FEATURE ARTICLE

Monday, June 27, 2022
foborji@hotmail.com
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
BIAFRA AND BUHARI'S VISIT TO RWANDA GENOCIDE MEMORIAL, KIGALI
"Where oppression and the liberation of humans seem to make God irrelevant - a God filtered by our long-time indifference to these problems - there must blossom faith and hope in Him who comes to root out injustice and to offer, in an unforeseen way, total liberation." - Gustavo Gutierrez, "We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People" (1983).
ne may ask, 'why do we have to introduce our topic by citing from Gustavo Gutierrez's book, "We Drink from Our Own Wells"? The reason is obvious:

In the present article, we wish to address the deceptive narrative pervading Nigeria's body polity today. That is, the dangerous narrative, which aims often, at suppressing the story and experience of the victims and survivors of Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), and jumps ahead to cite Rwanda as example and warning, to what is happening presently in Nigeria!

For instance! In his recent visit to Kigali, Rwanda, where he participated at the Commonwealth Summit that took place there, President Muhammadu Buhari, was quoted of praising the Rwandan authorities for the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Permanent Exhibitions at Kigali. He also laid a wreath at the mass graves where more than 250,000 Tutsi victims of the genocide, were buried. But in Nigeria, both in words and actions, President Buhari has not ONLY continued to suppress the Biafra story, and especially, to discriminate against the Igbo Biafrans, the victims of the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War, prohibiting them from telling their story of the Biafra War. In addition, it is now an open secret that Buhai's government is today, waging, although, subtly and silently, a kind of 'Second Biafra War' against the Igbo nation and people.

This is irony of it all. President Buhari was speaking of 'tolerance and peaceful co-existence', during his last visit to the Rwandan (Tutsi) Genocide Memorial Exhibition at Kigali. But back him in Nigeria, the President is running the most lopsided federal government ever seen in Nigeria's recent history. That is, since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970. He has, systematically short-changed and side-lined the Igbo people and region, from participating as equal partners and citizens with the rest in the scheme of things in the country. Tell me, what moral authority has the President to preach to anybody about tolerance and co-existence in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation-state like Nigeria? That is, as he was quoted, saying or rather preaching to his international audience gathered at Kigali Genocide Memorial Mass Graves of the Victims of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, few days ago. (See Sahara Reporters Online Newspaper, June 24, 2022.)

This is President Buhari, who refused to build a Cenotaph, institute a day for an annual Remembrance of the over 800,000 victims of the 1966 Biafran Pogroms - the massacre of Igbos and other Easterners resident in Northern and some parts of Western Nigeria, and also, the 3.5 million Biafrans, mostly Igbos, killed by the Nigerian State during the War (1967-1970). Instead of confronting this sad history of the Nigerian State in its relationship with the Igbo Biafrans of Eastern Nigeria, what Buhari did at Kigali, in reference to the Nigeria-Biafra War, was to self-congratulate himself for having participated in the killing of the Igbos during the war? This is the most painful aspect of it all. All in an effort, for him, to evade the true story of the Biafra War and pogroms. President Buhrai simply went ahead, to continue to lay the blame of the tragic event to the victims of the pogroms, the Igbo Biafrans. That is all he went to Kigali, Rwanda to do. Suppressing the Biafra story and history, is what most of the corrupt and self-serving Nigerian politicians, that call themselves leaders and elites from the North or West of the country, often do with relatively easy, without any qualms of conscience.

This is why we want to remind ourselves in the present article, that, without linking the present reality of Nigeria with its' past - the true story or rather history of Biafran pogroms and the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War itself, the country can hardly make any headway. The government continued suppression of the Biafran story and history is the bane of Nigerian State today.

Without national reparation and atonement for the Biafran pogroms committed against the Igbos and other Easterners during the Nigeria-Biafra War (19767-1970), we are not yet ready for nation-building, tolerance, peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. As I have been saying in my previous articles, 'the salvation of Nigeria as a nation-state is in its suppressed history of the Biafra War and Igbo Nation.'

As a colonial created nation-state of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious configurations and dangerous diversity, Nigeria may continue to suppress its past historical memory to its own detriment and self-destruction. Without atoning for its sins of the past committed against innocent civilians during the Biafran pogroms and war, Nigeria will continue in its present backward-slide until thy kingdom come.

'Before Rwanda, there was Biafra.'

In the midst of all these, it is always frustrating for people of good conscience, to observe how most Nigerians have continued, as President Buhari did at Kigali, to use Rwanda as a historical paradigm for the Nigeria of today, forgetting that 'Before Rwanda, there was Biafra.'

