The present article has two parts. This first part is about the renewed military offensive in South-Eastern Nigeria, matters arising. The article intends to relate the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to Nigeria’s dangerous response to the ‘Biafra Question!’
Prof. Chinua Achebe, the doyen of African literature, in his landmark, small book, titled, “The Trouble with Nigeria” (published in 1983), wrote the following revealing truth about the historical unhealthy nature of Nigeria’s relationship with the Igbo nation:
“Nigerians of all ethnic groups will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo. …Modern Nigerian history has been marked by sporadic eruptions of the anti-Igbo feeling of more or less serious import, but it was not until 1966-7 when it swept through Northern Nigeria like “flood of deadly hate” that the Igbo first questioned the concept of Nigeria which they had embraced with much greater fervour than the Yoruba or the Hausa/Fulani.” – (Chinua Achebe, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu, 1983, p.45).
Achebe went on to add:
“The Civil War gave Nigeria a perfect and legitimate excuse to cast the Igbo in the role of a treasonable felon, a wrecker of the nation. …when their secessionist state of Biafra was defeated in January 1970 … there were hard-liners in Gowon’s cabinet who wanted their pound of flesh. …A banking policy was evolved which nullified any bank account which the Igbo had been operated during the Civil War. This had the immediate effect result of pauperizing the Igbo middle class and earning a profit of £4 million for the Federal Government Treasury. The indigenization Decree which followed soon afterwards completed the routing of the Igbo from the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy, to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.” – (ibid. pp. 45-46).
Today, more than ever, many of those other ethnic-groups in Southern and Middle Belt regions of the country, who had all along followed the one-sided narrative of the Northern Nigeria-controlled Federal Government against the Igbo, are beginning to come to grip with the truth of the matter, that the Igbo is not the problem with Nigeria. That for long, those at the helm of affairs of the Federal Government had made persecution and suppression of anything Igbo, the state policy of the Nigerian state.
The continued silence of world powers and the international community on the plight of Igbos in Nigeria, all this while, has not also helped the matter. The worse of it all is the silence of world media, both local and international media outlets, mainstream television stations, radio, newspapers (print and electronic), as well as the hostile nature of owners of mainstream multinational social media handles. The mainstream media attitude of the complicity of silence to the plight of Igbo Biafrans, have in no small measure contributed to providing the enabling environment for the Federal Government of Nigeria to continue with its usual narrative of lies and denials, and in suppressing any available truth about the continued injustice and oppression of Igbo Biafrans in Nigeria.
This has been the case since the end of the war in 1970, to the present day. Today, the situation is even worse. It is as if is taboo for the media in Nigeria and at the international arena, to report on anything about Biafra and the plight of Igbos in Nigeria, in a balanced way, without bias or government intimidation. This is how bad the issue of the “Biafra Question” has become today. The situation has emboldened the Federal Government of Nigeria to continue with business as usual in its oppressive relationship and treatment of Ndigbo and the “Biafra Question.”
This is the background for better appreciation of the rise of the new face of Biafra agitation for self-determination and independence, championed mainly by youths from the South Eastern region. Unfortunately, the Federal Government of Nigeria, instead of using dialogue to address the ‘Biafra Question’, has continued with its dangerous path of violence against the Igbo – military invasion, bombardments of residential areas and killing of Igbo youths by officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces and Police. Today, the Federal Government, in cohorts with those they rigged into power as states governors and legislators from Igboland, does this game under the pretence of clamping down on Igbo youths, championing the ongoing agitation, and demanding for the legal means of the referendum for Biafra self-determination and independence.
The latest in the Federal Government’s show of force and violence against the Igbo, is the renewed military offensive of the Nigerian Armed Forces and Police in the South Eastern region (Igboland), targeting particularly, Igbo youths, the future of tomorrow of Igbo nation?
For instance, the acting Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba (Fulani Muslim from Yobe State), on Tuesday, May 19, 2021, ordered the Nigerian Police Mobile Force and Special Tactical Squad (remodelled infamous SARS), “to shoot to kill any Igbo youth associated with IPOB and ESN in the South-East and South-South zones, and ignore media shouts of rights violations.” (Sahara-Reporters, May 19, 2021).
