The re-arraignment of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, on Tuesday, June 27, 2021, has reinforced the events and idealization of Biafra. There are indications that Kanu was arrested a week earlier in a secret operation by Nigeria’s security agents and their collaborators. But for the re-arraignment and subsequent press briefing by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, Nnamdi Kanu’s ordeal might have remained unknown, at least for some days longer.
As Biafra continues to dominate the airwaves, we must pause and ask ourselves some salient questions. What is Biafra? Is Biafra an event, a place, a people, or an idea? The failure to understand Biafra contributes largely to the misconceptions, misinformation, opportunism and whatnot that we now contend with in the quest for Biafra. Some people have argued that Biafra is an event and an idea, and we agree with them. When the British colonial masters arrived in Nigeria, they identified three majority groups: the Hausa/Fulani Majority in the North, Yoruba Majority in the West, and Igbo Majority in the East, and administered the country along those lines. No group was identified as Biafra – and Biafra was not part of the negotiations for Nigeria’s independence in 1960 – until the ugly events of post-independence Nigeria. “Biafra, officially the Republic of Biafra, was a secessionist state in West Africa that existed from May 1967 to January 1970” and was “formed as a result of the nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people of Nigeria, leading to the Nigerian Civil War”.
We should not make the mistake of confusing Biafra with names like Odùduwà. The Yoruba believe that Odùduwà is their progenitor. Also called Oòdua, the Yoruba regard him as their divine king who held the title of Ooni, the first ruler of the the unified Ife. He is venerated as the hero, warrior, leader and father of the Yoruba race, Olofin Adimula, Olofin Aye and Olufe. Put together, Odùduwà is a Yoruba historical figure. On the other hand, Biafra had no particular history with Ndigbo prior to 1967 when Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra. It was not a person but a name suggested by an Ijaw man, Chief Frank Opigo, and adopted by Ojukwu, as a child of necessity. It is not the progenitor of the Igbo race either.
However, the events of Biafra predate Nigeria’s independence. A newspaper in 1945 had reported about ethno-religious tension in Jos, during which Hausa-Fulani people were said to have targeted Igbo people and left three hundred Igbo people dead and wounded. “At Jos in 1945, a sudden and savage attack by Northerners took the Easterners completely by surprise, and before the situation could be brought under control, the bodies of Eastern women, men and children littered the streets and their property worth thousands of Pounds reduced to shambles”, said the newspaper report.
The event of Biafra was not just the Nigeria/Biafra war. The political turmoil in the Southwest in 1964/1965, where Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Obafemi Awolowo locked horns, is believed to be the beginning of the crisis in Nigeria. There was widespread electoral malfeasance in the Western Region election for the office of the Premier. Violence broke out over the outcome of the elections and soon spread throughout the country. People fled the Region. In response, the Federal Government declared a state of emergency and placed the Western Region under martial law. By January 1966 the political crisis in the West reached a crescendo. On 15 January 1966, there was a military coup d’état by mutinous Nigerian soldiers led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna.
Aguiyi Ironsi, then General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army, emerged the Head of State. Ironsi’s emergence as the Head of State was interpreted in some corners to be a conspiracy by the coup plotters, who were led by Igbo officers, to allow General Aguiyi-Ironsi to become the Head of State. This misinterpretation also led to the belief by the North that the coup was an Igbo coup targeted against the North. This distrust is what led Nigeria to where she is now, still struggling for breath. By July 1966 there was already a retaliatory coup by Northern soldiers, killing General Aguiyi Ironsi and several officers from the South. The coupists named General Yakubu Gowon as the Head of the Federal Military Government.
By September 1966, about 30,000 Ndigbo were reported killed in the North. Things deteriorated very fast, and in January 1967, Yakubu Gowon, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of the Eastern Region, headed to Aburi, Ghana, in search of solutions to the crisis in the country. Sadly, the Federal Military Government under Gowon reneged on the agreements reached in Aburi, otherwise called the Aburi Accord. Gowon rather unilaterally declared the creation of several new states in the Southeast Region to whittle the effect of the threat for secession by the Eastern Region.
On 26 May 1967, after consultations with community leaders in the Eastern Region, Ojukwu decreed to secede from Nigeria. On 30 May, he declared the independence of the Republic of Biafra, citing the killing of Ndigbo in the post-coup violence as reasons for the declaration of independence. “Now, therefore, I, Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, by virtue of the authority, and pursuant to the principles, recited above, do hereby solemnly proclaim that the territory and region known as and called Eastern Nigeria together with her continental shelf and territorial waters shall henceforth be an independent sovereign state of the name and title of The Republic of Biafra”, Ojukwu declared.
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Though the war ended in 1970, the events of Biafra lingered, and sometimes took sociopolitical, economic and religious forms. The declaration of Biafra was a child of necessity which the Gowon government helped to birth. Biafra was a response, a solution to the ugly experiences of Ndigbo in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country that preaches equality but practices inequality, a country divided along ethnic, religious, social, educational, economic and political biases. This is why Biafra as a beautiful idea holds so much attraction to Ndigbo. The problem in the current circumstance is that a lot of people misinterpret Biafra and see the solutions to the Nigerian malady in the past – the declaration of the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967 – and insist that Biafra must be free. Biafra is of the mind, a representation, the idealization or pursuit of freedom, equity and fairness, rule of law, faith, truth, prosperity and unity, etcetera.
Every Nigerian – whether Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Fulani, Ijaw, connects with the idea of Biafra, because the ideals Biafra represents are universally accepted. Biafra opportunists have rather forced the false narrative on Nigerians. A lot of Nigerians believe that anyone agitating for Biafra must be agitating for secession. This is why Biafra has not got any closure yet. This is also why the Federal Government believes that the solution for Biafra lies in military actions. Those who create this misunderstanding about the idealization of Biafra are Biafra opportunists who have hijacked the struggle for freedom, justice, fairness and equity, rule of law, prosperity, love, industry, faith and unity, which are the hallmarks of Biafra. These opportunists, largely driven by pecuniary reasons, mouth Biafra but create the confusion that Biafra means secession.
Nigeria should cease listening to the opportunists but must listen to the true leaders of the people. Ohanaeze Ndigbo has been at the forefront of the call for a restructured Nigeria where the ideals of justice, fairness and equity, freedom, prosperity and unity are realizeable. In January 2021, Prof. George Obiozor, President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, told journalists in Enugu that “Ndigbo in all indications see restructuring as the most preferred option”.
On June 12, 2021, Southeast leader met with the Federal Government in Enugu. Rising from the meeting they rejected the agitation for secession and reiterated their commitment to peace, unity and stability of the country. “We are committed to one united Nigeria. We have always mentioned that all our leaders are committed to this and that is why we read it everywhere. We are for a united Nigeria of fairness, equity and equality of freedom. Those who dish out hate speeches from our region, the threat of violence or secession do not speak for the South East. I repeat we the South East people are not for secession, we don’t support it; we don’t call for it”, said Governor Dave Umahi on behalf of Ndigb.
The events of Biafra cannot be given closure until the idealization of Biafra is achieved. That is to say that the only event that will give closure to the events of Biafra is when our leaders begin to do justice; when there is fairness and equity; when there is real – not imaginary – unity and faith in Nigeria and her potentials; and when there is freedom for all Nigerians.
AUTHOR: Collins Ughalaa KSC…
Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.
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