Obasanjo's Biafraand anti-Igbo battles running past 33 years
By Professor HerbertEkwe-Ekwe
Special to USAfricaonline.comand USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
January 2004 marked 33 years since the end of the Nigeria-BiafraWar. Nigeria's war against Biafra was a war of genocide, a war thatwas waged in its totality (with all the annihilative indices thatthis particular war strategy connotes) in a very limited expanse ofterritory (Africa's most densely populated areaoutside the Nile valley) where the defenders did not have access to a"neutral" or friendly contiguous state for refuge and respite.
The 1967-1970 war was waged by the federalNigeria military government led by General Yakubu Gowon to overwhelmand destroy the corporate ability of the Igbo people to resist anaggression triggered, in the first place, because they were simplyexpressing their inalienable fundamental human right to freely decideto belong or not to belong to a political relationship, in the wakeof the most horrendous spate of massacres the previous year. Duringthe months of May-October 1966, about 100,000 Igbo were hunted downand killed in several northern towns and cities and elsewhere in thefederation in a pogrom that was planned and executed by the northernNigerian political, military and religious establishment. Most werekilled in their houses, offices, businesses, schools, colleges andhospitals, as well as those who were attacked at railwaystations and on trains, bus stations and buses, airports and in cars,lorries and on foot as they sought to escape the pogrom for theirhomeland in eastern Nigeria.
Thousands of others sustained horrific injuries,several of whom were maimed for life. No known safe passages for theIgbo (victims or would-be victims) for flight or escape to theirhomeland from northern Nigeria or elsewhere in the country wereplanned, nor adhered to, by any of the prosecuting forces involved inthe pogrom throughout the course of this tragedy.
In the Biafra War itself, three million Igbowere killed. This figure is much higher than the casualties recordedin each of the following four wars: Vietnam, Iran-Iraq, Angola andthe Sudan. To underscore the brazen brutality of the war in Biafra,we should stress that the duration of each of the former conflictsmentioned was in fact much longer than Biafra's. The three milliondead represented a quarter of the Igbo population then. No Igbofamily in the world escaped the immediate or long-term impact andconsequences of this holocaust.
FridayMay 6, 2005, the USAfrica13th annual ANNIVERSARY AWARDS,Best of AfricanFashion andCLASS magazine's Mothers' Day banquet. Atthe Hilton Towersat Westchase, Houston. As has been the tradition every first Fridayof May (this year's May 6), the13th Anniversary of Houston-basedUSAfrica will hold its prestigious awards dinner in honor of Africanprofessionals. On Saturday May 7, 2005 at the same Hilton Towers, theUSAfrica FORUM will deliberate at its internetional live event on theissue: OBASANJO'sCORRUPTION WAR: THE REAL THING or WINDOW-DRESSING; WHICH WAY NIGERIA,WHAT NEXT?
The Igbo, who 20 years earlier had been in thevanguard for the liberation of Nigeria from the British conq
uest and occupation, had suffered anincalculable catastrophe &endash; the second in 100 years since theirdefeat by British imperialism. No other African nation had sufferedsuch a grand-scale holocaust and impoverishment in 200 years. KingLeopold II of Belgium, "The Rapist of Congo", had in the19th century killed three million Africans in the Congo ashis troops ravaged the country in search of ivory, diamonds, and thelike &endash; enormous wealth that would soon transform the nascentBelgian state into a modern European country. But that scourge atleast included peoples from several nations and nationalities thatmake up contemporary Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo,Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic and Angola.
Equally reprehensibly, those who ordered andsustained the war against the Igbo had the unenviable record, not totalk of responsibility, of literally clearing the undergrowth fromwhich the gruesome killing fields that have since littered Africaexpanded almost inexorably. The haunting milestones of Uganda,Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Zaire/Democratic Republic ofCongo, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi,Guinea-Bissau, southern Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire testify to this.These latter wars have resulted in the death of nine millionpeople.
As I show in my book African Literature inDefence of History: An essay on Chinua Achebe, no post-Biafra WarNigerian head of state has been so obsessed with the subject ofBiafra and the Biafra War as Olusegun Obasanjo, the current presidentof the country. Equally, no post-Biafra War Nigerian head of statepossesses as vindictively a pathological anti-Igbo disposition asOlusegun Obasanjo &endash; a condition apparently developed in the1960s prior to the pogrom when several of his fellow officers, mostlyIgbo, often questioned his intellectual competence.
On these two counts, not even six previousleaders centrally associated with the Biafra War (YakubuGowon, Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, SaniAbacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar), all northern Nigerians whoseinvolvement impulses in the conflict were dictated and driven largelyby their support for, or indifference to the perpetration of thefirst phase of the Igbo genocide in the north (May-October 1966) or adesire to safeguard (in the long term) the north's hegemonicpolitical and military leadership of Nigeria, have been so transfixedby Biafra and the Igbo people. Indeed one or two of the survivingsextet of leaders just mentioned have shown more reticence over theirinvolvement in the war, and a third has in fact offered what amountsto an unqualified "apology" over his own participation in thewar.
More generally in northern Nigeria,presently, there are steadily, openly expressed views of revulsion,remorse and apologies among members of the political elite and otherson the region's planning and execution of the Igbo genocide &endash;both in its initial pogrom phase in the north and in the war inBiafra.
