By Aloy Ejimakor
THIS piece is intended as a brief excursion into recent history to determine how the post-Civil War Biafran idea came into being; the major characters who translated the idea into an agitation; the impacts of the diverse methods and strategies deployed to the agitation, and what might have now gone wrong with the struggle.
Most people will agree that, in this present era of IPOB, Radio Biafra and Nnamdi Kanu, It has become necessary to travel back in time to examine how a piquant idea that died in the battle field in 1970 was later given an impetus and then an unprecedented degree of consciousness that survived several regimes and still endured, but now appears to have been eroded in one fell swoop.
First, rewind back to the immediate era after the end of the war when the former Eastern Nigerian citizens (aka former Biafrans) were scrambling to re-embrace their Nigerian citizenship. The scramble was more profound amongst Igbos because they carried the greater burden of having led the war and thus were prone to far more stigmatization (and denial) than their other Eastern Nigerian brethren.
The tempo of this scramble to once again be Nigerians was such that any Igbo that as much mentioned Biafra became a pariah amongst his fellow Igbos; not to talk of the terrible fate that might befall him at the hands of non-Igbo Nigerians. Recall the horrible fate of Sam Rose-Anyaugo, who was brutalized and summarily jailed by Gowon’s regime in 1971 for writing a piece – Killing Biafra – in the defunct Daily Star newspaper. Fearing reprisals and wishing to belong, Igbos shied away from Anyaugo; and Gowon was left free to deal with him as he wished.
That entire era of Igbo collective denial of the Biafran idea became near-absolute with Shagari’s pardon of Ojukwu; and Ojukwu’s immediate emergence as a major player in the NPN – the ruling party of the time at the federal level. So, it came to pass that, with Ojukwu’s pardon and re-assimilation into the Nigerian project, Biafra was considered dead and gone, forever. It remained so for many years despite the simmering feelings of neo-marginalization by vast majorities of Igbos.
Then, came a young man by name of Ralph Uwazurike, a lawyer and a gutsy fellow driven by a sense of mission, yet not then possessing any national or even regional renown. Uwazurike, who did part of his tertiary education in India must have understudied Mahatma Ghandi – the father of the non-violent approach in the struggle for self-determination. Ghandi’s style was credited to have been the most effectual factor that ended the British Raj in India without firing a shot. In adopting this strategy, Uwazurike was in lock-step with Martin Lurher King, who had deployed the same path to ending segregation in America.
So, to the young Uwazurike, the better way to, once again, pursue the Biafran idea was through a non-violent struggle but one that is stubborn and geared to sufficiently raising the consciousness of the people while at the same time not unnecessarily antagonizing the world around us. Uwazurike pursued that goal under the platform of a non-violent, but highly effective MASSOB.
Yet, from the very beginning, and especially from the IBB era to the Yar’Adua era, Uwazurike was to endure a lot of arrests, incarcerations, and prosecutions (plus persecutions) that would’ve worn out the strongest Ghandis, Kings, and all the others in history that have led their people through a long match to freedom. But the man stayed the course, buoyed by his abiding fate, millions of followers, a dose of international goodwill, a sense of history, and most importantly – an understanding larger Nigerian population that respected his approach to the issue.
All these were not with their pitfalls. Uwazurike paid a huge price. He lost his youth to the struggle, and suffered professional retardation, plus more. But better yet, Uwazurike became established world-wide as a freedom fighter of renown. The net result of Uwazurike’s doggedness was that Igbos no longer felt guilty about Biafra, other Nigerians became less hostile to the idea, and overall, Igbos regained their self-pride, culminating in what Ojukwu aptly called ‘Biafra of the mind’. Uwazurike was the architect of all that. In time, he became the poster-boy for the struggle of an entire people to rise against marginalization and rank political injustice. In the end, it indirectly translated to more inclusiveness of Igbos in the federal scheme of things in Nigeria. Igbos became more respected by their Nigerian brethren; and the international community, for the first time, took positive notice of Biafra since the end of the civil war.
During all of these, Uwazurike never preached hate against Nigeria, he never called for the head of Nigerian leaders, he never profaned other Nigerians. Why? Because he rightly calculated that turning that path was the easiest way to court the destruction of the Biafran idea. Like Uwazurike, Ghandi never alienated the British with some talk about their leaders being ‘cattle and goats’; and Rev King never called for the head of the white people in America.
But what do we have now? We have a situation where a Radio Biafra Uwazurike legally set up in London and appointed Nnamdi Kanu as Director was later illegally diverted from the ‘lofty’ purposes for which Uwazurike founded it. To be sure, Radio Biafra was founded for the singular goal of employing civil/non-violent and intellectual broadcasts to make the case for Biafra. The later-day incendiary broadcasts purveyed by Nnamdi Kanu were considered unwise and inimical to any serious efforts to actualize the idea of Biafra. And as it came to pass, the negative trajectory of Radio Biafra and Nnamdi Kanu’s hate speeches combined to erase the decades-old gains made by Uwazurike.
The fallouts are legion: Igbos are now being killed by security forces which was not the case before. Some Igbos are now talking of taking up arms against Nigeria which makes no sense, considering the debacle of the civil war. Nigerian security forces have now been offered an easy excuse to unleash unreasonable force – all thanks to Nnamdi Kanu, who himself has been charged for terrorism, thus placing him at par with Shakau of Boko Haram and the leaders of ISIS/other terrorist organizations. What this means is that a Biafran struggle that had gained momentum and an optimum level of respect and serious consideration under the stable hands of Uwazurike has suddenly turned a negative path to the point that it is now seen as an act of terrorism to stand with Biafra. That’s what went wrong. And the truth is that Igbos are worse off for it.
Ejimakor, a lawyer, writes via [email protected]