January 15, 2020 marked 50 years after the end of the fratricidal Nigeria/Biafra war. The war which broke out in 1967 between the breakaway Eastern Region called Biafra and the rest of the country ended on January 15, 1970 on the historic note of no victor and no vanquished. The war, according to the then Nigerian leader, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, was fought to unite the country, to bring the breakaway Eastern Region back to the Nigerian Federation.
To the late Biafran leader, Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the war was fought for freedom and survival of the people of the region following the killing of Easterners in the Northern Region as a result of the military coups of January 15, 1966 and July 29, 1966 that left many people dead. The war was fought because the Easterners felt they were no longer safe or wanted in the Nigerian Federation.
The Biafran war was one of the most vicious of all civil wars fought in Africa. It was one war that was fought in total disobedience to acceptable war conventions. It was about the only war that civilians, schools, markets, and hospitals were targets of ferocious bombings and attacks by the federal side. The war claimed the lives of more than three million people on both sides of the conflict, but more on the Biafran side.
The major casualties of the war, apart from the combatants, were women and children. It was a war that the federal side used hunger as a veritable weapon of warfare after imposing economic blockade against Biafra. The federal side also used weapons that ought not to have been used in war of unity. At the end of hostilities in 1970, the Nigerian leader, Gowon declared that there was no victor and no vanquished in such a brotherly war.
The rhetoric was accepted but the reality showed that there was indeed a victor and a vanquished, especially the way the Biafrans were handled at the end of the war. The molestation of women and young girls and men, including ex-Biafran soldiers did not depict the war as a brotherly war. Gowon’s reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation, did not go deep enough to heal the wounds of the war. Giving every Igbo man that had money in the bank no matter the amount just twenty Nigerian pounds underscored the deep rooted animosity of the war. The poor state of federal roads in the South East is a fallout of the civil war. The lack of federal presence in terms of location of industries and other amenities shows the place as a conquered territory. The federal neglect of the South East does not tally with the no victor and no vanquished mantra.
It is true that the physical war ended 50 years ago, but the psychological war is still ongoing. The federal government has not hidden its intention to keep the people of the South East down perpetually in both political and economic spheres. The discrimination against the people of the zone is seen in differing marks to gain admission into the so-called unity colleges and federal universities. They are discriminated against in the army, police, customs, immigration, prisons and what have you in terms of recruitment and promotion.
The same discriminatory policy obtains in recruitment into the federal civil service and government agencies. The political structure of Nigeria is tilted against the zone. With only five states, it has the least number of states and local governments in the country. Despite the zone’s cry over marginalization, those favoured by the extant skewed federal system do not give a damn.
The worst thing that has happened to the people of the South East is that there has been a ploy to deny them access to the post of the Nigeria’s president since after the war. Every attempt made by any politician of the zone to be elected the president of the country since after the Biafra war has been rebuffed by the powers that be. The political exclusion of the zone to the apex power position, the presidency, does not portray the country in good light before the comity of nations.
The people of the zone have followed the nation’s politics from 1979 till now. Since 1999 when the nascent democratic dispensation came into being, there was a presidential power rotation agreement between the North and South. President Olusegun Obasanjo of the South West was the first beneficiary of that arrangement. After him, it was the turn of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua from the North West.
Following the death of Yar’Adua midway in his first tenure, his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan from the South South replaced him. He later vied for the post and won in 2011. His attempt to be reelected in 2015 did not pull through having been defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari (from North West) who is in his second term in office now. Come 2023, the presidency which will come to the South should be the turn of the South East.
Because it is now the turn of the South East, some people are saying that our democracy is no longer turn by turn. They are even saying that the people of the zone must belong to get the presidential power. They are even recommending all kinds of political remedies that they would not like to take themselves. Why must the people of the zone be given a differing measure to merit the position of the nation’s presidency?
The people of the zone are being meted these unsavory treatments simply because of the Biafra war. It is very sad that 50 years after the war, Nigeria is still grappling with general insecurity. It is sad that our politics is not inclusive enough and we are seeing an important segment of the country as still not being qualified or ripe enough to be trusted with the power of the president of Nigeria.
It is bad that 50 years after the war, the causes of the war are yet to be addressed. It is unfortunate that tribalism, nepotism, domination and other ills that led to the war are still with us in higher dimensions. It is unbelievable that 50 years after the war, the national question has not been resolved and the unity of the country is being questioned by the insurgents, bandits and other criminals.
If the civil war was actually fought to keep all of us together, it does not really make sense to exclude a part of the country out of the presidential power for 50 years and still counting. There is no way Nigeria can make progress when a significant group that makes up the country is excluded from attaining the position of the president of the country.
As we reflect on 50 years after the war, let us remember all those who perished in the war. One of the best ways to remember them is by addressing those things that led to the unfortunate war. Let us build a true federation where every group will be given equal treatment in terms of economic and political aspirations.
And no group should be denied the opportunity to become the president of the country as currently being mooted in some quarters. Fifty years is enough atonement for a group you fought the war to bring to the national fold. Fifty years after the Biafra war should make all of us to resolve never again shall we embark on such futility.