By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
I DIDN’T have the luxury of the fond childhood that many my age recount with relish. It was not the fault of my parents, but of a war that we knew more about as we became adults.
The Biafra War, as many know it, ended on 15 January 1970, when General Phillip Effiong, made his famous declaration in Lagos before Gowon,50 years ago.
Effiong was the acting Head of State. General of the Peoples Army Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who I remain fond of, for the protection of our lives in the three and half years that Nigeria would have preferred to see us dead, had gone on exile.
“I, Major-General Phillip Effiong, Officer Administering the Government of the Republic of Biafra, now wish to make the following declaration: That we affirm that we are loyal Nigerian citizens and accept the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. That we accept the existing administrative and political structure of the Federation of Nigeria. That any future constitutional arrangement will be worked out by representatives of the people of Nigeria. That the Republic of Biafra hereby ceases to exist,” he said.
When Effiong died in 2003, in Aba, Igbos buried him. He was a patriot. He was my Head of State from 8 January 1970.
Marks the war left on its victims defy adequate accommodation in the paltry words that address them at conferences. Where enough words are spoken, the words, are seen as healing for the ills of the war, one of the most vicious wars fought in the previous century.
Nobody talks of the uncivil war that replaced the civil war since 1970. It is spoken of with justifications, among them, that Igbos planned a coup, and killed others. Igbos (forever?) deserve punishment and they must remain in Nigeria to receive that punishment.
While images of malnourished children are everlastingly etched on my mind – the loss of our best, able, intelligent young men and women across Igbo land is unforgettable – we cannot lose sight of a war that Nigeria unleashed on Igbos in 1970 to ensure that “never again shall they rise”.
Valuable national resources have been wasted in moves akin to trying to stop the sun from rising from the East. Unfortunately, some Igbos have joined so that they can become “something” in a Nigeria that is at best indeterminate.
We are a people who have proverbs for everything. We were not raised in fear. Nigeria’s recurring challenges rest on the race for nothingness – empty positions and opportunities that undermine Nigeria’s chances of making progress.
You stay on the ground if you have dedicated your life to holding someone down. Nigeria’s lack of progress is situated in the resources wasted in ensuring that Igbos are down. For 50 years this approach has decimated national efforts in all things. Sadly, the ferocity of these policies increase as they fail.
Wars cost lives. We know. We went to war to defend ourselves. We knew lives would be lost. I saw many of them.
My primary school teacher died in the war, conscripted from the palm plantation, under whose protection we sought protection from air raids. It also served as a market, and centre for communal meetings. He was an only son.
Each time I step into our village church, I remember it was an military base, just miles from Umuaro, where Col. Monday Onwuatuegwu commanded the 8th Division of the Peoples Army.
I still see the faces of those soldiers bubbling with enthusiasm that matched the brilliant rays of the rising sun badge on their shoulders. Many of them died. Many young men from my village died, our best.
Stories of these losses are all over Igbo land. No family was spared. We have borne the marks well. Some are still counted as missing in action, nobody saw their corpses, or heard they died. We have started mourning them. If in 50 years they have made no contact, they were dead. Igbos live with these burdens. Nobody can bear them for us.
How could disagreement among top military officers, over a coup, lead to massacres, genocides and still, Igbos, on whose behalf the officers supposedly acted, without consultation, are considered not to have adequately atoned for lives lost in the 1966 coup?
After 50 years of this steadied gaze on punishing Igbos many are realising Nigeria cannot work. They are shouting restructuring. Did they forget that Igbos stood on the Aburi Accord which is 53 years old? We went to war when Nigeria rejected restructuring, 53 years ago.
Some of the woes of the war would have been ameliorated if the “benefits of the war”, like Biafra’s scientific strides, survived the war. After living in a country, that in war could construct an airport, for night flights, within months, refined its fuel, manufactured its military hard and software, we listen to tales of why the simplest things cannot be done 50 years on.
Competence is not a value. Failures are treated as communal responsibility. We are all guilty, is the typical position to draw a baseline of no standards for all.
In the uncivil war of the past 50 years, there is no Red Cross, no Caritas, no peace talks, no international conventions for war. It is a war without rules of engagement. Without these known indicators of escalating conflicts, Nigeria carries on with practised pretences of peace.
The uncivil is more vicious. Though there are no air raids, the battle fronts are in daily confrontations between Nigerians and their own security agencies. It is a war of survival worse than a civil war because it is war in peace time.
Once targeted on Igbos, the uncivil war has spread to ensure that though tribe and tongue may differ, it enrols us in brotherhood of stiff opposition to any inclinations to make Nigeria work.
Nigerians affirm the civil war ended 50 years ago, unaware of the uncivil war which daily questions our Nigerianess.
It would be a war without end until Nigerians realise we are all refugees in the uncivil war – and end it now.