Not so for Olusegun Obasanjo are thesedynamics of revulsion, remorse and apologies felt, nor remotelyplayed out On the contrary, Obasanjo, who commanded thenotorious federal 3rd marine infantry division in thelatter stages of the war and which committed widespread atrocities inthe southern front of the so-called Igbo heartland, is still waging awar on the Igbo &endash; albeit an Obasanjo-version of a "lowintensity conflict", even though the end of hostilities in Biafra wasdeclared 33 years ago. In this context, especially, Obasanjo'sprincipal focus for now is to disrupt the profound economic andindustrial transformation underway in the crucial northwest Anambraregion of the Igbo country. He has literally laid siege on the localadministration in the region by raising clusters of fiendishofficials on presidential payroll and other patronage whose main taskis to eventually overthrow the governor. In the pursuance of thisprogramme, Obasanjo has flagrantly utilised the security forces andthe judiciary contrary to clearly stipulated constitutionalprovision.
Obasanjo does not really believe that theIgbo lost the war on 12 January 1970. The "evidence" on the grounddoes not convince him otherwise. Despite the fact that successivecentral governments since 1970 have adhered strictly to a policy ofno development in Igboland, a programme which Professor NnaemekaIkpeze has categorised succinctly as an "atrocity," despite the factthat Igboland with a population of 30 million (about a quarter ofNigeria's total) continues to receive the lowest annual fiscalresource transfers from the central government to the regions since1970, despite the fact that Igbo experts and officials have beenbarred from key state appointments in defence and security and theposition of head of state, despite the fact that Igboland has theworst communication infrastructure in the country and that powerstations and other major industrial enterprises destroyed during thewar still lie in ruins, despite the fact that the centralgovernment has scandalously ignored the extensive erosion of croplandacross the north-western stretch of Igboland (Anambra region) whichposes a long term danger to the ecology of the area and far beyond,and despite the fact that Obasanjo'srigging of the 2003 presidential elections was carried outlargely in the electoral districts across Igboland, the presentNigerian president believes that the continuing stubborn resilienceand ingenuity of the Igbo shown in the steadfast reconstruction oftheir lives and homeland, without evident central government support,cannot be indicative of a people who lost so catastrophicallyin a war of genocide just a generation ago.
On the Igbo therefore, Obasanjo still subscribestenaciously to the composite amalgam of the infamous federal Nigeriawar strategy enunciated by Obafemi Awolowo (deputy chair of the warcabinet and minister of finance) during the Biafran confrontation&endash; the "starvation as weapon/quick kill", which accounted for80 per cent of all Biafran casualty in the war, and its post-warvariant, the "financial/economic strangulation of Igbo assets acrossthe country" which, in effect, is the policy guideline that has beenin vogue in the past 33 years and whose striking features we sketchedabove.
Just as Awolowo, Obasanjo exhibits a virulentstreak of Igbophobia which explains why the president's ownimplementation of the anti-Igbo post-Biafra War state policy inthe past five years has been remarkably undisguised, quite oftenaggressive, if not crude. In not too infrequent bouts of rage andangst, Obasanjo often boasts of "teaching the Ibos a lesson," or"crushing these Ibos who don't seem to have learnt the lessonsof 12 January 1970" or "I will ensure that these Ibos never rule thiscountry in my life time...."
It is against this background that one shouldunderstand the current highly-charged dramatic quest by Obasanjo toremove Chris Ngige, the governor of the Anambra region from power,even though the latter, as well as the other governors of the eastwere imposed on the people by the president when he rigged lastyear's poll. Since the election, Ngige has somehow become his "ownman," much to the consternation of the president. The groundswellsupport that Ngige has received from the region and across Igbolandhas been tremendous particularly from women's organisations,businesses and from the youth. Last week's widely publicised pressconference in Awka (regional capital) by Mike Balonwu, the speaker ofthe local legislature, was undoubtedly poignant for its franknesswhen the lawmaker charged: "We the honourable members of AnambraState House of Assembly would hold President Olusegun Obasanjoresponsible for any outbreak of anarchy in Anambra state as a resultof his unflinching support for this band of treasury looters andrascals of known pedigree."
More such calls have been made and similarpositions taken across varying shades of political opinion acrossIgboland. Ironically, the Anambra crisis has had an unintended resultthat Obasanjo could never have reckoned with when he embarked on hiscourse of action. More conservative sectors of the Igbo "politicalclass" who have since Biafra treasured the mantra of"marginalisation" as the flag of convenience to fly in their politicsvis-à-vis the rest of Nigeria, have suddenly realised in thelast few weeks and months that the Igbo "self-determination" thatsustained the resistance against the forces of genocide 33 years agodid not dissipate on January 12,1970.
It decisively moved to another level ofcontemplation &endash; and realisation. To that extent, these sectorswere catching up with the rest of the Igbo, particularly theintellectuals, who have no doubts about the seminal meaning of Biafrain their history and their lives. But perhaps more surprisingly,these Igbo "conservatives" were also catching up with what MatthewAremu Olusegun Obasanjo has always thought of the subject &endash;namely that the Igbo have never really accepted defeat.
Prof. Ekwe-Ekwe, contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com haswritten several books and essays on Africa and Nigeria. His new book,Beyond the "failed state": Reconstituting Africa, will bepublished in 2004. He wrote in May 2001, an exclusive commentary forUSAfricaonline.com titled 'Obasanjoobsession with Biafra versus facts of history.' Also, seeexclusive and related interviewBiafra's leader Dim ODUMEGWU EMEKA OJUKWUhad with USAfricaonline.com Publisher Chido Nwangwu: "It was simplyachoicebetween Biafra and enslavement!And, here's why we chose Biafra"
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