■ Ndigbo can’t afford another war –Chief Okoye, others
■ Biafra is now or never –Diehard war veterans, youths
By ENYERIBE EJIOGU (Lagos), JEFF AMECHI AGBODO (Onitsha), PETRUS OBI (Enugu), GEOFFREY ANYANWU (Awka) and GEORGE ONYEJIUWA (Owerri)
THE quest for actualization of Biafra has polarized the Igbo nation. The quest became more intense after the Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and detained by the Department of State Services, when he came into the country from his base in London, United Kingdom, on a private visit.
Kanu is at present facing treason trial in an Abuja High Court. However, one Igbo lawyer has described his arraignment as “a kangaroo trial, devoid of a genuine desire to demonstrate the rule of law.”
Whereas the majority of Igbo youths who did not experience the civil war, eat, breathe, sleep and discuss nothing else but the deeply perceived third class citizen status of Igbo in present day Nigeria and their burning desire for attainment of independent status for Biafra, the more elderly group of Igbo are reluctant to support another armed struggle for the realization of the Biafran dream. The elderly group witnessed the atrocities visited on Igboland during the 30-month fratricidal war that claimed over 2 million Igbo lives and pauperized those that survived the war, and were compelled by spiteful official policy to begin from scratch to rebuild their lives. Through dint of hard work, the Igbo have largely clawed their way back to economic prosperity in a nation where the odds are heavily stacked against them. Hence the elders advise that caution should be the guiding word.
This perhaps explains the strong belief of Chief Michael Ozua Okoye, an ex-Biafran colonel, who said that Ndigbo could not afford to go into another war after the Nigerian civil war in which many Igbo people lost their lives. He stated that Biafra would eventually be actualized in God’s own time but not necessarily through fighting and killing of people.
Okoye, who holds the traditional title of Ononwu Ndigbo said that most Igbo leaders who championed and fought for Nigeria’s independence believed in the unity of the country.
He cites the example of Eze Igbo Gburugburu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu, who he noted did not fight a “war of secession but war against marginalization.” He stressed that Ojukwu demonstrated his belief in Nigeria, when he contested election as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and later sought to represent Anambra South senatorial zone at the Senate. If he had won either of the two elections, he would have been the president of Nigeria or senator of Federal Republic.
His words: “I was a colonel in Biafran Army and I know what we passed through during the war. We can’t afford to fight another war. The agitators are children who were not born during the civil war. They should go and relax and pray very hard for God’s intervention. I believe that Biafra will come at God’s time without shedding of blood.
“We cannot get Biafra through shooting, fighting and killing ourselves. We fought the war with great zeal, we even manufactured our own weapons during the civil war that lasted for three years but we could not achieve anything because some people sabotaged our efforts. I cannot live to see another civil war. If they start it again I will run away to some other country where I will be a refugee.
“The agitation for Biafra is good but I don’t want it to lead to another war; let it come peacefully. God will give us Biafra without shedding blood again because Ndigbo lost so many people during the civil war. During the war, Nigerian soldiers would kill a pregnant woman, cut her open, bring out the unborn child from the womb and equally kill it; it was horrible. God will have mercy on Ndigbo and give us Biafra peacefully. Ojukwu fought like a man and lost his father’s wealth in the war but some Ndigbo didn’t want him to succeed.”
Okoye, however, appealed to the Federal Government to heal the wounds of the civil war by implementing the reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation agreement promised to Ndigbo after the war.
While advising members of the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to tread cautiously in the agitation for Biafra, he called on the government to stop the prosecution of Nnamdi Kanu and set him free, as a demonstration of good faith.
He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow a leaf from the late Umaru Yar’Adua who extended an olive branch to the Niger Delta agitators and initiated dialogue with them, which led to cessation of restiveness in the oil-rich zone and brought back peace that enabled resumption of oil and gas exploration and production activities, following the commencement of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. On this score, Okoye counsels that the Buhari administration should dialogue with Ndigbo for an amicable resolution of whatever might be the grievances of the agitators. this score, Okoye counsels that the Buhari
I don’t pray for another civil war –Ifelobi, war veteran
In the same vein, another war veteran, Chief Joe Ifedobi acknowledged that there has been marginalization but condemned another war, saying that a roundtable discussion would be more productive than another civil war.
His words: “I went through the Nigerian civil war and for anything of that nature to surface again, I do not support it, nothing is greater than peace. Elders should caution the young ones on the implication. The Federal Government should listen to the grievances of the agitators because their agitation is an indication that they feel marginalized.
