“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change”― Howard Zinn.
This is one of the most profound assertions that I have ever heard. We must all learn from it regardless of the challenges that we may be facing in our country today.
In a special message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States on August 8, 1950, President Harry S. Truman said,
“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Permit me to begin this essay with an aside. I do not intend to incite anyone against the government or the Nigerian state by making this contribution and neither do I believe in an armed struggle.
If there was ever an elephant in the Nigerian room then it is Biafra. Given that let us explore it together in this two part discourse and let us bare our minds.
The Buhari administration cannot tolerate or brook any form of dissent and neither are they comfortable with criticism or free speech.
They are desperately trying to establish a culture of silence in our country. They are particularly uncomfortable with the subject matter of this essay.
Their double standards are made all the more manifest by the fact that they have acknowledged and recognized the right of self-determination for the people of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in their quest for independence from the Kingdom of Morocco whilst at the same time they have denied those that believe in the establishment of Biafra and the exercise of that very same right of self-determination here in Nigeria.
As if that were not bad enough they went even further by describing Biafra as a matter that is “dead and buried” which must not be discussed under ANY circumstances.
The Buhari administration appears to have forgotten the fact that charity begins at home. You cannot give those from outside your shores what you are not prepared to offer your own people.
If the quest for independence is good enough for the people of Sahrawi Arab Republic then surely it is good enough for the people of Biafra or any other ethnic nationality in Nigeria if that is what they really want.
The suggestion that we should not even mention let alone discuss the idea of Biafra is simply absurd. Those that subscribe to that view often argue that three million people were killed in order to ensure that Nigeria was kept together and consequently there can be no going back.
This is a specious, self-serving and intellectually lazy argument. And this is especially so given the fact that those that have put it overlook the fact that the root causes of the civil war appear to be back with us today.
If you don’t cure the ailment and get rid of its root cause then you cannot complain about the consequences of its continued existence or its symptoms. If you don’t clean up the mess you cannot complain about its stench. Air freshener alone cannot do it: forgive my crudity but if you don’t flush the toilet after using it a terrible smell is bound to linger.
The matter is simple and clear: as long as the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria feel marginalized, persecuted, cheated, vilified and wronged the spirit of Biafra will continue to flourish.
As long as Igbos are targeted and slaughtered like flies at the drop of the hat in the northern part of our country, or indeed in any other part, Biafra will continue to thrive and burn in the hearts of every Igbo man, woman and child. Whether we like it or not that is a reality and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Quite apart from that I deeply resent the fact that our government has got the nerve and has cultivated the temerity to venture to tell us what we should and what we should not mention or discuss. Surely even the madness of tyranny has its limits.
Those that are at the helm of affairs in our country today may have the power to kill, torture, detain indefinitely or jail those that do not share their views but they do not have the power to kill an idea. And an idea whose time has come cannot be wished away or stopped by any force from hell or on earth.
In this essay we shall defy the government, ignore the critics, shed the fear and share some inconvenient truths.
100 years ago, on what is known as the Easter Rising Day, the Republic of Ireland began their struggle for independence from Great Britain when a handful of brave men went to the center of Dublin, raised the new Irish flag and openly declared the establishment of the Irish Republic.
The rebellion was crushed but it signaled the beginning of a prolonged armed struggle.
During the course of that struggle approximately thousands of Irish men, women and children were killed by the British occupation forces over the years but eventually the Republic of Ireland won their freedom and became an independent sovereign state.
A few days ago on Easter day the Irish Government and people celebrated the 100th anniversary of Easter Rising Day with great pride, joy, pomp and style. The celebrations were attended by delegations from the Basque separatist movement and officials of the Catalan regional government of Spain.
Both of these courageous political movements have been attempting to exercise their right of self-determination, break off from Spain and establish their own independent nations for many years and as each year passes they are getting closer to achieving their objective.
Those that believe in the right of self-determination of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and particularly those that are fighting for the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra have so much to learn from the history and struggles of the people of Ireland.
The Irish suffered immeasurably under British occupation for hundreds of years and literally millions of them were enslaved and killed over that period of time.
Yet in the end they managed to break the yoke and secure their liberation and triumph over the cruel subjugation and tyranny of British rule.
It is my belief that by God’s grace those that are being oppressed, butchered and murdered by the Nigerian state today in an attempt to forcefully keep our country one and those that wish to break off to form their own country on the basis of the principle of self-determination shall also eventually prevail.
