This is a back-handed salute to the villain of Finland who has become a nemesis for our foolish romance with a myth called Biafra. I never would have thought that I shall reference a current presidential candidate. However, on the matter of the identity of this villain, “to mention his name is a disgrace to me.” You will know who I reference because today they have taken over the task of continuing the prolongation of Igbo misery, particularly the Igbo living and doing business in Nigeria’s South East,
The Villain of Finland has fully transformed into a nemesis. We often mistake a nemesis as a foe – an enemy with a hostile mien seeking to prevail against us on a contentious point or issue. The person who becomes a nemesis is not necessarily our enemy or foe. He is rather the villain, the obnoxious character in the group with the potential to successfully oppose our hero or leader. The nemesis is often on the same side with us, and it is from our group that they promote counter-arguments or launch offensives that threaten the vision of the group. Sometimes they may be right but are oftentimes not.
The Villain of Finland is the Igbo anti-hero. He chose the best hour to strike – a time of vulnerability for southeasterners who have come to a crossroads in the battle for the place of Igbo in national development.
This anti-hero has introduced a new fight for the soul of the Igbo. Well, not actually a new fight per se but a continuation of the old lucrative battle successfully prosecuted by two others before him. Our current anti-hero doesn’t care about Biafra. Listening to him, he has no clue about how nations gain independence from internal conflicts and the terrible costs they exact. This makes it easy to suspect that our anti-hero cares more about his pocket than an extravagant liberation struggle. If this were the case, it can be said that he learnt well at the feet of the protagonists who preceded him. He uses similar rhetoric across multimedia channels to manipulate the emotions of the unsophisticated. At the same time, he is crafty enough to recognize that, to reach into the very souls that he seeks to dupe, he needs to skillfully engage and win another battle. This final battle lifts him up as the top dog in the lucrative enterprise called Biafra Agitation.
Biafra Agitation has become a mercantile enterprise whose protagonists have their hearts everywhere but the actualization of the Biafra dream. They must know that the Biafra Dream is just that – a dream, unrealistic and quixotic when fought with nothing other than loud, loose and dangerous diatribe delivered from the havens of Europe. It is always the case that when an issue in contention deteriorates to a shouting match, group agitation, or a shooting war, it can only be peacefully resolved through arbitration. The alternative is for the stronger party to firmly subdue the weaker or worse, pulverize the entire population of opponents in conflict.
We appear not to be guided by history. Otherwise, we must recognize that this was the point of contention between Igbo intellectuals and political leaders at a crucial point in Nigeria’s history. The challenge bedeviling Igboland today was firmly planted when idealists prevailed on the authentic Onyendu to go for broke and prosecute an armed conflict to the bitter end. They used empty words and propaganda to cover the untold hardship that their decision inflicted on the population, a hardship that the wise political elders predicted and warned against. Today, the MO remains largely the same – boastful words and propaganda, funded and empowered by a tiny but misguided set in the Diaspora Igbo population.
Everyone acknowledges that the original warrior who fought an intellectual and physical battle to institute equity and justice in the Nigerian federation is the authentic Onyendu. He was from Anambra State. Today, we are no longer in agreement about the value that pretenders to his throne have brought. Who are these pretenders, you may ask? We can simply identify them as the retired Onyendu II (from Imo State), the detained Onyendu III (from Abia), and the wannabe Onyendu IV (from Ebonyi). We never know; the circle may well complete with another aspirant from Enugu State!
The ideological disagreement between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu on how Igbos can survive the war (as Cyprian Ekwensi put it) is what sustains the crusades of the serial pretenders to this day. The only difference is that the intellectual class has taken a back seat from where many of them egg on the pretenders on their clearly suicidal missions. This rump of the intellectual class has become collaborators in the murder and mayhem unleashed on residents of southeast region. They provide intellectual rationalizations and the funding that idle young people feed on to resort to mindless violence. They favour a continuation of the option that inflicts maximum suffering and pain to the brothers they left behind in a place they call “The Zoo.”
If the case of the intellectuals and idealists is bad, the penchants of the political class are worse. An elementary definition of politics is the struggle by groups for equitable distribution of resources of the commonwealth. The southeast political class, as representatives of the group, has devalued this concept by pursuing personal and family interest since the death of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. They forget that the Nigerian Civil War was an unfortunate consequence of a misguided effort by a national institution – the military – to ensure this equitable distribution. At least, this was the stated goal of the botched January 1966 coup d’état – to give Nigeria a capable leader that will enable the country to become more inclusive and achievement-oriented. In its execution, however, the Igbo population was presented as antagonists and villains, even when it was obvious that this could have been nothing other than another customary internal and well-guarded secret conspiracy by military officers.
The Igbo political class can be excused for their selfish and self-centered quests to grab part of the resources of the commonwealth through elected public offices, political appointments, and government contracts. They look around them to see that they have become a region under siege by the same set of conquerors that assaulted the airwaves with a soothing “no-victor-no-vanquished” jingle in 1970. The implementation of this armistice was anything but equitable and fair, the reason why the serial onyendus have continued to get a hearing as each embarked on their own tragi-comic exertions.
Tragi-comic exertions? It is comical because the serial pretenders are not guided by the wisdom of our fathers. The Igbos say that onye ndi’ro gbara gburugburu n’eche ndu ya nche. The interpretation is that an at-risk group must be present and inclusive in protecting members of their group. They also say that “anyi ko mamiri onu, ogbo ufufu” (two good heads are better than one). Igbo people have a proverb to describe and dismiss those who break ranks to launch quixotic attacks on imaginary windmills. The wise among them know that, sooner or later, these importunate beings end up in the tiger’s belly from where they complain that the group has “abandoned” them. This was the tragedy of Achebe’s Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Their misguided exertions lead to one more pithy saying, translated by Achebe thusly: “We often stay in the home of the coward to point to the ruins where a brave man used to live.”
Among the Igbo, there is always a limit to fighting as lone wolves and the support that the group extends to such efforts. The Igbo reach their toleration threshold when such exertions become or threaten to become an existential risk. Every dispute that does not leave room for resolution becomes an existential threat, as numerous examples of internal conflicts in Africa have shown.
Before the tragedy that was Biafra, other parts of Africa that fought civil wars ended up in tears. Angola was the first African country to suffer the devastating effects of internal conflict. The hundreds of thousands of refugees that fled from Angola into Zaire (today’s DRC) eventually played a role in the Congo and other internal conflicts in East, South and Central Africa regions. The cost in human suffering and death has not been fully counted. Back home in our country, the three-year Civil War (1967-1970) wasted an estimated two million lives, caused by famine and an official starvation policy designed to quickly end the war. Keep in mind that this was a conflict where the people met in conclave to give the authentic Onyendu a mandate to protect people from the defunct Eastern Nigeria from rampaging mobs across our nation.
I have no idea whether the Villain of Finland understands the nuances of the Igbo struggles and how they situate in the current battle for the 2023 presidency. Or whether he cares that, even if Peter Obi ends up not winning, the Igbo case has received an image shine and achieved a moral victory. I will recommend the English version of the Igbo saying as a final praise song to him on his current exertions: We often stand in the compound of the coward to point to the ruins where a brave man used to live. The brave man is the beleaguered Igbo, not himself. So, sir, if it is true that federal authorities aid your current exertions, which I strongly doubt, also look to the example of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. If it is not true and that your eyes are firmly trained on the financial gains, I pray that you will also not become like the proverbial housefly that refused to heed wise counsel.