“But for me as an individual, who saw it all from 1964 to 1966 and then till 1970 during the civil war, I do not welcome any agitation that can turn to war. I think we should tell those young men what brought about the civil war and the consequences. That is why they should take it easy because any moment you start agitation of this nature, it will cause bloodshed.”
Ifedobi continues: “Secession was not even in the Igbo man’s agenda. The people that first wanted to secede were the northerners, who shouted “Araba, ba mu so (divide us, we don’t want again)” after they successfully executed the July 1966 counter coup, in which General Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed. It was the British High Commissioner that called in their leaders, explained to them the implication of carving out the north as a separate country and advised them to drop the idea. That was why they reneged on the Aburi Accord.
“Igbo elders and leaders should reach out to members of IPOB and MASSOB and the young men who are agitating for this, to see reason and avoid any violent agitation for self-determination that could lead to bloodshed.”
“The youths that are doing all these were not born during the war or when the war ended. I know that the reason for all these is because the past governments mismanaged the country’s economic resources and development, creating poverty and marginalized the Igbo. My relations were killed in Onitsha, Abagana and in Nsukka; so the wound of the civil war is still very fresh in our memory.”
“Igbo has been marginalized, that is why President Buhari must tackle the issue of Igbo marginalization. The issue of federal character must be equitably utilized and Igbo must benefit from its application. Lopsided appointments into all federal institutions and key agencies like the Customs, Immigration, the military that favour only the north is a major factor that stokes the fire of ethnic agitations in the South East and South South. The government must be mindful of that in the effort to build this nation.
“So, President Buhari should tread with caution and wean himself from his present adamant and unhelpful attitude to the agitation. Why is the Buhari administration behaving like former president Obasanjo? The judiciary granted Nnamdi Kanu bail, and he met the conditions. Instead the Buhari administration circumvented the bail by charging Kanu again to court for treasonable felony which is not bailable in the court. Buhari should not be misled by his advisers over the issue of the agitators. Nobody who went through the civil war will support for the agitation of Biafra again.
In tears, 76-year-old widow, Mrs. Adaku Obidimma, who lost her husband during the civil war expressed their opinion about the agitation thus: “Nobody should remind me what I have forgotten. Talking about civil war is like reminding me of my suffering, agony, dejection and rejection. It was in the fourth year of our marriage that the war broke out. I had two children – a boy and a girl. My husband was in the Biafran Army. One day he came to look for us. As he was staying with us, he was killed by a Nigerian soldier. He was just standing and from nowhere, a bullet hit him and killed my husband right before me and my two children.
“For anybody to talk about war again, I don’t like what the MASSOB or IPOB are doing, trying to cause another war; I cannot live to see another war because it took God’s grace for me and my two children to survive the civil war. After I lost my husband, no help came to us from anywhere, even to eat was problem. No, no, no, nobody should talk about another war.”
“My parents gave birth to five children (three males and two females), two of my brothers died during the civil war while my sister died in the war too. What are we talking about? War is not good and we should discourage it. I know that things are not working well in the country but God will one day answer our prayers. We cannot fight war again to get Biafra, unless they want the entire Igboland to be wiped out.”
“I want to beg these children calling for Biafra state to take it easy and ask their parents what happened during the war. They should not invite another war, it is we women that will suffer it most. You see, after the civil war, 70 percent of married women became widows and we also lost our children. Look at the protest the other time, some people were killed just like that; what would have happened if it had turned to war? What we should be talking about is how to live in peace and harmony rather than to fight again, God forbid! I will rather die than to see war again in my life time.”
Chieftain of the Igbo apex body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince Richard Ozobu, is in one accord with the view of Igbo elders that the current agitation for a state of Biafra is not reasonable, Rather, they argue that the Igbo are suffering from bad leadership, which has made the youths restive.
“When you recall the experience of the war, you find out that there is no basis for any agitation through the name Biafra, at least today. I was 17 years old by the time I finished secondary school in 1966; I witnessed the climax of the events that led to the civil war.
“We saw families coming back home mainly from the north. We were told that over 30,000 Igbo lost their lives during the pogrom against Igbo in many parts of the north. I have many friends today who don’t know their fathers that died in the north. They were lucky to survive. When we went into the war that followed, there was devastating bombardment of market places, and scores of people were killed. I was injured and lucky to be alive, I lost my friends. If it were not for the French doctors who were here under the Red Cross, I would have probably lost my right leg. But I have a scare, very big one to look at and it reminds me of that civil war.
