By Asikason Jonathan
“Sincerely speaking, the South-East has not had a fair-share/ since the civil war. Their marginalization is quite obvious/ But if the policy of reconciliation of Gen. Gowon and late/ Gen. Murtala’s administration had continued, the agitation by few/ Igbo for Biafra would have been a thing of the past” –– Balarabe Musa
IT is fiftieth anniversary of the Nigerian civil war, the war that the people of the defunct Eastern region of the country fought for the survival and sustenance of one of the world’s shortest lived states –– the Republic of Biafra. While it is not surprising that the federal government is mute about the significance of the event, in that many conditions –– as Balarabe Musa pointed above –– that made the war inevitable still haunt us today, it is regrettable lugubrious(apologies to Patrick Obahiabon) that no commemoration is planned or organised by any state in the South-East or South-South.
The war was declared by Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s led military government on 6th July 1967 to bring the defunct Eastern region back to the Nigerian federation. The unity of the country which one of the federal war cry said “is a task that must be done!” was compromised by then Col. Ojukwu who on 30th May 1967 declared the Republic of Biafra. He did that as survivalist mechanism against what could be called state sponsored pogrom against the Igbo people.
Igbo people living outside the Eastern Region had since the “Return March of 29th July 1966” made victims of mass slaughter. These for Northerners were in retaliation of their leaders killed in the failed 15th January 1966 coup––the coup they believed, tenaciously, to be “Igbo coup.”
So, it was against this backdrop that Ojukwu’s declaration of Biafra was greeted with pomp and pageantry. To an average Igbo man then, it was an epiphany of the Igbo race. But that was not to be as what started as a police action in the wee hours of 6th July 1967 turned out to be a full blown war that lasted for thirty months.
The events of the war were economically rendered in my poem titled “In the Shadow of Biafra”:
Agreement suffered disagreement
And canons were let loose
Raining in the sky of Biafra,
The scavengers called for feast
Life and death brawled in a free-for-all
But the scavengers had their ways
With their cups overflowing in the presence of their enemy,
Psalm 23 was in their lips.
Were these Biafrans that “heroes fight like”?
Ah! Hunger was the weapon of the enemy.
Kwashiorkor came knocking at the door,
And the death dominoes began to fall.
The grim-reaper was the zeitgeist,
In the genocidal engagement
The rising sun hurriedly departed,
And cessation was the secession.
With defeat in sight, on 11th January, 1970, Gens. Ojukwu and Alexander Madiebo, the commander of Biafran army, fled for exile. It was the man that the white reporters called F-young (Gen. Philip Effiong) that did the needful by handing over to then Col. Obasanjo the instrument of surrender. So on 15th January 1970, Gen. Gowon received the Biafran delegation and thus announced the end of the war on the terms of “no victor no vanquished.”
The argument whether there were victors and vanquished in war was perfectly put to rest by Ojukwu himself who in the BBC documentary on the 40th anniversary of the Biafran war anchored by Prof. Wole Soyinka asked: what did he (Gen. Gowon) do to stop the victor from being the victor and the vanquished from being the vanquished?
One glaring indication that Nigeria has failed as a country is that fifty years after the civil war, Biafra is still on the air. This therefore buttressed the incompatibility logic always put forward by many Biafran nationalists. But if after fifty years, the people of the defunct Biafra have not been fully integrated into the mainstream of Nigerian politics, can we say they can ever be integrated?
The question that successive Nigerian leadership has failed to answer is: why is Igbo people a threat to the rest of Nigerians? Achebe made us understand in his short masterpiece The trouble with Nigeria that “Nigerians of all other ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. They would all describe them as aggressive, arrogant and clannish.”
A cursory foray into the Nigerian history will show that no ethnic group has contributed and sacrificed so much to the development of “one Nigeria” that our Northern brothers are now singing today than the Igbo people. Even when Zik’s emergence in the Western Assembly was foiled by chief Awolowo through the infamous cross-carpeting he orchestrated, Prince Umoro Altine of Sokoto successfully emerged as the mayor of Enugu. Zik scarified the post of prime-minister because of “one Nigeria.” Igbo people do not just live in all the nooks and crannies of this country but are also developing them as their homes because of the one Nigeria philosophy ––so where have they wrong their other Nigerian brothers?
Any objective analysis of the post-civil war public policies of Nigerian State must come to the views that Balarabe Musa expressed above. This is so because we are still at war. From the 20pounds bank and indigenization policies of Gowon’s administration to the present day removal of South-East from the proposed rail project of the federal government, Ndigbo are shortchanged.
The problem with Nigeria and the Biafran question can be seen in the Igbo adage that says: Oji onye n’ani ji onwe ya–– ‘He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.’ Nothing will work in Nigeria so long as the notion that NdIgbo are ‘defeated people’ still holds water in the process of authoritative allocation of resource. To wake up the sleeping giant that Nigeria is, we must look to the direction of restructuring and fiscal federalism.
That said, the governors of states that made up the defunct Eastern Region should bury their faces in shame for not recognizing the sacrifices made by all that were either killed or died in the war especially those that fought on the Biafran side. My greatest epitaph for them is to be found in the words of Robert Laurence Binyon who in his poem –For the Fallen– wrote:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Asikason Jonathan, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra state.
*Mr. Jonathan, a public affair analyst, wrote from Enugu-Ukwu, Anambra state.