It’s all quiet in the South-East of Nigeria now as the activities of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) has been proscribed as terrorism by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Since the Government launched the Military exercise, Operation Python Dance II in September, to engage secessionist in the region, and the ensuing struggle between the military and IPOB members, to carry out any activity publicly in the name of Biafra is to be a terrorist.
On social media, people have quickly removed the tag to their handles, and I know a few who have begged me to help them scrub their online presence of any ‘Biafra-related’ affiliation. After all, no person with a lot to lose will deliberately aspire to be branded a terrorist. Being in the same category as ISIS, Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants isn’t an achievement to wear proudly on your chest and walk the streets of your city.
You are vermin to the army, a dissenter to the government, and the law states that you should not be allowed to roam free.
In the same manner, music about Biafra has never roamed free since Nnamdi Kanu became the leading voice of agitation. The leader of the IPOB is currently missing, and so is musical support for Biafra.
To find out why this is so, I have called endless list of musicians who are from the East, both popular and rising ones to share with the public the reason why they have never publicly confronted the topic. None has declared their support or openly criticised the group. If your entire consumption of social media, is from musicians then you would tend to believe that this isn’t one of the most controversial and trending topics in the country.
It’s almost like our musicians don’t exist in Nigeria, neither do they follow the news or social media outlets. Not one tweet, one Instagram clip, one share of anything related, or anything else has elicited a reaction from them, and this has created a gap, one that feeds neither part of the conversation about the desires of a people for self-actualization.
Almost every musician who I called to comment on the Biafran situation refused to talk to me. The most recurrent official response was “No comment.” And then a couple of artists were, “Omo, you want make I enter trouble’.
During the civil war in 1967, everybody was affected. All Eastern musicians who generally were dominating the music scene in the country with Highlife were affected. Although there are no records of them contributing to the war effort, they were affected.
After the civil war in the 1960s, Igbo musicians were forced out of Lagos and returned to their homeland. The result was that highlife ceased to be a major part of mainstream Nigerian music, and was thought of as being something purely associated with the Igbos of the east.
“I think none of us wants to be associated with something that might affect our possibility to achieve success,” a young rapper told me under the strict plea for anonymity. “Nobody would like to have their chance at personal success hindered by fighting for a cause that might not be successful.”
“Let’s face it, nobody is sure that we will get the Biafra that our fathers fought for, and our youths are struggling to achieve.”
Another artist, who also pled anonymity said although he is led in his heart to pursue the cause due to what it stands for, the fact that it is now illegal means he might lose a lot. “I don’t want to be picked up and locked up for the cause. My family will run mad,” he explained soberly on the phone.
These were the only two people who could speak to me about it. Some others simply begged that I don’t even mention their name in this story because whether they comment or not, it would have an effect on their personal lives.
The whereabouts of the Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB is uncertain at the moment. And so is the future of the group. There are conflicting opinions on his disappearance, with sources claiming that he either fled back to the UK or got arrested by the Nigerian army. No one truly knows.
I ask another Highlife artist if he would sing a song about him, or praise his efforts at rally Igbo youths to a cause. His answer was speculative and conditional.
“If he is alive and one day Biafra becomes real, I will be the first to record a song for him. But for now, there is no way I will do it. I don’t anybody to pick me up.”