BIAFRA AGITATION: ANY JUSTIFICATION?
BIAFRA AS LED BY CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU OJUKWU
1.1 The Remote Causes of the Biafra Declaration
By remote causes we mean those errors committed, mistakes made, events, etc. that in one way or the other contributed to the Nigeria’s political instability, which are often ignored, but form the bedrock of the immediate crises that led to the attempted secession. We need to note, and importantly too, that these remote causes date back to pre-amalgamation era, and equally too, that their negative consequences still persist as freshly as ever till today.
Before the arrival of the colonial masters, the different peoples that make up what we now call Nigeria lived as independent kingdoms, empires, republics, caliphates etc. These peoples had their different socio-political structures, cultures and (sometimes) religion, which in most cases differed greatly from one another’s. In the North, it was a highly centralized socio-political structure, with the caliph at the head possessing an absolute power both in political, judicial and religions matters. It was a theocracy with Arab oriented culture and the official religion was Islam.
In the South the case was different. Here we see diverse political administrative systems and cultural orientations, with some little similarities among some groups. In the Yoruba dominated South-West it was another form of centralized system of government which was more democratic and largely less totalitarian than the one in the North. Their orientation was basically African both in religion and culture. The most prominent among the Yoruba kingdoms was the old Oyo Empire. Moving eastwards from there you meet Benin kingdom in the Mid-West which had some similarities with the Yoruba kingdoms but politically independent of them. There are equally some other smaller independent political entities and kingdoms in places like Bonny, Kalabari, Lagos etc.
Coming to the Igbo dominated East, the system of government was mainly republican. The small political units scattered everywhere independent of one another. The system was totally decentralized and no one had the power to lord it over the other, yet they had leaders who just had the mandate to represent their people the way the people wished. Everybody was involved in the political life of the community and everything was by consensus; thorough republicanism.
When the colonial masters came, they signed treaties of protection with these different peoples and these treaties were most often signed after long wars of resistance1. This means that some of these peoples never for once accepted the colonial masters’ protection, but were rather overpowered. What followed immediately was total exploitation of their resources in the name of protective administration. These different peoples were summarily administered separately but the major dividing line was drawn between the North and the South as separate entities. These peoples were later fused together for the British economic and administrative conveniences without their consent; they were only talked to and not talked with. This is how what we now call Nigeria falsely came to be a country, after the 1914 amalgamation.
After the amalgamation, one would expect the colonial masters to begin to unify the minds of these peoples who had little or nothing in common and more still who never consented to the amalgamation. This never happened; instead the reverse was the case. The British did all they could to plant as much disharmony as possible among these different peoples till they left, that the effects are ever strongly holding the so-called country to ransom till today. Yet they tried their best very cleverly to prevent any section from leaving the fold and granted them independence as a country and still fight for its corporate existence more than any person till today. At this point a normal thinking mind will ask, ‘Why this double standard?’. Alexander Madiebo puts the answer thus:
The federation of Nigeria as it exists today has never really been one homogenous country, for its widely differing peoples and tribes are yet to find any basis for true unity. This unfortunate yet obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master had to keep the country one, in order to effectively control his vital economic interest concentrated in the more advanced and “politically unreliable” South.2
Despite all these, there have never been any serious efforts by either the British themselves or the Nigerian government afterward to find a basis under which there would be true unity, to bring these peoples together. The colonial master would not allow that to happen for such a move would be a great threat to their economic interest for which the disunity was deliberately created. They would rather go on to introduce more measures of ‘divide and rule’ policy which would always go further to widen the gap between the different ethnic nationalities.3 What this is saying is that contrary to our belief, Nigeria as a country does not exist. What we rather see is a mere shadow whose real existence is in the British economic world, in the manner of Plato’s world of forms. Thus, it is only the peoples identified with this name that exist.
My conclusions may sound superfluous, or frivolous, or even sentimental to some ears. To such people I would demand to see the following with me. What should be the case in a country? Is it not supposed to be a place where all citizens are equal in everything as the case may be? A place where all citizens live safely in every part of the territory without molestation by fellow citizens? A place where every citizen has equal civil rights and can hold any political office in any place within the territory? A place where citizens are recruited to government institutions based on qualification and not on ethnic or religious identity? Is it not supposed to be a place where all citizens are first class citizens and see the whole territorial landmass as fatherland? The questions can go on infinitely. But what has been the case in Nigeria from the time of colonialism to date?
The case has been extremely opposite in Nigeria. In the first place, there are as many territories as there are ethnic groups in Nigeria. An Igbo who finds himself in Hausa land is totally an unsafe stranger who can be attacked and killed any moment by the citizens of the land. An Hausa who is in Yoruba land is in turn a stranger, and the case continues on. All these are products of the British ‘divide and rule’ policy which they carefully and consistently created and maintained in their successive administrative constitutions. They emphasized what divide the peoples than what unite them, and rather than treating them as a people, they projected them as Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Christians, Muslims, etc, among themselves and as enemies. They went further and polarized the so-called country into Hausa-Fulani dominated North and, Yoruba and Igbo dominated South, with the North having the seventy five percent of the total landmass and the purported sixty percent of the total population.4 Yet some of the Hausa-Fulani dominated minorities in the North have more affinity with the South than with the North. The South was further divided into Igbo dominated East and Yoruba dominated West and the later extraction of the Mid-West. This calculated unbalanced polarization did not go without protests from the leaders of the two sides of the South, yet it was imposed on them and meant to be the platform for political activities from that moment on.
As one would expect, based on the fact that this unbalanced division into regions was meant to be the platform for political activities, the federal government automatically became dominated by the North who had at least fifty percent of the total seats in the Federal House of Representatives. This became the climax of events that injected instability into the bloodstream of Nigeria’s polity. How can a section of Nigeria dominate the rest put together and always dictate to them what would be done? This single act destroyed every aspect of Nigeria’s life as a political entity, starting from politics, which is the life wire of a society, to civil service, economy and so on. Worse still the dictating North was far behind the South intellectually that it became a case of the blind leading the sighted. What would one expect from this other than a constant revolt by the sighted who would always see the leading blind dangerously taking him to a pit? The situation is even far from being better in the military as the ethnic quota system of recruitment introduced shortly before the independence offered a compulsory sixty percent recruitment to the North, fifteen to West and East each and ten to Mid-West in any recruitment at all in the Army.5 The sum total outcome of this would be nothing short of sacrificing merit, competence, excellence, productivity, etc, on the alter of ethnic politics. Yet it is always imposed on me to say that Nigeria is a country. But I know that in a country every citizen is as important as the other and everything is therefore done on the basis of the most competent whether or not they all come from one section or even a family, provided they do it for the general good.
At this juncture I would like us to think a bit. Do the above events appear coincidental? Emphatically no! All the above happenings during the foundation laying stone of the Nigeria’s permanent political structures were done for certain ends, not for the people called Nigerians, but for the people that masterminded them. They were permanently laying the foundation for the inter-ethnic rivalry, conflicts, suspicion and hatred that has always made it extremely difficulty for Nigeria to be a real country, besides laying the foundation for today’s Nigeria’s steady movement away from development instead of the other way round. If one is in doubt I would suggest that one casts one’s mind through the history and study more closely the developments of events to date.
Before the arrival of the British, these different peoples, even though they were of different political sovereignties, had some friendly and diplomatic relations among themselves especially through trade. They dwelled side by side more peacefully than now. Their relationship with one another turned very bad with the above happenings. They now find it extremely difficult to co-exist and since then have always held one another to the throat. Yet they were going to be a country by 1st October 1960, without first being a people. How would they manage together to get their independence, one may ask? What would follow afterwards?