The Nigerian Military, on its own part, through its acting Assistant Director of Army Public Relations, Lt. Babatunde Zubairu, confirmed the already trending media report, that the “army planned to blow off some of its expired military hardware – demolition of unserviceable ammunition, including explosives, to create panic in the South-East for IPOB and ESN members.” The Nigerian military spokesperson, in their usual deceptive way of speaking from two sides of the mouth when it comes to issues of this nature, adds that “The 82 Base Ammunition Depot Enugu would conduct the exercise, from May 14 to May 21, adding that the exercise would take place between 7am and 5pm daily throughout the period.” (Sahara-Reporters, May 15, 2021).
Continuing, the military spokesperson warned the people of Obinze town, where the military barracks that would serve as the operational base of the military exercise in Igboland is located, not to be seen in and around the vicinity throughout the period:
“The people of Obinze and surrounding communities are advised to keep away from the range area during the exercise … This message is clear. It is to warn the ESN and IPOB guys that the military is in town and there should be no-nonsense. The army is also expecting to bring in a new cache of ammunition and other confidential artillery,” the statement from the army spokesperson, added. (See ibid.)
In fact, it had been reported before now in some quarters, that the Nigerian military had drafted reinforcement troops from some of its formations fighting insurgency in Borno State in the North-East zone to join the troops in the South-East region over the military’s planned offensive in Igboland. It has also been confirmed that the reinforcements were drawn from some battalions, including the 231 Tank Battalion in Biu, Borno State, under the 2 Armoured Division, Jos, Plateau State.
Furthermore, it would be recalled that President Buhari had on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, held a meeting with his Service-Chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, telling them “to adopt specific security measures in the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones of the country” (Biafraland).
Caveat: Don’t forget that the South-East is the only geopolitical zone in Nigeria that has no representative among the five service-chiefs of the Federation and Inspector General of Police. In other words, there is no representative from the South-East at the nation’s Security Council meetings. As the saying goes, “Any meeting held without me is against me.” The perception today among many is that each time President Buhari and his service-chiefs or Security Council members meet, they discuss nothing else other than how to deal with the Igbos in South-Eastern Nigeria. Experience has proven this to be true, as the ongoing military offensive in the region shows.
It is also a well-known fact that from ab initio, President Buhari and his Fulani Northern Nigeria-dominated lopsided Federal Government decided to exclude Ndigbo, the South-East geopolitical zone from participating as equal partners and as stakeholders, in the governance of the Nigerian state. Today, all the three arms of the Federal Government, executive, legislative and judiciary, under the Buhari regime are headed and controlled by his kinsmen Fulani Northern Muslims. This is in addition to them controlling also all the principal federal ministries, parastatals and companies. A few, of course, conceded to their collaborators from the South-West and Middle-Belt geopolitical zones.
In other words, the most populous African ethnic-nationality in Nigeria, the Igbo with an estimated population of 70 million people, has now been systematically, excluded from participating as an equal partner and stakeholder in Nigeria’s governance structure in the scheme of things? Thus, for the Buhari administration, and for many others before him (except in few cases), the Igbo participation in the governance of Nigeria at the federal level, is already a closed chapter. Today, anytime any Igbo person, be he or her a politician or not, raises his or her voice to condemn this injustice going on in the land, the Federal Government’s reaction would immediately, be military intimidation, extra-judicial killing, and all other sorts of persecution, humiliation and violence against the Igbo. This is the background for understanding the renewed military offensive in the South Eastern region by the Buhari administration.
The reasons the military source gives for the military offensive, however, is another thing altogether. As would be expected, the military source invoked insecurity and attacks on police and infrastructure in the South-East, by the so-called criminal elements or ‘unknown gunmen’, which itself created in the region as an excuse for the military offensive, to clamp down on members of IPOB and ESN, pro-Biafra agitators, and to give the pro-Biafra group a bad name. According to the military source, the reasons for its military offensive in the zone is because “The police and military have been recording casualties in the South-East during raids and gun battles with the IPOB Vigilante outfit ESN guarding the forests and farmlands of the people of the region from the marauding dreaded Fulani killer-herdsmen.”
