Conscience is an open wound, only truth will heal it-Othman Dan Fodio
That the emergent generation of young South Easterners clamour for separation from the Nigerian Federation, some even favourably disposed to bringing this to fruition by the force of arms indicate the abysmal failing of the institution of education in Nigeria. I daresay if Nigerian History was taught as a core subject in all schools across the country, perhaps not a few will have a second thought about this movement that seem to be drawing youths in their thousands.
It is quite baffling that, notwithstanding the fact that literature from the tail -end of the late sixties have come to be associated with the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War (fiction, memoirs, historical and academic works, thrillers ) boasting of the authorship of even foreigners, many a Nigerian has elected to live in the bliss of ignorance. And rather than shut their mouths up, they would gleefully jump into any thread of conversation about that war and poke at wounds which the bearers have denied balm. The Biafra day saw the inundation of Social Media with extracts of controversial rhetorics from the War which seemed to suggest the thrust of the Gowon’s regime to wipe every Ibo from the face of the earth. Quotes credited to Benjamin Adekunle, the commander of the Third Marine Commandos to Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo came alive, and became a veritable spur for the propagation of bigotry.
That day seemed to vest verisimilitude in the saying that the only way to hide something from a black man is to put it in a book. Reading would afford every young Nigerian the requisite knowledge to evaluate the circumstances that led to the 30 months bloodbath from an informed, objective perspective. The Ibos of today would circumvent the fact that a war was waged against them (after all the first salvos were fired by the Nigerian side at Garkem) and the killing of combatants was not exclusive; to dwell on the economic blockade that was imposed by Gowon regime in order to starve them into submission. Elegies from the Book of Lamentation must be sung to remind everyone of the atrocities that was perpetrated against them in that war. They would conveniently forget the fact that even as war bleeds so much life blood from both sides, the Nigerian Army felt the brunt of their heroic resistance. The routing of the Nigerian Army at Abagana to the repulsion of the men from the Second Division from crossing the River Niger attest to this.
It has been written that considering the depletion of Biafra in fighting men and resources even before the start of that war, Nigeria had not expected her to defend herself for as long as thirty months. Yet the leader of the Biafran Army, while fielding questions from journalists before the start of the war, asserted that the People’s Republic was ready for war with the Nigerian side; and that the latter “will be surprised at what they are going to get.” The drums of battle began to throb, and it soon appeared that Ojukwu might have seduced a whole nation into buying the falsehood that there were more than enough arms and ammunition to withstand the onslaught of the Nigerian Army. From the narrative of Hilary Njoku’s A Tragedy Without Heroes, Wale Ademoyega’s Why We Struck, one would not be entirely wrong to conclude that the Biafran people were not only rendered casualties by the genocidal soldiering of Gowon’s officers, the lameduck inclination of Gowon but by the distrustful and precarious stewardship of Ojukwu himself.
Today, the average Iboman might not shy away from expressing what he feels about the Hausa/ Fulani ( Unfortunately, there is no love lost between the President of the Federal Republic, Muhammadu Buhari and the South Easterners) and how soldiers from that stock massacred the civilian population of Biafra with the keenest measure of disdain for any extant rule of armed engagement. However, he ought to be reminded that the army of the People’s Republic of Biafra also did same to people from minority tribes whom they branded as saboteurs. If the descendants of these people would deal the victim card like the Iboman, I doubt if the people of Akwa Ibom, Rivers et al would be desirous of pledging their land to the territorial sovereignty of Biafra. But be it established that there is nothing civil in a civil war, and if the examples of other nations are anything to go by, it is the bloodiest of all wars placing the value of human life beneath that of livestock.
It cannot be disputed that the election of President Muhammadu Buhari flared the agitation in the South East, and the latter, quite typical of his military heritage; one of sardonic brutality , unleashed the Nigerian Army on his citizens culminating in the deaths of hundreds. He had earlier festered sores and sowed discontent in the land with his appointments which was favourable to the North, of which the ibos who were severely disadvantaged cried foul. Here is a man who indicated that he would always be guided by the election results as he presided over the distribution of the dividends of democracy. The call for restructuring, and justifiably so, seem to be loudest in this administration. I am of the conviction that the South Easterners are not wrong when they claim they have been marginalized. However I do join issues with their propenseness of tracing this perceived marginalization to events that set in motion the Nigerian Civil War, and beyond. The South East cannot be hated by all tribes.
This leads me to question the inability of their ruling elite to improve their lot. The elite are also to be blamed for the economic deprivation that has come to afflict the region. Here is a region in which its foremost citizens put together are richer than the entire region. The region boast of a representation in the National Assembly, inclusive of the deputy Senate President, yet none of its congressmen have deemed it wise to propose the provision for a referendum to the ongoing piecemeal constitutional amendment. The tale of the South East is no different from other geopolitical zones where public office holders continue to loot the commonwealth of the people. My word, even if the South East were granted the right to self determination tomorrow, within the Republic of Biafra shall emerge the agitation of minority splinter tribes. (See the example of South Sudan). Nigeria desperately need to practice true federalism where each state can exercise control over its resources, with a weakened central government, and develop at its pace.
In conclusion, it would be expedient to set some records of history straight which has been twisted out of factualness:
1. The January 15, 1966 coup was poorly executed by the coupist whose leadership comprised of several officers of eastern extraction.
2. The leader of the coup, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna was the nephew of the President of Nigeria, Dr Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe. Accounts exist to suggest that he informed his uncle about the imminent takeover. Nzeogwu would later accuse those in charge of the Lagos operations of bungling everything. Azikiwe stayed back in the Carribeans until the overthrow of the government of Tafawa Balewa.
3. In the North where the most powerful politician, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was executed; the contingent that put an end to his life was made up of Nigerians from several stocks. Indeed Major Kaduna Nzeogwu would describe that group as a truly “Nigerian Gathering. ”
3. The news of the coup was largely welcomed by the Nigerian population.
4.The pogroms in the North and the July revenge coup was, among other factors, a response to the delay of the Ironsi’s government in bringing the January 15 boys to justice. (Please read to get acquainted)
I did not set out to reproduce the entire history of the Nigerian Civil War in this piece. However it needs be reiterated that by virtue of the fact that so much accounts have been produced about this war, Nigerians and South Easterners alike cannot afford to wallow in ignorance.