In the words of Jesus Christ, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:28; see also, 1Peter 3:4; Revelation 2:10).
The Medieval English Statesman and Saint (Martyr), Thomas Moore, tells us that, “Tribulation is a gift from God – one that he especially gives his special friends.” For Prof Chinua Achebe, “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”
The present travails of Nnamdi Kanu at the hands of President Muhammed Buhari’s regime have showed-chased, once again, the ‘Biafra Question’ in post-war Nigeria. The post-war ‘Biafra Question’, expressed best in the following parting words of Dim Chukwuemeka Odimmegwu-Ojukwu, the Biafran leader:
“The person marginalizing me is the person who thinks he has something to gain by maintaining the war situation without the fighting. They don’t allow you to fight but they want to keep the war situation alive.” – Dim Chukwuemeka Odimmegwu-Ojukwu.
Put differently, Prof Herbert Ekwe Ekwe, explains it further in the following words:
“Biafra did not surrender in 1970. Rather what has happened is the occupation of Igboland since then by Nigerian Police, Military and bureaucratic machinery. Some people make the mistake of saying Igbos returned to Nigeria after the civil war in 1970. The fact is that since 1966 Pogroms against Ndigbo in the North, and the Igbos returned to their land, the Igbos had since not returned to Nigeria.” – Prof. Herbert Ekwe Ekwe.
What is at stake here is what the Senegalese renowned philosopher, pan-Africanist and Egyptologist, Cheik Anta Diop, calls, the ‘Territorial Lost of Sovereignty’, in his seminal work, entitled, “The Territorial Lost of National Sovereignty by African peoples.” In this work, Cheik Anta Diop advises, in the following words, the intellectuals and elites in Africa, especially those of them from those ethnic-nationalities, like the Igbo, who might have lost their territorial national sovereignty as a result of the artificial colonial boundaries of modern African states:
“We live in an epoch when every artist and intellectual must take a side – either for or against his people – in the struggle for freedom and defence of human dignity.” – Cheikh Anta Diop.
In our context, it is about the Igbo ‘territorial loss of national sovereignty, or rather self-determination as a distinct ethnic-nationality in Nigeria. The post-war Nigeria “Igbo and Biafra Question”, which Nnamdi Kanu’s travails at the hands of the Buhari regime, has once more, brought to the fore. The fatigue of Nnamdi Kanu and his ongoing saga with the Buhari regime challenges our collective conscience as a human family and as individuals. That is, as a human family and lovers of freedom, justice, equity, truth, life and dignity of the human person.
What is at stake is the struggle for human survival, which is the main force behind the present agitation of Nnamdi Kanu for Biafra self-determination and independence. It is about the ‘self-preservation’ of a people who have been under constant threat of war and extermination. It is about saving the lives of the Igbos after the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970). That is, after the pogroms and killing of over 3.5 million Igbos by the Nigerian State during the three years Nigeria-Biafra War. Therefore, the fatigue and struggle of Nnamdi Kanu for the restoration of the defunct Sovereign State of Biafra are not about who would control the abundant Petroleum Oil and Gas mineral deposits, or the other mineral and natural resources found in Biafraland.
During the Nigeria-Biafra War of the ’60s, the British in collaboration with the federal government of Nigeria had capitalized on their interest in the rich mineral and natural resources in Biafraland to unleash the mayhem on the people of the Igbo ethnic group in Eastern Nigeria. This point is very important because, Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister during the Nigeria-Biafra War in the ’60s, based all his arguments against the coming of Biafra on this issue of British interest in the abundant mineral and natural resources found in Biafraland, especially, Petroleum Oil and Gas. He even went to the extent of saying that it is better than a million Igbos be killed than for the British to allow Biafra to be:
“The dead bodies of half a million Biafrans will not force British to change her policies concerning the Nigeria Civil War. … The Biafran nation cannot be allowed to be, for we (British) do not trust what they will become with their vast resources and Russians or the French.” – Harold Wilson, UK Prime Minister, 1964-1970.
