M. O. Ené
ay is Igbo Heritage Month. That’s when I revisit some sensitive issues of our Biafran experiences. Then I read Prof. Boniface Egboka’s piece in SUNDAY VANGUARD: Viewpoints, Sunday, 8th April 2001. [re: What a poor maligned Biafra and confusion galore!] I know Bonny Egboka: He is a passionate and pleasant person, an academician who didn’t wear an air of stuffy, sham superiority. What he wrote touched me. It touched me not just because I was there but more because I said it over four years ago that revisionism was going to erase the truth about Biafra. Eventually. She who doesn’t oil the lips risks the harmattan havoc on their lusciousness and likeability. If you don’t tell your story your way, others will tell it their way. It started with General Yakubu Gowon in 1992 saying that there was no Biafra! Chief Bola Ige submitted in 1996 that Ndiigbo "went to a war" they could not win. Then Gowon denied in 1997 that he had heard of Asaba Massacre, even when Chiet Tony (Gowon’s Goebbles) Enahoro insisted that the BBC film clip they both saw forced him (Gowon) to recall then Colonel Murtala Mohammad, founding commander of the 2nd Division that perpetrated the heinous crimes. The mini masquerades in Internet newsgroups shelled and still shell their funk.
It is still a battle squaring with legion of persistent propagandists. So I must pause and put in new positions two definitely unintentional slips in Egboka’s piece. I say unintentional because Dr. Egboka is no Dr. Edwin Madunagu, who was so eager to prove that the January 15, 1966 coup was Igbocentric he stretched the facts. First, Dr. Egboka was not exactly right when he attributed the leadership of the now infamous coup to "Major Chukwuma [Kaduna] Nzeogwu, who was known better in Hausa-Fulani land than in Igboland." Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and the Action Group operatives were the brains behind the putsch. I doubt Nzeogwu knew that they planned to install then jailed Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Secondly, it is wrong to state that "prominent Northern leaders such as Ahmadu Bello were killed while no prominent Igbo was killed." This is a direct product of Madunagu’s misguided missiles. Read him in a piece in The Guardian last year: "No Igbo political leader died and the only Igbo military casualty occurred not because he was a target but because he was considered a 'nuisance'." As I submitted in my riposte to Madunagu’s, "injecting that late Colonel Arthur Unegbe was killed for being a ‘nuisance’ is rude, crude, and crass." Now, right before our own eyes, no Vanguard editor could catch the obvious fallacy. Curios? No!
When I read that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s (OBJ) had released another motor-mouth Molotov in Bayelsa State, I hoped everyone would just ignore the derailed train heading to nowhere on its irritated inertia. I felt the man needed to be ignored, since he doesn’t really matter any more in the scheme of things. We know now the deities he worships. Nigeria’s economy has been sold to the highest bidder (IMF and World Bank operatives) –- without the legislature lifting a leg. The army has gone to the Yankees -- even with General Victor Malu screaming on the top of his lungs. The oil industry belongs to the Marc Riches of the high sea, and there is nothing Gaius Obaseki and Rilwanu Lukman can do about it. The politicians are for the birds, and the people just do their thing… perishing and praying, suffering and smiling.
Bonny Egboka should not be surprised that no one is challenging President Obasanjo’s verbal diarrhea. You see, there is nothing to challenge; Easterners did not go to war. They did not declare war on anyone. Since they did not go to war, it is left for the aggressor to tell the world why he brutalized and vandalized the Igbo nation for 30 terrible months. And he just did. Crudely and rudely, but he did offer us something to chew on. It will only help us all in breaking down the psychological wall that blocks popular proactive actions. Since we now know that oil was/is it, the battle for resource control now makes more sense. It now makes sense that MASSOB wants fuel tankers to offload further south until the people who own the oily land have had enough with which to warm their vehicles. If for nothing else, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike will now garner the support his nonviolent protests deserve.
