Publisher OGBUAGU ANIKWE discusses the matter of building a consensus on the issue of Biafra and a crucial missing link. This article was first published in The Sun newspaper as Thoughts on Biafra 2.1 (4)
Let’s discuss the matter of building a consensus on this issue of Biafra. At the core of separatist agitation for Biafra is the fundamental question of how Ndigbo are treated in Nigeria.
There are two questions that every concerned Igbo has asked themselves. Do the Igbo believe that they can use their education, industry and political gamesmanship to survive and thrive in Nigeria? Are the Igbo better off being a separate republic? These questions follow from aggressive human actions wielded like clubs to pummel them at work, in trade and in school?
In Ojukwu’s Biafra 1.0, as approved by regional leaders, these questions were not considered mutually exclusive. We shall see in a moment.
In Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafra 2.1, however, they became mutually exclusive. Today, the doors of informed dissent are firmly shut against proponents of the first question. Everyone must either rise to rouse bottled-up emotions and resentments among the youth or keep quiet under pain of punishment. Most of us consequently kept fearful silence as emotions gradually solidified. And hardened among a captive audience that now swears by the second question.
To backtrack a bit, two things are quite obvious to concerned Igbo that have ruminated on these questions. The first is that they reflect the perception, right or wrong, that Nigeria treats the Igbo unfairly. The second is that, at its base, these are political questions that must ultimately be resolved at a conference table. This reality will not change, even when we end up in formal war to try to force the second option. It is because this is a political question that we can locate its genesis to the July 1966 coup d’état.
What forced the second question was when fellow Nigerians descended on innocent civilians living in the Northern Region and murdered them. Tens of thousands died. The Northern Region may argue that the question arose in January 1966 when a group of army officers targeted and killed politicians predominantly from the North. They could be right to think so. History also records that people of the North were the first to briefly toy with the idea of separation from Nigeria. The point is that 1966 marked a watershed in the political ferment of Nigeria. It was the first time that the mood of the country was insurrectionary.
The anger and violence that overtook the nation began their journey from the Western Region, culminating in the wetie war cry! – an incendiary demolition of perceived political opponents. In what became a tragedy of errors, an army coup to restore order was botched and ultimately perceived as an attempt by the Igbo to take over power. This interpretation has persisted to this day, even when it was a purely military affair. Politically savvy Nigerians hold this against the Igbo as a group. No one, however holds anything against the north whose military officers have carried out countless others.
This perception provoked its own error of gigantic proportions. The January 1966 botched military takeover riled the Northern Region. Beginning with cries of Araba (let’s separate), emotions gradually rose against innocent civilians of the Eastern Region who were set upon and massacred in their tens of thousands.
Expectedly, this misdirected aggression triggered outrage and emotions in the Eastern Region and ultimately led to cries of “give us Biafra.” Only the Midwestern Region was relatively unaffected, until the resulting conflicts offered them to the gods of war as collateral sacrifice. Thus, every region harvested death as the Grim Reaper agitated men’s souls. To be sure, before this era of political madness, there were other instances where faith fundamentalists set upon southerners living in the North. Those skirmishes were, however, predominantly fuelled by religion. On the other hand, the killing spree of 1966 pulled and tore the political strings that Britain used to tie the Nigerian nation together.
Out of the ashes of that Nigerian tragedy, there are important lessons we must learn. The must significant is that, as long as one is engaged in a political battle, there are safe and terrible tools that one must deploy to win the battle. The first order of business in a political battle is to mobilise the opinion leadership and get the crucial buy-in that accelerates seamless recruitment of diverse talent for the battle ahead. Genetal Odumegwu-Ojukwu, being a student of history, understood this. Which is why he first gathered and posed the two questions to the opinion leaders of Eastern Nigeria.
These leaders left to consult and then returned to Enugu on May 27, 1967, to let him know that they preferred the second option. They handed over a written mandate that said the Eastern Region was better off being a separate republic, given the policy and aggressive human actions that were being wielded like clubs to pummel them where they work, trade and school outside the region.
This was how Biafra and the War of Attrition was born. Ojukwu, on the strength of this mandate, announced that the Igbo would secede and on May 30 declared Biafran independence, citing extensive massacre of easterners in the North.
