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Biafran war veteran, others lament: 50 years after, Nigeria has shown it is the victor, Igbo the vanquished

When then Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu declared that the Eastern  Region had seceded from the rest of the country on May 30, 1967, many had thought mere police action was all that was required to quell the Biafran rebellion. But it took three years for the administration of General Yakubu Gowon to end the civil war on January 16, 1970 when Ojukwu’s then chief of staff, General Phillip Effiong, made a formal surrender statement/declaration at a ceremony in Lagos.

At the end of the war, the Gowon regime invented the ‘No victor no vanquished’ slogan to signal that there was no winner or loser in the war. •Ojukwu, Yakubu Gowon, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aguiyi Ironsi & Alani Akinrinade The administration followed up the slogan with the catch-phrase ‘One Nigeria’. But 50 years after Ojukwu declared the hostilities that claimed millions of lives, mostly on the Biafran side, many Igbo people say the conditions that made the civil war inevitable still haunt them today.

They allege that they are still marginalized by the Nigerian federation. Consequently, whereas some Igbo are taking the extreme option of asking for separation from Nigeria, many others want a restructuring of the federation to redress the alleged marginalization. Meanwhile, the fact is that 50 years after the secessionist bid was launched, many of the challenges that ignited Biafra are unresolved remains an issue for many Igbo people.

For instance, Mazi Kalu Onuoha Orji, a septuagenarian, who fought on the side of Biafra in the civil war, believes nothing has changed in then situation of the Igbo in the federation and now. Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (Rtd) ‘What led to the declaration of Biafra 50 years ago is still happening. Look at how we are being treated, not even as a second but third class citizens. Our people are using their blood to develop this country,” Orji told Sunday Vanguard last week. “The Federal Government must show courage and give Ndigbo their deserved sense of belonging; otherwise the agitation for Biafra will not die.”

Not an Igbo coup A former National Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, said the Biafra issue had been on the lips of everybody even as people had been reacting differently about it. “But why the declaration in the first place? It was because the Igbo are the only Nigerians that accept the country the British put together for us and only the Igbo accepted it as a country of their own. The late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe fought for it all his life and had to wait for the North to be ready. He was a pan-Africanist. “Then the pogrom came and the coup fellowed and instead of seeing the coup as involving every nationality, they saw it as an Igbo coup. Biafra came because they were telling us we were not part of the country.”

On General Alani Akinrinade’s regret on the fight against Biafra, Eya said: “General Akinrinade is now looking in retrospect. He has found out it was not an Igbo coup. He is right. He now understands what Biafra was all about. Biafra was lost to international conspiracy. Biafra included the entire old Eastern Region, now the South-East and South-South. “The states created by Gowon were to destabilize the region. Now Akinrinade has seen it is true because of the self- determination agitations in some other places. 50 years after, we still cry to know if we are part of Nigeria. We want to be on our own. “Akinrinade is seeing it too late. He fought against Biafra. I urge the Ndigbo to stay calm because it is a constitutional issue.”

The Eastern Consultative Assembly, ECA, said the war was still on-going 50 years after the declaration of Biafra and 47 years after the war ended. New battlefield Deputy Leader of ECA, Chief (Mrs) Marie Okwo, told Sunday Vanguard in Enugu that the Federal Government had not stopped fighting the Igbo, adding that the war has now shifted to political and economic marginalization. “As I have always say, the war has not really ended. It is still on but there is a new battle-field. It is not a conventional war as we are being deprived of our rights both economically and politically. We are not given our dues contrary to the Constitution that guides the country. The war is fiercer now than what it was between 1967 and 1970 when the physical war was fought. They should restructure this country. The North think they own Nigeria and that we are their tenants or slaves.   This is why the country will continue to be in a mess”.

The Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, said it no longer believed in Nigeria as a country for Igbo people. Founder of IYM, Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu- Uko, said this was why many Igbo people were  behind the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, in his efforts to realize the Biafran dream. Ugochukwu-Uko is also the Deputy Secretary, Igbo Leaders of Thought, ILT. His words, “Your question is begging the issue, our reasons are obvious. Our people are behind him simply because he has proved to be devoted, dedicated and committed to freeing our people from the prison called Nigeria. He has also proved that he can make sacrifices for the sake of our people. “You see, Nnamdi Kanu is not the problem of Nigeria, rather the problems of Nigeria threw up Nnamdi Kanu. He and his followers are merely reacting to the wickedness of the system.

