The fury over Biafra, by Robert Obioha


Pro-Biafra march
Pro-Biafra march

After reading the interview granted to Saturday Sun in 2013 by the new face of Biafra agitation, Nnamdi Kanu, which was re-issued last Saturday, I concluded that the fury over the new Biafra has more to do with bottled-up grievances against Nigerian establishment by some Igbo youths than territorial ambition. They are angry about the neglect of the zone by the federal government and the governors of the South-East.

Some of these youths who were born during Biafra and soon after the war are struggling to make sense out of the war from tortured memories, and what they have read from war novels, poetry, plays and memoirs by those that witnessed it and few that did not.

There are indeed scanty materials available on the war in form of detailed historical accounts. The creative writers have helped to document the Biafran war more than historians. Most of these writers are Igbo and other people of former Biafra. The attitude of Nigeria to the war narratives has been ambivalent.

Since after the war, the victor had deliberately imposed closure on the war.

The history of the war has not been officially commissioned or allowed to be studied in Nigerian education system. To them, Biafra is dead and nothing should be said or heard of it anymore. Read the lips of Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo.

In fact, history as a subject is facing extinction in primary and perhaps secondary schools’ curriculum in the country. Even in universities, the study of history is also being threatened.

History is only an option for students that do not get admission in their preferred first courses. The way Gowon’s Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (3Rs) progrmme was executed at the end of the war did not achieve much for the war-torn Biafra and its people. Imagine giving a Biafran twenty pounds at the end of the war irrespective of any amount he has in the bank. Imagine indigenization of companies soon after the war when most Igbo had no money. Imagine the ugly scar of abandoned property and host of other policies that put the Igbo at great disadvantage.

These are some of the grievances of the pro-Biafran agitators, young people driven more by Biafran ideology of freedom and justice than its territorial shelve. I do not think that these youths are interested in territorial Biafra per se. These youths are annoyed that the people of the South-East were the major victims of the insurgency in the North- East of the country. They are annoyed that Gowon’s one Nigeria is killing their aspirations.

Some of these angry youths have seen that whenever trouble erupts anywhere in the North, the victims are always people of the South-East zone. And there was escalation of such killings following the emergence of Dr. Good- luck Jonathan as president in 2011.

Remember the pre and post-election killings that claimed the lives of many NYSC members from the South simply because Jonathan won the election.

They are unhappy that the Igbo had been excluded from the nation’s presidency, 45 years after the Nigerian Civil War. They are not happy that the South- East has become desolate as a result of gully erosion and lack of federal presence in terms of industries and other national institutions.

The youths are angry because members of their tribe are discriminated against simply because of their language, creed and geography. When they recount that Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s Biafra was born as a rejection of the mindless killings of people of Eastern Region, especially the Igbo, in Northern Nigeria following the counter coup of July 29, 1966 led mainly by Northern soldiers, their resolve to think of having territorial Biafra become intense. Whenever they remember that Biafra came into existence following the failure of the Federal Government to implement the Aburi agreement, entered between it and Biafra, the chants of Biafra become more thunderous.

It will be recalled that in the heat of the 1966 Nigerian crisis in which the Igbo were targeted for extermination (genocide), Biafra became an alternative to the people of Eastern Region who were harassed in the North and some other places in Nigeria.

Following the pogrom against the Igbo and others in Eastern Region, Biafra offered hope, security, freedom and refuge to fleeing people of the region. These people were prepared to die for Biafra than live in perpetual fear in Nigeria. Biafra was like a religion and its ideology readily embraced.

And the dispossessed people of Eastern Region bought and defended it for 30 months in the face of hunger, starvation and economic blockade. All these grievances are what propel these youths to protest their hopeless existence in Nigeria.

The Nigerian civil war was one of the direct fallouts of the colonialists’ unwarranted intrusion in Africa where they lumped together different people, cultures and religions together in the name of forming a nation without asking for the input of those concerned. Except Nigeria is restructured and recreated in our own image and likeness, this trouble will haunt us till eternity.

Nigeria should stop behaving as if Biafra never existed. President Muhammadu Buhari should release Kanu and dialogue with the protesters. He should reassure them of justice in Nigeria. It is not advisable to clamp down on them. That is not the way to go. Above all, let the implementation of some recommendations of 2014 confab start.

My advice to the protesting youths is for them to give dialogue a chance. Pro- tests can never achieve a territorial Biafra. There is no way the old Biafra as conceived by Ojukwu can be realized in the present day Nigeria. If there is any plebiscite today, I do not think that most Igbo and South-South people will vote in support of Biafra. Let the youths be comforted with the ideals of Biafra—resilience, industry, patience and perseverance—and deploy them to actualize their dreams in Nigeria. Instead of needless demonstrations, let them use such energies to think of ways they can fight the injustice within.

Let the governors of the South-East and politicians from the zone work for the people instead of themselves. Their refusal to develop the zone and mass joblessness are driving the anger of the pro-Biafra agitators. (Daily Sun)

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