The phenomenon of Biafra (13)
By Douglas Anele
In his highly informative book, The Brutality of Nations, Dan Jacobs quotes a horrible statement by Awolowo to the effect that “All is fair in war, and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder.”
Awolowo’s incendiary argument contravenes the Geneva Convention which stipulates that fundamental human rights must be respected and protected during conflict.
Moreover, all the atrocities committed by dictators throughout history, including Josef Stalin’s brutal suppression of dissent in the defunct Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler’s holocaust against the Jews, could also be justified morally with the same logic that underpins Awolowo’s reasoning.
Of course, the late sage was also involved in those callous economic and fiscal policies introduced by the federal military government to asphyxiate the already devastated Ndigbo.
But why would a political philosopher with the mental magnitude of Chief Awolowo who, according to grapevine, was a Rosicrucian, support policies and programmes with genocidal consequences?
How come that, after stating unequivocally in 1947 that the 1914 “amalgamation will ever remain the most painful injury a British government inflicted on southern Nigeria,” Awolowo decided to worsen the injury by siding with Gowon against Biafra? Why did he go back on his threat that if the east left Nigeria, the west would not be far behind?
Answers to these answers are located in the dark inner recesses of human nature, the latter being characteristically an admixture of the angelic and the bestial. Prof. Achebe argues plausibly that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was driven by ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.
In Awolowo’s political calculus, the dominant Igbo at that time were a stumbling block to the attainment of his political ambition. Regrettably, his quest for power pushed him beyond the bounds of reason, to the extent that when the civil war broke out he saw it as an opportunity to subdue the Igbo.
Consequently, he assisted caliphate colonialists to formulate and implement the evil strategy of starvation, which drastically reduced the number of his enemies. But the people neither forgot nor forgave him for that: when Chief Awolowo arrived Aba to campaign for the presidency in 1979, he was heckled and stoned by the enraged mob and had to be flown out hurriedly.
Most Nigerians who uncritically eulogise so-called elder statesmen like Chiefs Alison Ayida and Anthony Enahoro are probably unaware that both men were also complicit in the genocidal war against the Igbo. As I stated earlier, the temperamental weaknesses of the Igbo did not justify the atrocities committed against them by Gowon’s military government on behalf of caliphate colonialists.
Gowon, Awolowo, Ayida and Enahoro are Christians: during the war they conveniently forgot the doctrine of love and Sermon on the Mount. Some scholars, including Professors, defend the wicked actions of Gowon and his cabinet against the Igbo by arguing that during a war each side must take necessary measures to secure victory.
Yet, even in war it is immoral to jettison completely the fundamental principles of morality and the common humanity of the warring sides.
According to an Igbo proverb, iwe nwanne anaghi eru n’okpukpu, which means, in the context of the Biafran war, that since both Nigerians and Biafrans were compatriots, neither side in the conflict ought to take extreme measures to crush the other into submission.
Besides, wanton brutalisation in war and severe punishment of the loser tend to plant the seeds of domineering attitude in the victorious side and deep resentment in the losers. When the seeds germinate, like they did in Europe after Hitler emerged in Germany, the essential tension created by the combustible mix of domineering power and deep resentment respectively would almost always lead to another conflict more devastating than the previous one. Thus, the lesson here is clear and straightforward: obsessive craving for political power invariably leads to the abandonment of morality even by the most enlightened human beings caught up in the vortex of self-centeredness, which is a necessary prelude to the dehumanisation of man by man.
The question of whether the Nigerian side committed or did not commit genocide against Biafrans, mostly the Igbo, has been hotly debated by historians and other interested parties. The issue was reignited after several years of oblivion when Achebe’s book, There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, was published.
There is enough evidence to corroborate the allegation that the Nigerian military government under Gen. Gowon was guilty of genocide against the Igbo. For instance, Dr. Mensah of Ghana, chief investigator for The International Committee in the Investigation of Crimes of Genocide which examined the question of genocide during the Biafran civil war, affirms that “Finally, I am of the opinion that in many of the cases cited to me hatred of Biafrans (mainly the Igbo) and a wish to exterminate them was a foremost motivational factor.” Similarly, an intriguing paragraph from an editorial in the Washington Post of July 2, 1969 asserts that “One word now describes the policy of the Nigerian military government towards secessionist Biafra: genocide.
It is ugly and extreme but it is the only word which fits Nigeria’s decision to stop the International Committee of the Red Cross and other relief agencies from flying food to Biafra.”
The case against Gowon is also strengthened by some facts revisionist commentators on the war, such as Profs. Ayandele and Isawa Elaigwu, deliberately neglected in their analyses. It has been estimated that the much larger Nigerian side had about one hundred thousand casualties while more than two million Biafrans, majority of whom were children, died during the war.
Again, and staggering in its implications, more small arms were used in Biafra than throughout the duration of the Second World War.