However, one thing Prime Minister Harold Wilson forgot is that he is not God. The question of freedom of the Igbo people and the coming of Biafra belongs to God to accomplish through our human instrumentality. In that case, Biafra will come when God wants it. After all, God did not create us human beings and ethnic-nationalities to be slaves of others. Rather, God created us in freedom! In that case, he wants us, as human persons created in his image and likeness, to live in freedom, that is, as children of God.
Moreover, another thing Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his British people failed to acknowledge is that the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by Ojukwu on May 30, 1967, was not motivated in any way at all by Ojukwu’s desire for the control of any mineral or natural resources in Biafraland. Rather, it was as a result of Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country – the killings in thousands of Igbos and other Easterners residing in the North, that made them feel unsafe and unprotected in Nigeria. This was what led to the declaration of the Sovereign State of the Republic of Biafra by Ojukwu. Period!
Ojukwu and the Eastern Nigerian Consultative Assembly met at Enugu on May 27, 1967, and voted for the declaration of the Independent Republic of Biafra. On May 30, 1967, Ojukwu made the official announcement and declaration of the birth of the Sovereign State of the Republic of Biafra. He felt that Igbos and other Easterners, who were fleeing from the North back to the East because of the pogroms, needed a welcoming home in Biafraland. That is an Independent Sovereign State where they could feel free and secure. They needed security and succour, the very thing the Nigeria State could not offer them. A place of security of lives, protection and succour is what the Republic of Biafra is all about. Unfortunately, Nigeria had proved time without number, not to provide the Biafran people with that security and welfare as a people, the very basic things for the existence of any nation-state.
Therefore, the Biafra Republic came about as a necessity, a genuine concern for the human survival of the Igbos and other Easterners fleeing from the North as a result of the pogroms against them in the North and other parts of the country. The question of Oil and Gas, or other mineral and natural resources in Biafraland was not at all on the table.
The same thing can be said of the new phase of the Biafra struggle which Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB pro-Biafra youth movement represent. It has nothing to do with the usually invoked world powers and Nigerian government’s interest and constant reference to the Petroleum – Oil and Gas in Biafraland. Rather what is at stake is the struggle for human survival and the Igbo nation’s ‘territorial lost of its national sovereignty and self-determination as a distinct ethnic nation in Nigeria
The concern is always that of the human survival of the Biafran people. In other words, the interest in Oil and Gas and other mineral and natural resources in Bifraland is not at all the major thing propelling Nnamdi Kanu in his struggle for Biafra freedom and self-determination. Rather, it is about human survival, saving human lives of the Biafran people from the invading ‘enemy’ forces and the draconian, discriminatory, anti-Igbo policies of successive federal governments of Nigeria since the end of the war in 1970.
This is the ‘Biafra Question’, embodied in the present travails of Nnamdi Kanu and his agitation for the restoration of the defunct Sovereign State of Biafra. As one author put it, “Nnamdi Kanu in ‘handcuff’ is the Igbo nation in handcuff.” Nnamdi Kanu in ‘chains’ at the hands of Nigerian security operatives is the Igbo nation in ‘chains’ in Nigeria.
That graphic image (photo) of Nnamdi Kanu, arriving in handcuff at the federal high court Abuja, detained and remanded in the dungeon of Nigeria security forces, DSS, and looking very fragile and dejected, was meant by those in corridors of power to send a strong message to Igbo people of South Eastern Nigeria. That message was to remind the Igbo that they are defeated people, and therefore, cannot do anything, to save themselves as far as Nigeria is concerned. This is the type of arrogance of those piloting the affairs of the Nigerian State against the Igbo all these years.
This is why most people in the North and elsewhere are celebrating and rejoicing over the news of the abduction and deportation to Nigeria of Nnamdi Kanu by the Buhari regime in collaboration with the Kenyan government of President Uhuru Kenyatta. For them, it was a major victory for the North. Even the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, a Fulani from Kebbi State, had to switch over to the Hausa language during his press briefing and live broadcast on national television and radio over the government’s “acclaimed success” in the shameful and disgraceful way they abducted and deported Nnamdi Kanu back to Nigeria through the government of Kenya. Abubakar Malami addressed his Northern kinsmen in Hausa during his national live broadcast, to felicitate with them over their “acclaimed victory” in bringing Nnamdi Kanu back to Nigeria in Abuja for trial at the hands of the Fulani-controlled Federal Government of Nigeria.