“On the 29th of July, 1966, 51 years ago, some northern  soldiers in their twenties killed then Head of State, General Agwuyi Ironsi, and Col. Fajuyi, then military governor of Western Region, in Ibadan and seized power, led Nigeria through a bloody civil war, carved Nigeria along their whims, created states and local governments, designed the Nigerian Constitution according to their interests and have held Nigeria by the jugular ever since.

“They left sorrow, tears and blood, established the Nigerian corrupt political culture and still insist on dictating our future whether we like it or not. “It does not matter to them that the Nigeria they designed is not working, that 20 states cannot pay salaries, that 90 percent of the citizens want Nigeria returned to regional arrangement, that more than half of our population have completely lost faith in Nigeria, and that about one quarter of the population are completely bent on seceding from Nigeria. These soldiers of fortune and their civilian accomplices have continued to resist every plea to restructure Nigeria back to regional autonomy.

“Every effort, since Aburi, Ghana 50 years ago, Abacha’s conference 20 two years ago, Obasanjo’s conference 12 years ago and Jonathan’s confab three years ago, has been frustrated, resisted by these small gods, who believe they own Nigeria. Kanu and his followers only represent the voice of the masses who are simply saying  ‘We can’t take it anymore’. “Those who destroyed Nigeria and their accomplices, plus those who are in comfort zone are probably the only people who still believe in Nigeria the way it is. The fact that the trio of Buhari, Buratai and Daura of DSS turned Kanu into a hero overnight, simply shows that Kanu’s activism positively resonates with millions of our people. So it is the injustice initiated and condoned by some people that inspired Kanu to embark on a project to free his people from servitude. So, Kanu is not the problem, the problem are those who believe they are born to rule and dominate others perpetually”.

Utter neglect
The Chairman, South East Caucus of Inter-Party Advisory Council, Chief Emeka Okafor, said what  South-East people are going through is horrible. “These are people that almost laid the foundation and built Nigeria with their investments all over the country. They are now utterly neglected in every aspect of the polity,”Okafor said.

“After the Biafran war, the ‘No victor no vanquished’ slogan was introduced. But what we have witnessed is a greater level of marginalization. No infrastructure. Look at the state of the Niger Bridge, it is because it is in Igbo land; if it were to be located in other parts of Nigeria, they would have rehabilitated it long time ago.

“The Igbo people developed Ogbunigwe during the Biafran era; ordinarily the nation would have tapped into the ingenuity of the people and brushed up what they did. But it was neglected and Nigeria spends billions of Naira procuring arms and ammunition. This great idea was abandoned simply because it was done by Ndigbo.

Technicians of first class brains abound in Igbo land who government should have brushed up to get the best that will help in building this nation to where it ought to be, but it is not so.” He, however, urged the Ndigbo to stop talking of leaving Nigeria. He argued that the Ndigbo have about 70 per cent investments in Nigeria and should not abandon their hard earned wealth. Okafor said the Federal Government should, in line with its programme of raising funds for the rebuilding of the North-East, also compensate the Igbo for their loss during the war.

“We should remain here to fight and get what is due to us, we are not going anywhere. We have invested a lot in Nigeria,” he added. Reflection AN Igbo leader in Ebonyi State, Chief Abia Onyike, said the reason the North is opposed to the agitation by some Igbo separatist groups is that the success would turn the tide against them economically and politically.

Onyike explained that the regret expressed by Akinrinade on Biafra was a reflection of the fact that those who participated in the war against Igbo acted out of ignorance, stressing that it was not the duty of a statesman to fight against those agitating for self-determination. “The expression of regret by Akinrinade is not the first time he will be saying so. He said so in the 1990s when the  June 12  election was annulled. It shows that most people who participated in the war against Igbo acted out of ignorance.

It is not the duty of a statesman to go about fighting those agitating for self-determination. Even the British have never fought the Irish and Scottish for wanting to secede”, he stated. “Now the Nigerian federation has run into a mortal crisis, no thanks to the unitary system imposed by  the Hausa-Fulani-Yoruba military dictators who have held Nigeria hostage for three decades. “The clamour for the restructuring of the federation is an impossibility given the rigid disposition of the Arewa faction of the neo-fascist hegemonic alliance because the Northern leaders see the clamour as an attempt to turn the tide against them. Only a national democratic revolution can resolve the problem by democratizing the centres of feudalism in northern and western Nigeria; otherwise there is no solution to the hydra-headed crisis of this national question.”


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