May 30 and Biafra: The war has just begun, five decades after

By Editor on 30/05/2020

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During one of our meetings, I had asked the Ikemba Nnewi, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu if he would tour the same route he trod over Biafra and take the same decisions. He turned and looked at me, with a benign smile playing across his lips his bulging eyes boring through me as if examining my intelligence potentials, if not my sanity for such a “foolish” question.

Then, his answer confirmed that he really thought the question was indeed foolish. How would you expect me to take a similar decision I took in my early 30s today in my 70s? I think he was about 77 then. He went ahead to inform me that he would not even expect me to take the same route I did, if presented the same opportunity at my age.

Of course, I got the message. Because, by then, there were already a surfeit of mistakes I had taken in my life’s trajectory, which given the opportunity, I would not have hesitated in changing. That is even when I had enough time to chew at those circumstances and not under the immense pressure he experienced at that age.

What does this imply? Even Ojukwu, recognised that he made mistakes in his decisions, either, before, during or even after, over Biafra. Not doing so, would have conferred on him the   toga of invincibility and infallibility, nobody, including the pope, has.

I have heard many people assailing the late Ikemba for “leading” his people to a war that they were not prepared for. Of course, the critics could have been right. Perhaps, Ojukwu, might have adverted his mind to the same line of reasoning – because he never told me some of the mistakes he made – but what could have been the choice of a 33-year-old man with such immense pressure as he witnessed in those days?

Recently, I read that there was indeed, a Decree 8, where General Yakubu Gowon, tried to make some concessions by adopting some of the provisions of the Aburi Accord, the central issue that had triggered the war, as against Ojukwu’s insistence that the document be implemented to the letters. The argument was so tempting that Ojukwu should have accepted the much contained in it to avert the war.

Ojukwu, they argued could even have accepted, used the opportunity to stock up weapons before launching his cessation, thus, minimising the damage done to his people, if not winning the war outright.

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But, in all the comments I heard from him, never did the late Ikemba mention ever taking the war to his enemies. He always maintained that the Igbo merely defended themselves against annihilation. None of Ojukwu’s critics seemed to suggest what they would have done as 33-year-olds in a situation where train coaches were discharging dead bodies of Igbo people in different conditions of dismemberment. What would they have said to the relations of those headless bodies – women, whose stomachs were opened and their unborn babies pulled out or others, though still living, had one of their breasts cut off and asked to return home with one and show Ojukwu, or the man, who had one eye gauged out and asked to show the remaining to Ojukwu – would they have tarried to reason with those demanding that he did something.

I just listened, quite recently, to some of the wounded Biafran soldiers, who now live in the quarters provided for them by Ralph Uwazuruike, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, who are still bearing the scars of the war. In all the narratives, I never heard a single one of them blame Ojukwu for their woes.

Indeed, I have never heard anyone who actually saw the Biafran warfront, describing that campaign as needless or blamed Ojukwu for it. Rather, the blame game, comes from either those who were somewhere in their cozy environments outside the South East at the time, or later-day historians. They are the one, who see Ojukwu’s efforts borne out of anything than to defend his people.

Yet, it is also on record that before the declaration of Biafra as an independent country, Ojukwu had reminded the crowd at the old Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly, whose bloods were at the boiling point to defend their people of the implication. He warned them of the deaths and deprivations, reminding them that war was not a child’s play and that they did not have the weapons to confront the Nigerian behemoth. Yet, they elected the war option all the same, saying that they were ready to go even if meant using their bare hands. That was how desperate and dire the situation and what was before Ojukwu.

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That was why till he died, Ojukwu never believed that he lost the war. He had always insisted that the objectives were achieved, which was to secure all those fleeing the carnage being visited against his people in Nigerian cities up north and even as close as Lagos.

Besides, has the war really ended? No! It has just begun. All issues surrounding Biafra are now as exposed as jagged rocks. The same issues Ojukwu canvassed at Aburi are now as germane as ever with more than half of Nigerians currently crying out, demanding for them.

Except that the hairs on its body do not allow the sweat in the goat to be revealed, it is obvious that Gowon, who told Ojukwu that “on Aburi you will fall,” may not be that boastful today and may indeed have accepted the full import of that document, were he to see tomorrow.

Unlike General Theophilus Danjuma, another big fish in the war history, beginning with his alleged killing of the first Nigerian military Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi in the July 29 coup, who has been crying out over how his people in Taraba State, are now fair game to be killed at random, Gowon, who equally falls into the same uncanny situation, has remained largely silent to his own burden, or, as he appears, trying to pray his way out of it.

Surprisingly, even the supposed oppressors are equally not having it easy. They are, fighting their own wars – wars of a different hue – with consequences far greater in all ramifications.

What this means is that no part of the country is safe and none is enjoying the union as it is. What then is the solution – Nigeria must heal. Every part of Nigeria is nursing its own wound and without a deliberate attempt at healing, the wounds would continue to fester until the whole body is weakened and ultimately consumed.

For starters, this healing process, must begin with a general apology and appeasement of the more than two million souls lost in Biafra and before them the souls killed in the different pogroms in the leadup to the eventual conflagration. Instead of the irritation and resentment the remembrance of May 30 evokes in the hearts of Nigerians from other parts of the country, the import should be shared nationwide as the day Nigeria began to miss its way.

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It would not be a bad idea that May 30 is declared a national day of prayer, where there would be deep introspection across the country, rather than seen as a South East affair. Asides owing it, the true and real integration of the Igbo man must now assume a different meaning from the lip service it had enjoyed in the past.

Nothing seems truer than Chinua Achebe’s submission that no other national issue brings Nigerians together than the Igbo question. If only Nigerians could come together and this time positively project the Igbo man as the symbol of its unity, the process of total healing of Nigeria, may have been rolled out.

Like in the run to the 1999 presidential election, marking the return of Nigeria to civilian rule, where there seemed a general agreement to compensate the Yoruba nation over the loss of the June 12, 1993    election and the arrowhead, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, nothing says the Igbo should not enjoy the same treatment in 2023, by the nation agreeing to cede the presidency to the Igbo deliberately.

An Igbo man becoming the President of Nigeria at any point in history through the electoral process, might be the antidote to the myriads of Nigeria’s debilitating malaise. What could be more surreal that Nigeria boasts of the most sought after natural and human endowments in the world and remains the poverty capital of the world? Nothing else explains it than the existence of some powerful supernatural forces. Those forces may find expression in Nigeria’s May 30. The millions whose spirits are still hovering may have sworn as they wreak havoc across the land that never will Nigeria find peace!    






Posted on May, 30 2020

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