This is particularly so for the Igbo people of the south-eastern region of our country who have suffered more than any other ethnic group in Nigeria. Permit me to remind those that doubt this assertion that it was the Igbo that were slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands in the core north during the pogroms of 1966.
Igbo men, women and children were butchered on sight all over the north simply because they were Igbo and for no other reason. Even pregnant women were not spared. This led directly to our civil war in which no less than three million Igbos were killed including one million Igbo children who were starved to death.
After the war they were deprived of all their properties outside Igbo land except for in Lagos and the south west where they were treated with some level of decency and allowed to have their properties back.
Everywhere else in the country they could not reclaim the properties that they owned before the war and such properties were declared “abandoned property”, confiscated by the various regional and state governments and handed over to the local indigenous people.
As if that were not bad enough, after the civil war every Igbo man and woman, no matter how much they had in the bank before the war, was given only twenty pounds from their respective banks to begin a new life.
Millions of pounds and many fortunes were lost in this way and the truth is that the Igbo suffered immeasurably as a consequence of this unjust policy.
It is a testimony to their resilience and nothing else that they were able to get back on their feet and within a period of ten years after the civil war an Igbo man was elected Vice President of our country.
They also thrived in the private sector due to their diligence and hard work.
Yet in spite of that the systemic persecution and marginalization of the Igbo people did not stop within the Federal Government, the public sector, the civil service, the security and intelligence agencies and the Armed Forces.
They were prevented from reaching the top in virtually all these sectors right up until President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999.
It was President Olusegun Obasanjo that began the effective post-war rehabilitation of the Igbo in the public sector when he started to appoint them into sensitive and strategic positions within his government and within the security agencies and Armed Forces.
A good example of that is Lt-General Chikadibia Isaac Obiokor who was the first Igbo man to he appointed as GOC in the Nigerian Army since the civil war. Another is Mr. Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo who was the first Igbo man to be appointed Deputy Inspector General of Police since the civil war and who was later appointed Inspector General of Police two years after Obasanjo left office.
Then came the Ojo Maduekwes, the Andy Ubas, the Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealas, the Charles Soludos, the Emeka Chikelus, the Frank Nwekes, the George Obiozors and so many other bright and promising stars from the east who all wielded far more influence and power than their political offices had to offer in President Obasanjo’s government and who were all his protégées and appointees.
Without Obasanjo’s premeditated and conscious policy of wanting to rehabilitate the Igbo and bring them back into the main stream none of these people would have achieved the great success that they have achieved today and none would have been brought into the national limelight.
Yet despite Obasanjo’s efforts the truth is that, between 1970 when the war ended right up until today, whenever there are attacks against people in the northern part of Nigeria the Igbo are singled out for more slaughter, more ethnic cleansing and more mass murder than anyone else. (TO BE CONTINUED).
BIAFRA, BUHARI AND THE EASTER DAY RISING (PART 2)
Thankfully under President Goodluck Jonathan the Igbo managed to do better than at any other time in our history. As a matter of fact this was so much the case that Nigerians from other parts of the country, particularly the Yoruba and the Hausa-Fulani, often sulked about it and openly complained.
Jonathan had a soft spot for the Igbo and I have little doubt that that partiality was borne out of his innate sensitivity to their historical trials and tribulations. It may have been sub-conscious but I have no doubt that it was there.
Unlike others he viewed the Igbo as equals and regarded them as human beings: he treated them with respect and decorum and he gave them their due. Consequently it was under Jonathan that Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika the first Igbo Chief of Army Staff since the civil war was appointed.
It was also under Jonathan that Senator Pius Anyim, the first Igbo Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria since independence was appointed.
Sadly when President Muhammadu Buhari was elected into office all that changed and eastern stars stopped shining. Under him the persecution, marginalization, humiliation, detention, state-sponsored executions and assassinations and sectarian and ethnic-motivated murder of the Igbo has reached pre-civil war proportions.
To add to that the Igbo have been treated with more disdain and contempt by the Buhari administration than any other government in our entire history. Permit me to share juat one example of that here.
A few days ago hordes of AK-47-wielding Fulani herdsmen and militants attacked some farms in Enugu state. Fearing that the Agatu treatment may be meted out to them and in order to protect their lives, their families, their property, their livestock and their crops from the murderous vandals and marauders the Igbo farmers organised themselves and fought back gallantly.