This is the twist of the whole scenario. Very strange indeed. That is, ‘why is the federal government of President Buhari and his security operatives, military and police, only after the IPOB’s ESN Vigilante outfit, and not after the Miyetti-Allah-sponsored Fulani killer-herdsmen, who roam around towns and villages of indigenous ethnic-communities in Southern and Middle Belt states of the country, with AK-47, attacking, killing people, and destroying farmlands and villages, unhindered?” That is, without any fear of been arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned by Nigerian security operatives?
The question is, ‘Why are Nigerian military and police after the pro-Biafra agitators, IPOB, whose only offence is that they protest peacefully in the streets with their Biafran flags, clamouring for the legal means of the referendum for Biafra self-determination and independence?” Corollary, ‘why is the Federal Government of President Buhari and his security operatives – military and police, after the ESN Vigilante outfit, whose only offence is that they guard the forests and farmlands in the South-East, to protect the local population from the terrorist herdsmen’s attacks and killings?’
In fact, by going after IPOB and ESN and not the terrorist killer-herdsmen (a.k.a. bandits), the Nigerian military and police have confirmed what everybody knows already. ‘That the military and police are colluding with these terrorists to kill Nigerians, to pave way for Fulani complete takeover of the ancestral lands of indigenous ethnic populations of Southern and Middle Belt regions, to enhance their Islamization and Fulanization agenda of the entire country.’
Otherwise, why are the Federal Government and its security operatives not going after the terrorist killer-herdsmen, who roam around towns and villages in the South-East, with AK-47, attacking and killing the natives, raping women and kidnapping innocent people for ransom? Why are the Federal Government of President Buhari and his security operatives only after the Igbo youths of pro-Biafra agitators, IPOB and ESN, who have taken it upon themselves to protect their people from the killer-herdsmen attacks and killings, which the government itself has refused to do for the citizens? Why are Nigerian military and police not going after the killer-herdsmen from Northern Nigeria and Sahel region who are killing the citizens, but rather after the Igbo youths, who are only agitating against the terrorist activities of the killer-herdsmen in their region? This is the one billion dollars question! It is the height of hypocrisy and double-standard of the Buhari regime.
Israelis-Palestinian Conflicts and Igbos’ Ancestral Link with Israel
Again, the history of the Israelis-Palestinian conflicts, though not exactly the same as that of the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), the two, however, share some common features. The worst part of both conflicts in recent history happened in the last century alone, that is, after World War II. It started at the same time in 1967. That year, both conflicts, also captured world attention, principally, because of the huge catastrophic human calamity and tragedy they both, independently, caused.
Fast forward: Today, 2021, after over fifty years of the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War, and the Yom Kupur Israeli-Palestinian conflicts of 1967, other deadly conflicts have now resumed independently again, in the two regions of the world. In fact, as noted earlier, before the eruption of this latest round of Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week, we were experiencing already the renewed military offensive of the Nigerian security operatives in the South Eastern region (Igboland). At exactly the same time, the world is once more, witnessing another tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, the Nigerian Federal Government and its security operatives decided to embark on yet another military offensive in South-Eastern Nigeria, targeting principally, Igbo youths for elimination.
These conflicts (wars) have been going on for some time now. The only difference, however, is that while the entire world attention – the media, international community and world powers, are drawn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, there is a ‘total’ blackout of the world news on the renewed military offensive of Nigerian security forces against Igbo people in South-Eastern Nigeria. The same scenario as we said earlier, played out in 1967 when the Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts and Vietnam War blanketed the world powers’ intervention as well as the international media’s coverage of the atrocities of Nigeria’s aggression against the Biafran Igbos, between 1967 and 1970.
This is the perspective I have chosen to relate the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to Nigeria’s dangerous response to the ‘Biafra Question!’
The experience of resentment and hatred of the Igbo in Nigeria, which Prof. Chinua Achebe spoke about in his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, can only be, likened to the experience of the people of Israel in the Middle East. The way Israel is hated by their Arab Muslim neighbours in the Middle East, is exactly, the same way Igbo people are hated by their Nigerian neighbours, especially, by the predominantly Northern Fulani Sunni Muslims that control the Federal Government of Nigeria, since the country’s colonial history with Great Britain, to the present-day.