CLASS & CLASSLESSNESS
The aforementioned psychological wall began to crack in May 1997. People in USA who thought it was taboo to broach Biafra as a subject, forget latter-day re-actualization platforms, ran for as far as their legs could carry them. 1998, Abacha died. Political days dawned. Chief Obasanjo (OBJ) emerged. He showed an unknown-till-then wound to the North. He was coming to stop Biafra all over again. Here we have OBJ stirring the pot all over again with his characteristic crudity and Aremu aloofness. It is needless debating such OBJ’s emissions as the war-and-resource-control rant in Bayelsa State of all places, the no-marginalization pronouncement in Imo State, the no-apology-for-Odi statement on national television, and lately Lagos-is-an-urban-jungle-of-animals decree. So let’s stay a bit on what would have happened if Biafra had triumphed. Of course, OBJ would not own Operation Feed the Nation…. oops, sorry, Ota Farms Nigeria (LTD). He would not have amassed his immense wealth without work. He would not have collected a harem without becoming the King of Swaziland. If he were to pass on untimely, it definitely would not have been at the hands on General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukuwu (Ikemba) or Biafrans, and that’s where he lied through the back of teeth.
First, if Biafran troops had dislodged the Feds from Port Harcourt and the war ended, Biafra would have survived and advanced beyond South Africa. If Biafra had reclaimed ALL of Eastern Region, the citizens’ rugged republicanism and concerted capitalism would have built a stable and progressive society second to none in Africa. Whatever, no attempt would have been made to move again on Lagos. Whatever for? The first one was a massive mistake and a huge disaster, principally due to the deceit between Obasanjo and acolytes of Wole Soyinka’s Third Force (the instigator of the ill-fated Banjo-led campaign). So why is the Ikemba silent? When a BBC reporter asked General Yakubu Gowon after the war what he thought of General Odumegwu-Ojukwu, he raved and ranted; how he had thought Odumegwu-Ojukwu was a gentleman; how Odumegwu-Ojukwu had deceived Ndiigbo; and how he (Odumegwu-Ojukwu) could not be trusted. When these statements were relayed to Odumegwu-Ojukwu in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, he took a puff off his cigarette, flashed a catchy smile and said: "We fought a war: Gowon was one side, I was on the other side. That’s really it." Need we recommend any stronger antidote to the verbal dysentery of a man tormented by his conscience and who should know better?
Chief Obasanjo is a vindictive man, with or without the dictates of his newfound, born-again religion. When he says he has nothing against Ndiigbo, I lose some respect for the man. He didn’t have to deny it; we know. His hatred is deep-rooted and troubling. God help the Abacha family if the man gets his way and stays for FOUR more years (two extra beyond 2003). I am sure he is going to find a way to even the score. By the time he is done with Alhaji Mohammed Abacha and Captain Hamza El-Mustapha, they would know never to mess with Uncle Sege (OBJ). The man has a track record of insulting and belittling people, but he has a special poison arrow for Ndiigbo. It is a shame he still gets away with it. One day, though, one day soon, Chief Obasanjo will reach Damascus.
Truth be told, OBJ was right to state why he fought the war with such ferociousness. If that was his understanding of his reason for going to war, fine. The mind is like a bag; everyone has one. The unholy Anglo-Soviet alliance was not forged because the two Europe powers loved the Hausa-Yoruba alliance more. It was a matter of cash, crude oil cash. They know that by destroying, they will rebuild. The Laborite Britain of red-leaning Harold Wilson and communist Soviets were the big brothers. The only headache was how to keep the French and the Yankees out of the loop. They needed not worry. Biafran leadership was not going to sell out because they were not fighting for oil; they were fighting to survive as a people in Igboland, not carried away into captivity as Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar did to the people of Judea (Jews). Biafran leaders were probably not aware that "natural resources" drove the war more than humanity and justice and righteousness. Biafrans just wanted to be left alone. Nigeria could have taken all the oil they carved out of Ukpabi Asika’s East Central State. Biafra would have survived as Eritrea is currently doing outside Ethiopia.
The Biafra-Nigeria War was not actually about resource control; it was about resource roguery. If it were for resource control, the war would have ended when they got all the oil in Niger Delta. No, it was much more than that. Gowon even sold Bakassi Peninsular to get Cameroon to attack Ndiigbo and make sure no land corridor was created. What has oil got to do with the use of hunger as a weapon of war? What has oil got to do with burning churches and markets and refugee camps? The war was a genocidal campaign designed to crush Ndiigbo out of existence. Hard to believe; sure, but you better believe it. Yet, it could be about controlling Ndiigbo to loot the Niger Delta blind as, alas, the riverine people are yet to grasp fully. Has anything changed? So, it could be about control, about force, about looting, about oppressions, and about the survival of a people. Each to his own interpretation of events, but let the likes of President Obasanjo (OBJ) and Attorney General Bola Ige look themselves in the mirror sometimes and talk to the face they see.