Once more, the ‘Biafra Question’ which Nnamdi Kanu’s travails and fatigue in his struggle for Biafra freedom, epitomizes, is a struggle for human survival of an ethnic-group, Igbo, and others in the former Eastern region, facing constant threats of wars and extermination in Nigeria. The Biafran people, after the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1070), in which an estimated 3.5 million Biafrans, mostly Igbos were killed by the Nigerian State, have been asking for constructive dialogue with the Nigeria State and the British, to resolve this problem, once and for all.
This is because the defeat of Biafra in 1970, after the Nigeria-Biafra War, meant for the Igbo, the “territorial lost of national sovereignty.” That is the loss of self-determination as a distinct ethnic-nationality in a hostile Nigerian State environment. The consequence of which is that today, in post-war Nigeria, the Igbo is someone who has been pushed to the margin of the Nigerian State. That is someone who does not feel again as an equal citizen in Nigeria because of the way the Nigerian State treats him and his ethnic group. The Igbo in Nigeria is someone, or rather a distinct ethnic nation (Igbo nation) of over 70 million people, whose dignity, equal rights and privileges are denied them in the Nigerian State.
Successive federal governments of Nigeria since 1970 have been running a kind of state policies, which are clearly, meant to maintain this sense of Igbo territorial loss of their national sovereignty in the entity called Nigeria. Since the end of the war in 1970, Nigerian federal government state policies are, by all intent and purpose, geared towards suppressing and subjugating the Igbo from participating as equal partners in the scheme of things in the country. This anti-Igbo state policy pervades the entire Nigerian geopolitical system, governmental structures and bureaucratic machinery.
This is also evident in the continued militarization of Igbo territory (land), and the humiliation, of Igbo indigenes by successive Nigerian federal governments at any least provocations, as well as the near ‘second-class’ citizenship position they have been placed in Nigeria since the end of Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970. Added to this, is the continued imposition of ‘renegades’, sometimes through ‘rigging of elections’, as states governors in Igboland, and others as representatives at the National Assembly, federal ministries and parastatals, etc. Often, these individuals serve as local agents, spinoffs, for the federal government’s execution of its anti-Igbo policies and subjugation of Igbo indigenes in Nigeria. It is a neo-colonial system and project at work in Nigeria in Igboland.
This includes also the discrimination in the infrastructural development of Igboland, and in the provision of job opportunities for the teeming Igbo youth. This last point is one of the major contributing factors why most Igbo youths have chosen to migrate to foreign countries out of frustration and sheer necessity, for survival and for taking care of the financial upkeep of poor relatives left at home.
There is also the issue of federal government policy which establishes very high, discriminatory cut-off marks for Igbo children (students) seeking admission into universities and federal government “Unity Schools.” While on one hand, students from the Northern States, with even the least score at JAMB (University Entrance Examinations), could be offered admission into the universities, students from the Igbo States, on the other hand, are subjected to very high cut-off marks before they could be admitted into the universities or federal government “Unity Schools”, as the case may be.
Again, today, most of the Igbo youths in Diasporas find it difficult to regularize their stay in those foreign countries they reside in because of the way Nigerian Foreign Missions treat them each time to request for the renewal of their documents such as International Passports and other travelling documents. In fact, more often than not, a good number of Igbos, especially young people, residing in Diasporas have been forced by this ugly situation to begin to see themselves as ‘Stateless’ people than as citizens of Nigeria. This is because of all the hardships they undergo as Igbos both in Nigeria and in foreign countries.
These are hard truths about the place of the Igbo in Nigeria today, which many people shy away from discussing or talking about. But if we continue to keep silent over them, more and more people will become victims of them. The best way to stop evil things of this kind from happening in society is not to overcome them or keep silent over them. Rather, expose them and the Devil will be ashamed. Only then will those in the position of changing the situation for the better, begin to be more conscious and responsive to their responsibilities.
