“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change”― Howard Zinn.
This is one of the most profound assertions that I have ever heard. We must all learn from it regardless of the challenges that we may be facing in our country today.
In a special message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States on August 8, 1950, President Harry S. Truman said, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Permit me to begin this essay with an aside. I do not intend to incite anyone against the government or the Nigerian state by making this contribution and neither do I believe in an armed struggle.
If there was ever an elephant in the Nigerian room then it is Biafra. Given that let us explore it together in this two part discourse and let us bare our minds. The Buhari administration cannot tolerate or brook any form of dissent and neither are they comfortable with criticism or free speech. They are desperately trying to establish a culture of silence in our country. They are particularly uncomfortable with the subject matter of this essay.
Their double standards are made all the more manifest by the fact that they have acknowledged and recognized the right of self-determination for the people of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in their quest for independence from the Kingdom of Morocco whilst at the same time they have denied those that believe in the establishment of Biafra and the exercise of that very same right of self-determination here in Nigeria. As if that were not bad enough they went even further by describing Biafra as a matter that is “dead and buried” which must not be discussed under ANY circumstances. The Buhari administration appears to have forgotten the fact that charity begins at home. You cannot give those from outside your shores what you are not prepared to offer your own people.
If the quest for independence is good enough for the people of Sahrawi Arab Republic then surely it is good enough for the people of Biafra or any other ethnic nationality in Nigeria if that is what they really want. The suggestion that we should not even mention let alone discuss the idea of Biafra is simply absurd. Those that subscribe to that view often argue that three million people were killed in order to ensure that Nigeria was kept together and consequently there can be no going back.
This is a specious, self-serving and intellectually lazy argument. And this is especially so given the fact that those that have put it overlook the fact that the root causes of the civil war appear to be back with us today. If you don’t cure the ailment and get rid of its root cause then you cannot complain about the consequences of its continued existence or its symptoms. If you don’t clean up the mess you cannot complain about its stench. Air freshener alone cannot do it: forgive my crudity but if you don’t flush the toilet after using it a terrible smell is bound to linger.
The matter is simple and clear: as long as the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria feel marginalized, persecuted, cheated, vilified and wronged the spirit of Biafra will continue to flourish. As long as Igbos are targeted and slaughtered like flies at the drop of the hat in the northern part of our country, or indeed in any other part, Biafra will continue to thrive and burn in the hearts of every Igbo man, woman and child. Whether we like it or not that is a reality and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Quite apart from that I deeply resent the fact that our government has got the nerve and has cultivated the temerity to venture to tell us what we should and what we should not mention or discuss. Surely even the madness of tyranny has its limits.
Those that are at the helm of affairs in our country today may have the power to kill, torture, detain indefinitely or jail those that do not share their views but they do not have the power to kill an idea. And an idea whose time has come cannot be wished away or stopped by any force from hell or on earth.
In this essay we shall defy the government, ignore the critics, shed the fear and share some inconvenient truths.
100 years ago, on what is known as the Easter Rising Day, the Republic of Ireland began their struggle for independence from Great Britain when a handful of brave men went to the center of Dublin, raised the new Irish flag and openly declared the establishment of the Irish Republic.
The rebellion was crushed but it signaled the beginning of a prolonged armed struggle.
During the course of that struggle approximately thousands of Irish men, women and children were killed by the British occupation forces over the years but eventually the Republic of Ireland won their freedom and became an independent sovereign state. A few days ago on Easter day the Irish Government and people celebrated the 100th anniversary of Easter Rising Day with great pride, joy, pomp and style. The celebrations were attended by delegations from the Basque separatist movement and officials of the Catalan regional government of Spain. Both of these courageous political movements have been attempting to exercise their right of self-determination, break off from Spain and establish their own independent nations for many years and as each year passes they are getting closer to achieving their objective.
Those that believe in the right of self-determination of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and particularly those that are fighting for the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra have so much to learn from the history and struggles of the people of Ireland. The Irish suffered immeasurably under British occupation for hundreds of years and literally millions of them were enslaved and killed over that period of time. Yet in the end they managed to break the yoke and secure their liberation and triumph over the cruel subjugation and tyranny of British rule.
It is my belief that by God’s grace those that are being oppressed, butchered and murdered by the Nigerian state today in an attempt to forcefully keep our country one and those that wish to break off to form their own country on the basis of the principle of self-determination shall also eventually prevail.
This is particularly so for the Igbo people of the south-eastern region of our country who have suffered more than any other ethnic group in Nigeria. Permit me to remind those that doubt this assertion that it was the Igbo that were slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands in the core north during the pogroms of 1966. Igbo men, women and children were butchered on sight all over the north simply because they were Igbo and for no other reason. Even pregnant women were not spared. This led directly to our civil war in which no less than three million Igbos were killed including one million Igbo children who were starved to death.
After the war they were deprived of all their properties outside Igbo land except for in Lagos and the south west where they were treated with some level of decency and allowed to have their properties back. Everywhere else in the country they could not reclaim the properties that they owned before the war and such properties were declared “abandoned property”, confiscated by the various regional and state governments and handed over to the local indigenous people.
As if that were not bad enough after the civil war every igbo man and woman, no matter how much they had in the bank before the war, was given only twenty pounds from their respective banks to begin a new life. Millions of pounds and many fortunes were lost in this way and the truth is that the Igbo suffered immeasurably as a consequence of this unjust policy. It is a testimony to their resilience and nothing else that they were able to get back on their feet and within a period of ten years after the civil war an Igbo man was elected Vice President of our country. They also thrived in the private sector due to their diligence and hard work. Yet in spite of that the systemic persecution and marginalization of the Igbo people did not stop within the Federal Government, the public sector, the civil service, the security and intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces.
They were prevented from reaching the top in virtually all these sectors right up until President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999. It was President Olusegun Obasanjo that began the effective post-war rehabilitation of the Igbo in the public sector when he started to appoint them into sensitive and strategic positions within his government and within the security agencies and Armed Forces. A good example of that is Lt-General Chidabikia Isaac Obiokor who was the first Igbo man to he appointed as GOC in the Nigerian Army since the civil war. Another is Mr. Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo who was the first Igbo man to be appointed Deputy Inspector General of Police since the civil war and who was later appointed Inspector General of Police two years after Obasanjo left office.
Then came the Ojo Maduekwes, the Andy Ubas, the Ngozie Okonjo-Iwealas, the Charles Soludos, the Emeka Chikelus, the Frank Nwekes, the George Obiozors and so many other bright and promising stars from the east who all wielded far more influence and power than their political offices had to offer in President Obasanjo’s government and who were all his protégées and appointees. Without Obasanjo’s premeditated and conscious policy of wanting to rehabilitate the Igbo and bring them back into the main stream none of these people would have achieved the great success that they have achieved today and none would have been brought into the national limelight.
Yet despite Obasanjo’s efforts the truth is that, between 1970 when the war ended right up until today, whenever there are attacks against people in the northern part of Nigeria the Igbo are singled out for more slaughter, more ethnic cleansing and more mass murder than anyone else. (TO BE CONTINUED).
Written by Chief Femi Fani-Kayode