Chukwuemeka Okechukwu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It is true to assert that history has a way of repeating itself. The political history in Nigeria cannot be complete without the mention of the epoch-making quest for the sovereign state of Biafra and the attendant civil war that ensued from there. The struggle for the sovereign state of Biafra has a long history in Nigeria. The struggle was borne out of the belief that the South-East was marginalised in the political and allied matters of the country. The Nigerian Civil War, better known as the Biafran War, (6 July 1967 – 15 January 1970), was a war fought to counter the secession of Biafra from Nigeria. Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain’s formal decolonisation of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included a military coup, a counter-coup, and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over oil production in the Niger Delta played a vital strategic role.
With the end of the war and the subsequent declaration of no victor, no vanquished, Nigeria returned to a relative political peace where the constituent ethnic groups co-existed with each other. Though the pangs and pains of the world will never be erased from the historical lines of Nigeria as ac country, the citizens of the country with time learnt to live above the constraints heaved on their shoulders as consequence of the war.
However, the country that has known relative peace, has been woken to the reality that cessation awaits her. Many events in the Modern Nigeria have reawakened the struggle for the sovereign state of Biafra. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), is noted to be the driving force for the current phase of the struggle for the realisation the Biafra sovereignty. This has been solidified by the activities the movement called the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in recent times.
The tales of the Nigerian civil war would remain incomplete and deceptive without the mention of the millions of people especially the Igbos that lost their lives in the course of the war. This has been the acclaimed motivation that underscores the recent agitation for the Sovereign State of Biafra. The argument is that the blood of those who died during the war would be in vain if in the end the quest for Biafra does not materialize. There have been recent moves to revive the fight for Biafra spearheaded by IPOB – Indigenous People of Biafra. It has not been a smooth sail thus far for IPOB and others who have joined the race for Biafra in recent times. Their lot has ranged from physical abuse, imprisonment and in extreme cases death. The wall of different prisons around the world harbors some individuals who are pro-Biafra.
Many have justified the recent struggle for Biafra on grounds of working to make the dreams of the founding fathers to see the light of day. Others have argued the high level of marginalisation meted on some ethnic groups in the country as the grounds for the struggle; that it will vouchsafe the independence of such groups. Yet others have argued that the realisation of the course would oversee the development of the marginalised even at the grassroots.
But the big question that seeks answers remains “given the trend of events in the present Nigeria and given the nature of the course sought for, how realisable is the sovereign state of Biafra?”
There could be reasons to believe solidly that the antecedents that led to the quest for secession and the war that followed it, are seen to be repeated in the present political dispensation in Nigeria. The recent happenings in Nigeria breed nothing but hatred among the constituent ethnic groups that make up the political entity tagged ‘Nigeria’. Observers of the Nigerian political scene would easily observe that administratively, governance in Nigeria is lopsided as the weight of political decisions are heaved on the shoulders of a few. In terms of infrastructure, national projects are cited in particular parts of the country to the utter neglect of the rest. These are animosities people habour in the present Nigeria. It should be vividly noted that this feeling is not peculiar to the Igbo race, as several ethnic groups in the country are gradually speaking up.
January 15, 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian Civil War and the official end of the short-lived Republic of Biafra. There was no national event to mark the occasion other than the annual Remembrance Day ritual, which has become nothing but a cash cow for those involved in organising the ceremony. But the civil war was not only a defining moment for Nigeria, it has continued to define the country. As Prof Yakubu Ochefu notes in the introduction to the 2013 book, Nigeria is Negotiable, “The corporate existence of the country has been tested twice. It was formally broken once (1967-70) and pronounced broken once (April 1990). It took a horrible civil war to restore the entity when it was broken and an equally brutal attempted coup when it was pronounced.”
Fifty years after the end of the civil war, what lessons have we learnt as a nation? It appears not much. At the end of the war in January 1970, when the remnants of the Biafra high command signed the article of surrender, the victors, the “Federal forces” proclaimed, “No victors, No vanquished.” Unfortunately, 50 years after, it has become evident that the cheque of “No victors, No vanquished” issued in 1970 is not cashable. The debate is still raging whether the war was necessary and if the region that became known as Biafra had a moral right to secede.
Answers vary depending on who is responding. But one thing is certain. That war was preventable if only the government of the day led by Yakubu Gowon was intent on presiding over a country built on justice and equity. Here is Gowon—quoted in The Man Died, the prison notes of Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka—not only appeasing the génocidaires but proclaiming a divine right to rule—a right that has become the refrain of the relics of the born-to-rule ideologues: “Fellow Northerners, today, I want to direct this appeal specifically to you all…You all know that since the end of July, God, in His power, has entrusted the responsibility of this great country of ours, Nigeria, to the hands of another Northerner…Since January this year, when some soldiers put our country into confusion by killing our leaders, both political and military, the country has not recovered fully from that confusion. The sadness caused in people’s minds by the January event has led to troubles by civilians in the North in May, causing loss of lives. I receive complaint daily that up to now, Easterners living in the North are being killed and molested, their property looted. I am very unhappy about this. We would put a stop to these. It appears that it is going beyond reason to the point of recklessness and irresponsibility…” That was Gowon as head of state in October 1966, nine months before the civil war began in July 1967.
Fifty years after, those who still live with the victors’ mentality that because a people were “defeated” in a civil war, they should perpetually stay under have remained in control of the country. Looking back, it appears the vanquished have not paid the full price—whatever that is—for daring to test the supposedly divinely ordained and non-negotiable corporate existence of the country. There seem to be many instances in the political scene of Nigeria to concretize this claim. The height of political and infrastructural marginalization marks it obvious that 50 years later, the Nigerian Civil war lurks on. Nigerians will be deluding ourselves to think for once that the civil war is over. Everywhere you turn in Nigeria, the angst, fear and loathing that were the hallmark of the civil war impose themselves. Fifty years after the end of the civil war, Nigerians in their dealings and operations have expanded the scope of the vanquished. The country is as divided, if not more divided, as it was at the beginning of the war in 1967.
Nigeria can still redeem itself. It has been 50 years since we proclaimed, “No Victors, No Vanquished.” It is time to truly end the war; and it is not just the war against Biafra, as Soyinka noted, but that against the millions of duped and dispossessed citizens. That is the only way another war will be averted.