By Ochereome Nnanna
WAR is not a piece of cake. If you want to fight you better be ready. Biafra was neither ready nor equipped for the secession bid.
But there are those who argue that the defunct Eastern Region under Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was actually forced into that secession bid by a combination of serial, barefaced infractions by the Federal Military Government under Col Yakubu Gowon, and internal pressures to pull the Region out of a country that no longer reckoned with its rights and entitlements within Nigeria.
As I noted in the first part of this write-up, I am not so bothered about steps that the Federal Government or any of its officers took to ensure victory. Even though the Biafrans felt the pain of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s “weaponisation” of starvation against them, I have the feeling he remained appreciated by the federal side for helping win the war without external borrowing.
If the picture was turned the other way round and Biafrans had the advantage of using starvation to obtain either the country of their dream or ascendancy in Nigeria, I believe they probably would have done the same. Most people would do anything it takes to win a war!
It was the steps the Federal Government took after the war that matter so much to me. Those steps helped provide an insight, beyond noisy propaganda and pretentious posturing of high officials, about the real and hidden agenda behind the push for war. They assisted to decide whether the idea was really to keep the country one or merely to create a national and international coalition and subjugate a region and its people with a view to pocketing their oil resources.
If the objective was the former, the war-end policies would have reflected the steps the victors took after the American civil war, World War II and other “civilised” modern wars. They imposed a new order and eradicated the obnoxious policies of the enemy regime, such as slavery in America and Nazism/Fascism in Europe. Once that was done, the victorious side, seeking to genuinely re-integrate the losers back into a united entity, proceeded to genuinely rehabilitate the theatres of war through what they called the Marshall Plan in Europe and Asia.
The Marshall Plan successfully made Germany and Japan – two fierce warlike nations – to lose interest in nihilistic military and political adventurism. It encouraged them to channel their ingenuities to technological and industrial development. They enjoyed almost unlimited financial support. In record time, Germany returned to the top of the economic and industrial food chain in Europe.
Japan became the second largest economy in the world and was, in fact, absorbed into the Western economic and political hemisphere. German and Japanese technologies hatched during the war were adopted by both the Eastern bloc (USSR and the Warsaw Pact) and the Western bloc (Western Europe and the USA).
In the case of Biafra, the so-called “Three Rs” – Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation – were mere lip services. To Gowon’s credit, he did his best to minimise revenge killings when the war ended. That was about all. The Igbo people lost everything to the war. Igboland was desolate, and no effort was made to repair the damage. If anything, the new post-war political establishment continued to nurse Igbophobia until June 12, 1993, after the presidential poll annulment.
Igbo people should look at what they were able to make out of the twenty pounds they were given, compared to other Nigerians that lost nothing and had everything and yet are now way below their economic and social status today. They should rejoice.
They have something that many others don’t. Igbo people should celebrate their victory over the odds rather than engaging in these periodic lamentations of their history. There should be more emphasis on the Igbo triumph over adversity than on Awo’s twenty pounds; on the achievement rather than the victimisation. If a different person, perhaps a Northerner, was in charge of the purse, he would probably pay nothing. If it was the Igbo standing triumphantly over a fallen foe, I don’t know if they would pay.
Then, there was the abandoned property issue. Mark you, it was not applied nationally. Its main focus was Port Harcourt because the policy was meant to remove the Igbo presence from the oil city and drive a wedge between the Igbos and their immediate neighbours. With the Eastern Majority silenced, the exploitation of the oil resources of the Region would go unchallenged or at least easily contained as in the Ken Saro-Wiwa issue.
My conclusion is that the Northern political establishment, in partnership with that of the West with Awo inside the federal cabinet, totally mismanaged post-war Nigeria. Their policies did not unite the country. They did not even guarantee the continued unity of coalition partners.
Rather, having dealt with the Igbo they turned on one another – Northern Minorities/Christians against Northern Majorities/Muslims; West against the North; and the Southern Minorities against the North. Everybody is against the North because of the mindset (some call it the born-to-rule mentality) it applied against the Igbos, Yorubas, Northern and Southern Minorities.
The post-war policies were not packaged to build an economy that would launch the nation to world reckoning. Rather, the oil-fed country became a huge cake that, up till today, everybody is fighting for more of amidst untrammeled corruption.
The Nigerian civil war was not guided by any real patriotic principles. There was no vision to build a country where no one is oppressed. Rather, the intendment of the war’s leaders was to crush a regional rival, pillage its oil resources and enthrone Muslim-Northern rule over Nigeria, the Jihadist agenda Achebe alluded to.
General Gowon has boasted he does not regret the actions his government took. But I know he is hurting like hell in the “One Nigeria” he bequeathed to us all, where his kinsmen are being butchered like chickens while they sleep or worship in church. He is now a prayer warrior, praying to atone for his failure as a post-war manager.