Sometimes, we overlook our own sufferings and concrete historical experience to exalt those of outsiders. The fact that we have survived our own sufferings does not mean that we should overlook what we had suffered and are still passing through in Nigeria today. It doesn't mean either that those other Nigerians who did not experience what Biafrans experienced and have continued to experience in Nigeria, should feel offended each time the survivors of the Biafran pogroms and the genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War recount their story or remember their relatives who were victims of the war!

Recently, I came across a comment someone made against a well-researched article of one Akin A. Ajose-Adeogun, entitled, "Felix Houphouet-Boigny and Nigerian/Biafran War." However, before we discuss the comment, it suffices to have a bird's eye view of the central argument of Ajose-Adeogun's article:

Akin A. Ajose-Adeogun, in the introductory part of his article "Felix Houphouet-Boigny and Nigerian/Biafran War", said:

"We have suffered for fifty-one years now, the consequences of our leaders' naivety and blunders in not holding the FGN to its words on the Aburi Agreement that had transformed Nigeria into a confederation, which is the only workable structure for a country that is an ill-assorted ragtag of mutually hostile ethnic groups and conflicting ideologies. I understand the fears, at the time, of the federal bureaucrats from the minority ethnic nationalities . Who had advised Gowon to unilaterally revise the Aburi Agreement [by introducing ss.70 and 71, which reasserted the power of the FGN over regions, thus abrogating the confederal nature of Nigeria agreed at Aburi]. But could their genuine fears of domination by the majority ethnic nationalities in the regions not have been simply addressed by arguing for the creation of more states - as, in fact, occurred later on 27 May 1967?"

Going further, Ajose-Adeogun says that what we appear to be witnessing now in Nigeria is the denouement Houphouet-Boigny had feared: "the southward encroachment of West Africa's Islamic Sahelian belt, which he felt that the 'able and intelligent Igbo' had an important part to play in preventing." (See Michael Gould, The Biafran War: The Struggle for Modern Nigeria, I.B. Tauris and Co., 2013).

Houphouet-Boigny was an extremely astute leader who was highly regarded across the French-speaking world. At a time Nigerian leaders saw their problems in a narrower sense of a misunderstanding among ethnic groups in the country, Houphouet-Boigny saw it as a struggle between two rival systems - Islam and Christianity - that has now, historically, lasted for some fourteen centuries. He had seen this as an emerging continental or global problem. And the Ivorian crisis and civil war was about maintaining the Ivorian identity in the face of Muslim migration from the Sahel. "We see the same problem today in the Western world, Kenya, Myanmar (Burma), Russia's Caucasus region, Ethiopian Eritrea, Indian Kashmir, Chinese Sinkiang, and Yugoslav Kosovo, etc."

It was on this basis that Ivory Coast supported Biafra and influenced France and Gabon into doing the same. Ajose-Adeogun adds in his article that, "The minority ethnic groups and the Yoruba who had both inadvertently helped the Islamic North to entrench a hegemony during the so-called war of Nigerian unity now seek our former decentralized pre-1966 federalism as a minimum demand, as they increasingly feel the lash of the Islamic North's political stranglehold."

In conclusion, he opined that, while on the one hand, "the non-Igbo South-South and Central Nigeria (Middle Belt) committed an epic historical blunder', 'the Igbo, at a cost of thousands of dead in the pogroms of May and September to October 1966, purchased a confederal system of government for Nigeria.' This system of government was, and still is, the most workable one for Nigeria. Unfortunately, the rest of the country did not realise it at the time. An incongruous and unholy alliance was cobbled up to fight for a non-existent unity, as events of the last fifty-one years have dubitably made clear."

Akin Ajose-Adeogun concludes his insightful article by saying, "That the so-called war of Nigerian unity resulted in a military victory for the Islamic North, but a moral victory for the Igbo. Ironically, with the benefit of hindsight today, it is the non-Igbo South and Central Nigeria that suffered the greatest defeat. In addition to sustaining a massive moral defeat, both regions also sustained a massive political defeat." The author of the article concludes his analysis thus:

"Consequently, I do not know whether it is the non-Igbo and Central Nigeria that should commiserate with the Igbo for the massive loss of lives, or whether it is the Igbo that should commiserate with the non-Igbo South and Central Nigeria for the loss of their souls and possibly an even greater loss of lives in the future to a mistake that could probably have been avoided at small cost in 1967. I'm inclined towards the latter position as we approach another critical juncture in our history." (See Akin A. Ajose-Adeogun, "Felix Houphouet-Boigny and the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War").

