart phone can access Radio Biafra online as easily as the nearest local FM station?
Moreover, the remarkable savvy of the RB crew means that they are continually adapting their broadcast capabilities to fluidity, changing their frequencies as soon as their reach is sabotaged. The best NBC can do is lag behind in an exhausting Catch-Me-If-You-Can chase.
This government obsession with stifling Radio Biafra suggests that it is a new phenomenon. The reality is otherwise. Radio Biafra and its essentially incendiary propaganda have always been with us.
I first encountered Radio Biafra while fiddling with my father’s world receiver more than fifteen years ago. It must have been past 9 or closer to 10 pm when I hit a clear spot. A male Igbo voice was speaking about the ugliness of Lugard’s baby, Nigeria.
I listened. His triage of the spoilt, irredeemable Nigeria referenced the Hausa-Fulani as the most potent plague. He sampled curse words and meted abuse.
I lingered. He transitioned to deconstructing the Biafra war. The decimation of civilian males of many villages, the agenda to emasculate the Igbo race. Infants who became kwashiorkor specimens – the photogenic frame of their skeletons, their empty pregnant bellies, their icy eyes.
He was angry. He brimmed with chutzpah. He was eloquent.
He cited the killing and burning of the houses of South East people in “religious” riots in the North as the continuation of the old Biafra war. He said our resignation to pacifism was a timid surrender to ethnic cleansing. He pitched succession.
His stirring words should have permeated me like a sponge. I was a young, impressionable mind. But my early teen naivety couldn’t digest his creative accounting.
It’s been three decades since the Biafran war ended. Did that war stymie us and sentence us to the drudgery of regurgitating it forever?
Does the wickedness of a past adversary have to be the eternal crutches of a victim?
The main thrust of Radio Biafra’s policy is not shaming the homegrown troublers of the South East into repentance and restitution: It is hunting for alien scapegoats.
Radio Biafra canvasses for the hope that breaking away from the Nigerian federation will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Nd’Igbo. It doesn’t fault our inability to negotiate a better fortune in Nigeria. It sees the future only in a reincarnated Biafra. We will begin to succeed when we secede. We are an exodus away from the land of milk and honey.
Radio Biafra commands a measure of loyalty in the South East because it speaks to the most tortured chapter of the history of the people.
It affirms their memory of a united identity and how it was forged in the crucible of a holocaust.
Radio Biafra also celebrates the pride and genius of Nd’Igbo. In the toughest times, we turned desperation into ingenuity. We refined crude oil in cooking pots. We made bombs out of rusted buckets. We ran a resilient economy. We were the newest born world power.
Stripped of its coarse language, which is no more than a shortcut to notoriety, Radio Biafra doesn’t even qualify as the advocacy megaphone of the infatuated. The brains behind the radio are not mourners who have decided to abide in the cemetery out of love for their buried dead. They are not actuated by the impossible hope their sound and fury would someday resurrect Biafra.
Their mission is a modest one. They simply desire to be the vent for the grievances of the people of South East Nigeria. The goal is within their reach because of the vacuum created by the absence of a responsible Igbo leadership class and their solid commitment to achieving their aspiration.
The Nigerian state also makes Radio Biafra an evolutionary necessity.
The South East houses the third most populous tribal demographic in Nigeria. The region has the least number of states and the lowest number of representatives in the National Assembly. The federal roads in the zone are the bloodiest death traps in the country.
Any surprise that Radio Biafra makes a motif out of these conspicuous anomalies?
Radio Biafra is run by hawkish irredentists. They refashion reality with poetic license. But the Nigerian state feeds Radio Biafra the bulk of material it uses for inflammatory commentary.
The incident that convulsed parts of Igboland two weeks ago attest to this.
While the people of the South East waited for one of their own to be counted in President Buhari’s dozen appointments, black Maria loads of captured Boko Haram jihadists were dumped in their backyard.
Anambra Governor Willie Obiano did not stand up. He hid behind a vague cowardly press statement by his spokesman. But Radio Biafra pounced on the gift of a Trojan horse. It asked the salient questions.
Did this consignment come by casting of lot? Is this the SE’s reward for backing the loser of the last presidential polls? Why the South East of all geopolitical zones? If Boko Haram was a highly coveted present, some infrastructure, would the Federal Government have indulged the SE such favoritism?
It asked the people to protest: And they did, shut down their markets and clogged the streets. When the terrorists were returned, Radio Biafra took the glory of a victorious captain.
This is an example of how Nigeria suckles Radio Biafra.
The fear that an untamed Radio Biafra will ultimately wax into Radio Rwanda is unfounded, though. The most optimistic person in Radio Biafra circle knows they have a zero chance of securing the buy-in of the battle-scarred people of Igbo for another war.
The last civil war began because the preceding pogrom that exclusively targeted the Igbos imposed the choice of self-assertion on them. Under less serious conditions, the South East would have scorned Ojukwu’s call to arms.
Nd’Igbo celebrates restraint. One of their popular proverbs says, ‘’the fool who hurries into war doesn’t know that war promises death.’’
The generation that lived through Biafra passed the legend of its lurid horrors down. Some voice in a safe location, probably half a world away, cannot wipe the slate clean of the blood of over one million Igbos and excite us to a repeat massacre. We would rather live, eat, drink, procreate, and train our children – as the elders pray at the breaking of the kola nut.
Radio Biafra is not a threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty: It has no potential of growing into one. All its activities boil down to interrogating the benefit of allegiance to a dysfunctional Nigeria.
And all of us could use that, if we can afford a moment of national reflection.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu; @emmaugwutheman