By Ochereome Nnanna
Fifty one years after the end of the Biafra-Nigeria war, the Igbo nation is being forced to return to the trenches. Igbo people are not warlike, culturally or otherwise. If they were, there would have been empires in the history of the East. Apart from the great ancient Bini Empire, the people of the South East and South-South are historically and culturally republican, not imperialistic.
They are peace-loving. War is not a central part of their cosmology, ordinarily. They believe in egbe bere, ugo bere (may the kite perch, may the eagle perch: live and let live). No one should deprive the other. They also believe in the dictum: O biara nke onye abiagbula ya. Mgbe O ga ala, mkpumkpu apula ya na-azu(A visitor should not bring disaster to his host. And when he is leaving, may he not go with a hunchback). Let there be peace between visitor and host.
If the Igbo are such a peace-loving people, why were they the first ethnic group to fight a war of secession against the rest of the country over 50 years ago? The answer is simple: they were pushed into it after the first military coup of January 16, 1966. Why are they returning to the trenches today? The answer is the same: they are being pushed into it.
As mentioned in the first part of this article, Europe dragged the world into the First World War against Germany and its allies. When Germany was defeated, the Treaty of Versailles laid out the conditionalities to prevent another war. German ultra-nationalists like Adolf Hitler felt dehumanised by these conditions. Eventually, the Second World War erupted. Again, Germany and its allies, notably Japan, were defeated.
But this time, lessons were learnt. The United States of America, which had become the world’s dominant military power, ensured that the mistake of Versailles was corrected. There was a Marshall Plan which enabled the rebuilding of Germany and Japan. In exchange, they agreed to give up undue militarism. Since then, war has been averted in Europe, and Germany and Japan have enjoyed economic prosperity. It worked for both sides.
At the end of the Nigerian civil war, the Britain-driven declaration of “No Victor, No Vanquished” and “Reconciliation, Reconstruction andRehabilitation” were just for the soundbites. While the Igbo thought that all was forgotten and went happy-go-lucky about their businesses, the other side strongly nurtured the war in their hearts, making sure that the Igbo were never allowed close enough to the centre of power. They were never allowed to truly belong to the fraudulent One-Nigeria they were forced back into.
The Igbo people complained of marginalisation and some even lately resumed toying with the idea of resuscitating their Biafra secessionist aspiration. But because the group was doing reasonably well materially, both in Nigeria and the Diaspora, Biafra, for most of them, was just a toy. The rise of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, MNK, and his Radio Biafra between 2012 and 2014 were regarded as distractions that were better ignored. But the situation changed when Muhammadu Buhari became president in 2015 and declared his “97%/5%” charter which he used to hand over the Nigerian commonwealth to his ethno-religious and regional kinsmen, while the Igbo, who consistently refused to vote for Buhari, were shut out.
The immediate effect of this Buharism was the catapulting of MNK to instant heroism. His own brand of Biafra agitation transformed from a toy to a mustering point for the impoverished and angry Igbo youth. MNK’s arrest, detention, trial, bail and miraculous escape from Nigeria when the Army attacked his father’s palace has catapulted him to the symbol of the renewed Biafra struggle. The iron has gone through the fire, and no one can question his qualification to lead from any part of the world.
If the Buhari regime had left matters at the level of marginalisation, it would not have been enough to drive the Igbo into the trenches. Like other Southern ethnic groups, they would have hunkered down and waited out the Buhari era which is just two more years to go. Apart from the highly provocative “97%-5/%” nepotism policy, Buhari also came with a demand for land to settle down his nomadic herder kinsmen.
He proposed Ruga; it was rejected. He asked for cattle colonies. The people said no. He pleaded for their “accommodation”, no deal. Bills were sent to the National Assembly for the Federal Government to confiscate all water resources for the use of “all people”(we know who those “all people” are). The effort was repelled.
For some time, there was a lull in the unrelenting attacks by armed herders largely condoned by the Federal Government. But shortly after the 2019 general elections, matters went into high gear. There was a noticeable drift of people of Northern extraction southward, which, ordinarily, is not an issue. The coronavirus pandemic lockdowns became an opportunity that some powerful Northern cartels seized to mass-move hundreds of thousands of Northern people, including foreigners, into all parts of the South. As soon as such people alighted, they were caught on camera drifting into the nearest forests.
It is this deployment of unwanted strangers in South Eastern forests that has now radicalised the Igbo youth and their peers from other parts of the South to re-enter the trenches to defend their native lands. Marginalisation is tolerable because it is survivable. Forceful settlement of armed strangers on people’s native lands is a call to arms. Government has refused to do its job of protecting the lives and property of the citizens.They could not get their demand for land through peaceful means. Now it is being done through proxy, as Sudan’s fallen Omar Al Bashir did with the Janjaweed in Darfur: get it by force. They will fail!
If government won’t protect you and your property, then you must protect yourself. If a visitor brings disaster to your doorstep, you must send him away with a hunchback!