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Avoiding another civil war


pro-Biafrans-protestONE thing we must not deny ourselves is the right to know the history of our nation. History is such an important subject that only idiots or clowns will not appreciate its significance.

Many young Nigerians are ill-informed about the darkest days of our history; those very dark days when otherwise members of the same union had to take up arms against one another. For someone who closely observed the days when members of the Yoruba ethnic group danced in the streets to welcome the great Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, in almost equal numbers as they did another great Nigerian of Yoruba origin, Obafemi Awolowo, the civil war of 1967-70 and what now appears to be an attempt to retrieve better-forgotten war drums cannot but be disheartening.

The Civil War itself can hardly be discussed in isolation. Understanding it entails an excursion into the history of our great nation. Its remote causes can be summarised as emanating from the very nature of our colonial-imposed federalism, as well as the colonial masters’ legacy of divide and rule. Suffice it to say that the creation of Nigeria was designed, first and foremost, to serve the interests of the colonial masters. The federation bequeathed to Nigerians at independence was lopsided, with political power skewing heavily in favour of the North to the detriment of the then southern regions, Eastern and Western. The colonial approach to education and religion could hardly be described as an effort directed at promoting unity in a nation of different languages and culture.

The immediate causes of the war derived from the aforementioned factors, as post-independence history was a history of the south attempting to challenge a structure that impeded progress as well as the political ambitions of its key leaders. The North, based on its population, agitated for, and successfully got, 50% of representation at the Federal House of Representatives during the Ibadan Constitutional Conference of 1950. This was not without opposition from politicians of the Western Region.

However, the south continued to challenge what had constituted northern primacy in politics resulting in a succession of crises. The census crisis of 1962-3 and the contentious federal election of 1964 saw an otherwise divided south singing in unison. It would be naïve to assume that the feelings of ethnic politicians did not influence the thinking of soldiers, no matter what were their pretensions to patriotism and non-partisanship, and this was what came into fore on January 15, 1966, when a bloody coup attempt terminated our teething experiment at democratic politics. The soldiers struck on the background of a comical election that had produced a hitherto unprecedented violence in the Western Region in 1965.

The coup leaders, comprised mainly of soldiers from the Igbo-dominated Eastern Region, claimed to have acted in the national interest. What, however, did not seem to have been in the national interest was the pattern which the execution of their coup took. The key politicians and soldiers killed were northerners and notable southern “collaborators.”

The “cleansing” exercise did not claim Igbo casualties. Behind in Western education and commerce, the north saw a unitary state as an orchestrated attempt to undo its peoples in the Civil Service and economic sectors of society. Coupled with failure to bring the coup makers to trial, Ironsi’s unitary decree became more or less the catalyst to the counter-coup of July 1966 – “the northern reply” – which claimed the lives of many Igbo officers and men, including General Aguiyi-Ironsi himself. This was soon followed by a massive killing of Igbo residents in the North.

With dead bodies and mutilated limbs arriving in the East from the North, there were bound to be anger and a  civil war  invitingly inevitable. There were quite a number of elements in the decision to go to war and this included the refusal of Lt. Col. Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Military Governor of the East, to accept the authority of Lt. Col Yakubu Gowon, said to be his junior by enrolment in the military, as Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Many attempts at reconciliation failed to yield fruitful results. For instance, the agreements reached at Aburi, Ghana, favoured the demands of the secessionists but would later be reneged upon by the federal authorities once its implications became glaring. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu would appear to have “outsmarted” his colleagues at the Aburi meeting.

Of course, the decision to go to war cannot be explained without reference to the then newly-discovered oil in the Eastern Region. It assured “Biafra” was a project that could be economically sustained. It was also because of oil that the major powers were neither spectators nor pacifists in the “fratricidal” conflict. They were more interested in having access to the oil than in bothering with the number of Nigerians killed!

General Yakubu Gowon rightly declared that there was “no victor and no vanquished” in the conclusion of a war for which we were all to be blamed. What we must never do again is put our nation in a situation that makes another civil war an attractive option. To our young compatriots agitating for Biafra, I make bold to remind them that the Igbo have contributed to the demographic integration of Nigeria more than any other ethnic group in the federation. It is doubtful if the new agitators have factored in this reality.

• Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.