The answers to the questions above are not surprising at all. They never worked in harmony even close to the independence. At a point the date for the independence itself became a source of serious political clash between the poles, which was crowned with the Kano riot of 1953 that left tens of thousands of Southerners in Kano dead and their properties looted. It further led to the attempted secession of the North5. Even among the Southerners themselves there was no unity of purpose. Apart from the earlier nationalists like H.O. Davies, Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli etc. who were true nationalists, in the West, the younger generation of Yoruba politicians led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo were ethnic nationalists who were fundamentally interested in the welfare of their ethnic group other than the general good. 6 The same was also the case in the North, were Ahmadu Bello was totally playing egocentric sectionalism, especially after the independence. The Northerners led by Ahmadu Bellow once said that the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria was a regrettable mistake in the Nigerian history7 while Awolowo said that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.8
In the East, you again find a people of different belief altogether. Led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, they strongly believed and worked for a united Nigerian course, sometimes to a self-destructive extent. Thus Uwalaka puts it:
The early Igbo positive disposition in the construction of this Nigerian project contrasted sharply with the attitude of the leaders of the other two major tribes, the Hausa and Yoruba… in 1947, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa(later to become the first Nigerian Prime minister) said “since the Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper…”…Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto(later to become the first Nigerian Governor of northern region ) said “Nigeria is so large and the people so varied that no person with any real intellectual integrity would be so foolish as to pretend that he speaks for the country as a whole.” We know the famous statement of Obafemi Awolowo, the post independent Yoruba leader, that “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.”9
After everything the summary is that there was no unity of purpose. There has always been a strong division between North, East and West, but the division has been stronger between North and South in general. Therefore the people we now parade as Nigerian nationalists were actually ethnic nationalists, except in some cases. But after everything, they got their so-called independence as a country. How come that this could happen? At least from the story so far, there is no basis for unity. Instead there have been some separatist signs. The Muslim North had never wanted to associate with the Christian South, and had at least once made a bold step to secession but which was neutralized by the British.
Looking at all these, there are certain things glaringly clear to any thinking mind. The totality of the Nigerian political structure is a product of the British mind, imposed on the people, for the former’s future use, despite protests by the later. They had all this while been putting things in positions for use, mainly after the so-called independence. Now look at it. The British strongly wanted to lock these peoples together as a country, not in a real sense, but in a formal sense, so that they would continually exploit them after the so-called independence, as they would be at one another’s throats as had been institutionalized. For this they cleverly neutralized every move towards disintegration. Because they felt they could always deceive the North than the South, they put everything in the control of the North, through the regional inbalance by which the North would always control every political decision in Nigeria through their population domination, and then they would now make the North their mouthpiece and hence control Nigeria through them. That was why they hypocritically played romance with the North to the detriment of other sections, to deceive them into believing that they were friends, and always inspired every of their political moves. But the North is only a means to an end; we are all looked at together as Africans. Therefore Nigeria is not real; instead it is a mere economic institution of the British. The so-called Independence Day was the day everybody in Nigeria ‘gloriously’ matched into the tract of the race to perpetual dependence and slavery, otherwise called neo-colonialism. What happened after the so-called independence, which I classify in this work as the immediate causes of the Biafra declaration gives credence to this.
1.2 The Immediate Causes of The Biafra Declaration.
After the federal fraud called federal election 1959, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the opposition leader in the Federal House of legislature respectively. Also, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief S.L. Akintola and Dr. Michael Okpara became Premiers of North, West and East respectively and the race started.
After the independence, Nigeria was hailed as Africa’s hope for democracy. This was because the independence was by peaceful means rather than violent revolution, and because Nigeria was economically viable with great potentials for future development, particularly in view of the large market it presented for industrial goods.10 All this big hope came to nothing for the destructive seed of ethnicity, corruption, inter-ethnic mutual hatred already institutionalized in the system during the foundation laying by the colonial masters, which had long matured into a big tree, soon began to disperse poisonous fruits into every sector of the society’s life. There were socio-political explosive situations originating from unhealthy inter-ethnic rivalry, nepotism, chauvinistic and egocentric sectionalism, corruption, power tussle etc.
