By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
When Nnamdi Kanu took up the campaign for actualization of Biafra from his former boss, Raph Uwazurike, many reasonable and farsighted Igbo adults were worried. I was one of those who entertained fear.
The fear was that this highly vocal, but poorly informed, Igbo man was going to unleash forces and factors he will not be able to control and the Igbos will suffer badly for his miscalculations.
He was going to unleash the mythical force of Biafra as no other person had done since Ojukwu, and those forces would end up, again, consuming those it claimed to be protecting.
Ojukwu’s Biafran gambit led to the death of approximately three million Biafrans. You may now wonder what was the gain or purpose of that war if it killed 7% of the people it came to protect and held the Igbos back for 50 years.
But regret or lamentation is not the purpose of this piece. It should be more forward looking. However, we must not ignore the aphorism by the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
The ultimate purpose of history, as a field of human learning, is to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
The aggressive push for Biafra by IPOB was clearly a huge failure to remember the past.
It was also a failure of situational awareness – the inability to fully appreciate your environment to be able to make optimal decisions.
The situation is that the Igbos are treated with suspicion and fear by the rest of Nigeria, and that suspicion and fear led to an effort to control and suppress the Igbos.
Are those fears and suspicion justified? Almost every Igbo man wants me to say that the suspicion and fear of the Igbos are totally unjustified.
But I would rather follow history and science than follow the wishes of my friends and brothers. Whichever way, there has been a situation of mistrust and suspicion. But despite that and despite the resultant suppression of the Igbos, the Igbos were making steady progress in Nigeria.
In 1970, at the end of the war, there was a clear policy on the part of the Government of Nigeria (a conspiracy of all the other tribes) to permanently dislodge the Igbos and make it impossible for them to rise again as a factor in Nigeria. But that did not stop the Igbos.
They progressed in commerce. They returned back to all parts of Nigeria. In Lagos, they dominated every major trading ground. In the North, they dominated entire sectors of the economy – 90% of motor spare parts trade in Katisna, Sokoto, Kano, etc. In Abuja, they own 50% of the hotels and restaurants. In Lagos, they own over 30%.
Igbos progressed faster than anyone would have expected, and they did so with little patronage from government. Also, they were doing well in national politics and we got to the point where an Igbo presidency came within reach. The Igbos showed a level or resilience that dumbfounded everyone.
But some Igbos would never forget the humiliation of the war and marginalization of the Igbos that continued after the war. For those, there could not be justice without achieving the failed secession. Hence the quest for the actualization of Biafra.
The actualization of Biafra became for them a self-justifying mission. In other words, many no longer cared to ask: “What will we really gain if we break away from Nigeria”. Any serious attempt to answer that question will show that actualization of Biafra is not worth the effort.
We have grossly exaggerated the benefit of actualizing Biafra. The main reason for wanting to actualize Biafra is just that we once tried and failed, so we must succeed in that somehow. But that is not a logical reasoning.
The real problem the Igbos have faced is not that they do not have a country of their own. Rather, the problem is that justice and equity are lacking in their country. The irony is that even if Biafra is created today, there is no guarantee of justice and equity in the Biafran State. It could be worse.
Actualization of Biafra is therefore an obsession. Otherwise, if we sit down and ask: What do you mean by actualization of Biafra? What is Biafra? Biafra is not a God-made promised land.
Biafra was the creation of a military commander who could not find better ways to settle a largely personality conflict between him and his colleagues in the Nigerian military government.
Series of miscalculations prevented Ojukwu and Gowon from reaching a workable understanding in 1967. That failure led to war. Anybody giving you any other explanation of the reason for the war is just playing with your mind. So, clearly Biafra, as something that resulted from a failure of understanding is not something created by God.
And if not created by God, why the obsession over it? Ojukwu was 33 years old and Gowon was 32 when they failed to find an alternative to war. The failure of the two “boys” to find an amicable settlement of their differences led to Biafra.
And that is what you want to actualize? That means that you cannot reason better than the two “boys”. So, those who hang onto the actualization of Biafra should know they are trying to turn a myth into reality, which is an impossibility.
The best way today for the Igbos to deal with the issue of marginalization is through restructuring Nigerian politics. Restructuring is actually the logical option. It is feasible. The conditions were ripe for it.
On the other hand, secession is an impossibility. It is costly. It is risky. It is not feasible and the conditions for it are not ripe. The quest for the actualization of Biafra merely replaced the feasible with the impossible. It replaced the viable with the unviable.
But why the clamor for actualization? Is it that those who lead the quest are ignorant? No, they are not ignorant. It has been a way to power, wealth and influence for those who clamored for it. Those are the real motives for the quest. If you lead the question for the mythical country, you will attract millions of followers and you will become rich. But so what?
Any commonsense will show you that Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB mission were doomed to failure from day one. They first need to defeat the formal political leaders of Igbos land. Then, they have to defeat those who oppose their idea of actualization for good reasons. And then they will have to defeat the Federal government forces. It is clear that they lack the capacity to cross the first line of battle. So, why insist on such a futile mission?
What made it possible for Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB to get as far as they got is the massive ignorance among the Igbo population. It shows one of the most nasty aspects of the uneven and faulty development of the Igbo communities since the war. The same tendency of the masses being unaware and willing to respond to the leader’s message of hate and demonization.