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  • Fuzio

    What has Nigeria done for them in return? The current president even stated it with his mouth. It is the first time a democratically elected president anywhere after a close and divisive election instead of calling for unity decided to pour more fuel to division with his pronouncements. That those that voted for him would get more of his attention than those that did not. This is a violation of the oat of his office and no one is calling him out for it. Now he can not claim to be president of folks in Eastern part of the country. They have risen up to defend themselves and their dignity.

    • Ifeoluj

      Our leaders ar Selfish dat s der problem, ts either they comply to wat d easterners wan or dey ar bein fair and improve their community especially the south south. Am very sure f t d yoruba tribe dats goin tru dis same challenges d actions dat will b taken wil b worst dan dis….pls let we d Yorubas b considerate n dis mata, stop follown d northerners lik a sheep without shepherd, we have lost our right 2 dem, u wil even see d case were a yoruba woman dats married to a northerners, when eva der s tribal issue dey will even kill der wives and der children 1st, dey dnt worth 2 b relied on.

  • lexycool

    Am not surprise at the reactions of fools!.. I believe many have lose sense of memories. The first fall was through greed and self-centered minder leaders in the region. Today its is transparent to see that all the noise is selfish and barbaric to believe its possible. The so call leaders did not lost any relations during the last civil war, and their children today knows the truth. I am very sure non of those leader children will be part of people who go out carrying posters or protest cards. People should start learning that one must stop believing another person is the cause of their inability of not having their share of better life. I would say we should start to ask ourself a question!… The federal government always allocate money for all states of the federation which of cause is done as it should be. next is to ask ourself the allocations for the their region what is made out it ? I believe if those fools could think well they should question their leaders. all the leaders in the region are not from other speaking groups of the Nation they are all igbo speaking leaders. They should go and question their leaders not the youruba, or Hause people are at fault. This so transperent for every normal human with logical thinking and eduction. I am so sorry for some of the brothers who believe things can be done only with force. I wish the federal government deals properly with all this senseless fools, who are full of stupid pride. Many have suffered for the first greed war and are still suffering including all the new generations that come after the war. Igbo proverb say “you can not set a trap for an elephant when you have not made a successful trap to catch a rat” many don’t learn from past.

    • Moon

      Something you must understand is that freedom is not cheap, Biafra is unfinished business. We can not rest till we achieved our aim. That’s freedom. My father told me that when you declared war against somebody that I should not fear whether you’ll get killed by bullet because that period it does not matter any more how you die.

      • lexycool

        My brother if your father says that to you then, am not sure he loves you. In his time am very sure if he has another alternative he will choose that. But for you there are many other alternative for you and one of them is your right to LIVE your own life. You can not step into something you do not know when it started. You have many opportunity to live your life, I have a question for you ” when late leader of Biafra was still living I want you to pls tell me the truth. Did he visit your father or compensate your father a cent? did your father got a cent from his will that he left? did he will those things to motherless children home of the suffering Biafra children or parent somebody like you? So you better go and sit down and think very well before you too fall into an forgettable time of your life. Your father does not tell you the truth my father did okay. And that is why am using the alternatives in my life. better one die for a good reason then a stupid one. don’t be a fool no Ojukwu son or children will take part in what you are going crazy for and the reason is they know the truth better than your father who advice you to go and die for nothing. so my brother go and think very well fool. Before somebody cross a road a sensible one will look right, left then right again to be sure the road is clear. I still ask myself many of you who go out and fight stupidly non of you, don’t even know the person who started all this. You are all like a ants who see’s a sweet dropped down without knowing who dropped it maybe the person is sick or healthy you do not know. but because other ants like just what is sweet you too just jump into it. My Brother wake up from your dreams to reality do something better to give your own children.

        • Harry

          Lexycool I’m glad you understand that your people will protest more than we are if you were in our shoes. However, we are not calling for war but a referendum and if the worst come to worst the war will be inevitable. Moreover, it would not be like the last one; it won’t be only in the East that it’ll be fought but the Yorubas and the Hausas will feel the war in their own land. You seem to know much about history, let me intimate you that the south southerners, UK, France and America will no longer support you as they did in the first war. With their support and whatever, Nigeria couldn’t defeat Biafra within six months as they predicted; though Biafra fought the war with virtually nothing and sustained that war for three years and six months. It would no longer be business as usual and Biafra this time would not be suppressed and coerced by intimidation by Nigeria. Besides it’s he who feels it that knows it. We understand hardship and deprivation and we’re no longer going to bear it, if it’s okay by you then embrace it. Long live Biafra.