BIAFRA AND THE SHIFT IN MEANING
By Emeka Ezekwesiri Chigozie
The name “Biafra” has gone through several semantic and lexical shifts throughout its history. At some time, it was the name of a new country stretching through the entire South South to the South East; and including all the states that today make up these regions, save for Delta and Edo States which were part of Mid-Western Nigeria.
After a blood flowing war, the meaning shifted to a symbolic struggle of resilience, self identification and unifying bond for the peoples of the East of the Niger. Yet again, in the beginning years of the present century, and as MASSOB rose, the meaning shifted to a movement for self determination for the Igbo ethnic group.
Another major shift, and which we are presently occupied with, the meaning shifted to something motr intriguing, more symbolic, more powerful; it became not just a rallying cry, but also a zion call for emancipation for the peoples of the South East and South South; it became the symbolism of what is actually wrong with Nigeria. In a condensed deep and laden meaning, it became the encapsulation of a country defined by economic deprivation, inequity, irregularity, injustice, lopsided appointments, marginalization, failed promises, a rather weak structure and the inability of the peoples of this country to reconcile long standing differences.
Biafra today has become something more powerful. It underscores our development and history as a people. It sums up in one word; that after more than 100 years, Nigerians have not fully accepted to live together as one country. That acceptance is not a muted concession of the one country typology, it is rather the negotiated acceptance of what democratic norms and institutions should govern this country; of what economic parameters we will embrace and practice; of the structure of liberties, privileges, rights and cooperation that must define our relationship; of what fiscal foundation we will erect our national structure. It is about a negotiated peace, cooperation and harmony, and not a dissipation of our differences and historical leanings which we are continually asked to jettison.
Until that becomes the case, the idea of Biafra, can never make the final and more suitable shift in meaning, which has already been hinted to by Chief Iwuanyawu; a historical identification of a people living and existing in Nigeria, just like the Oduduwas, the Arewas and all the other ethno-political appellations. But if your thought was that the idea of Biafra will die, then you are so wrong. It can only undergo shifts in meaning and relevance; and we must all decide which of the meanings we will work towards.