Consequently there were casualties on both sides. Instead of the police to come in to apprehend the Fulani aggressors and raiders, seize their weapons and bring them to justice they arrested 76 Igbo farmers. Up until today those farmers are in police custody and their families have had no access to them.
As far as I am aware not one Fulani militant or herdsman was questioned over this incident let alone disarmed, cautioned or arrested.
As unbelievable as it may appear this pattern of behaviour by the security agencies has been the norm throughout the Middle Belt and the south since President Buhari has come to power.
They have displayed great reluctance to protect the indigenous people and farmers of those two regions from the pillaging, killing and raping that the Fulani herdsmen always subject them to.
It is also instructive to note that the political leaders of the Igbo nation appear to have been so intimidated by this trend of events that none of them has spoken out against the abduction of the Enugu farmers or condemned the barbarous action of the Fulani herdsmen that raided their farms.
As a matter of fact the only two politicians in the entire country that have publicly expressed concern about the safety, whereabouts and plight of the 76 Igbo farmers are both from the south west and they are Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state and yours truly. Fayose did so in an advert in the newspapers a few days ago and I did so in my column last week titled “Of Tyrants, Martyrs and Heroes (Part 2)”
Everyone else, including the Igbo Governors, Senators, Ministers, elders and leaders of their socio-political groups has maintained a curious, submissive and stoic silence on this matter. I guess that is a sign of the times that we are living in and I cannot blame them.
Given the circumstances and the obvious constraints of their political leaders and elders why would the younger generation of the Igbo not agitate and fight for the establishment of Biafra?
This is especially so given the fact that it is self- evident that under the leadership of President Buhari igbos, and indeed other southerners, are not just being subjected to violence in the north but they are also being attacked by northerners down in their own states in the south.
Southern leaders are expected to live with this, accept it as the norm and most importantly they are not expected to defend themselves, defend their people or complain about the atrocities that they are being subjected to in their own land.
This hardly kindles hope for the future of our nation and it certainly does not engender confidence in our country or enhance national unity. It is clear that the contempt with which our government views the people of the south and particularly the Igbo is obvious and glaring.
President Buhari himself, during one of his interviews with Al Jazeera and during the course of an earlier interview with Nigeria’s NTA, displayed that contempt very eloquently when, in answer to a question about Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB’s prolonged detention and the increasingly aggressive agitation for Biafra, he asked rather brusquely “what exactly do the Igbo want?”
When he was told that the Igbo felt marginalised by his government he went further on to ask “who is marginalizing who?”
Again before millions of viewers from all over the world President Buhari refused to watch the footage of the extra-judicial killing of some IPOB youths by his security forces when he was asked to do so during his infamous interview with Al Jazeera.
In that same interview he went on to dismiss the legitimate aspirations of and agitation by millions of young people from the eastern part of our country for the creation of Biafra in just one sentence.
He said that if they had any complaints they should agitate for more states in the east instead of yearning for their own country.
One wonders how state creation can appease a generation of angry young Igbos who genuinely believe that their people are being systematically killed off and that they have been turned into slaves and second class citizens by Nigeria.
And this coming from a man who has refused to appoint one single Igbo into the Presidency and who believes that he has done them a favor by appointing five Igbo Ministers into his cabinet.
He forgets that the constitution of our country compels him to appoint at least one Minister per state and that whether he likes it or not he must appoint those five because the Igbos control five states in the Federation each of which must be represented in the cabinet.
It may not be fashionable to say it publicly but the truth is that the Igbo are virtually an endangered species under President Buhari’s government.
They have been robbed of their dignity, their sense of self-worth, their self-esteem and their self-respect by our government and the Igbo youth particularly do not believe that they have much of a future left in Nigeria. That is why the agitation for Biafra has reached fever pitch among them.
Whatever anyone feels about Biafra the fact of the matter is as follows: as my friend and brother Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, the former Governor of Abia state, said a few days ago, “the Igbo have not been fully integrated back into Nigeria 46 years after the civil war”.
Thankfully not all Igbo voices have been intimidated and silenced. If virtually all the politicians from the east have not been able to find their voice on this matter then at least some members of the eastern Clergy have managed to do so.