In the West it was Action Group party crisis through which Awolowo and his group were permanently neutralized with the purported treason offence and Akintola imposed on the people despite their protests. The West turned into ‘Wild-West.’ The East had relative peace except for the census crisis of 1962/63 and federal election crisis of 1964, none of which was regional crisis in a strict sense, and perhaps, the case of Isaac Adaka Boro. In the North, the Chief actor was Ahmadu Bello who ruled the whole federation from Kaduna through the puppet Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was a Muslim fanatic and an Hausa-Fulani ethnic bigot.11 He was openly, and shamelessly too, an ethnic chauvinist to an embarrassing degree. He was the unrivalled leader of NPC, a party which developed from a Northern ethnic organization. Because of the regional imbalance, this party would perpetually have the majority seat in the Federal House of Representatives and therefore was very powerful. The Sardauna was therefore very powerful and enjoyed an unrivalled popularity in the North. Because of his unrivalled popularity among the Northern politicians, coupled with the Northern domination in the Federal House of Representatives, he held the whole federation to ransom, and was politically undisciplined. He was actually the Prime Minister in the body of Sir Tafawa Balewa. He used federal institutions like the military at will. Thus he used the military for private matters and mainly for political purposes; with the federal Army he politically suppressed Tiv minority uprising in the North. He was equally behind the crisis in the West.
In his bid to stuff the whole rank and file of the federal military with the Northerners he suffocated it with Northern chaffs, that every Northerner on trousers became a military man, just to out-number the Southerners. Because of his power and influence, military promotions were mainly based on ethnic identity, which naturally favored the Northerners, while the Southerners who were ambitious had to openly identify with Northern politicians before realizing their dreams. The military thus turned into a place of political maneuvers. The climax of this maneuver was the competition between Brigadier Ademulegun and General Aguiyi Ironsi on whom to succeed the last British General Officer Commanding (GOC). Ademulegun was seriously romancing with Northern politicians by all means while Aguiyi Ironsi showed little interest, but the latter was however made the GOC after everything. The result of all these was that the military became a mockery; where seniority and competence did not matter again, and they became politically conscious. The standard was fast running down to zero degree because recruitments and promotions were based on ethnicity, rather than competence. When all these things were happening remember, people were daily being killed in the West and in Tiv land on political basis. Worse still, there were strong reasons to believe the rumours of an impending Islamic jihad which was again linked to the Sardauna.
As usual, the poor masses bore the brunt of the above situation and could naturally anticipate a military revolution. In the military, the issue of an impending coup became a common talk. Seeing what was going on in the federation, some more radical soldiers believed that coup d’etat was the only way out and consequently struck on January 15, 1966. This coup, generally accepted as Nzeogwu’s coup (but Ifeajuna’s for Ojukwu), took about a total of fifteen lives of both soldiers and civilians, including the Surdauna and the Prime Minister. It succeeded in the North while failed in the South for the following reasons.
The soldiers had different views about the coup d’etat. There were those who believed that the only way to move the federation foreword was through coup d’etat. They include Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emma Ifeajuna, Don Okafor, Chris Anuforo, Wole Ademoyega and their accomplices. Some supported the coup but would not risk their lives and thus, remained neutral. Some others saw it as a mutiny, considering their reaction during the coup. There were equally some others who would not support it if they knew about it. These were mainly those who dinned with the corrupt politicians; the circumstance favoured them. And so on.
The soldiers led by Major Nzeogwu succeeded in the North as Nzeogwu was in total control of Kaduna. However, it is clear Odumegwu Ojukwu anticipated the coup and was on the watch out. He could therefore arrest those sent to take over his unit and maintained peace in Kano. In the South, the coup was a total mess-up. General Aguiyi Ironsi, the legitimate commander of the whole federal military, escaped those sent for him in Lagos and still retained the control of the army especially in Lagos. Those sent to the East were placed between the devil and the blue sea. They were placed in dilemma of either endangering the life of an international guest, Archbishop Makarios, the Cypriot leader who visited the Eastern Premier, Dr. Michael Okpara, as they went on with the coup or, save his life by waiting till he left, which means delaying the coup.After everything, the coup was a caricature. Ironsi, still retaining his power, having escaped the soldiers and seeing the coup as a mutiny, could successfully foil it in the South. When some of the soldiers taking part in the coup found out that Ironsi was still in control of the army in the South, they immediately switched over to his side in fear while others ran away. Everything now boiled down to a situation of polarization of power; Ironsi in control of the South while Nzeogwu in control of the North. Ironsi ordered Nzeogwu to surrender but Nzeogwu was ready to have it out to a conclusive end with Ironsi before he was advised by some army officers to surrender to Ironsi, at least having succeeded in dethroning the corrupt regime. Nzeogwu eventually surrendered on certain conditions, which included non execution of those who took part in the coup.
