By EJIKE OKPA II
Special and Exclusive to USAfricaonline.com
NigeriaCentral.comand USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
On January 12, 1970, when the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970) wasofficially declared over, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, then head of state andcommander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed forces, in his magnanimity(or so we were led to believe), declared a policy of 'no victor novanquish'. By virtue of this declaration, it meant that formerBiafrans were forgiven for the quest to establish their own Republicof Biafra. Some considered this gesture rather unusual andcommendable, since there was fear that the Biafrans would have beeninterned. But that did not happen, in military terms or form. Manyworld leaders hailed Gowon for forgiving his countrymen and embracedhim as a hero and peace maker. I'm still surprised that Gowon was notnominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970 for this gesture.
The former Biafrians immediately assumed they were embraced bytheir former countrymen and that the stage was set to move forward.But at a cost; lost of properties and cash. Along this line, thefederal started the program of reconstruction, rehabilitation but noreconciliation. The 'no victor no vanquish' mantra was paid lipservice as Biafrans soon realized that they were going to be'marginalized' and or deprived of most of their wealth. I think thatBiafrans/Igbos would have been better off if Gowon's agenda had thefull support of his cabinet. He had the late Yoruba chieftain ObafemiAwolowo as federal Finance commissioner, and it was under his watchthat that 20 Pounds program against Igbos was executed.
The world needs to know that irrespective of whatever balance orasset most Igbos/Biafran had prior to the war, federal governmentgave twenty pounds to every Biafran as a token reintegrate them intothe country. Although, some Igbos are still thankful that some oftheir friends in the Northern region of Nigeria kept some of theirproperties and belongings, even while most of the other Northernerswaged the war, with Yorubas and other Nigerians against the smallernumber of Igbos/Biafrans.
The Biafrans were disappointed because by virtue of 'no victor novanquish', it meant we should get back all monies that belonged tous. This was not the case; therefore, Gowon regime misled the worldand in a way victimized former Biafrans. Shortly after this, thefederal government embarked on nationalizing all foreign ownedcompanies which was gobbled up by certain people. The former Biafranscould not participate in this national program because they wereilliquid and were unduly left out and penalized for the war. Thefinance minister endorsed this exercise and made sure his folks wereadequately represented in the acquisitions. Now, was this in thespirit of 'no victor no vanquish'. Your answer is as good as mine. Weshould demand some explanation(s). And where possible, compensation.We cannot be seeking and hoping for reparation from foreigngovernments when our own government may be owing us.
My point is that this matter of grave injustice should berevisited. There should be an investigation to uncover the reasonsbehind the decision to give twenty pounds to Igbos, and otherBifrans! How did they federal government come to the amount given?Was there any former Biafran that was compromised by the governmentin order to pacify any reaction. Was there a decree that demanded andor mandated the banks to turnover all deposits that belonged toformer Biafrans. It is now more than 29 years after the war and mostof the principal actors are still alive and actively involved in thepolitics including the current president. Gowon, in recent times wentaround apologizing for the consequences of war. He is a Christian manof remarkable goodwill. Since the apology indicates some sense ofremorse, he should be made to provide us information on why twentypounds was the threshold money.
We should not as a nation pretend that all is well with us.Ignoring some of our past while many still suffer from the aftermathof the decision, is a huge disregard for a peoples' concerns. Thereis precedent in this area and we should explore the option(s). Jewsare asking all and any bank that participated in looting and orhiding their assets during Holocaust to pay up. They have madesignificant progress in this arena and the former Biafrans canemulate this experience and precedent. If retired Gen. Gowon did notmean the full value of his "no victor, no vanquish", he should let usknow. If there is no reasonable response from the government, theformer Biafrans may consider bringing an action against all financialinstitutions; insurance companies, savings and loans, banks, and soforth, to pay us. After all when one makes a deposit, there is animplied agreement to pay on demand. And since majority of the banksat the time were foreign owned; Barclays Bank and Standard Bank, theymust maintain records in their various home country.
By bringing an action against them, they will be forced todisclose what they know and how they were compelled to provide thedeposits and other valuables. There is a breach between the bank anddepositor agreement, and they should be made to cooperate. This isnot an easy task but is one worth exploring. We must exercise thewill to demand restitution because many folks died when they realizedthat they were only going to be getting a fraction of their money andlife's work. This is unfair and really begs some explanation. Ifthere is nothing to hide, the Obasanjo administration should be opento this matter, as he Obasanjo was a player, both as a war commanderon Nigeria's side, federal official, and two times head of state ofNigeria. USAfrica FORUM Ethnic Cleansing and slaughter in the Sudan by Dawud Ibrahim Salih, Muhammad Adam Yahya, Abdul Hafiz Omar Sharief and Osman Abbakorah, representatives of the Massaleit community in exile, Cairo, Egypt
Okpa is the Dallas bureau chief of TheBlack BusinessJournal, NigeriaCentral.com,and www.BBJonline.com.Readers response will be published in USAfrica The Newspaper,NigeriaCentral.com and USAfricaonline.com.10-02-99.Reprint and web repost of this USAfricaonline commentaryis prohibited, unless a written permission is granted by thePublisher of USAfrica Digital Media Networks, Houston.
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