For example the Methodist Bishop of Onitsha, Bishop B.L. Onuagha, in his address to mark the 14th annual Diocesan Synod of the Church, which was reported in the Sun Newspaper yesterday, lamented the plight of his Igbo kinsmen at the hands of the Fulani militants and herdsmen of Nigeria.
He concluded his address by advocating the breakup of the country. Bishop Onuagha is a highly respected and much loved cleric. He does not speak lightly and neither does he suffer fools gladly.
He is a man that must be taken very seriously.
If people like him are advocating the break-up of our country and calling for the establishment of Biafra then there really must be a problem and those that are in power had better sit up.
The Bishop spoke his mind on the state of the Nigerian nation and noted that the amalgamation of 1914 “has not favoured the Igbo” appealing to world leaders to listen to the south-east and break up “this monster called amalgamation.”
He said that since the amalgamation was not working in the interest of the components of the federation that the best option should be to dissolve it based on the fact that “a section of the country is suffering enslavement”.
The Bishop cited the activities of the Fulani cattle herdsmen who he said “had displaced communities, killed, maimed and burgled the people with impunity whilst our government remains complacent”.
He said, “amalgamation has brought about the erosion of human dignity, the enslavement of a section of the people in the name of one Nigeria.
“This deadly monster has led to the loss of millions of lives of Igbo and no one is talking about the genocide. Yes, our culture and that of those in question are not the same.
“Our language is not the same, our customs, our tradition, our faith and our education are not the same. Our values are at variance.
“Then, why must we be forced to be in a marriage that we do not want and we see that it is not favorable?”
He concluded by saying that he was not surprised that a group was crying for separation from the ”unholy marriage forced on Nigeria by the British government in 1914”.
Bishop Onuagha has said it all and spoken the hearts and minds of many throughout the country.
Another interesting contribution to the debate came from Mr. Bruce Fein, a respected American constitutional lawyer, who argued very forcefully in a brilliant, historically-factual, incisive and insightful essay titled “The Case For Biafra Is Stronger Than South Sudan and Kosovo” that the manner in which the Igbo had been treated in Nigeria since the amalgamation of 1914 and especially since the Buhari regime came to power warrants the creation and establishment of the sovereign and independent State of Biafra.
I recommend Fein’s contribution as essential reading for those that wish to understand the nature and depth of the problem and the raison d’etre for Biafra.
Yet despite all these admonitions and warnings those in power do not appear to be listening and curious and strange things just keep happening. Permit me to share just one example.
The two massive fires that took place in two separate Kano markets in the space of the last two weeks in which the shops, goods and stalls of hundreds of Igbo settlers and traders were targeted and burnt to the ground confirms the fact that, once again, there is something sinister brewing in the north.
Let us hope that those that kill others for sport and at the drop of a hat are not preparing the ground for a repeat performance of the pre-civil war pogroms of 1966 in which hundreds of thousands of Igbo civilians were massacred in the space of just three months.
Predictably the Buhari government has made no arrests in connection to these two fires and the common and popular refrain is that they were both “acts of God”.
The truth is that Nigeria is not working for most of the ethnic nationalities and everyone knows it. And as long as those that hold power at the center today remain there things will not get any better.
As a matter of fact as long as they are in power things will get worse. In Buhari’s Nigeria if you are not from the core north and if you are not a Muslim you do not have much hope of getting to the top or achieving your full potentials.
That is “chanji” for you and that is Buhari’s mission and vision. We said it during the Presidential campaign but regrettably few would listen. Now the same people that would not listen are regretting it bitterly and they are saying that we were right.
In Buhari’s Nigeria it is one law for the oppressed and another for the ”Born to Rule” oppressor. Whether we wish to admit it or not that is the reality and everyone knows it.
There is also a well-orchestrated attempt to islamise our country and suppress the practice of Christianity in some parts within our shores. Kaduna state is an example and what is going on there is nothing but a test run for the rest of the country.
Yet the truth is that everything has its expiry date including religious bigotry, bondage and slavery. The oppressor often forgets that the future belongs to the oppressed.
The Irish experience and the beautiful people of Eire and the Emerald Isle have taught us that. Far away London in merry England was once their capital yet today it is their very own Dublin. If God can do it for them He can also do it for us. It is just a matter of time.
Some will disagree with the contents of this contribution whilst others will hate me for writing it. To such troubled souls I recommend the words of Albert Einstein. He said:
“Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly”.
I need say no more.
By Femi Fani-Kayode