For our dear brothers who have taken it upon themselves to fight for the liberation of Ndigbo, here are five fundamental issues that need to be urgently addressed, if we must halt the ongoing, needless and avoidable deaths of Igbo youths.
The first is to recognize that Ojukwu’s Biafra 1.0 was preceded by a prior conversation about what Ndigbo and other ethnic nationalities in the region wanted. Because you are nwafo Igbo, consider the wise sayings of our elders. The first is anyi ga akpa ya akpa, maka na akpa akpa, alaru n’uté. This is the Igbo insistence on prior consultation by anyone who wants to fight for them. The second is: Uka akalu aka n’eji isi ekweyaa (when we discuss and agree on your plan for us, we’ll nod yes to actions that follow). Let’s abbreviate both concepts as ag’akpaya and uka’kalu.
Ag’akpaya was what propelled Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to undertake a national tour to sensitise and mobilise the Igbo on the benefits of education, community development and a sense of community, even before he joined the nationalist struggle for independence. He went on this tour immediately he returned from his studies in the United States.
Zik’s discussions and lectures energised and transformed the Igbo into a united front. They aggressively pursued education, pursued better collaborations in trade and commerce, and community development. Ultimately, these mobilisation efforts led to the creation of the powerful Igbo State Union to which Zik was elected the first president. Above all, Zik’s mobilisation and sensitisation efforts ensured that the Igbo were not placed at a disadvantage when the colonial masters left.
Ag’akpaya and Uka’akalu were what Gen. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu used to rouse, mobilise and galvanize an ill-prepared people to square up with Nigeria. He did not use radio propaganda alone to do it. He initiated meetings and placed the responsibility of making a decision on what to do in the laps of ndinweobodo.
This point needs to be emphasized. There must be a prior conversation about where Ndigbo are being taken to. And it is dangerous to exclude the political, cultural, economic and intellectual elite in such a conversation. The Ikemba, in spite of being a military person himself nevertheless went through this process. He neither used radio propaganda nor bullying to accomplish it. Rather, he presented the situation to the people who would be impacted by it and got their buy-in to declare Biafra.
The second is that, without collaboration between the current Biafran visionaries and opinion leaders on the ground, not much progress can be made. The history of Biafra 1.0 teaches us that everything went downhill when impetuosity and arrogance crept in and people with a different opinion were tagged with pejorative terms such as “saboteurs” and “Fulani slaves.” Some were tied to the stakes and shot. Ojukwu consequently lost the crucial support of both the political class and of his perceptive military colleagues.
The third is that how the Igbo are treated in Nigeria is a political question that confronts most ethnic groups as well. Prior to now, every sub-nationality in our multi-ethnic society either plays this game to win, and to settle for or force a win-win. Nigeria’s grandmasters of the game understood this, which is why they kept their support base intact and used their electoral successes for horse-trading as every new government was formed. Igbo leaders used to be masters of this game. Thus, if separatists truly want to help the Igbo, they need to get into the game by attempting, for instance, to take over political power in the East. Nigeria will pay attention to IPOB quicker if this happens.
The fourth is that, deriving from the recognition that this is a political game and not a military war, it is a dangerous gamble to continue to ignore or denigrate members of the Igbo political class. Recent history bears this out. Mazi Nnamdi kanu was released from jail the first time through the intervention of the authentic political elite class whose members continue to be firmly entrenched in the Nigerian political space. We still have them in the likes of Senators Ike Ekweremadu and Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ministers Chris Ngige and Chibuike Amaechi, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, and reliable outsiders such as Pius Anyim, Peter Obi, and Peter Odili. There are others. Their connections, wealth of experience and commitment to a selfless cause are invaluable assets that any wise person should tap into.
The fifth and final point is that both violent and non-violent resort to redressing grievances or injustices is a long-distance race. It is not often that those who started one lived long enough to see it come to fruition. The only guarantee of its sustainability is when it is secured by planting the seeds of aga’akpa and uka’kara. Without digging deep to plant these seeds, the revolution runs the risk of failing to germinate and grow into a mighty oak, able to withstand harsh conditions that the human elements who control the political weather advantages unleash.