My friends, the struggle for Biafra is real. I can say this again because I never almost believe controversial stories and politically affiliated issues that can cause uproars at any instant and the slightest provocation until I see reasons to. In fact, as much as I am involved in politics in the university, I never discuss some sensitive issues, at least not in public.
I would rather sit and listen to my colleagues argue about why Biafra should come to be or why it shouldn’t, how Nigeria has marginalized the Igbos and how the Hausas seem to control major sectors in the country, how some have sworn to lift arms when the need arises and how they are willing to die for the actualization of Biafra. I sit, broaden my knowledge and only contribute where necessary but making sure to stir the middle course.
It was until recently when we had run out of meter units and I decided to go purchase some from a nearby electricity distribution spot somewhere in Ladipo market in Lagos that I finally believed the struggle was real. On my way, I saw a group of boys numbering about 15 of them in number, with gongs and drums of different sizes painted in Biafra colours, singing, dancing and chanting war songs. Prior to this time, whenever I had reason to pass through Ladipo market, which is densely populated by the Igbos, I would either see them having morning devotions and praying for “market to sell well” that day or just thanking God for his mercies; but today was different. Now I believe all the news I see on TV about the actualization of Biafra since at grassroots level in a non-eastern state, the vibe is already this much.
My Knowledge of Biafra and the Civil War
I was born in the late 1990’s so I would never have known what had transpired during the civil war except through books I read, documentaries I watched or stories my parents told me. I listened and watched documentaries from both the Nigerian side and the Biafran side. From what I gathered, the Biafrans wanted a secession, which was and is still is, against the laws of Nigeria. They felt hated and marginalized, which to some extent, they were. It was in this light that they (the Biafrans), led by the great Lieutenant Colonel Ojukwu Odumegwu (General), decided that they would form their own nation. This was a very bold step to have taken especially as the Nigerian side had much more weapons than they had, a larger and stronger army with troops numbering 85,000 – 150,000 (Wikipedia) and a stable economy as at that time.
Biafra, on the other hand, had soldiers recruited from amongst them, made up of strong and able bodied men, who were patriotic and willing to fight for what they believed in. Many of them had no major training in the military but were forced to learn from the semi-military training they had from the experienced ones. They numbered over 10,000 to 100,000 (Wikipedia). They had fewer weapons and limited supply of food and water to keep them going. In fact, the shortage of food supplies that led many Biafrans to feed on grasses, bush animals and insects was the reason they gave up on the war. Many were even forced to eat hay. Thousands of lives were lost, people were killed by the Nigerian army and hunger.
Going down memory lane with dates and facts
According to history, the civil war lasted for about three years, from May 30 1967 to January 1970. The Biafrans were supported by some countries such as France, Israel, Tanzania, S.A., Portugal and Spain while the Nigerians had support from the U.S.A, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Algeria, Syria and more. Clearly, the Nigerian side had more powerful countries on their side, and using starvation as a major tool, they were able to conquer Biafra by cutting off their food supplies.
At the end of the war, statistics provided showed that about a 100,000 biafrans were killed, over four million displaced and three million of them became refugees. This was a major blow to the biafrians.
The worst was that after the war, the Nigerian government made sure a new currency was in place to render the biafran pounds useless. They later gave easterners 20 pounds each regardless of how much they had in their bank accounts prior to the war. Mind you, many Biafrans had built houses and had successful businesses scattered all over but couldn’t have access to them as they were taken over by others, especially in the areas of Port Harcourt, after the Nigerian government termed those properties abandoned.
Comparison of the present and the past
There is a saying that what the younger ones cannot see while standing on the top of the mountain, the older ones have seen. In a chat with my father on his take on Biafra, I unintentionally let out a deep part of him I had never seen. He told me the story of how his family was involved in the war. His elder brother was also recruited in the army and by God’s grace, had returned after the war. The departure of his brother caused his father so much pain that plunged him into depression for the number of years the war lasted and couldn’t completely get over it even when his son returned. After listening to his story, the only question I asked was if he wanted Biafra. He looked at me and gave an answer I never expected: “In your entire life, pray never to witness a war”. I see the pain in his eyes when the issue of Biafra is raised or he sees able bodied men chanting war songs on television.
Taking a look at Nigeria today, and a cue from the several studies carried out, Igbos have the highest per capita income compared of all ethnic groups in Nigeria which makes them the wealthiest group of people in Nigeria today. They are the most industrious entrepreneurs and the most educated group of people in Nigeria (even though my Yoruba brothers will argue this fact, LOL). Igbos are the highest risk takers and investors and I’m sure have the highest value of investment in Nigeria.
In short, the Igbos have progressed over the last fifty years and surpassed the status they once had before the civil war even though still trying to completely overcome the effect of the war. This is commendable and only shows how hardworking and dedicated they are in achieving their set goals. The question now is, how many successful Igbo men and women in Nigeria today are willing to leave their businesses and established enterprises today to begin to chant war songs and eventually have a repeat of the civil war? Perharps, come back and each once again heartbroken Biafran be given N20,000 as settlement. We should learn from our past.
Who actually champions the Biafra struggle? MASSOB, MIB OR IPOB & Nnamdi Kanu?
Let’s tell ourselves the truth, a significant number of people who are clamouring for Biafra today do not know what they want! Many youths today have only been fed with hatred and envy for other tribes in the country which has eaten deep into us. Supposed Biafrans just want to go to war, achieve Biafra and sing songs of victory that their aim has been achieved, and after that what happens?
This brings back a vivid memory of the joy Nigerians had after achieving independence from the British colonial masters in 1960. For over 56 years after gaining independence, with the numerous mineral resources Nigeria has been blessed with, can we actually say we have achieved the kind of success we are supposed to have? To some extent, we have but our success graph can best be described as one with a zig-zag line with only little rise and more significant downfalls.
After hearing so much about the fight for Biafra, I decided to look up those championing this cause. We have had several groups, from Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), to the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) and the latest and separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Initially, I only knew of MASSOB but after sometime, BIM surfaced and now IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu. This division among people supposedly aiming at one goal has only succeeded in revealing that Biafra is more or less a lost cause! Why do these groups that claim to represent the interest of the Igbo people they supposedly fight for have rifts among them? Why have they not been able to come together to settle their arguments, have one leadership before pursuing their goal? This only shows the greed and personal interests that clearly paints the fight for Biafra yet nobody seems to see.
Who exactly is Nnamdi Kanu?
Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, appears to be making waves and has pulled the greatest crowd to his side. He is based in the United Kingdom, where he resides with his family. He is believed to have studied in the University of Nigeria Nsukka but completed his tertiary education in London. He is also the director of Radio Biafra and was born in September 1967. September 1967! Exactly the year when the civil war begun!
You know what this means? This means that during the duration of the war from 1967 to 1970, Nnamdi Kanu was only a baby, probably on the back of his mother hiding somewhere and was fortunate to have survived. He barely knew anything about the war at that time and was only protected by his family – no memories, no actual experiences, nothing. So why Nnamdi Kanu?
It is true that he must have read so much about the civil war and learnt stories from his uncles but does that give him enough reason to want to take the Igbos back to war times? Moreover I asked myself, prior October 2015 when he became popular in Nigeria and abroad after he was arrested by the Nigerian Police, what quota has he contributed to the development of the South East, let alone Nigeria?
I am yet to see a good number of investments he has made in the lives of the Igbos he is fighting for. Education is the best legacy, has Nnamdi Kanu built a school and declared free education? Youth empowerment is crucial in times when unemployment is at its peak, has Nnamdi Kanu empowered the youths with resources to improve themselves? Apart from give commands, inspect parades, promote hate and make inciting statements for which he has been arrested and been to prison for, has he built good roads for the people of Enugu or Imo states? Yet he is being celebrated and has achieved the status of a demigod, whom if, I repeat if, he succeeds in achieving Biafra, will not put his own people in high places. And then another Nigeria will began, then who knows, the people of Abia, Imo and Enugu will decide to secede also.