What remained of the first republic regime formally handed power over to General Aguiyi Ironsi through Dr. Nwafor Orizu, who was the acting president as Dr. Azikiwe was outside the country, purportedly on health reasons.
When Aguiyi Ironsi came to power, he made the greatest mistakes of his life which cost him both his life and those of other millions of people. He wanted to impress the Northerners by all means that he was not Igbo-centric but he ended up worshipping them. He surrounded himself with too many Northerners and his regime could in fact be called Northern regime, for he hardly took any decision without their knowledge. To avoid suspicion, he forbade any Igbo person from speaking Igbo in his office. Again those he appointed to inquire into the January 1966 coup were mainly biased Northerners. Moreover, some Northerners he placed in important positions were close associates of the corrupt politicians killed in January coup, some of whom narrowly escaped the executing bullets of the coup.
All these people, realizing that Ironsi was ready to please them, had and used the whole time to poison the minds of the Northern populace about the coup, which initially was very popular among them. They aroused their emotions against the Easterners and prepared their minds for reprisal attacks, in a well planned programme of events. Ironsi himself lost his life in one of these attacks.
All that eventually led to the civil war could have been avoided had Ironsi listened to his Southern brothers, especially the Igbos. He only listened with full confidence, to the Northerners around him who were heartlessly bent on destroying him. The first part of the well organized pogrom which was evidently of Northern government initiative, started on May 29, 1966, after which thousands of corpses of Southerners littered the major cities in the North. The rioters afterwards could not agree on a particular reason. For some, it was Ironsi’s unitary system of government; some others, it was to avenge their leaders killed in January coup; but for majority, they wanted secession for they would not be part of any federation that is not headed by a Northerner.
Seeing no punitive measure from Ironsi against their first act, with full confidence they came back the second time. It started between 28th and 29th May when Ironsi visited the West on his nationwide tour. He was killed along with Lt. Col. Francis Fajuyi, the Governor of the West. The same fate awaited soldiers of Southern origin and Easterners in particular, majority of whom were not lucky enough to escape. After the soldiers, the Eastern civilians became the primary targets. Already Gowon had taken over power and declared ‘no basis for unity’.
What followed afterwards was a momentary but continual massacre of Easterners outside their region especially in the North, with a horrifying brutality that took tens of thousands of lives. The killing cut across age, sex, status, and took several barbaric forms. Some were locked up in houses and were either cut down with sharp objects or set ablaze with the house. Many women above the age of ten were raped to death while pregnant ones had their wombs ripped open, and their foetuses publicly executed. Crying children scattered everywhere as they were chased about and cut down. Some people’s heads were set on fire and allowed to die a slow death, and so many other horrifying stories. Those who successfully returned to the East alive were scarcely seen without serious damage in their bodies and the East became over crowded as the Easterners streamed back to the East.
As Ojukwu was looking for a solution to this problem, Gowon remained heartless and was officially pursuing Northern agenda aimed at perfecting a total extermination of the Easterners. His diversionary ad hoc constitutional conference that took off on 12th September 1966 was more of dictation than discussion for within few weeks he and his Northern brothers endorsed one stand after the other till they ironically came back to square one: They rioted for secession initially. In the conference they now endorsed confederation. They later shifted to federation, and eventually ended with the unitary system of government against which they initially rioted, all within very few weeks, and with a threat to use force on any group that failed to comply. What a hypocrisy and heartlessness!
The last hope for peace was squandered when Ojukwu and Gowon interpreted the Aburi Accord differently despite the fact that it was well documented. Ojukwu had already seen the unrelenting thirst for the blood of the Easterners, and called the Eastern Nigerian community leaders on May 26th , 1967, and detailed them on the situation. The Consultative Assembly mandated him on May 27th, 1967, to declare Eastern Nigeria at the earliest practicable date, a sovereign and independent state with the Name ‘Republic of Biafra. Gowon’s swift reaction to this was to abandon the Aburi Accord and create Nigeria into twelve states on May 27, 1967. Ojukwu declared the republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967 and the Biafran war started on July 6, 1967.
