Recently, the Biafra self-determination groups’, especially the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, order to observe the defunct Republic of Biafra Independence Declaration kept the Southeast on edge. General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared Eastern Region Republic Biafra on May 30, 1967.
Nigeria’s Legal Order considered that declaration a treasonable felony on Ojukwu’s part and all persons or groups that aided or abetted him. Since the Nigeriastate then headed by General Yakubu Gowon could not lay hands on General Ojukwu directly as a person, Gowon, goaded by Britain and USA declared war against Biafra and boasted that it was a 6-month police-action to clobber the break-away region into Nigeria’s territorial sovereignty.
Of course, Biafra resisted the challenge and full-scale war occasioned and that belligerence has been incidented in world history as Nigerian Civil War or Biafra War. Biafra War remains a defining point of Nigerian history, and for the Igbo and indigenous peoples of the former Eastern Region, every act or thing is reckoned with either prior to, during or after the war.
The effects of the war remain indelible for the Igbo who majorly bore the brunt of the war, and reaped the blessings or glories associated with it. Most of the dramatis personae of that historical juncture are still alive, and infact remain recurrent decimals of modern history of Nigeria. Take for instance, General Olusegun Obasanjo who had the honour of receiving the instruments of surrender from General Philip Effiong, the Acting Head of State of Biafra, or General Muhammadu Buhari, current President of Nigeria, or former military president of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida or Generals TY Danjuma, Alani Akinrinade, David Mark, etc who for over 50 years are still very much around as determinants of the socio-cultural, economic and political development of Nigeria.
These men take pride in their lives as the saviours, and custodians of Nigeria, and consider it their bounden duty to preserve the unity of Nigeria, which they count at great personal cost, and to them anything tending to destroy that unity especially the legal order they instituted to preserve it is heresy and an act of treason. So, it is in the light of the foregoing that one must understand the anger and outburst of President Buhari against anything about Biafra and every other movement for secession such as the Yoruba Nation agitators.
This is not the first time President Buhari has lashed out against secessionists or self-determination agitators and even pointed them to the horrors of 1966 crises and the Biafra War but this time around it was pointedly referenced on the possible repeat of war.
Recall that in one of his media parleys he had pointedly asked: “What do the Igbo Want in Nigeria?”, and now he has addressed the younger Igbo generation by pointing them to the disastrous consequences their fathers suffered as a result of fighting and losing the Biafra War and warned that they will be subjected to the same treatment if they persist in continuing with secession. President Buhari bared his mind when he received report from the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The INEC visitation to President Buhari was reported in several newspapers, especially Vanguard (2/6/2021) at page 8 where the President was quoted as having declared: “Insecurity in Nigeria is now mentioned all over the world. All the people who want power, whoever they are, you wonder what they really want.
Whoever wants the destruction of the system will soon have the shocks of their lives. We’ve given them enough time.” In this portion of the presidential speech, you will decipher that the president has not analysed the problem of Nigeria as fundamental existential crises but rather episodic events being promoted by political detractors and opponents merely out to sabotage his administration or seize power.
This presidential perception makes all the difference in the quest for solutions to Nigeria’s problems because if the president instead of understanding the current problem which he acknowledged as having seized world attention as mere episodic distractions from his detractors and political opponents rather than as fundamental existential crises striking at the root of Nigeria’s existence then there is real trouble because no drastic holistic actions will be taken to cure the disease as mere placebos will be applied to quieten the symptoms.
Identifying those he held responsible for the insecurity, the president seemed to have ignored the Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, the Bandits and kidnappers operating majorly in the North but rather in a nuanced literary tool of innuendo depicted the Igbo and former Biafrans who were major victims of the Nigeria Civil War as the culprits of the insecurity INEC complained about. In that veiled threat, President Buhari having noted that those carrying on secessionist movements in that part of Nigeria were responsible for the insecurity noted that the activists were too young to experience the destruction of lives and property during the Biafra War whereupon he thundered: “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.
We are going to be very hard sooner than later.” Words are powerful current that lives independent of its utterer and acquires its own meaning and effect on the hearers or readers regardless of the intent of the speaker. So it has been with the above declaration by President Buhari as the words complained of have been interpreted to mean a threat of subjecting this young generation of Igbo pursuing secessionist movements to the same Biafra War treatment. Many interpretations have decoded the words as a stern warning by one of the surviving soldiers who executed the ‘Biafra Genocide’ on the Igbo between 1967 and 1970 with the parting salvo that if they do not desist from the complained acts they will be served the same soured grapes their fathers ate. So, in a plain language, the President has been interpreted to mean that the younger Igbo or Neo-Biafrans were too young during the civil war to experience its horrors hence, they were back to the darkly plane that may bring the same disaster that befell their fathers. And the plain warning is: we vanquished your fathers; your own case won’t be different.
Ever since when the president uttered the warning, Nigerians and groups within and outside Nigeria have descended on him in condemnations and excoriations but that do not seem to make any meaning to him or his handlers as government’s reaction to the global information service providers, Twitter shows. Twitter and Facebook had in protest against the president’s belligerent attitude to his own people pulled the offensive statement down and suspended his use of the platform.
The companies’ actions portray global repugnancy the presidential statement had attracted. In retaliation, the Federal Government had banned twitter operation in Nigeria and accused the company of subversion and sabotage. The outrage that attended President Buhari’s statement which has been interpreted as an innuendo against the Biafra Movements being championed by young Igbo under 60 years shows that Nigerians and the world are coming to terms with Nigeria’s sordid past which the Biafra War was, and still is.
Biafra War was Africa’s first genocide which Britain used every diplomatic arsenal at its disposal to conceal to the world as has been unearthed by several historians especially Suzanne Cronje, The World and Nigeria: The Diplomatic History of the Biafra War 1967-70, Frederick Forsyth, The Making of African Legend: The Biafra Story and Emma Okocha, Blood on the Niger and so it would do Nigerian rulers no good to continue, to scare the people with Biafran horrors as doing that means that they, as well as the people being scared, have not learnt any lessons from that sad chapter of Nigerian history. What Nigeria needs now is not further violence or threats of it as violence has not achieved peace in Nigeria, otherwise the defeat of Biafra would have brought peace.
But instead of peace, Biafra War consolidated Nigeria’s culture of violence and gave birth to several violent groups now ready to consume Nigeria. What Nigerian state needs now is a sincere and mutually agreed fundamental state restructuring and a constitutional framework founded on Truth, Justice, Egalitarianism and Reconciliation! That’s the only medicine that will cure Nigeria of its death throes symptoms and heal it. Tough-talks and dictatorial blustering will achieve nothing but disaster.