To understand this assertion, let us, briefly, have a bird’s eye view of Igbo’s claim of ancestral link with Israel.
The Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria claim an ancestral link with the people of Israel from the Biblical Patriarch Abraham. Igbos are generally, regarded as the Jews of Africa. There are biblical, historical and cultural pieces of evidence to justify this claim. The Bible mentioned Eri and his siblings Arodi and Areli (the progenitors of Igbo race) as sons of Gad, who was one of the sons of Jacob (cf. Genesis 46:16; Numbers 26:16 (see also Elizabeth Isichie’s book, “Entirely for God: The Life of Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi”, Macmillian Press, Lagos 1980, p. 2)).
The oral tradition among the Igbo and their modern history all claim that Eri, the progenitor and founder of the Igbo nation in South-Eastern Nigeria, was one of the sons of Gad, who was one of the twelve sons of Israel. Moreover, recent archaeological pieces of evidence showed that Eri and his two siblings Arodi and Areli migrated from the South of the Nile to the confluence of the Niger, and sailed down Anambra (Omambala) River to settle at Eri-Aka in the present-day Aguleri town, about 5000 years ago. To date, these three sons of Gad (that is, Eri, Arodi and Areli), are venerated together, as the ancestral founders and progenitors of Ndigbo in South-Eastern Nigeria. The three brothers established first at Aguleri. However, with the passing of time, Arodi and Areli, and some others, with their descendants, advanced further into other parts of the present-day Igbo hinterland.
Eri, as the eldest and leader of the group, remained at Aguleri, established his abode there, later died, and was buried at the famous “Obu-Gad” (Obuga Shrine) at Enugwu, Aguleri. Both Arodi and Areli, Eri’s siblings, were also buried at the same place in Aguleri. The famous mysterious “Iroko trinity-tree” at Obuga Shrine Palace Square in Enugwu, Aguleri, still standing today, grew up on top of the tomb of the third successor to Obuga royal stool, Eze “Aguve” of Aguleri.
This is the mystery behind the “sacred Iroko trinity tree” at Obuga Palace Square, Enugwu Aguleri, which has been standing there for over five millennia years, to the present day. It is the most sacred, and cherished sacred place and archaeological site as well as pilgrimage centre in the ancient town of Aguleri, and throughout Igboland. Obuga Shrine (Temple) at Enugwu, Aguleri, is regarded as the “spiritual home” of the entire Igbo race. (Cf. Angulu M. Onwuejeogwu, “An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom and Hegemony”, Ethnographica Ltd, London 1981, p. 2; Elizabeth Isichie (ed.), “Igbo Worlds: An Anthology of Oral Histories and Historical Descriptions”, Macmillan, London 1977).
Furthermore, till today, Aguleri people celebrate an annual festival called, “Oriri Obibia Eri” (Festival of Eri’s Arrival). That is, an annual feast in honour and in remembrance of the first arrival and settlement of Eri and his entourage at Aguleri, the confluence town of Anambra and Ezu Rivers, tributaries of the great River Niger in South-Eastern Nigeria. The origins of the festival predated the arrival of Europeans in Igboland.
The above brief analysis gives us an idea of the Igbo claim of an ancestral link with Israel. Ironically, African Fulanis, all trace their ancestral lineage to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, from where they migrated to sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority of them living today, in the Sahel region of West Africa, including Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroun, Northern Sudan, Central African Republic, etc. Wherever they are found, they practice their brand of Sunni Muslim religion and cattle rustling, common among the lower class Fulanis, while the upper class specializes in politics of conquest and domination of the indigenous ethnic populations, using the lower class Fulani-herders as foot-soldiers (or bandits), and Islam as weapons of conquest and domination of indigenous African ethnic groups.
