By Douglas Anele
Biafra was defeated not necessarily as a result of the tactical superiority of Nigeria’s armed forces but mainly because of the overwhelming support Gen. Gowon received from countries like Britain and Russia, which feared the emergence of a successful black nation that would falsify white supremacist myths about the purported inferiority of black people to other races of humankind.
There is some evidence that European countries did not want Biafra to survive because their leaders were afraid that the fledgling nation would be akin to the emergence of another Japan in Africa, a situation that could lead to more competition against Europe in the international economic arena. Gen. Gowon and his caliphate colonialist cohorts, being naïve poor students of history, did not realise that western support of Nigeria was not motivated by altruistic interest in a unified progressive Nigerian nation but by crude Machiavellian strategy of northern domination for the purpose of serving British economic interests.
Therefore, for Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister at that time and other morally bankrupt leaders that supported northern jihadists against the eastern region, Biafra must be crushed at all cost. Having said that, it is universally acknowledged that Biafra could not have lasted as long as she did without the inventions of her creative human capital in the Research and Production Unit (RAP). Historically, wars in the western world are usually the precursors and catalysts of technological innovation; but in Nigeria’s case, the northern-dominated federal military government, probably out of tribalistic hatred to prevent Igbo scientists from taking deserved credit for Nigeria’s technological take-off, wasted the opportunity.
After the civil war, some of the scientists, engineers and technologists who played leading roles in Biafra’s emerging technological innovations, led by Prof. Gordian Ezekwe, were seconded to the Projects Development Authority (PRODA) and the Scientific Development Institute (SEDI-E) located in Enugu. But the two institutions were crippled by inadequate funding and lack of encouragement from government.
I suspect that if the engineers and scientists that developed ogbunigwe, locally made rockets, telecommunication gadgets and ingenuous indigenous processes for refining petroleum – all these were achieved while Biafra was under constant bombardment by the Nigerian armed forces – had been northerners, the attitude of government would be different. In his provocative work entitled In Biafra Africa Died: The Diplomatic Plot, Emefiena Ezeani argues that the demise of Biafra as a country poised to fulfil the age-old struggle of the black man for his full stature as man did not benefit Nigeria in any way.
Had Biafra survived, he claims, correctly in my view, there would have been healthy developmental competition between her and Nigeria. Similarly, Stanley Diamond, in Who Killed Biafra, declares that contrary to popular thinking, “the defeat of Biafra is not a victory for the Nigerian people but for the neo-colonialists, whether Soviet or North Atlantic.”
Diamond’s argument is buttressed by the fact that since 1970, Nigeria has remained a neo-colonialist appendage of Britain and other world powers, tied to the apron-strings of the pendulous foreign-dominated international oil market; a country that imports almost everything from other countries despite her impressive human and natural resources. As Emefiena Ezeani wryly remarks, right now Nigeria is a zombie state where Nigerians readily connive with foreigners to exploit and rob their own people for economic purposes, with the latter taking the lion’s share of their plunder.
Overall, Nigeria’s catastrophic defeat of Biafra is a monumental pyrrhic victory that has plunged the country deeper into the black hole of arrested development. That singular ruinous outcome prevented the “land of the rising sun” from reaching its full potential as the trigger for black African renaissance. The intellectually anaemic who might dismiss the foregoing as the claims of an ethnic chauvinist must recognise that each ethnic group in the world is constituted by a unique blend of historically and culturally conditioned set of positive and negative characteristics that define them as a people, and that Ndigbo have characterological weaknesses which make them irritable to other ethnic groups in Nigeria and even to themselves as well. However, the negative traits of the Igbo are counterbalanced by their dedication to duty, industriousness, unrelenting quest for individual achievement, creative imagination for invention and aspiration towards excellence. Thus, the defeat of Biafra was not just a case of genocide against easterners, demise of a promising black nation, or reconfiguration of Africa’s political geography.
At a deeper level, it provided conditions that led to former Biafrans imbibing more and more what might be called the Nigerian mentality characterised by bulimic corruption, wealth without work and debilitating sloth and inefficiency. Let us face it: before the Biafran war when the Igbo were in charge of government institutions responsible for the provision of basic amenities such as electricity, pipe-borne water, railways and so on – in otherwords when meritocracy, not mediocrity, was the decisive factor in the public service – these amenities functioned reasonably well.
What has been the situation from 1970 to date? Answer: since 1970 after the Igbo were removed from the commanding heights of managing Nigeria’s critical infrastructure, things have degenerated to the extent that, despite the huge amount of money budgeted annually for public infrastructure, the situation has become progressively worse. Those who killed Biafra thought they were subduing the uppity Igbo and their immediate neighbours on behalf of caliphate colonialists, without realising that they were actually dragging everybody down into the pit of existential stagnation and paralysis.
We have seen that the Biafran conflict, the valiant attempt by easterners led by Ndigbo to pull out of Nigeria because of vicious maltreatment and pogroms against them by northerners under the direction of jihadist caliphate colonialists, was a war of survival. Only those blinded by irrational hatred of Ndigbo would deny the unequalled contributions of Igbo people in the nationalist struggle for political autarky and, more significantly, in giving real meaning to the concept of “One Nigeria” by contributing significantly to economic and social development across the country.
Clearly, Gen. Gowon bastardised that concept when he used it as a rallying point by genocidal northern jihadists for the sole aim of political domination. Out of sheer hatred triggered by jealousy, the north and a prominent section of the Yoruba establishment joined forces to halt the growing influence of Ndigbo in every aspect of our national life.
The Biafran phenomenon, therefore, is a child of necessity, of gross human violation, the almost inevitable consequence of grave anomalies and injustices in the Nigerian system created by the colonial power, which it handed over to northerners. It is a wicked perversion of history by Gen. Gowon, a so-called elder statesman in his eighties, to blame Ojukwu, and by implication the Igbo for that matter, for causing the civil war.
It was Gowon, having schemed himself into office as head of state, who led the north and non-easterners in the south to declare war on Biafra; and the latter had to respond because they were naturally obliged to defend themselves in accordance with the universal principle of self-preservation. In addition, as I have always pointed out, one must also add that serious character flaws of the two leading protagonists, Ojukwu and Gowon, played a significant part in precipitating and prolonging the war. It must be stressed, however, that whereas Gowon fought a war of conquest against Biafra, Ojukwu fought to defend his people against internal caliphate colonialism.
According to Prof. Wole Soyinka, “The imposition of war on Biafra by the government in Lagos was an act of brazen recklessness in the use of power and the emptiness in the calibre of diplomats and intelligentsia at the time. It portrayed other parts of Nigeria as waiting for an opportunity to wage war against easterners.” Now the question is: has the situation Soyinka described changed since the war ended? I do not think so: incessant killing of Ndigbo living in the north by murderous northerners for flimsy reasons implies that the war of attrition against Igbo people is not completely over yet.
One of the most worrisome realities in Nigeria today is that more than forty-seven years after the civil war ended, the Igbo are yet to be fully integrated into Nigeria. Gen. Gowon, it is true, made some conciliatory remarks in his first national broadcast after Biafra had surrendered, on the basis of which western apologists of northern political domination inappropriately labelled him the “Nigerian Abraham Lincoln.”
With the benefit of hindsight, his pronouncements were largely insincere because they were not backed by adequate concrete actions to help the Igbo recover from their devastating losses. I have already highlighted some of the cruel measures taken by the federal military government after the conflict to further asphyxiate the crippled Igbo economy.
In furtherance of the jihadist anti-Igbo agenda, the northern dominated central governments from 1970 to 1999 denied Igboland its fair share of developmental projects. It is a notorious fact that federal presence in Igbo heartland manifests mostly in the form of prisons, police stations, numerous customs checkpoints and other indices of a conquered territory that must be kept in check to avoid rebellion.
Throughout history, imperialists and colonialists have adopted the strategy of divide and rule to fragment their victims and disempower them. The federal military government applied the same strategy against the Igbo and their immediate neighbours during and after the civil war. Gowon started the balkanisation process by creating three states out of the eastern region. As a result Port-Harcourt, an aboriginal Igbo town known as Obumotu or Ugwuocha by its original Igbo inhabitants, was named the capital of Rivers state.
Further attempt to drastically reduce the size of Igbo nation include the ceding of Obigbo, Ikwerre and other Igbo communities to Rivers state. Igbanke, which was originally an Igbo community called Igbo Akiri, is now part of Edo State.
The point can be generalised: northern military dictators beginning with Gowon deliberately annexed Igbo territories, especially oil-bearing ones, to non-Igbo speaking neighbours as a way of punishing the Igbo by weakening them territorially, demographically and economically in order to subjugate and prevent the people from ever rising again to seek independence. This injustice was given prima facie legal backing in the 1970s by the boundary adjustment committee headed by Justice Mamman Nasir.
The knotty abandoned property issue managed on behalf of the federal government by a committee chaired by Major David Mark, provides another compelling evidence of Nigerian government’s design for the fragmentation of Ndigbo as a homogenous ethnic group. To justify the unjust takeover of property in Rivers state abandoned during the war by Ndigbo, the governor, Navy Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, claimed that his people were like tenants in their own state. To be concluded.