My people say that; when we see an old woman stop her dance to point again and again in the same direction, we can be sure that somewhere there, something happened long ago which touched the roots of her life. A short-long time ago in May, 1966, the root of Ndigbo in Nigeria was touched as gruesome murder was unleashed against Igbo Nationalities. Faced with decimation, the Republic of Biafra was declared on May 30th, 1967 by Easterners in a declaration of right to self-determination. The subsequent brutal civil war that resulted in the death of ‘over 3 million’ is now history.
On May 30th every year therefore, Ndigbo led by various groups holds an event or rally to mark this ugly part of our history. This year will not be different; in fact, the stakes will be higher due to the increased activities by groups agitating for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra. These young men appear to be animated by the same passion that triggered the civil war and may end up with the same judgment.
But unlike the events preceding the civil war, there is currently no pre-meditated (targeted) attempts to isolate and kill Igbos in different parts of Nigeria. Rather, what we have are actions by secessionists (on the streets) and pseudo supporters (online) that constitute a threat to the territorial integrity of a sovereign country aimed at provoking a violent response from federal security agents. A response that will then be used as an excuse to start a full-scale war. Apparently, these agitations by restless youths in our streets have dismissed history in pursuit of unwise – perhaps even murderously separatist agenda.
So, what (if any) did we learn from the civil war? If anything, the restiveness in the streets of Aba and Onitsha has shown us that the post-war Biafrans are still itching for a revisit to the ugly past. But, do they really know or understand the implications of what they are agitating for? Do they know how to get there? Have they factored history in? If people that remembers history still repeat the same old mistakes of the past, what of these youths that cannot remember? Are they already condemned to repeating it?
Forty six years after the war, Ndigbo have once more settled in in different parts of Nigeria and even deeper. Our business roots and investments have also grown and even much stronger than the pre 1960s era. So, amidst calls for the destruction of the temple (the zoo), this year’s commemoration presents an excellent opportunity for us as a people to reflect on the journey so far. Our elders say that; to count your teeth with your tongue does not mean you are losing any. It means you should watch your steps and reflect on what may have happened or is happening.
Opportunity however they said is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s lost, other times it’s missed. Half the time, it’s blown. A deep and sincere reflection will ensure that we will neither lose nor miss this opportunity. On the other hand, failure to have this “ime-obi” conversation with ourselves may result in a blown opportunity. So, I ask, have we sized the opportunity presented by the failure in the first civil war to be more intelligent in our approach to managing intercultural and ethnic relationships in Nigeria? Have Ndigbo – the Oha succumbed to the amorphous nationalist forces within us that are itching for war? Is the silence of the elders a result of lesson learned from history?
Presently, the people who claim to be onu na-ekwuru Ndi Igbo (Igbo spokespersons) are taking the war-causing character of nationalism for granted. But if the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland. And who are these lizards of farmland? They are the increasing restive youths who hold nationalistic sentiments and the victim mentality that is potentially very dangerous.
Meanwhile, some of our local champions-the home lizards- like Ekweremmadu in order to rally support and remain relevant has been stirring up ethnic sentiments (every now and then) that could trigger violence. Others threatened home lizards, by remaining silent in the face of these agitations can (for now) afford to preserve the status quo, but for how long? When you’re playing poker, you don’t know the answer until after the cards are laid down, and then it’s too late. So, why are we all waiting till it’s too late?
No, we should not wait. Ndigbo have journeyed and the time for transformation is now. The journey of restoration has to start with a sea-change in thinking in the way we manage our relationships other nationalities in Nigeria. We should not wait to invest in education in our region. We should not wait to provide basic socioeconomic infrastructure, empower our people and arrest the unrest on our streets. We could not wait. It therefore follows that the past must be consulted if we are to foresee the future.
You must have heard that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. I want to add that the fear of ourselves i.e., the destruction that we as Ndigbo are capable of inflicting on ourselves in the name of creating new virtual realities is the beginning of the beginning of wisdom. Our people say that war is death. Some of us that understand this have refused to be reduced to impotent watchers. We have refused to applaud the recklessness that has no respect to the lessons of history by trying to create and sell an illusion as a reality.
It is thus desirable for the pro-independence moments and their covert admirers to learn some deep lessons from history. Such lessons will teach them something about the misjudgments of their fathers and uncles as well as provide for them guidance for the present and future. In addition to telling them who they are, history will hopefully too help them know what not to do.
Finally, 46 years after the civil war, Ndigbo have once again shown their inherent tenacity and survival instincts. At the same time, some ugly trail of our sometimes unnecessary roughness is also on the map for all to see. Our supporters and detractors all agree on our inspirational and disparaging qualities. But to continue to remain relevant and blossom in a multicultural society like Nigeria, you have to make people want to love you more than they despise you.
We therefore have a choice as a people as we commemorate this dark period in our history. And the choice we make is ultimately our own responsibility. I will leave it there.