My father told me never to argue with a dreamer about the details of his or her dream; the significance, maybe. You see, if a man wakes up and tells you he dreamt that he drove from Las Vegas to London in a Mercedes 999 SEL, do you tell him the Benz was a bit off the mark or that a big body of water called Atlantic Ocean makes driving across impossible. Hello? The man had a dream! Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) also had a dream. There are dreamers and there are dreamers. OBJ is a dreamer of sorts. I refuse to argue with him. If he fought the war, in the dark recesses of his heart, for the control of Bayelsa oil, why argue? Let’s hear it from such Ijaws as loudmouthed Edwin Clark, who thinks the North is the natural ally; Ndiigbo, the enemies. Question: What resources were in Owerri to be controlled? Of course, there are resources and there are resources. OBJ wanted his hands on resources, both natural and human. So, it is not unlikely that OBJ fought the war to cradle choice chikitos of the sex-full Port Harcourt-Owerri axis, on one of whom he left something by which he is still remembered to this day. Now, if that was not a "resource" he "controlled" as a conqueror (not as an in-law) I wonder what is.
OBJ fought his war for resource control. It is good to know. However, the man who sent him to replace Colonel Benjamin Adekunle and his genocidal gangs in the Thrid Marine Commando recollects differently. Gowon said in Abakaliki, during his mea culpa "Nigeria Prays" tour, that he went to war because there would have been no Nigeria without Ndiigbo. In effect, he reiterated his no-basis-for-unity stance after the Pogrom, and he agreed with me that Ndiigbo are the threads that hold Nigeria together. The day ALL Igbo people, without a single exemption, get up and walk away from Nigeria, as in "I[g]bo Landing" of the slavery Carolinas, there would be a different landscape… even with all the oil pumped out and stored in an airtight tank in Lake Chad Basin. And that’s one more reason why Ndiigbo should endeavor to ignore the ranting of a peripatetic president with the mentality of an adult area-boy
The War had to happen. Somehow. Somewhere… anywhere but in Igboland. Suddenly, someone stupidly stuck his finger into other people’s oil of odium. The wicked oil splashed on his nation, the Igbo nation. It was not an Igbo war. If it were, the war would have ended in 1970. The war goes on in and out of courts and on the streets. The usual unguarded outburst from the president is good news. We know now why OBJ’s forces devastated Igbo heartland, hunted down and slaughtered Biafran officers who survived his Atilla-like assault on Owerri, and vowed that "these people" (Ndiigbo) will never threaten Nigeria ever again. He kept his word during his fist coming. He pressed on with the postwar persecution of Ndiigbo (financial fraud…probable the first "419," land grabbing, abandoned property, psychological and physical abuse, etc.). And he did not have to do any of these things to Ndiigbo as a people. Later in General Sani Abacha’s gulag, he must have asked God to forgive him his sins and save his life. He got a chance in a billion. God-sent OBJ just blew it. Again. Or has he. Nelson Mandela he is not; Mikhail Gorbachev, he could be; but Slobodan Milosevic knocks on his door everyday he fails to address the false foundations and the futile fundamentals of the colonial contraption we call country.
Everything else is embellishment.
I have scanned through several collections of Nigeria-Biafra War Songs; none talks about controlling resources. When the Federal troops stormed Nsukka, they sang:
Mu je Mu Kerkeshe Su [We go, we slaughter them]
Tu Tatara Kayan Su[We ravish their precious wares]
Mu Ber Su Suna Kukan Banza[We abandon them crying useless tears.]
The Biafrans took a hard look at such senselessness bellowed out also from radio stations and called the invading army "Vandals." They fought back. And they sang why:
We are Biafrans
Fighting for our freedom,
By the name of Jesus,
We shall conquer.
Spare a thought today, Good Friday the 13th, for those who perished doing just that, not those who spew out baseless bashings in Bayelsa.