All this because the northern military jihadists or caliphate colonialists were obsessed with “the Final Solution” against Ndigbo and other Biafran people. Although I was a toddler when the war began, I feel thoroughly disgusted by the hypocrisy and negative triumphalism of caliphate colonialists like Gen. Gowon and President Muhammadu Buhari whenever they admonish those clamouring for the resuscitation of Biafra by reminding them of the people that lost their lives during the conflict.
Do they really care about the millions of non-combatants, particularly children and women, killed unnecessarily by Nigerian soldiers as a result of their genocidal quest to conquer Biafraland and make it an estate of the arch jihadist, Usman Dan Fodio? What is so sacrosanct, so compelling about the colonial amalgam called Nigeria that Gowon and his gang of jihadists willingly sacrificed about three million lives to preserve it?
Now, it is a painful irony that prominent members of the northern military-civilian elite who created conditions for the Biafran conflict and actively participated in killing easterners are the very ones reminding the Igbo of wartime suffering and deaths – a classic example of the sympathiser mourning more than the bereaved.
Remember, since the civil war ended, northerners have repeatedly massacred Ndigbo and destroyed their property at the slightest provocation.
Yet, President Buhari insists that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable because his brutal army of occupation is ready to continue the war of attrition against the Igbo from where Gowon left off in 1970.
The most bizarre aspect of all this is that prodigal Igbo sons and daughters intoxicated by the temporary elixir of power and motivated by the slavish mentality of picking crumbs that fell from their Fulani masters’ table, are actively helping Buhari to treat Igboland as a conquered territory. The phenomenon of Judas among Ndigbo did not start with Igbo bootlickers in Buhari’s administration presently. During the war, some highly placed Biafrans were so greedy and corrupt that they sabotaged the war effort either by buying substandard military equipment or by embezzling funds meant for the procurement of weapons. This does not mean that I support the war uncritically. I hate violence except when it is absolutely necessary for self-defence, based on the conviction that rationality and moral consciousness make violence and war totally unsuitable for solving human problems.
So, the remark about how some selfish Ndigbo sabotaged Biafra is a reminder to those clamouring for Biafra now that they should watch out for the Judases among them. For any programme of Igbo renaissance to succeed, the problem of prodigal Ndigbo must be acknowledged and dealt with decisively.
A significant but often neglected unfortunate aftermath of the Biafran war was Gowon’s failure to harness the creative ingenuity and resourcefulness of Biafran scientists and engineers as the launching pad for scientific and technological development in Nigeria.
Biafra was defeated not necessarily due to the tactical superiority of Nigeria’s armed forces but mainly because of the overwhelming support Gen. Gowon received from countries like Britain and Russia, which feared the emergence of a successful black nation that would explode white supremacist myths about the inferiority of black people to other races of humankind.
It is universally acknowledged that Biafra could not have lasted as long as she did without the inventions of her creative personnel in the Research and Production Unit (RAP).
In the western world, wars are usually the precursors of technological innovation. In Nigeria’s case, the northern-dominated federal military government, probably out of tribalistic hatred to prevent Igbo scientists from taking deserved credit for Nigeria’s technological take-off, wasted the opportunity.
After the war, some of the scientists who participated in Biafra’s fledgling technological innovations were seconded to the Projects Development Authority (PRODA) and the Scientific Development Institute (SEDI-E) located in Enugu.
But the two institutions were crippled by inadequate funding and lack of support from government. I suspect that if the engineers and scientists that developed ogbunigwe, locally made rockets, telecommunication gadgets and ingenuous indigenous processes for refining petroleum were northerners, the federal military government would have been more supportive.
In his work entitled In Biafra Africa Died: The Diplomatic Plot, Emefiena Ezeani argues that the demise of Biafra as a country poised to fulfil the “age-old struggle of the black man for his full stature as man,” was of no benefit to Nigeria.
Had Biafra survived, he claims, correctly in my view, there would have been healthy developmental competition between her and Nigeria. Stanley Diamond, in Who Killed Biafra, declares that contrary to popular thinking, “the defeat of Biafra is not a victory for the Nigerian people but for the neo-colonialists, whether Soviet or North Atlantic.”
Diamond’s argument is buttressed by the fact that since 1970, Nigeria has remained a neo-colonialist appendage of Britain and other world powers, tied to the apron-strings of the foreign-dominated international oil market, a country that imports almost everything from other countries despite her impressive human and natural resources.
As Emefiena Ezeani wryly remarks, right now Nigeria is a zombie state where Nigerians readily connive with foreigners to exploit and rob their own people for economic purposes, with the former taking the lion’s share of their plunder.
Overall, Nigeria’s victory over Biafra is a monumental pyrrhic event that has plunged the country further into the black hole of arrested development.
We have seen that the Biafran phenomenon, the valiant attempt by the eastern region led by Ndigbo to pull out of Nigeria, originated mainly from the grave anomalies and injustices in the Nigerian system dominated by northerners.
One must also add that serious character flaws of the two leading protagonists, Gen. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Gen. Yakubu Gowon, were critical in precipitating the war. It must be stressed, however, that whereas Gowon fought a war of conquest against Biafra, Ojukwu fought to defend his people against caliphate colonialism. To be continued.
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