1.3 The Resultant War, Its Challenges and Responses.
As secession was the only remaining alternative for self-defence, the Easterners wrongly believed that the world having seen how greatly they had been treated unjustly, would not support any attack on them by the Nigerian government. But this was not to be true for international politics is a game of gain and not of conscience. Moreover, some of the so-called powers had all these while been collaborating with the Nigerian government that immediately the war broke out, they threw their weight behind Gowon. Britain was actively supporting Nigeria while America, though claimed neutral, did not recognize Biafra. Most of the jets used by the Nigerian troops were Russian jets. Even though these people posed as their reasons that secession was illegitimate, it was all for selfish motives. Muslim African countries like Egypt pitched their tent with the Nigerian government perhaps, on religious ground. Thus Egyptian pilots were very active in Nigerian Air Force during the war. The most outstanding European power on Biafran side was France and Black African countries like Ivory Coast, Gabon, Zambia and Tanzania recognized Biafra, but their total help was far from being sufficient. Faced with extreme difficulties, the creative ingenuity of the Biafrans shone out. Thus they could invent in the areas of Agriculture, armament etc.
The nature of the war made Biafrans regard it as genocide, because from every indication there were serious moves to exterminate every human being on the Biafran side. The Russian jets were spreading explosives every place indicative of human lives, like hospitals, market places, schools, houses etc. The total blockade from foreign contact and the starvation measure which took more lives than ammunition did, were basically targeted on the civilians. There was equally an alleged poisoning of food coming into Biafra by the Nigerian government.
This war dragged on for thirty months and Biafrans unable to withstand the pressures any longer, surrendered shortly after Ojukwu had left for Ivory Coast. The total death estimate is about three million.
1.4 The Consequences of the Biafran War.
After the Biafran surrender, the Nigerian military head of state, Yakubu Gowon, declared that there was ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ and declared the move of the federal government towards reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction concerning the war. In reality, the opposite became the case for the war continued in a worse form; no longer as two independent sovereignties but as a conqueror nation and the conquered territory. Contrary to the expectation of the Easterners, there was a systematic further blockade of relief materials immediately after the Biafran surrender by the Nigerian government, causing more civilian deaths even more than recorded within the last weeks of the war. Many Biafran soldiers were shot by Nigerian troops after their surrender and those who survived were dismissed from the forces like army, police etc. Many people’s last drop of hope for survival of the extremely dehumanizing war-caused conditions were destroyed when they were allowed only twenty pounds each from all they loaded into Nigerian banks before the war ended, while those paralyzed by the war have since then been languishing at Oji uncared for. Again, the reconstruction propaganda has not been matched with action as the wanton destructions of the war have remained forgotten by the federal government. To ever increase their sufferings and equally create disunity among the Easterners, the properties of the Igbos in some places, especially in Port-Harcourt, were declared abandoned till today. Besides making life ever more difficult for the Igbos, this was meant to create disunity between the Igbos and the inhabitants of Port-Harcourt, who being desperate beyond control would most likely accept the offer of inheriting the properties of the Igbos in their midst. To facilitate the destruction of Igbo solidarity and identity, many Igbo communities have been forced to states dominated by Igbo-hostile communities, which makes these Igbos deny their Igbo identity in order to escape maltreatment. As these people were still desperately battling with these blood-sucking and dehumanizing situations, indigenization policy was introduced to sell the indigenized foreign companies to the ‘real citizens’ of Nigeria; like the Yorubas who benefited most and are now the sole controllers of the economic sector of the federation. This was systematically done in order to permanently nail the Easterners to poverty and state of total exclusion, while the ‘real citizens’ over-take them and permanently maintain control of every sector of the federal government. Thus after everything, the Hausas control power, Yorubas control economy, while the Igbos are labourers.
These and so many other steps continually being added in order to systematically and completely shatter the ‘Biafrans’ have continually and increasingly been the case for more than thirty years after their surrender. This ever worsening situation of perpetual slavery and dehumanization becoming increasingly unbearable, and without any hope for a future change, this people remembered Biafra again and bounced back to it but in a new way; it is now a new Biafra.