The fuel needed to fan up sentiments like the quest for Biafra is to tell the people that they are special (Umuchineke) and that others are demons (jajaweed people of the zoo). You have to lie to the poor ignorant masses. I recently watched again one of the speeches Ojukwu gave in September 1969 to the Biafrans.
He said to them: “Our boys are destroying the enemies, chasing them from town to town, killing them wherever they run to and we will crush the enemies”. His entire speech was punctuated with statements like: “Fight on, my fellow Biafrans, fight on”.
I calculated that this speech was made in September and Ojukwu left Biafra less than four months after, in January. If it was true that our boys were killing the enemies and chasing them from town to town in September, what happened to cause Biafra to surrender four months later?
Clearly, Ojukwu must have known in September of 1969 that Biafra would not win the war, but he had to tell the people the opposite. When I heard Nnamdi Kanu in his broadcast telling the Igbo youths that they would defeat the Nigerian military, I shook my head. I remembered.
Nnamdi Kanu failed to learn from history or to be aware of the situation on the ground. As the Igbos say: “If a child is not grown enough and starts asking questions about what killed his father, what killed his father will kill him too”.
The Igbos cannot afford to actualize Biafra. To try it is to plunge the Igbos into another disaster, as we are seeing now. What is going on now in Igbo land was the evil I feared, which forced me to voice out criticisms of IPOB and its methods.
Specifically, I knew that the ill-timed and misguided quest for the actualization of Biafra is like loading a gun that you are not in control of. Others will use that gun to kill. And you may be the target. IPOB has lost control of the gun it loaded.
This is obvious when you hear IPOB saying that its members are not the ones that set up the Biafran National Guard (BNG). You set up Biafran Security Service (BSS), you set up the Eastern Security Network (ESN). And someone cleverly set up a strike fore called Unknown Gunmen and now set up BNG?
If it is true, as you claim, that others set these up, they are basically mimicking you, just like firing the gun you loaded. They are using the gun you loaded to shoot at people. You can’t quite escape responsibility for the chaos.
Below is how the Nigerian Army responded to IPOB’s accusation that it was the Nigerian Army that set up BNG:
“The Nigerian Army(NA) is not unmindful of the antics of individuals or groups whose stock in trade is to peddle falsehood and disinformation to remain relevant in South-East Nigeria. One of such scheming, currently in the media domain is the mischievous submission by Kalu Odinakachi, who alleged that the DMI and DSS created and funded BNG, UGM to Enforce-Sit- at Home in a bid to discredit IPOB/ESN. It must be abundantly clarified that this spurious allegation is unfounded and could be absolutely described as a hoax.
“Though the NA would not like to elevate such purveyors of disinformation and propaganda, it is expedient to put on record, that in recent times, the activities of IPOB/ESN have undoubtedly assumed a violent dimension.
This unimaginable level of violence is oiled with propaganda and disinformation to whip-up sentiments and draw sympathy from unsuspecting citizens in the region.
“For the records, the proscribed organisation has in recent times foisted a sit-at-home order to show sympathy for their self-acclaimed leader. This was greeted with violence, orchestrated destruction of public installations and facilities, arson, as well as looting of shops and malls in the region, to demonstrate their criminal potency.
They defiled the sanctity of the highly revered traditional institution of Ndigbos by recklessly murdering their own traditional leaders. These spineless and irresponsible actions targeted at the very people they claim they want to liberate, clearly unmask their heinous and directionless agenda for Ndigbos.
“Realising the futility, hollowness and public rejection of their violent agitation, they resorted to twisting the narrative in the region to galvanise local support. Their wild allegation that BNG and UGN were an overt operation by the DMI and DSS is not only laughable but remains largely illusive and a ploy to diminish the public support the NA is savouring in the ongoing exercises.
In his blatant display of ignorance, Odinakachi failed to realise that such designation as DMI has since ceased to exist in the NA. These criminal elements with their cohorts must come to terms with the reality of the ongoing Exercise GOLDEN DAWN and turn themselves in to security agencies or be ready to face the consequences of their lawlessness.
“More grotesque is the narrative peddled by these merchants of propaganda, in respect of IPOB/ESN gunmen recently eliminated by troops in a shootout at Ekwulobia Roundout in Aguata LGA. These unscrupulous elements insinuated that those taken out were Fulanis. An outrageous claim that should be disregarded in its entirety.
This is apparently another failed attempt in their usual mannerism, to attribute their criminal activities to a third party and feign innocence; an indication of a visionless group totally devoid of integrity.”
Can you see how cleverly the above statement exploited the problems of IPOB? It referred to ESN. It referred to IPOB’s penchant for lies and propaganda. Who will believe IPOB after Nnamdi Kanu convinced his followers that Buhari was dead and that Nigeria was being ruled by a clone from Sudan called Al Sudani, and they believed that for 4 years.
IPOB’s record of lies and propaganda is now making it hard for anybody to believe it. Now that it wants to say the “truth”, people must remember the lies it told in the past.
I hope that Nnamdi Kanu and others will now understand that the reason many other Igbos did not start what he started with IPOB was because they were smarter than he. They were able to foresee the consequences and they were not so naïve and reckless. This is the evil we foresaw and warned against.