Akin A. Ajose-Adeogun, the author of the article we discussed above is from the Southwest region as his name indicates. Surprisingly, however, the most poignant comment against his article came also from someone from the same geopolitical region. This is to show you how far Nigeria and most of its citizens from those regions that fought against Biafra during the civil war are still from embracing the truth, and engaging realistically in dialogue with Nigeria's own past, even if it is a bitter past.

Thus, to buttress the central argument of our present article, we have decided to make a brief reference to the comment one person made against Ajose-Adeogun's well-researched article. This is what the person commented, among other things, against Ajose-Adeogun's article:

"Blame game.... Blame game... One perspective among many. I keep asking why do we need to circulate these things that reinforce ethnic hatred. It might [look] like a good analysis, but it is not infallible, it is only a perspective in a complex situation. My fear is that a genocide is imminent in our dear country and my greatest fear is that priests and religious would be caught in the virtuous circle of violence. It seems to me that we have not learnt much from Rwanda's lesson. ..." (Emphasis mine.)

The above comment takes us a step forward, for the discussion is not simply that we should avoid any open discussion about our historical past and experience as a people or nation; suppress our dangerous and pathetic historical memory, but also that priests and religious should not participate at all in political discussion of their country.

Moreover, the author of that comment reinforces another major concern of our present article, namely that most Nigerians easily cite Rwanda, as she did, instead of Biafra as a reference point while speaking of likely dangers that may result from the unfolding political scenario of Nigeria.

In the same vein, in what looks like overzealous outburst to fight against what she calls 'spreading ethnic-hatred' (although, blindly), she appeared to be against those victims of violence and oppression, who recount their stories, denounce openly the injustices and dehumanizing experience they had passed through at the hands of terrorists or their oppressors and tyrannical regimes!

In addition, for the author of that comment, modern means of mass communication should not be extended to victims of violence, because, according to her, they may abuse it, use it to spread, what she called 'ethnic-hatred.' Victims of violence and unjust regime, who share their horrendous experiences with the larger public through mass or social media, according to her, are spreading 'ethnic-hatred.' Moreover, people who discuss or spread news about the ongoing injustices in the land, those who discuss the historical memory of their nation, if we are to follow the prescriptions of the author of that comment, should be banished from doing so in the media, especially social media. What a piety?

Again, people who reason in that way, often forget that before Rwanda, we had Biafra! This is a historical fact. If Nigeria must learn, it must be from its own history and not from that of faraway Rwanda, no matter how appealing the latter may appear to some Nigerians today. As Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian, Latin American theologian we cited earlier, said, "We must drink from our own wells."

Rwandan genocide of 1994 claimed an estimated number of 1 million lives of the Tutsi. Too bad. Christians killing one another! However, the Biafran pogroms and genocide (1967-1970) claimed an estimated number of 3.5 million lives, mostly of Igbos and other Easterners, killed by combined forces of coalition of other Nigerian Ethnic-Nationalities from the North, Middle Belt and the Southern regions of the country, under the command of Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon and British Establishments.

In the face of these historical facts, one wonders why some people in Nigeria will continue citing a faraway Rwanda as example of where Nigeria should learn the lesson of history, while here in Nigeria, we have our own Biafra pogroms and genocide? Why would some Nigerians choose to continue to suppress the story of Biafran pogroms, the Nigeria-Biafra genocidal war, which till date, is the most horrendous crime against humanity (after the Jewish Holocaust) committed in the 20th century.

Worse still, Biafra pogroms were committed by Nigerian State, assisted by two world powers of the Cold-War era, Britain and Russia of the defunct USSR, Egypt and their allies. It was a crime against humanity committed against Africans of a particular ethnic-group, the Igbo. In the midst of this, the federal government of Nigeria orchestrated the use of narrative of lies, denials and hate language, all formulated against the Igbo to justify the war and their marginalization of the Igbos in the scheme of things in Nigeria since the end of the war in 1970, till date.

Today, the same Nigerian state and federal government, is still denying that the Biafran pogroms and genocide happened. Unfortunately, some people on the other side, including priests and religious have bought into that government narrative of lies and denials. What a pity?

The fact that one's own ethnic and religious group in the Nigerian state, never experienced exactly, what the Igbo experienced during the Nigeria-Biafra War, and are still passing through in the country today, does not in any way at all diminish that Igbo continued experience in Nigeria's history. It does not also mean that we should banish them (Igbo) from telling their Biafran story and experience as a people. Nor does it justify the government continued militarization of the Southeast region or the sending of Python Dance military battalions by the Buhari administration to kill Igbo youths whenever they gather to remember their people killed during the pogroms and the civil war in Igboland.