In other words, it may not all be wrong to say, that the Fulani-controlled Federal Government of Nigeria’s resentment and hatred of the Igbo, has its root in the primordial history of Arab and Muslim world resentment and hatred of Israel in the Middle East. Both could be described, although, to a certain extent, as the continuation of the biblical story of the war of hatred and hostility that had existed between the two sons of the Patriarch Abraham, Isaac (the father of Jacob (Israel), and Ishmael (the ancestral progenitor of the Arabs). While Isaac was born to Abraham by Sarah (Abraham’s legitimate wife), Ishmael, on the other hand, as recorded in the Bible, was born to Abraham by his Egyptian slave girl Hagar. (Cf. Genesis chapter 16).
Furthermore, in the modern history of Israel, on one hand, and of the Igbo nation in Nigeria, on the other hand, Great Britain played a significant role, especially, during the 19th and 20th centuries’ colonial era. The consequence of the role British played in each of both cases, independently, although, is part of what is causing most of the conflicts in the two regions of the world, Middle East and Nigeria – that is, between Israel and Palestinian, on one hand, and between Nigeria and Biafra, on the other hand.
After the defeat of the Muslim Othman Empire in the Middle East at the end of World War I (1914-1918), the administration of Holy Land, Israeli territory and Arab Palestinian settlements, went to the British. More significantly, it was also to the British that the United Nations (UN) assigned the task of maintenance of peace and order between Israel and Arab Palestinians’ territories, after the creation of the State of Israel at the end of World War II in 1948. The UN Disengagement Observers after World War II, assigned to the British the task of overseeing the UN Monitoring Zone (buffer zone), the so-called “Alpha and Bravo Lines”, separating Israel from the Palestinian Settlements in the Holy Land, and the establishment and industrialization of the modern Gaza Stripes as Palestinians’ new city hub and commercial nerve centre.
The status of Jerusalem, as Holy City for all, was also, agreed upon at the time by the UN. According to which the city should remain neutral as Holy City and Sanctuary for the two nations as well as for the three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, immediately, the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts ensued, British pulled out from the area, leaving the region in the mess, which had snowballed to what we find there today.
Great Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial overlord, played a similar role in Nigeria. It was to Britain that a lot of colonizing Nigeria as its ‘private business enterprise’, fell to. That is, after the arbitrary colonial partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference (Germany) in 1885 by European powers and their Arab ally, Turkey. Moreover, at the start of World War II in 1914, the British’s colonial overseer in Nigeria, Lord Lugard, decided to amalgamate Southern and Northern Nigeria Protectorates, which he did to favour the Northern domination of other ethnic groups in the country, in perpetuity. This is the root of the faulty foundation of the Nigerian State, which everybody is lamenting about today.
Furthermore, before they left Nigeria in 1960, the British colonial government in the country, decided to rig both the 1953 census population count, and the 1959 pre-independence election in Nigeria, in favour of the Fulani-controlled Northern Nigeria region. Today, that British singular act of rigging the 1953 Nigerian census and 1959 general elections in favour of the North, meant that the North, will continue to dominate and rule Nigeria in perpetuity. This is the crux of the matter!
Liberal democracy is the game of numbers. As the game of numbers, only the so-called majority will continue to carry the votes. Thus, only the region accredited with the highest population headcount (rigged or not, during census), will continue to rule and dominate the rest of ethnic groups and regions in the country. They will continue to dominate and control the National Assembly, and the other remaining two arms of the Federal Government, executive and judiciary, as well as principal ministries, parastatals, companies, and especially, the security architecture, etc.
The same applies to the economic sector and other areas of human and infrastructural development and governance in the country. This is what historians call the faulty foundation of Nigeria as a nation-state, a marriage of inconvenience between two ‘unequal’ partners – North and South, where Northern Nigeria is the favoured domineering husband over and over its “short-changed” and “weakened” Southern wife.
These are some of the salient factors, propelling the state of insecurity and political instability ravaging the country today. All attempts in the past and present to address and correct these imbalances and injustice in Nigeria’s founding story have always met with an absolute “stiffy no” from the Northern Nigerian Oligarchy and the ruling class, who are benefiting from the corrupt system and injustice in the land.
This is the problem with Nigeria, and not the Igbo! It is neither, caused by Biafra agitation, nor by agitators of Oduduwa nation, nor anything of that kind.
TO BE CONTINUED!
By Rev. Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji