Biafra and 50 years of unending war

By Casmir Igbokwe

Sir Warrior is a Biafran war veteran based in Enugu. He calls me from time to time to comment on national issues. Sometimes, he goes emotional whenever he talks about Biafra. What happened before, during and after the Nigerian civil war still troubles his heart.

What gave birth to that battle is still fresh in the memories of many Nigerians. Some army officers of Igbo extraction had staged a coup in 1966. Unfortunately, they killed the then Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, and some northern leaders. In retaliation, northern officers staged a counter-coup that led to the killing of the then military Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi. There was also a pogrom against innocent Igbo in the North. This precipitated the proclamation of the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967, by the then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. The war followed on July 6, 1967. Over three million Igbo lost their lives.

Immediately after the war, the government of Nigeria gave every Igboman 20 pounds. This is not withstanding if you had 20 billion pounds in your bank account. In a state like Rivers, many Igbo lost their properties to the so-called abandoned property saga.

As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the end of that conflagration on January 15, 2020, the question arises: has the war actually ended? The situation in Nigeria today does not indicate so. This is despite the so-called three R’s of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.

One of the weapons of the current war is the systematic decimation of the South-East in the hierarchy of the country’s security agencies. The Igboman is not found worthy to occupy the position of the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Minister of Defence, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, National Security Adviser, Inspector-General of Police, etc.

The situation is worse in the Nigeria Police Force. Out of a total of 36 Assistant Inspector-Generals of Police, for instance, the North-West has nine; North-East has 14; North-Central has four; South-West has five; South-South has four and South-East has none. The situation is the same in the other senior cadres of the force.

Today, the heads of the three arms of government are all from the North. President Muhammadu Buhari is from the North-West. Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is from the North-East. Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, is also from the North-East. Also from the North-East is the president of the Court of Appeal, Mrs. Zainab Bulkachuwa.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is from the South-West. Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, is from the South-South. Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, is from the North-Central. The South-East is completely left out.

Nigeria essentially stands on a tripod – Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Since the end of the war, the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba have ruled the country at various times. Even the minority has also ruled. In 2023, when it should naturally shift to the South-East, some people wish that such does not happen.

Like a conquered territory, South-East plays host to a horde of security agents who routinely harass, extort and intimidate travellers and road users in the region. The Igbo continue to suffer the indignity of being killed and their property burnt and looted for any misunderstanding in any part of the country or even abroad. If someone desecrates the Koran anywhere in the world, the Igbo stand the risk of instant death for what they know nothing about.

In admission into federal unity schools, Igbo children suffer discriminatory admission policies.

It is this type of situation that fuelled the emergence of such separatist groups as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and many others.

But the Nigerian security agents are bent on suppressing these groups. The Federal Government banned IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation. Some three years ago, the army launched Operation Python Dance in the South-East. They manhandled many Igbo youths and thoroughly dealt with anybody found with any insignia of Biafra.

In November last year, the Nigerian Army reportedly embarked on indiscriminate arrests in Aba and environs in Abia State. According to the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), the army arrested, tortured and dehumanised over 45 people, labelling them kidnappers and IPOB terrorists. The victims were mainly truck pushers, newspaper ‘free readers’ and vendors, tricycle riders, artisans and passers-by.

The case of one Chinedu Okenmmiri, an Aba-based petty trader/hawker, was regrettable. According to Intersociety, Okenmmiri was making calls by the side of his wheel truck parked by the roadside along Union Bank Junction in Okpu-Umuobu area of Aba. Pronto, a patrol team of police Special Anti-Robbery Squad attached to Eziama Police Station sighted and allegedly swooped on him and seized his phone.

“On illegally browsing his phone, they saw the screen saver bearing the face of a white lady. He was instantly branded ‘419’ or advance fee fraudster and accused of ‘severally duping white foreigners.’ He was clamped into detention at Eziama Police Station and asked to pay ‘N2 million cuts.’ In the end, when his captors found that he was a pauper, they forced him to cough out N10,000 as ‘bail fee’,” the group alleged.

To people like Citizen Okenmmiri, such slogans as Go On With One Nigeria (GOWON); one nation, one destiny; and Nigeria, good people, great nation are a ruse. Today, January 13, Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos, in collaboration with Civil Society Organisations, will most likely highlight some other Nigerian problems in a conference tagged ‘Never Again’. The theme of the conference, which will hold at the MUSON Centre in Lagos, is “Nigerian Civil War: 50 Years After.”

To achieve genuine unity, Igbo leaders, together with some other nationalities and groups, had consistently called for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation. The South-East has particularly demanded an additional state for the region.

It is high time President Buhari apologised to Ndigbo for the past and current injustices meted to them. He did so for the Yoruba when he tendered a national apology to the family of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola in 2018 for the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. He vowed that the country would no longer tolerate such perversion of justice.

People like Sir Warrior and Okenmmiri deserve nothing less!

Re: Beauty Of Igbo Communal Life

Dear Casmir, the Christian dogma of “what more can a man give…” challenges the apocryphal assumption that the “average Igboman believes that Igbo people do not love one another”. How so very untrue. I would rather that the average Igboman is so proud, republican, and self-reliant, that he can easily ask a big man, who just stood him a beer, at a watering hole, “bia nwokem, ina enyem nri.” (Do you feed me?)

Please, tell me, isn’t it difficult to find any other town or province in Hausa, Fulani or Yorubaland, where the people had organised themselves to build a multi-million-naira sports complex, like the Chidozie Age Grade of Umueze-Isuofia in Aguata LGA, Anambra? Or the two-storey health centre and town hall, built by the Oganiru Age Grade of Umueze-Isuofia, and Chidera Age Grade of Ozalla-Isuofia?

Ahoy, I doff my hat for the communal spirit and love by great Isuofia people, the kingdom peopled by the old and new rich personalities like the Ubas, the Soludos, the Igwe Ezeabasilis, and the pugnacious but kind Pokobros Ltd. However, as Igbo’s sense of love, philanthropy and kindness come in shades and colours, I know a young man in Owerre-Ezukala Town, near Isuofia, who gave out about 10 flats in his houses in Enugu, free of rent, to poor tenants and widows since 1987, and at N10,000 per flat per month, this has worked out at N3,840,000 for one tenant in 32 years. And counting!

  • Dr. Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, 08085914645

Casmir, one thing is certain. The God of Ndigbo is a special one. Just like He favoured the Israelites amid enemies, He protects Ndigbo anywhere they are. From £20 after the civil war, many billionaires are in Igboland due to communal life. The envy, which other tribes have for them, has led to their exclusion in national polity. Just as I said in last week’s reaction, let Ndigbo pay more attention to developing their territory instead of no man’s land.

  • Pharm. Okwy Njike, +2348038854922

It isgood to give back to the society, if you are blessed by almighty God. There is a popular saying that givers never lack. It has been the lgbo tradition that, every December, individuals, communities and groups will be launching some projects. Kudos to everyone that remembers his people for infrastructural development.

  • Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535

Dear Casy, Igbo communal life is closely linked with their cultural heritage. Igbo culture is one of the best, not only in Africa but all over the world. Igbo culture is anchored on love, peace, hard work, justice, cooperation, honesty and resilience, and that’s why their communal life is sine qua non. The sand used for my house built in the 1970s was brought by my village women. Food and drinks were provided by both men and women in the same village. Those of us who hold false opinion about Igbo love and milk of kindness didn’t meet members of older generation that shared palm wine with one cup. “Ala Igbo di mma; hu nwanne gi nanya.” God bless Ndigbo.

  • Eze Chima C, Lagos, +2347036225495

First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, 13 January 2020.

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