Today, Nigerian government and some individuals in the country, deceitfully, pretend to be fighting hate-speech. But in reality, the government and its sympathizers are promoters of ethnic-hate and hate-speech through their actions and inactions in the face of ongoing persecutions of some targeted indigenous ethnic-nationalities and Christians in the country. At the same time, the Nigerian government and their sympathizers have refused to acknowledge that it was Nigerian state narrative of ethnic-hate against the Igbos that led to the Biafran pogroms and genocidal Nigeria-Biafra War.

You cannot be feeding on ethnic-hate against a particular ethnic-group you killed over 3.5 million of their people during the Nigeria-Biafra war, and at the same time be accusing the same victims of your ethnic-hate and pogroms of propagating hate! This is the highest form of narrative of deceit Nigerian State has been propagating to its citizens over the years against the Igbo.

Methinks, it is the duty, not just of politicians and ordinary citizens, but especially, of us all to speak out and condemn this malignant deceit that has eaten deep into the very fabric of Nigerian State in its relationship with the Igbo nation and people.

Pretending that Igbo-hate and resentment do not exist in Nigeria is not a reliable strategy. Because at the long run, we shall continue to have more victims of it without anybody taking responsibility for such a crime against humanity. The best thing to do, therefore, is to discuss it in the open with a view of finding lasting solution to it.

As Wole Soyinka once said, 'until Nigeria acknowledges the wrongs it has done to the Igbo', the country will continue to live in denial and wallow in darkness. The prevalent narrative of deceit and denials is the monster, Nigerian state has to fight and defeat if it wants to make any headway in the 21st century.

At least, the country could begin from here to address its' problems. Otherwise, some people, for no fault of theirs other than wrong narrative they have been fed with all these years, will continue to blame the victims and survivors of genocides in Nigeria as the architects of their own fate. And be accusing our intellectuals who discuss most of those issues from the point of view of our 'suppressed history', as playing to the gallery of 'blame game.'

Such an unmitigated accusation, for me, is a flight to avoid digesting the real problem with Nigeria, a denial of our sad and pathetic history, a sad history of Nigeria that we have to battle with and defeat if as a nation state, Nigeria must make some positive progress today. That is, if we mean to overcome our present predicament as a nation, which is to help one another to begin to see clearly that we had all the years been fed with false narrative. And that there is need to free ourselves from it and begin to fight against those evil things and bad leadership in the land that have all these years been deceiving the Nigerian people, maligning them against the victims of one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity ever committed in modern history.

This is a challenge not only to the so-called politicians, but to all of us. We all need to set our priority right, especially to avoid false piety and wrong interpretation of Nigeria's problem. Otherwise, a good number of our people may be playing innocently, into the trappings of corrupt politicians without knowing it.

Defending a failed nation-state, political structure or leadership, and asking those who voice out their frustrations against same to shut up their mouths, methinks, leaves much to be desired. The right thing, one would suggest, is to urge as many people as possible to try to be part of the debate, condemn the evil leadership and faulty political system and structure, and, proffer a way out towards creating an equitable and just society. And where need be, suggest a way of renegotiating the Nigerian State through referendum for self-determination of the aggrieved indigenous ethnic-nationalities that were logged together under a colonial fiat by the British, which they called Nigeria.

Conclusion

Central to Nigeria's historical memory today, is the Nigeria-Biafra War, especially, the pogroms committed against the Igbo by the Nigerian State between 1966 and 1970, and counting. It is from that historical reality and experience we must learn to 'drink water' from as a nation-state and people in addressing the current political imbroglio besetting the country. It is also the 'wells of water to drink', from which as concerned citizens, we offer our criticisms and proffer solutions to the country's present socio-political problems.

Criticising Nigeria's long years of neglect of this historical memory today, for me, is a way of trying to help the country return to the drawing board, if it really wants to fix its shattered house as a nation-state. This is a patriotic act, which is not the preserve of politicians, neither is it a 'no go area' for anybody or group of persons. Rather, it is a godly thing for every conscientious citizen to do for the sake of one's own fatherland and people.

This is the core message and idea of Gutierrez's book, "We Drink from Our Own Wells", with which we started this article. "We Drink from Our Own Wells" means been immersed in the daily experience of one's own people and in their concrete historical reality and struggle for liberation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As Nigerians, we must learn to 'drink from our own wells', from our own concrete reality and historical memory as a people and nation-state. Nigerians, including their leaders, are invited to learn to 'drink from their own wells.' This is a recognition of the relevance of the historical memory of ourselves as a people, in their daily struggle for survival and in tackling the country's present problems, and search for a new vision for themselves and country.

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