By Douglas Anele
Ill-advised and retrogressive northernisation of the Nigerian military led to lowering of the educational standard for officer admission, thereby allowing the north to dominate the combatant cadres of the army and provide 50% of the officers whereas eastern and western regions had 25% each. Moreover, the four most senior posts in the ministry of defence (namely, defence minister, minister of state for the army, permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary) were occupied by northerners.
Prominent northern politicians worked really hard to boost the number of recruits from the region. So, while northern politicians were positioning their young men in the army because they had the foresight that the students they encouraged to enlist would play decisive roles in Nigeria’s political destiny, in line with their bizarre born-to-rule mentality, Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe and other prominent southern leaders blinded by the misguided quest for One Nigeria did not see the danger in the creeping domination of the Nigerian army by northerners, let alone do something about it.
Now, having consolidated northern position in the army, warmongers in the region used non-implementation of Aburi Accord as a bait to lure the military governor of eastern region into taking extreme measures that exacerbated the crisis precipitated by the July 1966 coup and the pogroms.
Thus, Ojukwu and the 335-member eastern region Consultative Assembly of Chiefs and Elders that mandated him to declare the region “a free, sovereign and independent state by the name and title of the Republic of Biafra” at an “early practicable date” swallowed the bait. After that, the plunge into armed conflict between the east and the rest of Nigeria reached a point of no return.
Meanwhile, Gowon’s military government failed to stop the ongoing killing of Igbo civilians and soldiers and assist eastern region to cope with the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of brutalised and traumatised Ndigbo mostly from the north into their homeland. Even, there was no genuine effort by the federal government to identify and punish those responsible for the massacres.
All this convinced Ndigbo that they were no longer wanted in Nigeria, a country some of their greatest sons and daughters had worked tirelessly to free from British colonial rule and build into a unified nation. With the benefit of hindsight after five decades since the civil war ended, all sides in the devastating conflict deserve some blame because although armed conflict might seem quite compelling during times of extreme hatred, crisis and resentment, it can be avoided if the parties involved genuinely want to settle their problems peacefully through sincere negotiation and compromise.
In the case of the Biafran war, Gowon and his cohorts who wanted One Nigeria at all cost bear a far greater burden of responsibility for precipitating it. Nigeria started the war against Biafra by firing the first shots in July 6, 1967 buoyed by Gowon’s arrogant boast that Biafra would be subdued in a matter of weeks with “police action”. Naturally,Biafrans were forced to fight a war of survival and self-defence.
From the point of view of those who still want Nigeria to remain as Britain created it in 1914 notwithstanding scepticism concerning its viability by leading politicians (such as Sir Ahmadu Bello who described the Lugardian amalgamation as “the mistake of 1914”) actions taken by Ojukwu after waiting futilely for over two months for Gowon to start implementing the Aburi Accord were provocative and destabilising.
But why did Gowon and his top advisers participate in the Aburi summit in the first place if they were not really committed to abiding by whatever was agreed? More importantly, why did the Nigerian side abandon the Accord without recourse to Ojukwu and Lt. Gen. Joseph Ankrah who brokered it? Answers to these questions can be distilled from what I stated earlier about the ploy to lure the eastern region into armed confrontation with rest of Nigeria.
Although Ojukwu’s personal ambition and immense pressure from majority of easterners traumatised by pogroms in the North who looked up to their governor for protection might have caused him to throw caution to the winds, Gowon attacked Biafra because of envy and resentment towards the Igbo by northerners and the Yoruba who secretly harboured a strong desire to clip the wings of the highly industrious and successful “uppity” Igbo ethnic group, as well as consolidate northern control of revenues derived from export of crude oil in the eastern region.
On the other hand, as Prof. Achebe avers, the success of the Igbo in Nigeria before the war carried with it the “dangers of hubris, overweening pride, and thoughtlessness, which invite envy and hatred…”
Unfortunately, the situation has remained basically unchanged till today. In mature cohesive countries the success of an ethnic group as industrious as Ndigbo would stimulate healthy competition and the quest for achievement and innovation everywhere. Since Nigeria has never been such a country,it is not surprising that a set of attributes that ought to be beneficial if it was allowed to blossom and flourish became anathema that must be destroyed.
The unspeakable horrors of the civil war have been preserved for posterity in various accounts by both Nigerians and foreigners. But deliberate ignorance about it has been official government policy. In elementary and secondary schools nationwide Nigerian children are not taught about the war, which ranks as one of the most significant events in twentieth-century Africa.
Nigerian leaders almost succeeded in erasing memories of the Biafran conflict by deliberately excluding it as a topic students have to learn during history classes. The worst in this regard are leaders in Igboland and its immediate neighbours who ought to ensure that children of the defunct Biafra are knowledgeable about every aspect of the conflict, especially the international conspiracy that helped Nigeria defeat Biafra and the consequences of the war and lessons to be learnt from it.
In this connection, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) should be commended for calling attention to the unfinished business called Biafra and letting Ndigbo and their neighbours in the defunct eastern region appreciate the need to commemorate Biafrans who died or were maimed during the civil war.
Although the civil war ended over fifty years ago, the Igbo are still paying a hefty price for losing it due to the hegemonist attitude of those the writer, Chinweizu, describes as Fulani caliphate colonialists aided as usual by betrayers from the south. Intellectually lazy and morally bankrupt Nigerians blame easterners for trying to secede from Nigeria.
But what is sacrosanct about Nigeria such that it must exist at all cost at the expense of the natural instinct for self-preservation? Remember, Nigeria is a British creation meant to serve British interests and, only secondarily, the interests of northern Nigeria. In the minds of Lord Lugard and Lord Harcourt who created the country, “the southern lady of means” must serve Britain and the Fulani caliphate.
Every other thing was subordinated to that singular purpose. After about sixty years as an independent country, Nigeria is a failed, almost irremediable, experiment in nation-building, never mind the hyperbolic indices of national unity and progress paraded by pigs in the animal farm, Nigeria.
To be concluded…