From what we know today there is restiveness among the young ones; but you see, the history of the civil war is not being taught; we must begin to teach these things; let there be so many verses and let the students compare which one is which. There is restiveness everywhere; the one they had in the north probably led to Boko Haram. Over here, it can come out in a different form if we don’t take time. But in a democracy like this, we need a leadership that will call the people together and find out what their grievances are. I believe some people are giving these young ones the wrong impression that the deprivations seen in the south-east emanate from the failure to achieve Biafra; that if Biafra is actualized things will be better. Before we get to that point, we have to first of all know what we have received as statutory allocations from Nigeria. How have the governors of south-east states used our allocations?
“Some people say we are Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); The Biafra we had encompassed the entire Eastern Nigeria, it was not the Igbo nation alone. The circumstance we found ourselves that time affected the entire region. So it’s a different ball game now and I think people are trying to use that for their own selfish interests. We have representatives, if there are issues, let them present it before the nation; not by blocking highways or going to markets forcing people to close down their stores. That’s not the way; that’s violence by itself. Finally, I feel that the political reform conference, which recommended an additional state for the south-east should be re-presented to the National Assembly for passage. This will go a long way in changing the geopolitical imbalance Ndigbo have been complaining about for long.”
No sacrifice is too much for Biafra
However, the views of Ozobu are acidic and unpleasant to the ears of some war veterans like John Onuora, who strongly believe that Biafra must be realized at whatever cost. The 70-year-old veteran of the civil war is still ready to fight again, if another should break out. A native of Adaziani in Aniocha Local Government Area, Anambra State, Onuora said he fought in Awka, Ogidi, and Ibuzor sectors during the war and even at his old age he insists that whatever it will take to realize Biafra should be done.
“I will support anything to realize Biafra as long as I live. I may not be that strong as I used to be but if they can give me injection, I can still perform; I can still carry gun; I can still drive the armoured tank. Even after losing relations in the war, there is no sacrifice that is too much for Biafra,” Onuora said.
He added: “For those who are still strong to carry on the struggle, I encourage them not to be afraid. They should also mobilize the youths and encourage them not to be afraid because Biafra will be realized some day.”
Elisha Chiegeonu 58, who started as a child soldier concurs with Onuora and said; Biafra must be realized now or never: “We were not part of those that killed but part of those used in intelligence. We would go into enemy territory by disguising as fugitives and be taken by the enemy soldiers. While in their midst, we would study the enemy and then sneak out to report to base.
“I lost my elder brother, Obiora Chiegonu, who was killed soon after he was recruited. He was conscripted like other young people and there was no time for sufficient training before he was sent to the war front. We also dismantled guns and removed the spring attached to the trigger to demobilize the weapon; and nobody suspected we could do such things because we were really very young.
“I am a part of the current agitation because that thirst for freedom has not been satisfied or quenched. When Uwazuruike came up in 1999, we thought a savior had come but a voice told me not to follow him. Later I found out about Association of War Veterans and I joined them. For now the struggle is not violent; just that the enemy is afraid of our exit from Nigeria; that’s why they are killing us. They know that if we leave Nigeria, it won’t be good for them so they are not comfortable with it.
“We are not living our lives as the Almighty meant us to live; our virtues and abilities are being trampled upon by Nigeria, thereby making it difficult to even make a living, let alone prospering or otherwise. So the earlier we get our independence, the better for us because we will be free to develop our abilities. People must die; but that will not stop us from continuing. There is no nation that got independence on a platter of gold. So, people will die but the end is of utmost importance to even those that will lose their lives. If we don’t get Biafra now, there is no tomorrow for us; there is no hope. So Biafra is either now or never.”
Similarly, Mr. Festus Mbaonu, an ex-major in the defunct Biafra army and Secretary of Biafra War Veterans, who lost a leg in the war told Sunday Sun that the agitation for Biafra must continue even though he is now in a wheelchair because of the war.
“I joined the Biafran Army in July 1967 because of the injustice meted out to Ndigbo. Back then, I was working as a welder in Port Harcourt but when the bodies of Igbo people massacred in Kano in 1966, including women and children, were brought back, I became more determined to join the Biafran Army, as the northerners said the bodies were birthday present to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. The agitation for the Sovereign State of Biafra must continue because right now, Ndigbo are nothing but slaves in Nigeria.”