Offodile’s new book x-rays the politics of Biafra
American athlete, Shaun Alexander says “time heals all wounds, unless you pick at them”. Alexander must have spoken from practical experience as an athlete, who is prone to sustaining injuries. Athletes sustain injuries on different parts of their bodies. Shaun’s consolation is that no matter the kind of injury sustained and where, it is bound to heal over time on one condition that it is not picked at. Just give the injury the needed treatment and allow it to heal. Those who have wounds are advised to keep off anything that could hit or come in contact with the wound accidentally. In medical parlance, a wound that refuses to heal is called chronic wound. Chronic wounds may never heal or may take years to heal. The wounds cause severe emotional and physical stress in addition to creating considerable financial burden on the patient.
Against this backdrop, Chudi Offodile’s new book, The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria, makes profound reading and I recommend it to everyone who wants to have a fresh perspective on the Biafra question vis-à-vis the Nigerian conundrum. The book has come at a most auspicious time when agitation for self determination is raging in the defunct Biafra with massive street protests across all the states in the South-East and part of South-South and stone resistance from the Federal Government.
The name Biafra evokes a deep wound that was inflicted on a section of the Nigerian people living in the defunct Eastern Region of the country from May 1967 to January 1970, with the Igbo at the centre. The ugly events of those years, which history now records as the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, culminated in the loss of over a million lives mostly on the Biafra side and the destruction of infrastructure and economy of the once vibrant and fast-moving region. The survivors of the pogrom and the resultant civil war in the defunct Biafra Republic were devastated and impoverished and had to start life afresh. Nearly 50 years after the Biafra debacle, the wounds have refused to heal, meaning that someone is pricking at it. As a matter of fact, the wounds have become chronic with tense psychological trauma on the Igbo.
The question to ask is, why is it that decades after the end of the Biafra War, the wounds have not yet healed? Five decades are enough time to heal the wound if it had been treated adequately. Why is the wound not healing? Who is pricking on the wound? These are some of the critical issues that Offodile addressed in the most informative book that has added to the Biafra discourse. The book goes further to look into Nigeria future vis-à-vis the depressing state of political leadership, economic mismanagement and crass underdevelopment syndrome. What future is there for Nigeria under the weight of insensitive leadership and lopsided political framework with no enduring vision for a united country?
That the Biafra War had great negative impact on the Igbo, in particular, and the entire Eastern Region in general is not in doubt. But what is disturbing is that the new Biafra agitation is being championed by mostly post-war generation of the Igbo who feel alienated and frustrated with the utter neglect of a region that some perceive as conquered. Over the weekend, I learned that the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway is now totally impassable and has been abandoned. Travellers are forced to use the old road with hellish experience. To what extent did the reconstruction promised by the war-time leader, General Yakubu Gowon, effected? The Igbo have a saying that the thing that killed the mother rat doesn’t allow the pups to open their eyes. Could it be that the same forces that killed what would have been Igbo fathers and mothers some 46 years ago are still working, which is the root of the agitation? I don’t believe that there would be any justifiable reason for agitation if the South-East was properly integrated into Nigeria after the war. The agitation is a natural reaction to the neglect and share marginalisation of the Igbo geographical enclave. Some may argue that the entire country virtually portrays the same ugly scenario. That is true, but what of what seems to be an unwritten law that no Igbo man would be president of Nigeria? Where are equity, justice and fairness?
Offodile set out to re-examine the war – the post independence principal players, the ethnic politics that pervaded the First Republic and the uncompromising attitude of some of those politicians. The crisis that erupted in the Western Region was a result of selfish political disposition. Whatever led Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and co to stage a bloody coup in which the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and many prominent politicians were killed remains the evil hand that derailed Nigeria from the path of progress and prosperity. Surprisingly, no Igbo political leader was a victim of that coup and it angered the North.
The Nzeogwu coup, more or less, served as a justifiable basis for a counter coup in which the first military head of state, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, and his host, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi were gruesomely murdered in Ibadan. Those ugly events ushered the military into political leadership that set Nigeria on a ruinous path. The pogrom that preceded the war was made possible because the Igbo were migratory and were scattered all over Nigeria doing business. The role played by Nigeria’s first Governor-General, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Michael Okpara and Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, all on the Biafra side, were well captured in the book. Offodile is sad that between December 31, 1983 and May 29, 1999, there was virtually no development in
Nigeria. Different military dictators presided over the affairs of Nigeria and underdeveloped it.
Nigeria needs redemption. The hope that the new democratic dispensation from May 1999 would bring succour to Nigeria has so far failed. The new crop of political actors is more like vampires sucking Nigeria’s blood with impunity. Rather than effect development, what Nigerians have been confronted with are abrasive corruption, monumental looting of the treasury at all levels and egocentric mindset. For Offodile, there is need to ponder the dysfunctional structure of our federation and agree to re-engineer it.