Biafra ought to have been obliterated from the face of the earth and every account of it deleted from human memory but reverse is the case. Why? Biafra is all that Nigeria is not. Just when you think it is all over; dead and buried then like the fabled phoenix, rises to seize human imagination.
What is this Biafra that has captured the attention and imagination of mankind since 1967 to date, if we discount the historical narratives of pre-1967 that had spoken of the Portuguese explorers’ quest to establish contact with a black kingdom south of the Sahara? Catherine Acholonu, a Professor of African History and Philosophy and Presidential Adviser on Culture to President Obasanjo and of course the lead researcher in the work that culminated in The Gram Code of African Adam: Stone Books and Care Libraries, Reconstructing 450,000 Years of Africa’s Lost Civilisatons tried to deconstruct and interpret Biafra as the origin of the word ‘Africa’.
Acholonu’s work holds Biafra to have originated from a god-man called ‘Afra’ the ancestor of modern Africa. This word ‘Biafra’ is further deconstructed as being Igbo, meaning ‘Be-Afra’ or ‘Obi-Afra’ derived from the Igbo ethnographic epistemology meaning homestead (‘Home or House of Afra’ hence ‘Be-Afra’ or ‘Obi-Afra’) shortened by the earliest European (Portuguese/explorers to ‘Biafra’. Prof Acholonu posits that Igbo is the organic source of the Kwa group that populates the Africa’s Niger/Benue/Congo/Nile basins.
Portuguese explorers mapped this area but during the later explorations by British nationals, the Eastern and Western coasts of the Atlantic were named ‘Bight of Benin’ and ‘Bight of Biafra’. Nigeria crises (1966 – 1967) culminated in the secession of Eastern Nigeria on May 30, 1967 as a country named Biafra. Biafra caught the imagination of the world but imperial powers were not amused, particularly Britain, that created Nigeria as an imperial outpost and a neocolonial facility.
Britain counted the disintegration Nigeria a personal loss. So, with United States, it intervened at onset of crisis to warn the July 29, 1966 Araba (secession) coupists who had intended to dismantle Nigeria by creating “Republic of Northern Nigeria” to perish the thought which the majority led by Major Martins Adamu against the insistence of Major Murtala Mohammed accepted and thereby became the new preservers/custodians of ‘One Nigeria’.
Colonel Ojukwu-led Eastern Region angling for Biafra, which rejected British/American order against secession in 1967 paid dearly for its effrontery. Biafra’s existence was contrary to all the philosophical and socio-political foundations upon which nearly all African states were created – that is as neo-colonial state. Biafra was created without imperial attachments and every diplomatic string was pulled by Britain to kill it and it succeeded.
Biafrans spoke of a refreshing changes introduced but the most significant with indelible marks in the memories of Biafrans and the world were the tenacity of the people to exist as a nation as expressed in their determination to withstand excruciating pains of humongous violence, destruction and privations.
It was this determination and tenacity that the people and the world registered as the Biafra spirit that has remained undiminished and unquenchable. This determination almost paid off when Richard Nixon, campaigning for the presidency of USA promised to do something about Biafra self-determination but having won the presidency reneged in deference to geo-political considerations, after Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson visited him and dissuaded him from toeing the Biafran line.
The French under Charles de Gaulle almost recognized Biafra but for his political loss that threw up Pompidou which disappointment was helplessly etched in the prophetic utterance of President Pompidou that Biafra will reappear again. After the Biafra War, the victors shared the booty and made every imaginable effort to keep the vanquished down and helplessly pinned to the valley of defeat.
The structure and constitutional framework were changed to the disadvantage of the vanquished Biafrans. General Gowon, foisted by Britain as the lead conquistador was discarded by General Murtala Mohammed who could rightly be called the Second Lugard as he resuscitated the Lugardian feudal structural and constitutional framework founded on Indirect Rule which he called Uniform Local Government System and Land Use Decree which is the feudal economic foundation upon which Indirect Rule was founded.
General Obasanjo faithfully implemented these policies when he succeeded Mohammed on his assassination in 1976. Ever since, Nigeria has been a troubled-house quaking and convulsing from time to time but now ceaselessly troubled with insurgencies, cocktail of crimes and misgovernance. Meanwhile, the turbulent nature of the Nigerian society and incoherence of the state have made Nigerians especially the southern tribes to start reconsidering their place and relevance in the House that Lugard built and renovated by Murtala Mohammed by asking if a Biafra or Odudwa republics would not be better.
The undying spirit of Biafra encapsulated in ideas of freedom and egalitarianism resurrected with a new generation of Nigerians that did not experience the war or experienced it as toddlers. That resurrection came with the founding of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Raph Uwazurike. Uwazurike’s campaigns met with serious crackdown by Obasanjo government but the group persevered.
By the 2000s, new groups, especially the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra led by British-Igbo called Nnamdi Kanu who set up a radio and other media outlets to keep his struggle for the realisation of Biafra alive. His activities were visited with violent suppression but the group persevered.
Then recently, the Niger Delta militant, Alhaji Dokubo Asari, who appeared to have silently collaborated with Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, launched what he called ‘Biafra Customary Government’ but was tersely dismissed by the Buhari government spokesman, Lai Mohammed as a joker and attention-seeker.
I should think that the undying spirit of Biafra which has now even become the springboard of other separatist groups and tendencies in Nigeria is founded on the imagination of a land of promise – where freedoms abound, love binds, and basic needs of man are attained. All these seem to these agitators to be absent in Nigeria for nobody appears to be free anymore especially regarding the “four freedoms” defined by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as freedom of speech, religion, want and fear.
The new generation of Nigerians could not understand why a Mrs Agbahime or Gideon Akaluka, could be killed or beheaded on an unsubstantiated allegation of religious offences and Akaluka’s head spiked on a pole and paraded openly in Kano City without consequences in a supposed secular state.
Why can’t a ‘giant’ of a nation maintain basic social infrastructure and services which Biafra was able to provide under severe hostilities? The Nigerian dream that has become illusory kept the spirit of Biafra alive. Ordinarily, it would have been an effortless job to join Lugard or Nnamdi Azikiwe to canvass the beauty of a great country and its promise given the diverse ethnicities that constitute it or the enormous wealth and sheer beauty of the land – stretching from sandy Atlantic Coast, Niger Delta mangrove forests, the vast palm plantations of the Eastern region, the scenic joy one gets on ascending the Bauchi Plateau that stretches from Plateau State to the Far-North) and several other beautiful reasons to be a Nigerian but wrong foundations have turned supposed blessings to curse to the people.
And some people are opposing the demolition of this wrong foundation to erect a new, strong and good one. These are the reasons for the undying spirit of Biafra. And unless these factors fanning the spiritual embers of Biafra are positively handled, the undying spirit of Biafra may continue into the disintegration of Nigeria. This is a fact which cannot be wished away.