Biafra: What have we learned?

– By Prof. Uzodinma Nwala

Let me quickly dismiss certain lingering pernicious fallacies that have dominated all discussion about the coup of January 15, 1966 and the Biafra War. First, there has been allusion to the January 15, 1966 coup as an Igbo coup that, according to them, was replied by the Northern coup of July 29 1966.

Let it be said loud and clear that that coup, namely January 15, 1966 coup, was not an Igbo coup. It was a coup led by certain Igbo and Yoruba Officers, involving the active participation of soldiers from the North. The aim, as has been stated again and again, by the leaders of the coup was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was in detention at the time and install him the Prime Minister of Nigeria.

That coup was foiled by Igbo military officers. Igbo political leaders and activists knew nothing about the coup.

Again the Incursion into the Mid-West by the Biafran troops was not a quest for territorial grabbing by the Igbos. Ojukwu sent troops under the Command of Col, Banjo in response to Chief Awolowo’s request for troops to help liberate Yoruba land from the occupation of soldiers from the North.

By the time Col Banjo got to Ore, the British had gotten Gowon to offer Chief Awolowo Vice Chairmanship of the Nigerian Government. Awolowo, therefore, asked Banjo not to proceed on his mission.

General Yakubu Gowon knows the truth of all these things. And that is why the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) had written him and asked him to tell Nigerians and the whole world the truth about the January 15, 1966 coup and the Biafra incursion into the Mid-West, and to stop all the lies against Ndigbo, which have been the basis of the burden they carry as a nation within the Nigerian Federation.

Secondly, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Head of State and a frontline commander on the Federal side during the war, said that they (the Federal military leaders) conducted the war without any hate or vengeance because it was a quarrel between brothers.

To this, one is constrained to ask a few pertinent questions: How did the world come to describe the conduct of the war as POGROM? What about the policy that hunger was a legitimate weapon of war and so was justified in its application against the Biafrans? What about bombing of refugee camps, market places, churches, etc?

Again, when Chief Obasanjo said that they, “the victorious side”, have been more magnanimous than the victors in the American civil war, where, according to him, those who lost the war never had a chance to be President of America until several decades if not a century later, I would ask him – WHAT ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA? WHAT ABOUT NELSON MANDELLA?

Such assertions rather than heal the wounds of the war, keep the wounds aglow, rather than reconcile, it runs pour raw pepper of unjustified arrogance on the wounded hearts of the Biafrans. How can you genuinely talk about reconciliation with that kind of mind-set. The truth is that for General Obasanjo, the Biafrans are defeated people. Period!

Indeed, before we can talk about reconciliation, we must accept that grave wrongs were done to the Biafrans, Before, During and Since the end of the war.

During the ‘fictional’ trial of Adolf Hitler after Germany and her allies lost the war to the Allied Forces, the following exchange took place between Hitler and his interlocutor –

Interlocutor to Hitler: You were responsible for the Second World War?

Hitler: No! The Versailles Treaties was.

A similar question can be posed to the Biafra Self-determination Agitators in Nigeria today as to whether they are responsible for the renewed Agitation for Biafra.

I imagine that the Biafra Freedom Agitators, just like Adolf Hitler, would emphatically respond NO! They would rather blame the present upsurge for Self-determination and Biafra and all its fallouts on all those leaders on the “victorious side” who, rather than pursuing the path of genuine Reconciliation, pursued the path of punitive retributions against those who “lost” the war.

Unfortunately, as it was in the case of the defeated Germany that was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened, so do we find in the case of Biafra, that despite all the retributive measures against her people, Biafra and the Biafrans, have neither been pacified, nor conciliated, nor have they been permanently weakened.

Unlike the Treaty of Versailles that exerted bloody pound of flesh on the side that lost the First World War, the victorious side in the Second World War padded their retributive actions with the Marshall Plan.

And thus unlike the intended Carthagenian peace of the Versailles Treaty of 28 June 1919, the Marshall Plan brought a relatively permanent peace to Europe that withstood the shock waves of the cold war including the Cuban Missile crises.

In pursuing the lessons of the retributive post-war treatment of the Biafrans, I would ask the leaders on the victorious side –

When you took all their financial deposits in the banks and paid them only £20 (twenty pounds), what did you expect the result to be – pacification, conciliation or to have them permanently weakened?

When you allowed massacre of unarmed soldiers and leaders even when they had declared their return to Nigeria, what did you expect? I mean when you murdered Prof. Kalu Ezera or when you killed unarmed Col Onwuatuegwu in cold blood, what did you expect?

When you killed and also buried alive thousands of innocent civilians in Asaba, was that a circus show?

I escaped being killed at the end of the war through the mysterious intervention of my college mate, Mr Nwogugbe from Asa in Abia State who was a member of the Nigerian battalion that overran my area on that fateful day of January 8, 1970.

The solders had sent for me and when I arrived at Nkwo Mbaise their base, Nwoguegbe instantly recognised me and shouted Nkume! I responded Nwoguegbe!

Despite being introduced to his commander, Captain Jibowu, the later took him to one corner, asking to be convinced why I should not be treated in accordance with the official instructions, namely to waste any such able-bodied young-man who may have been an actual or potential Biafra soldier.

I was lucky. Nwoguegbe saved me, but several of my mates from my community were not. Cornellius Oguikpe, Michael Osuagwu, Efriam Chukwunoyerem, Echewodo Onwunali, all were murdered at the end of the war by the Nigerian soldiers.

Yes, post-Biafra was not attended by any genuine efforts to seek reconciliation nor even to find out what led to the war. Rather, what we have witnessed is decades of vengeance, arrogance and conspiracy against Alaigbo and Ndigbo –

Yes these are on record –

Immediate post-war punitive massacre.

Dismissal of some officers on the losing side, reduction in rank of others.

Dismissal of civil servants.

Secret Execution of some officers (Col. Onwuatuegwu, Prof, Kalu Ezera)

Abandoned property seizure of Igbo property.

Punitive boundary adjustment.

Closure of the Eastern Sea Port and Railway lines.

Deliberate policy of encirclement of Alaigbo, inciting Igbo outside Igbo heartland to reject their Igbo identity.

Deliberate policy of exclusion from the governance and power equation i Nigeria.

Deliberate policy of destroying Igbo businesses.

Continued massacre, lynching of Igbos in many places in the North

Insensitivity to the plight of the IDPs of Igbo extraction who were initially the major targets of Boko Haram bombings and killings.

No serious effort at post-war reconstruction and reconciliation

Have we forgotten that Biafra was a collective guilt and that those who created the Nigerian Federation did so to satisfy their own agenda. They designed a local agenda for the same purpose?

Have we forgotten the cause of Biafra and the war? Have we ever come together to examine why Biafra? Who was the aggressor in that war?

What about the several efforts to sit down and dispassionately examine the fate of the Federation and how to heal the wounds of the past. Several aborted historical opportunities for peace and stability, or a genuine democratic system include –

Ibadan Conference of Sept/Oct 1966

Aburi Accord.

Abiola’s election that would have set a precedent.

1994-5 Constitutional Conference and the 1995 Draft Constitution, the best Constitutional Draft in the history of Nigeria.

Conferences organized by the Obasanjo regime.

President Jonathan’s 2014 Conference.

Current Ferocious opposition to restructuring.

The only road to Reconciliation is

not Restructuring but Renegotiation of the basis of the Nigerian Federation.

Prof. Uzodinma Nwala is President,

Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF)