THE CRY OF MY PEOPLE: BIAFRA AND THE FIST OF NIGERIAN OPPRESSION
ribalism, corruption, suppression, and ethnic cleansing are the emblems of a contraption called Nigeria. The Igbo have borne the brunt of these inequities.
The 1966 pogrom, during which Igbo men living in Northern Nigeria were mass-murdered, with their bodies strewn on the streets, their women’s breasts hacked off, their children decapitated while tied to their mothers’ backs, and Nigerian military officers slaughtering their fellow Igbo officers in the military, led the Igbo to secede from Nigeria. The effort to secede was met with the Nigerian Civil War of 19967-1970 that claimed the lives several millions; at least 2 million Igbo people died of malnutrition resulting from blockade orchestrated by Nigeria as an act of war. As if this was not enough, the Nigerian ruing military condemned the Biafran currency when the war ended and ordered each Biafran to receive N20, the equivalent of five cents today, regardless of the amount he had in the bank, to begin life anew. With food scarcity in the war ravaged Biafra, no man could feed his family in a day with N20. The objective was to break the will of the Igbo man and force him to extinction.
On September 10, 2017, the Nigerian Army, in full battle gear, descended with Armored Personnel Carriers and seven Hilux vans at the Afaraukwu, Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State, the home country of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra that has been agitating for secession of the Igbo from the loose arrangement, albeit fractious, geographical expanse called Nigeria, to quell any uprising that could develop at IPOB’s civil protest. What happened was a repeat of the 1966 pogrom. The Nigerian soldiers rounded up Igbo youths in their teens, led them to a muddy water half-naked, forced them to drink the deadly water, then shot them dead. Others were killed outside the stream. The video of this atrocity is making rounds in the social media. Confronted, the Nigerian Army claimed that the youths were pelting the soldiers with stones. Really? There was no video to prove that bogus claim, even though each soldier had a cell phone to record the alleged provocation. No soldier has showed any injury sustained from the alleged pelting. Even if the soldiers were pelted as claimed, does that justify the deadly force used? Could these children have been shot in the legs? Besides, the Nigerian soldiers sent in what was tagged Operation Python Dance II did not include any soldiers of Igbo extraction in the Nigerian military. The soldiers were drawn from other parts of the country, especially from the Muslim North, leaving us with the inference that this was an operation to kill ruthlessly like a python. Why was the Nigerian Army, instead of the Nigerian Police, sent to disperse a peaceful demonstration? What was the motive other than to kill?
The same mass murder that the Nigerian Army perpetrated in 1966 is what they have been doing since September 10. Ethnomusicologist Charles Keil, who was visiting Nigeria in 1966, recounted: “The pogroms I witnessed in Makurdi, Nigeria (late Sept. 1966) were foreshadowed by months of intensive anti-Ibo and anti-Eastern conversations among Tiv, Idoma, Hausa and other Northerners resident in Makurdi, and, fitting a pattern replicated in city after city, the massacres were led by the Nigerian army. Before, during and after the slaughter, Col. Gowan could be heard over the radio issuing 'guarantees of safety' to all Easterners, all citizens of Nigeria, but the intent of the soldiers, the only power that counts in Nigeria now or then, was painfully clear. After counting the disemboweled bodies along the Makurdi road I was escorted back to the city by soldiers who apologized for the stench and explained politely that they were doing me and the world a great favor by eliminating Ibos.” Nigerian soldiers embarked on ethnic cleansing even before the war started.
Hausa youths and Northern Muslims have killed, maimed and committed unspeakable atrocities, yet neither the Nigerian Army nor the Nigerian Police did anything. Take, for instance, four recent incidents. In June, Northern Youths issued a three-month ultimatum to Igbo people living in the North to quit on or before October 2017 or be killed. This Quit Notice provoked ethnic tensions. The Nigerian Police refused to arrest the perpetrators of the notice, claiming that arresting them had dire security implications. Does that mean that the Northern Muslim youths were stronger than the Nigerian Army? The Nigerian Army was not called in, despite the fact that Nigerian Constitution gives every Nigerian right to live in any part of Nigeria. Second, Fulani herdsmen have massacred thousands of the Igbo in their farms for refusing their cattle to graze on their crops, burned down their communities, raped their women, yet no Nigerian Police or Nigerian Army intervened. Third, Bridget Agbahime, wife of Pastor Mike Agbahime, a Deeper Life pastor who had lived in Kano for 45 years, was murdered on June 5, 2016, for refusing Dauda Ahmed from performing ablution in front of her shop. She asked him to do it in front of his own shop. He accused her of blaspheming Muhammad. A Muslim mob gathered, broke the landlord's office where she was hiding with her husband and killed her in his presence, then vandalized her shop. The Governor condemned the killing. This enraged the Muslim mob and they went to the hospital to take her corpse and desecrate it. Fearing the Muslim mob, the Attorney General entered *nolle prosequi*. Ahmed and other assailants were released without prosecution, even though Ahmed made a written confession of the crimes. Case closed. The Nigerian Army was not sent to disperse the Muslim mob. Fourth, on July 9, 2016, barely a month later, 41-year-old Eunice Elisha, a pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of Nigeria and an evangelist, was murdered in the early morning hours while she was out evangelizing in a town at the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria's capital. She left behind seven children and her pastor husband Olawale Elisha. Nothing happened. The assailants went scot-free.
The arrest and jailing of Kanu for agitating for secession of Biafra from Nigeria has provoked us to revisit the issue of secession. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right. Because of the fight for oil, that right has become alienable.
What was the cry of Biafrans that led to that failed effort to secede from Nigeria? They were numerous, but here are the most critical: Indiscriminate killing of the Igbo; mass killing of Biafrans in Nigerian military by their fellow Nigerian military officers; exploitation of the oil by the North; Tribalism; Quota system (a system of appointments or employment or admission to schools based on ethnic population and not meritocracy, marginalization); Igbos were shut out of military brass and important positions in the polity despite their sterling qualifications; and hatred sired by jealousy because of the sheer enterprise and industry of the Igbo (they controlled 60% of the economy).
During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, the Igbo began a fresh agitation for secession under the auspices of MASSOB led by Ralph Uwazurike, who was jailed numerous times without trial. President Muhammadu Buhari started where Obasanjo stopped with the suppression of the Igbo with the arrest and jailing of Kanu without trial. Nigeria does not want the Igbo to secede not only because the Igbo is the glue holding Nigeria together, but because it will cut Northern Nigeria off from the oil wealth. Nigeria will absolutely disintegrate if the Igbo secede because the Hausas and Yorubas cannot co-exist because of their mutual hatred and mistrusts of each other. But the psychosis with Nigeria is that, even though she knows she needs the Ibos in the fissure called Nigeria, it does not want to address the pivotal issues that are continually precipitating agitation for secession.
A people’s right to self-determination is an inalienable right but the lust for oil and the opportunity for corruption (power brokers selling oil blocs to themselves, relatives, companies, and siphoning revenues from oil) abrogates this right, tags it as a rebellion, underwrites a warped conscience that perpetrates brutality and injustice against a people. Time has not dimmed the cries of Biafrans or as Frederick Forsyth puts it the *Making of African Legend: The Biafra Story*: “The passage of time may mellow viewpoints, or expediency may change them. But nothing can or ever will minimize the injustice and brutality perpetrated on the Biafran people, nor diminish the shamefulness of a British government’s frantic, albeit indirect, participation.”
Agitation is an intimate part of democracy because it is a veritable tool for reminding those in power of the pervading injustice and invidious discrimination against an insular group in the polity. It was the agitation of the Yoruba, bemoaning daily about marginalization, that produced Obasanjo. It was the agitations of the South-South that indirectly produced former President Goodluck Jonathan—Obasanjo gamely handpicked Jonathan to assuage the restive South-South and tamp down on hostage taking and vicious attacks on the oil wells and rigs. It is quite unlikely that these agitations for a Biafran nation, however fierce and vociferous they may be, will produce any nation state but they bring out the demons in our fledgling democracy by the way the government responds to them. Buhari responded to the IPOB campaign for nationhood by appointing someone from North-East to be the Secretary to the Government, thereby shutting off the Igbo from his government and thus making a loud statement of the North’s entrenched sentimentality. This alone is a valid reason to secede because it demonstrates that the vestiges of the past are renewed and enthroned. A review of the appointments by Buhari since 2015 shows that all the juicy or substantive political appointments went to the North, with a few to the West. This alone is a ground for secession because it validates the causes for secession, in that tribalism is given a rebirth in political appointments in this day and age. Indiscriminate killing of the Igbo is a cause for secession. Agitations are meant to open the ears of the government and break its will. It was the tone-deaf agitations of Martin Luther King, Jr. that handed Blacks civil rights in America. He knew he was going to die sooner than later but kept up the pressure. Mandela mounted a fierce opposition to apartheid. To many scoffers, it seemed like a mission impossible, but he prevailed by sheer will.
Buhari’s actions since taking office clearly establish that he is a vindictive brute that is using the Office of the Presidency to wage a one-man civil war against the Igbo by unleashing the venom of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police, and the judiciary on any Igbo daring to stoke the fire of nationhood. In civilized democracies, agitations of this nature are meant to start a conversation that inveighs or affirms the validity of such a campaign. But in Nigeria, it becomes a provocation to unleash the corrupt Nigerian Police and ruthless Nigerian Army to silence the victims attempting to cry out loud. How long would the Igbo suffer these inequities? We are all complicit if we fail to condemn injustices.
Why has Nigeria been fighting the Igbo for 51 years not to secede? Forsyth predicted it in 1969 in his book: “It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger of recurrence. There was no realization, nor any attempt at one.” It’s happening again because Nigeria does not want to address the underlying causes. Buhari chose the force of a gun to address the simple issue of equitable co-existence that will never go away. That’s what militants do.
Mbakpuo is a freelance writer and the author of *The Horns of Africa*; *Chance Encounters*; *The Conscience of a Nation: Clinton, Sex and Politics around the World*; and *Fight Back and Win: How to Fight Foreclosure, Short Sale, Loan Modification, Personal Injury and Other Matters*. He has two upcoming books entitled *The Marriage of Islam* and Terrorism and *Protecting the Presidency: From Washington to Trump*.
Bio: Mbakpuo has a BA (1986) and an MA (1987) in journalism and a juris doctor in law (1990). He has written over 200 articles. He taught English at some colleges.