The Present Situation
The Nigerian State anti-Igbo policy has remained in place since 1970, like an unwritten secret norm guiding the relationship of all the post-war federal governments with the Igbo nation to the present day. Very subtle but potent, the anti-Igbo policy is alive and well today than ever. However, it became most glaring under the present regime of President Muhammed Buhari. This is most evident in recent utterances and actions of the President towards the Igbo nation and people.
This is the background for understanding the reactions of the majority of Ndigbo to President Buhari’s recent ‘civil war’ verbal threat against the Igbo nation. The President had threatened to visit the Igbo nation with another genocidal civil war, which according to him, is the only ‘language they (Igbo people) can understand.’ This was part of his outburst response and verbal attacks against the pro-Biafra youth movements agitating for a referendum for restoration of the defunct Biafra Republic.
That statement alone, coming from Nigeria’s President Muhammed Buhari, has revealed many things about the man himself. Some accuse him of hating the Igbo with passion, and at every critical moment, that Igbo-hatred in him tend to pop up with relative ease like a suppressed corked bottle.
This is why people of good conscience are worried about what may befall Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the pro-Biafra youth movement, IPOB, now that Buhari and the core North are celebrating over their recent abduction and deportation of him from Kenya to Nigeria to face trial. In fact, one would like to use this medium to appeal to all well-meaning Nigerians, friends of Igbos and the international community, to please, spare no effort to save and free Nnamdi Kanu from the hangman’s dungeon. Otherwise, the hangman and his Kinsmen are going to vent on the head of Nnamdi Kanu all their many years of suppressed resentment of the Igbo. God forbid!
Mind you, Buhari had once said, “Over my dead body, Biafra will happen.” To which he also added, “I will do anything to keep Nigeria one.” To support him, his tribesman, Lawal Kaita, added, “North will fight again to keep Nigeria one.” Moreover, who has forgotten the inciteful statement of President Buhari in the days leading to the 2015 Presidential Election Campaigns – about the “the dogs and baboons soaking in blood”, that is, if he fails to win the Presidential election!
Painfully, none of these men is talking about issues of human rights, justice, freedom, equity, honesty, truthfulness, development and peace. None of them is concerned with important issues such as reconciliation, dialogue, reparations, rehabilitation, integration, and building bridges across those things that divide us in Nigeria as a heterogeneous nation-state.
Rather, it is Nigeria’s ‘artificial-created unity without love’, that they are ready to die to maintain, and to fight the Igbos again, just for the North to continue to rule and control this British contraption called Nigeria! Quo Vadis?
Therefore, from all look of things, President Buhari and his regime are not joking with his ‘civil war’ threat against the Igbo nation. Because human lives are involved here, and the destiny of an ethnic group, the Igbo nation is what is at stake, we should not continue to pretend as if such utterances and actions coming from the Nigerian President do not matter.
Moreover, the Northern Muslims and Oligarchy see the Igbo as a major stumbling block in their quest for the Islamization and Fulanization of Nigeria. Therefore, the problem is bigger than some people may think. As Martin Luther Jr. said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Unfortunately, instead of dialogue, Nigerian authorities have chosen violence of military and police brutality and killing of Igbo indigenes, as the only viable option in addressing the Biafra Question and Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon! How far this military option to the ‘Biafra Question’ by the Nigerian authorities will take us, is another question altogether. This is because there is no way the desired peaceful-co-existence of the diverse ethnic-nationalities that make up the Nigerian State could be achieved through guns and bullets.
With guns and bullets, certainly, there will never be a peaceful resolution or solution to the Biafra Question in Nigeria. Nigeria itself will never have peace and tranquillity, nor progress and development. A military solution to the ‘Biafra Question’ had failed in the past, is failing today, and will always fail. The only way forward is dialogue and the use of common sense in respect of human life and dignity, justice and truth.
By Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji, a Roman Catholic Priest and Professor Ordinarius of contextual theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome.
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