Nnamdi Kanu’s family resides abroad. He is financially buoyant enough to keep his family safe and far from eventualities; he has the resources to shield them from the negative effects of war if one breaks out today yet he is leading a good number of youth, other people’s children to war to be wasted for nothing. If truly he is a leader, he should be willing to give his all to a cause he is bent on achieving. I look forward to the day his son would lead a protest in Enugu and also chant war songs with the rest of my fellow youths who are willing to lay down their lives for what they know nothing about.
Who and who make up Biafra and why it might never be achieved?
I have looked at the proposed Biafra and it is not made up of just the Igbo nation but also the Niger Delta comprising of the Ijaw, the Efik and Bini people. I am very disappointed in the leaders of the Biafra groups who have assumed that at the mention of Biafra, the other smaller ethnic groups in the Niger Delta region will join them. Biafra is a purely Igbo matter and do you sincerely think that these other smaller groups who have much lesser stakes will overnight, join you in your struggle.
In my honest opinion, the leaders of Biafra have already failed to engage these other parties in meaningful discuss which shows lack of respect for them even if they are not so populated. What happens if the Ijaw people refuse to hand over their oil? Will you fight them? They would rather team up with the Nigerian side, conquer Biafra a second time and rather than manage our current status of “once beaten, twice shy”, we would be labelled “twice beaten, forever shy”… And at that time, no Igbo man will ever be able to raise his head in public.
What would be the mainstay of the Biafran economy?
In my experience in politics so far, I have learnt that while being overly optimistic that your strategy will work out and your aim achieved, you also have to prepare for the worst. The proposed Biafra has no access to water ways which would have been an alternative to an oil dependent economy as of the olden days, the proposed Biafra has no technology dependent ideas as to say the world will approach if Biafra is achieved, there are no large expanse of land to assume that agriculture will be the mainstay of the economy. Even if agriculture poses the best alternative, we should not forget that the population of the Igbos have grown exponentially over the years and for this reason, they can be seen almost any and everywhere in the country and diaspora. Imagine every Igbo indigene running back to Biafra to live, are we going to live like sardines in tins? And then the cost of living would skyrocket also. Is that the kind of Biafra we aim to achieve?
The greatest concern yet…
At this point in time, Biafra has not yet been achieved, even though I do not see it coming to fruition anytime soon if at all it will. Nonetheless, Nnamdi Kanu, the people’s champion has gone from being an ordinary citizen and director of a radio station to one who people now worship. One youth who I am sure has completely lost it even had posted on his Facebook wall that Nnamdi Kanu is the messiah that the world awaits. What rubbish!
The Igbo people are known to bask in wealth, and majority love their praises to be sang and people worshiping at their feet. Many leaders in the current south eastern Nigeria are no different; they belong to this category. Pictures, many months back, even surfaced of old, matured men, kneeling down before their fellow man in power in the South East who is not much different in age and wisdom but only status. Many Igbo states have the most corrupt leaders that allow poverty rule the state.
Who knows how many more Nnamdi Kanu’s and that South Eastern corrupt leaders await the actualization of Biafra to reveal their true colours then we shall cry,” Lord where have we gone wrong?” Maybe only then will we realize our mistake as we would have become the poorest and most corrupt nation in the world.
I am not one to complain without proffering solutions. I truly applaud those who have been able to bring to the forefront the concerns of the Igbo nation and how they feel they have been marginalized in the country which belongs to all. This is very laudable as the Nigerian government will listen more to the cries of the Igbo people but I am still of the opinion that things have to be done the proper way.
War is not the best option. Let us learn from our past.
Stay tuned to Frandela blog for more.