BY D. FRANCIS Effiong
July, 2nd 2017.
How many Nigerians today know about: the Battles of Nsukka, Obollo Afor, the invasion of Onitsha, Udi, Enugu, Amadim Olo, Calabar, Ogoja, as well as the efforts of Colonel Murtala Muhammed and Alexander Madiebo; about the locally manufactured weapons in South Eastern Nigeria, the Biafran-made rocket, the Biafran Science Group war products, the Nigerian Officers in the Biafran Army, the controversial Asaba Massacre and the rape of women and girls by both fronts, the civilian commanders after the fall of Awka, the roles and writings of Chris Abani, Chinua Achebe, J. P. Clark, Wole Soyinka, Ita Henshaw and Philip Effiong?
How many Nigerians today know about the painful deaths of many honest Comrades like Colonel Nweke by their own men because of the “saboteur mania,” in the Biafran army? How many Nigerians know that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, with Okoi Arikpo and Philip Asiodu, were permanent secretaries of the Ministries of External Affairs and Trade and Industries respectively under the 31 years old Yakubu Gowon? How many Nigerians know that Lt. Col. O. Ojukwu had ordered all oil companies to start paying all royalties to Enugu because they were operating in a new country or risk heavy penalties? (cf. www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2017/06/30: From the Archives Biafra: The Untold Story of Nigeria’s Civil War. Assessed 01.07.2017).
How many Nigerians are aware of the 15th of March 2017 shootings by the Nigerian security operatives on Biafrans going on peaceful rally from Onitsha to Aba? How many are aware of the record of deaths and injuries on many peaceful Biafrans escaping for their lives amidst the unlawful arrests, tortures or imprisonment by the Nigerian security operatives in Onitsha and it’s neighborhood weeks after the shooting?
At this point, I must say that I never read a single chapter from a textbook nor listened to the passionate instruction of any teacher throughout my primary and secondary schools about the Biafran War. In fact, we were mostly unaware of the possibility of such discourses. I, however, had the pleasure of coming across certain books during my undergraduate days about the Civil war. They were mostly memories from “Selected Speeches of Ojukwu,” “There was a Country” (Chinua Achebe), “The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War” (Alexander Madiebo), “Selected Speeches of Azikiwe,” “In Biafra Africa Died” (Emefiena Ezeani), “The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, and Lessons Learnt” (Major Abubakar Atofarati), etc. Other minute discourses during my philosophical studies only came as responses to questions than topics in themselves.
However, through personal discussions and study I have come to realize more than ever that Biafrans should be ashamed. They must be ashamed for losing a battle, not because they had no brains, will or determination, but because their judgments were clouded by distrust, blames, and hate during the Civil war, hence dwindling confidence even as ammunitions became more and more insufficient and unsupported. Refreshingly, the Head of State at the course of regaining Onitsha, despite her imminent fall, had trusted and supplied ammunitions to foreigners/ mercenaries and not to his Comrades. Major General Alexander Madiebo in his book “The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War” (1980) had rightly noted that “in the [Biafran] army, we were fighting two wars of survival at the same time – one against Nigeria and the other against the over vigilant Biafran public intoxicated by the “sabotage” propaganda (218). It is because we have not studied these histories well that today’s Nigerians (South Easterners especially) still bask in the cancer of what I’d like to term a neo-branding of survivors namely: Afikpo Igbo, Abakiliki Igbo, Onitsha Igbo, Owerri Igbo, Delta Igbo and so on.
I do agree with Chika Oduah in his article “An Uncivil War” (https://qz.com. 01.07.17), when he opined that Nigeria’s civil war is such a sensitive topic in the country, that the government has never given an official death toll. This is why in 2017, years after the 1970 war, Nigeria is still grappling with the aftermath. This explains the state of Biafran War veterans in Okigwe, Imo State who stumble around with post-traumatic stress disorder – as graphic images of what they saw during the war flash into their consciousness every so often. Living in obscurity, they die, one by one, without writing memoirs; as they die, history goes with them. And unfortunately, our schools seem not to have these histories taught or discussed at length.
It is indeed excruciatingly worrisome that the recent developments in Court proceedings on Nnamdi Kanu and the euphoria and agitations followed therefrom by South Easterners has taken a religious undertone. Many have settled in the hope that certain signals from the sky are as much signals confirming the birth of a nation under God. Ironically, signals that had led to the Nigerian Civil War which circled around massacres of the Igbos in certain places in Northern Nigeria seem to be of little or no consequence to today’s agitators.
We have and will have a generation who toil unknowingly through towns, cities and villages where the war was fought. We have and will have a generation who play unknowingly on grounds which were covered in blood – blood of children, women, men and the unborn. Worst of all, we will have a generation who celebrate Biafra as an opium. These, I suspect, are, but the consequences of a historical ignorance by the majority of Nigerians about their own Civil War.
For lost in history, the black man’s identity flees too! Biyi Bandele, a film director talking to the BBC put it this way: “One of the reasons Nigeria is more divided today than it was before the war started is because we have refused to talk about the elephant in the room.” This elephant (Biafra) for Emefiena Ezeani (2013) would have been another beginning for Africa to recover its past glories after 400 years of aggressive slavery and 100 years of mild slavery termed colonialism in academic and political circles (197).
Until this discourse is exhumed and brought to our institutions and the media, the Nigerian Civil War history thus denied or repressed, would replay itself in catastrophic dimensions one way or the other.