“Produits Fanmilk a vendre…des produits de Fanmilk a vendre. Nous acceptions Naira, Cedi, CFA, Dollars, et meme du Biafra Pound…Fanmilk products e dey for sale…fanmilk products e dey for sale….we dey accept am for Naira, Cedi, CFA, Dollar, and even Biafran Pound”, the dairy products’ vendor shouted to the hearing of everyone, in apparent attempt to get persons to patronize him. This was at Ilacondji, at the very frontiers of Benin-Togo. The vendor, a Togolese employee of the Fanmilk company, a Nigerian international dairy firm, could speak some pidgin English and good French. He was obviously a well-travelled West African, who had probably worked in Nigeria and lived in Ghana. I needed to find out more about his Biafran Pound.
“Mon ami”, I politely called him, “avez-vous dit que vous acceptez Livre du Biafra”? (Did you say you accept Biafran currency here? “Oui”, he quipped, adding, “i lest legal ici au Togo et d’autres pays Francophones. Elle est belle et precieuse. Il est notre monnaie preferee” (It is a legal tender here in Togo and some other French-speaking countries in West Africa. It is beautiful. It is our favourite currency).
I probed further: “S’il vous plait, pius je le voir? Quelle est la valeur a Naira? (Please, let me see it. What’s its value compared to Naira?) The response dazed me: “It is currently N368 Naira to a Biafran Pound!!!” This was the most explosive part. N368 Naira to an illegal currency of a non-existent state? Who could be behind this mint and which Central Bank is regulating and standardizing it to the extent of giving it such a global value?
I took a snapshot of the money and handed it over to the Fanmilk vendor. I bought two products from him in Naira and looked around me to find out that a startled crowd was looking at me, JJC, who was just finding out for the first time that Biafran Pound was a major means of exchange in the Francophone frontiers in West Africa. The persons crossing the border like me were just wondering what drama I was putting up and soon took their eyes away from my spectacle the moment I bought my Yoghurt and allowed the poor vendor to be.
For me, it was a moment of rare discovery. I was lost in thought, perturbed, worried at the deeper implications of the seemingly interesting finding I just made. Who is behind the Biafran Pound? Which Central Bank is printing and regulating it? Why is it a legal tender outside Nigeria? Why are Francophone countries, our so-called good neighbours and co-members of ECOWAS the ones recognizing and accepting it as a means of transaction? How come it has so much value, even higher than the British Pound and other western currencies? Who and what is Biafra in the present-day Nigeria?
The journey to Aflao was characterized by mind puzzles. Could France, Nigeria’s biggest threat in West Africa be behind this pantomime? Could the Togolese government and its counterparts in Ivory Coast and other Francophone countries be boldly supporting the re-emergence of Biafra in order to break Nigeria? Are these governments doing the bidding of France, their master or is it their own hideous agenda to reduce the power and influence of the giant around them? If not, why are these governments allowing the Biafran Pound, a symbol of decapitated and emasculated Nigeria, to be a legal tender in their territories? If the governments are not aware, the citizens and other persons using the coastal trade routes in West Africa would not accept and spend the Pound.
Is the Nigerian government even aware of this development? If not, what then are our embassies and Ambassadors in these countries doing? Do they have any business in those countries if they could not detect and report home such delicate developments that can affect the very foundations of the Nigerian State? Is President Buhari even aware of all this nonsense going on around his sovereign state?
My discovery at Aflao was more worrisome. Ghana, a supposedly most trusted fellow Anglophone country also recognizes and accepts the use of the Biafran Pound as a means of exchange! However, most Ghanaians and Nigerians of Igbo origin, I learnt, use the currency discretely. They are not as brazen about it as the Togolese, Beninoise and Ivorians. But the Biafran Pound is the most popular currency in Ghana. My take on the Ghana episode is that the “friendly” government of that country cannot not say it does not have any security report about a Biafran Pound-business that is said to be as old in Ghana (Aflao in particular) as immediately after the Civil War.
On return to Nigeria, I approached some senior Igbo colleagues in the academia, narrating my encounters and expressed my worries. Concerned but not new to them, they explained that it had been an old development, which has however gained momentum in more recent times. I was made to realize that the Igbos have not yet given up on “Biafra” and that there are grand plans to “regain” their independence. I gathered that the Pound had been a collectors’ item, which, ipso facto, would give it a lot of value, but explained that the tenability of the currency along the West African coastline is the machination of some powerful and unrepentant “Biafran leaders”, whose international goodwill and connections have pervaded West Africa and beyond.
But, the situation is an embarrassment to Nigeria, its government and people. It is more worrisome than Boko Haram because the popularity and value of the Biafran money simply means that a break-up is already established and recognized, or is “at best”, imminent. So, while the West African leaders smile to Abuja, praising and hailing Nigeria as a giant and dependable neighbour, they go behind and mock the country, gleefully sipping wine as they manipulate its disintegration and watch the ignorant and idiotic giant cracking and bound for a collapse.
President Buhari is trusted to handle this matter with fiat. The embassies of Nigeria in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and other places where the Biafran Pound is acceptable must be called to account for their negligence and dereliction of duty. The Foreign Ministry should be called to question and the Nigerian military/intelligence attaches in these countries must be fired immediately. The Federal Government must invite first, the ambassadors of these countries and later the leaders and sit them down in Abuja for a hard talk. The Igbo separatist leaders must be apprehended and an international network promoting the secessionist bid, through symbols, insignias and the Radio Biafra must be brought to the table for another round of hard talk. President Buhari must take advantage of the visit of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon to address the issue of UN recognition of belligerents, which has been a factor goring the Biafran secessionist bid and indeed the acceptability of the currency of a non-existent state.
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