Nigeria fought a horrendous three-year-old civil war between 1967 and 1970, to stop Biafra, led mainly by the Igbos in south-east, from seceding.
Today’s Akwa Ibom, and other states in the south-south, were part of the south-eastern region at the time, and would have formed the breakaway republic if the secession had succeeded.
Pro-Biafra supporters have staged a series of protests lately, resulting in deadly clampdown by security forces.
Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra, was arrested in 2015 and has remained in detention for more than one year now, charged for alleged treason.
“Lack of trust has always been on between the Igbo and the minorities,” Mr. Akpan, a former director general of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), told newsmen in an interview in Uyo, Akwa Ibom.
Mr. Akpan said Akwa Ibom and other states in the south-south would prefer to stay in Nigeria, instead of supporting the agitation for Biafra.
Mr. Akpan said the Nigerian state was “a larger entity”, with room for the minoritmanoeuvreaneuver. “It is much better than a region that you don’t feel (that you) belong. If you are suppressed as a minority (in Biafra) where do you cry to?” he said.
The retired general said Biafra lost the war because the minorities in the then eastern region didn’t agree with the Igbo for a separate country because they were not sure that their future was secured in an Igbo-controlled nation.
“I remember one Igbo leader who said, ‘Don’t worry the quarrel between the Igbo and the minorities is that between a husband and wife’. Oh, this place almost went into flame. Then it was asked, ‘Who is the husband and who is the wife?’ You see, the lack of trust is still there.”
Mr. Akpan supports the call for restructuring of the Nigerian state, but not necessarily to go back to regionalism. It was time for the country to practice fiscal federalism, he said.
“You can keep the existing states, so long as you are not going to create states every other year. There was a national conference that took care of the issue of restructuring. The report is available. Some real autonomy for the states. I may not accept state police because of abuse. The autonomy should be more on economic matters.”
Mr. Akpan said the activities of Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, and the Biafra agitators were indicators that all was not well with the country.
He said what the Igbo want wasn’t really Biafra, but genuine integration into the Nigerian state, after the civil war. “They want to feel that an Igbo man can one day become the president of Nigeria.
“They (Igbos) should seek whatever they want within the framework of the Nigerian state,” he said.
He expressed confidence in the ability of President Muhammadu Buhari to salvage the country.
“I know he (Buhari) has integrity. I know he means well (for the country). The suffering that we see is temporary.
“If he was not the president now, to plug a lot of loopholes that have been in place all along, the money we have been getting now would have been so small. If we had had a president who would have closed his eyes to corruption, it would have been much worse (than what we are seeing),” he said.