Biafra! Biafra!! Biafra!!! Biafra was born into the hearts of many and is still a child nurtured by a great number from the eastern part of Nigeria — What a lot of Igbos refuse to forget. A war which is still an untold “true story”. The pains of a genocide, defeat, suppressed story, tainted identity and betrayal still lingers in the hearts of many. Overtime, Igbo’s feel robbed and cajoled into the minority group, a feeling that has resulted to dislike, empathy and disunity in the minds of our fellow eastern brothers and sisters. Referencing “The Biafran War” as one of the major obvious reason for present day anguish, because there was never any form of healing.
Fathers told sons how they met with bombs during dinner, mothers told their daughters why they grief till today, uncles narrates why his lineage are uneducated and aunties tell why her family is scattered across borders. According to our elders and, many documented theories and facts, their neighbouring brothers failed them by conniving with the north, as the north butchered their families, because they fought for liberation due to oppression, thereby stealing their childhood and dreams.
How did the war start? Why is the story suppressed? And to what extent did the damage exude. In summary, let’s take this painful journey together, not to fuel condemnation but to heal our souls.
“Biafra just as rape, is as though a dagger which pierced the soul of many and never came out. Now we have to gently remove it, one step at a time.“
Fifty-two years ago, the Nigerian Civil War known as “Biafran War” began in July 1967 and ended January 13, 1970. According to my research, the Biafran war started as a result of the political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions between the northern-dominated Federal Government and the Igbos. The war was led by Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the then Military Governor of the Eastern Region and it reportedly recorded 500,000 to 2,000,000 civilian casualties, and over 100,000 dead and wounded soldiers during the 3 years of armed conflict between The Federal Government and The Republic of Biafra.
Referencing some available interviews from journalist and civilians who experienced those times, the build-up to the war started with election rigging, ethnic conflicts and religious differences fuelled by politicians to sell their selfish interests, and the 1966 military coup. This snowballed into extreme ethnic and religious strife, leading to mass departure of easterners from northern Nigeria, what Ojukwu described as an organised massacre. Some are of the opinion that the North retaliated for the reason that they felt dissatisfied with the imbalance of casualties in the political leadership in the coup, as no leader in the East was killed.
On the 30th of May, 1967, “The Eastern Region” of the country formally withdrew its membership from the Nigerian federation, by publicly announcing themselves as “Republic of Biafra”, after several failed attempts at negotiations between Ojukwu and Gowon. And this almost immediately caused a political dispute, a stage practically set for a fratricidal war which eventually broke out on July 19, 1967. The people knew it was the end of the war after Ojukwu fled to Cote D’Ivoire, Ivory Coast and Radio Biafra shut down after. Contrary to Biafran propaganda, it is claimed that there was no mass slaughter when people started returning home at the end of the war. People moved freely, travelling back home with some assistance from federal troops.
The Biafran war is said to be a genocide, a humanitarian crisis of huge proportions, in view of the claims that the federal government blocked and prevented food and supplies from entering into Biafra. Hence, the reason for the high toll of civilian deaths were due to starvation and malnutrition which caused kwashiorkor.
Some have said Ojukwu was the one who initiated the war and his lies caused Biafra. Radio Biafra was also accused by some journalist who were present in Biafra for mainly dishing out propagandas even when Biafra was losing. This reason kept people inside Biafra instead of fleeing at the appropriate time before starving to death. In defence, other politicians attributed the cause of the war to when Gowon defaulted after he had agreed to all the terms in Aburi, a Conference convened in Ghana to resolve the imminent Nigeria’s civil war. By backing down from the agreement, it facilitated the declaration of Biafra and the death of the Aburi Accord. In addition, Nigeria’s foremost novelist Chinua Achebe in his book “There was a Country” accused Obafemi Awolowo, the federal commissioner of finance during the Nigeria civil war of genocide and obtruding the blockage of food on Biafra. A claim not well received by some southwest leaders and commentators.
In recent times, some eastern socio-cultural groups and bodies of Biafra have said their main aim is to work towards the betterment of the Igbo nation. However, sounding the drums of war again by utterances and actions is not an intelligent method of seeking attention or compensation despite the prevailing circumstances. The advancement of the land will not come from another war, as we may not survive another civil war. With equity and justice, survival and suffering in mind, Biafra is still not a vehicle for the igbo’s to get certain rights or what is owed, even if it is thought that recent circumstances has gone beyond marginalisation. I totally agree with what many have said, “without making amends for the Biafran massacre, Nigeria will continue in an inevitable backward movement.” Also, considering that we survived the war does not mean we should overlook our history of pain, but should discern it from another perspective, so as to bring healing across the land. Hence, each time the survivors of the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War recount their story or remember their relatives who were victims of the war, they should leave a forgiving impression on today’s generation.
Read my opinion on “The pain of Biafra” on “2cent with Jess” this Friday.