By Ochereome Nnanna
FOR once, President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are on the same page: Boko Haram is the worst security situation that has bedevilled this country. That is their opinion, not mine. I will tell you mine shortly.
The president made his view known when he played host to a delegation of bishops of the African Church in the Presidential Villa, Abuja way back in June. He said Boko Haram was worse than the civil war waged against the people of Eastern Nigeria because unlike the Biafra war where “enemies and their territories” were known, the Boko Haram, the faceless insurgents, live among the people.
On the other hand, Atiku in his recent interview with the Voice of America (VOA)was quoted as saying: “the security situation in the country, I must admit, is appalling. I have never seen it this bad, not even during the civil war did we have this sense of insecurity all over the country”.
I am not surprised that these two arch political foes are sharing this candid view. But as far as I am concerned, Boko Haram is a child’s play compared to the Biafra war. It is a classic hyperbole to compare both. It is like comparing the common cold, (which is brought on by a viral infection) with the Ebola Viral Disease (EVD, which is vectored by meaner class of virus). When it comes to the Nigerian civil war, let us always bear in mind that there were two sides to the conflict: the Federals, and the Biafrans.
Jonathan and Atiku spoke based on the experience of the Federals – the pan-Nigerian coalition that came together with their powerful foreign backers, to stop the former Biafrans – the people of the defunct Eastern Region (especially the Igbos) – from pulling out of a wicked, murderous, unjust, poorly governed, disunited, corrupt and internally colonised Nigerian federation. Jonathan is correct to say that while the war raged, the two sides knew who their enemies were, because it was a conventional warfare fought across clearly drawn battle lines. It became very convenient (though not easy) for the hugely advantaged side – the Federals – to eventually overcome the Biafrans.
The mighty Nigerian armed forces have found it difficult to cope with Boko Haram for so many reasons. During the Biafra war, the Federal Military Government under General Yakubu Gowon, buoyed by the onset of the oil boom, was able to raise the fighting forces from about 30,000 to above 400,000 and buy all the war machines he needed from world powers falling over one another to be on their side.
On the Biafran side, events went in the other direction. Resources rapidly dwindled due to massive desertions by some ethnic enclaves from the secession bid, and worsened by the sea blockades that starved the Biafrans of food and fighting equipment. That the war lasted all of thirty months was due to ingenuous improvisations, the gallant fighting spirit and patriotic zeal of the Biafrans.
Unlike the ex-Biafrans (yours sincerely inclusive) who experienced it raw, Nigerians who were on the Federal side during the civil war never lived under such fear of insecurity, as Atiku rightly observed. Some only read about the war in the papers and heard it on radio. Even members of the younger generation of the former Biafrans have never seen anything like it. The fear of Boko Haram has permeated the grassroots. A couple of weeks ago, we visited my hometown, Abiriba, and a woman who lives in the village told a story of how people returning from the farms scampered into the bush when they saw a helicopter landing in the compound of a friend of mine, Abbott. “We thought it was Boko Haram people”, the woman said. My aged mother calls me almost every day warning us to keep away from areas where Boko Haram is killing people. This is the first time since the civil war that a security situation ravaging the far North is eliciting this kind of reaction even in the rural grassroots in faraway Eastern Nigeria.
The evil of Boko Haram passes all understanding. In Biafra the federal troops sometimes committed war crimes, especially when the Northern elements felt like having a go at the hapless civilians and captured soldiers. The Biafran troops weren’t exactly saints, either. I am unaware that Biafra kept prisoners of war. Perhaps, they couldn’t afford to, since they never had that luxury. Your guess is as good as mine as to what happened to those Federal soldiers they captured alive. Yes, war crimes cannot be escaped in war situations, but there were equally many instances on both sides when humanity overcame mutual antagonism, especially towards the end of the Biafra war.
Boko Haram is devoid of sense, reason and logic. They kill everyone, behead their captives, and use women, children and homeless mendicants as purveyors of their suicide bombing raids. The war on terror is difficult because the enemy has his agents everywhere. The troops cannot effectively execute campaigns because Boko Haram agents among us tip off them to lie in ambush.
But to compare it to the Biafran war is an over-kill. Boko Haram is basically terrorism. It is a hit-and-run affair. It strikes fear in the hearts of the people, though the scale of devastation and human casualty is only a drop in the pan. Boko Haram has ravaged the North in three years, producing a combined official casualty figure of less than 12,000. The thirty-month Biafra war claimed about two million lives on both sides. The whole of Igboland was all but flattened, and every Igbo person came out of the bush in utter penury. This is unlike the terror-stricken Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where life is still going on, even though at “half-mast”.
Even before the Boko Haram is crushed the Federal Government has already raised billions of Naira to resettle the victims, unlike the former Biafrans who were simply abandoned to their fate. What did the Biafrans get, except twenty pounds per adult who could prove they had a bank account, irrespective of how much they left there?
The scale of devastation the Igbo man suffered from the Biafra war would have crippled them forever if they were not such hardy and un-put-down-able people. But glory be to God, they came out of it even stronger than most of their former adversaries.
The challenge before us, as Nigerians, is not to engage in unhelpful verbal hyperplasia. Boko Haram is a passing phase, a mere fly on our national scrotum. If we come together as one people, we will decision these cowards. It is our internal division and sabotage that are sustaining them. When Boko Haram is beaten, we must realise that the causes of the Biafran war and the Boko Haram terror have a common root. They are the faults of the sectional imperialists who believe they were born to rule.
Atiku is an unapologetic born-to rule agent. I am surprised he is lamenting about Boko Haram. Perhaps, he has forgotten the threat that he, along with his disciples such as Prof. Ango Abdullahi and Alhaji Lawal Kaita issued in 2010, to make Nigeria ungovernable if Jonathan was elected president.
The masquerade he helped to dress up is now flogging him too.