Biafra: The wound that refuses to heal, by Yomi Obaditanon

Ex-Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu
Ex-Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

Biafra; the sunset in the east, when brothers went to war against each other for about three and half years over political brouhaha.

The avoidable civil war that ended in January 1970 with the message ” No Victor, no vanquished”, while in reality, there were victors and there were the vanquished. The victor was the Nigerian state. The vanquished were the Igbos. General Yakubu Gowon tried to heal the wound with the three Rs; Restoration, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation. Good as the mantra sounds, our friends from the Eastern part have kept telling the nation about the maginalisation they suffered in the hands of our rulers. First, the Igbos first Army General came almost forty years after the end of the civil war. The post of Inspector General of Police suffered the same fate, as none of the Igbos have had a taste of the post. The highest political post, the presidency, appears unatainable, as Igbo candidates only got votes from the “Biafrans” majorly. The coming of President Muhammadu Buhari to power and the political appointments opened old wounds that no single Igbo man was among the top seven political leaders in the nation, despite their clamouring for it.

The Birth of Biafra

Chief Emeka Ojukwu led the Igbos to three and half years civil war with reasons, even though some schools of thoughts were of the opinion that the war was avoidable, if Ojukwu and Gowon had buried their ego and put national interest above personal interest. Ojukwu was an aristocrat, had a better background and education than Gowon. He was a senior to the latter in the military. So, for Gowon to boss Ojukwu, despite the prevailing situation then was anathema.

Young Igbo military officers, massacred the politicians, notably, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister, Chief S. L. Akintola and several others on the ground of effecting a change of government through coup d’etat. The death of civilians and military officers of northern origin and the promotion of 20 military officers out of which18 were of eastern origin provoked counter coup of 29 July, 1966. The Murtala Mohamned-led coup killed the then military Head of State, General Aguyi Ironsi and several igbo Army officers. The innocent easterners living in the north were visited with retaliation of the death of the northern leaders. The Igbos lost not only lives but properties. So they were admonished to return home.

While justifying the birth of Biafra, Chief Ojukwu stated: ” Biafra nation were fighting for unity, self determination, social justice. ” He went further that the pogrom in the north and the failure of the Federal Government to guarantee security of lives and properties made the birth of Biafra inevitable. Chinua Achebe wrote: ” The only thing left for persecuted easterners to do was to establish our own state and avert destruction. ” Herbert Hoover, once stated older men declare war but it is the youths that must fight and die.” That was the situation when Ojukwu and Igbo leaders declared war that claimed over 6 million lives from both sides. Forty years after the end of the civil war, it seems the sound of war is on again in Biafra. The wound might have been healed but the scars persist. Although there is no pogrom, the Igbos are not facing persecution in the dimention of the level that led to the civil war. But the People are not comfortable with the political sharing of offices. Their grouse now is political marginalisation. The Igbos were better placed than the Yorubas under President Goodluck Jonathan. They were the pillars that held Jonathan administration intact. But they miscalculated by putting all their eggs in a basket by voting for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hoping Jonathan would retain his post. But unfortunately, Jonathan’s defeat was a loss to the Igbo political camp. What they could not derive through the ballot boxes, they believe that agitation for a Biafran state may grant them.

The governors from the Eastern States must come together, reason together and dialogue on the demand for a Biafran state. It is painful that majority of the protesters were not born before the war. So it is easy for them to demand for war. Those who sufffered as a result of the civil war and alive today will likely think twice before venturing into another war. Novelist George Santayana asserted: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Both the Federal Government and the states agitating for cecession cannot pretend that all is well. The Igbos have the right under African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the United Nations Charter on Human and People’s Rights to demand for a separate state. But the agitators must follow the law. The procedure is clear enough but to do otherwise would run contrary to the law of the land , this would likely make mockery of the intelligence of the great men and women of the Igbos.

India and Pakistan were once together but today they are independent states. The remote cause of Pakistan separation from India was due to leadership crisis. Nehru Ghandhi and Marhatma Ghandi clashed over religion. Both leaders underestimated Jinnah, Muslim League, its ambition and outreach. The instigation of religious violence, retaliation and counter violence led to the inevitable; Partition of two brothers, fighting over petty issues, not ready to listen and even the parents acting as stubborn kids.

Sudan’s recent example should be an eye opener for any of the group, who sees the need to stand alone. Sudan’s separation came after 50 years of political and arms struggle. The national question has been an old challenge.

The Igbo youths have the rights to express themselves and to demand for their needs. But it must be done in a civil and legal manner. The burning of Nigerian flags and the tearing of Nigerian passport are violation of the law of the land. No government will fold its arms when a group of people felt aggrieved and take laws into their hands. From state to states the agitators can march peacefully to the State Assembly with their demands for separate states. They could hold meetings with their state representatives at the National Assembly with a written letter demanding for the state of Biafra. It is those that are alive that can benefit from the demand for a new Biafra. To confront the state with the security agents in a violent manner could be termed felonies.

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indeference of those who should have known better and the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph. ” We expect the Igbo leaders to dialogue with the Federal government before their youths commit harakiri.

The agitators for the state of Biafra can take time off and ask questions with regards to the Igbo investments all over Nigeria. Will it be wise to provoke another war? What will happen to all their businesses here and there. The safety of the Igbos all over Nigeria should be paramount in the heart of the agitators. It is true that one may know the begining of war, only God can determine the outcome. It is an act of immaturity for any group, be it Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani or Igbo to be beating the drum of war each time their demands are not met. There is no ethnic group that has not attempted to quit the country at one time or the other. Civilisation should make the aggrieved to take the path of litigation than taking laws into one’s hands.

President Muhammadu Buhari should address the marginalisation of the Igbos. A statesman is not only a father of his people but a man who rises above the shenanigans of the opposition to win them to his side with political sagacity. He is a man who see solution to every challenges where adversaries see nothing but failure.

Under the ousted regime of President Jonathan, the Igbos were better placed than the Yoruba and Hausa/ Fulanis, even though the MASSOB were busy with their agitation for the state of Biafra, the mobilisation was not as it is today. The Buhari government might have compounded the political imbalance that the Igbo are now catching on to demand for separation. The nation needs peace and cooperation of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. We must call all the parties involved in the campaign for Biafran state to come to the negotiating table as a matter of necessity before things get out of hands. Is long ago that the sun set at Biafra, whatever the Igbo want today they must not allow innocent blood to flow again across the Niger. (The Nation)



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