The Biafran/Nigerian Civil War: Of Conspirations Of Choices and Of Many Truths! By Abiola Oladimeji

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Mr Abiola Oladimeji is a scholar resident in Germany

There are two theories, which are best referred to as The Two Igbo Theories, namely (1) The Theory of Igbo Superiority and (2) The Theory of Conspiracy against the Igbo Ethnic Group. I will consider both theories as Nigerian and Non-Igbo. Put differently, I will attempt a consideration as an outsider. It is important to state right from the onset that I am of Yoruba ethnic group, but I am not necessarily a die-hard Awoist. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not perfect. I would not expect him to be because he is human. If Chief Obafemi Awolowo or anyone at all committed a wrong in my opinion, I will point it out. Culture, tribe or religion is a matter I am careful not to allow influence too greatly my judgement. I will respond to issues some raised in their analysis of Nigerian political history from the 1950’s till the end of the Nigerian Civil War. I also intend to remind that politicians can manipulate the feelings of the masses, in which only the politicians profit at the end of the day.

Nigerian politics of the 1950’s and 60’s was largely dictated and dominated by tribalism. The three major ethnic groups played a major role. Larry Diamond captures this very well in his book Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria. Some accused only Chief Obafemi Awolowo of playing tribal politics. Such people surely have their plans to single him out. They argue that he formed Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1945 and the Action Group was formed out of that organisation. To them, he was a tribalist because of this. They know or pretend to overlook the fact that the Igbo State Union was founded in 1934. In 1948, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe became the president of Igbo State Union. Thus, ethnic sentiments had entered the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), the party Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe took over as leader in 1946. If Chief Obafemi Awolowo formed Action Group in 1951, how then was he to blame for starting tribal politics in Nigeria? I leave that answer to objective minds.

When Okpara (Nigerian of Igbo Ethnicity) and Sardauna (Nigerian of Hausa Ethnicity) most probably conspired to jail Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Yoruba people, who formed the largest of Chief Awolowo’s supporters, did not rampage that certain tribes hate their leader or tribe. It is also worthy to point out that Okpara had threatened to secede in 1964 after the Federal Census and Federal Election, which did not favour the Igbo in his opinion ( I would point out that this opinion is strictly that of Okpara because he acted majorly in his own interest. He only abused the name of the people with his claim to speak on behalf of the Igbo people).

Another fact in this phase of our history is this: The rivalry for Federal power between the three major ethnic groups ( Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo) had been reduced to a battle between Northern and Igbo leaders. Again not necessarily the people, the politicians were the actors. Chief Awolowo was in jail. The man subsequently imposed on the West (majorly lived in by the Yoruba) was unpopular. He was at best a puppet of the Northern establishment. This rivalry between Northern and Eastern region influenced the perception of the January 15th 1966 Coup. The coup-plotters were idealists who intended to execute a revolution. Unfortunately, the revolution failed: They could not implement their reforms and the victims of that coup were mainly Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. I do not believe it was an Igbo Coup. I will quickly point out though that it was difficult to prove it was not. The man who took charge of government was Major-General Agunyi Ironsi. Worthy of mention is the fact that the Army General was of Igbo Ethnicity. To make matters worse, Nigerians of Igbo Ethnicity in the North celebrated the death of Northern leaders on the streets of Northern Nigeria! I will not justify the massacre of the Igbo people in the North after Northern officers staged a counter coup against the Igbo officers, but it cannot be left unsaid that those events are undoubtedly interconnected.

At this point, it was obvious the Federal government was sectional, namely pro-North. Igbo-residents in the North were not safe anymore in that part of the country. Caution and reasonability demanded that they fled the West too, though nobody attacked them in the West. The most important question at this point is two-pronged: (1) Sovereignty or (2) Security for Igbo people? Upon secession, the emergent Biafra Republic would claim the oil reserve of Nigeria in the Delta (not Igboland). The question which was less considered in the calculation is this: Could the young and inexperienced Biafran Army defeat also young but a well-trained and better equipped Nigerian Army without too much unwarranted civilian casualty? The young Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Eastern military Governor, and his war hawks were hell bent and capitalised on the sentiments of the larger Igbo people, who at that point in time were clearly traumatised. It is reasonable that many Igbo wanted to fight. They had been treated badly in the North. But could sentiment and sheer will to fight win a battle? A Yoruba adage says: You do not challenge killers of your father if you do not possess superior weapons. Unfortunately, young Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu and his advisers risked a war.

The Federal government was not justified. General Gowon had agreed to a confederacy arrangement in the Aburi-Accord in Ghana, only to renege on arrival in Nigeria. There was speculation Chief Awolowo influenced General Gowon to renege. This speculation remain at large what it is: A mere speculation and another wind-chasing conspiration.

It is also worthy to raise the point that Chief Awolowo went to Enugu to plead with Major-General Odumegwu Ojukwu not to secede. In the middle of the night Major General Ojukwu sought Chief Awolowo to tell him that the decision has been made and there was no going back. Chief Awolowo requested Major-General Ojukwu to inform him 2 weeks earlier before the announcement of secession. This episode is narrated in the memoir of Wole Soyinka: You Must Set Forth at Dawn.

The question whether Chief Awolowo would risk the lives of the Yoruba people like Major-General Ojukwu was bent on doing hanged in the air still. The encounter in Enugu is cited only to compare it with some assertions that Chief Awolowo promised the young Major-General Ojukwu, thus indirectly the Igbo people, to secede once the Igbo did. Thus, the Igbo see Chief Awolowo as traitor. It must neither be forgotten too quickly to sentiment nor be given up to ask: Did Major-General Ojukwu inform Chief Awolowo 2 weeks prior to secession? Some even went as far to claim that the decision to secede was unanimous. Even if it was, was there any political reason or legal justification beyond “the morality of gentlemanhood” that would prevent a second thought?

Ralph Uwechue, the Ambassador of Biafra to France until the end of 1968, states clearly in his book Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War that there was a schism in Biafra: There were those who wanted secession by all means and those who placed the security of Igbo as the paramount. The latter group tried to persuade the leader of the Igbo against secession. Two days after the Biafran General and leader of the Igbo, Chief Ojukwu fled, when Biafra had been conquered, Philip Effiong said he had always counselled Chief Ojukwu negotiation for the security of Igbo was the best for the Biafran course.

Ralph Uwechue left his job as Ambassador of the Republic of Biafra, because he discovered that secession was Chief Ojukwu’s singular plan. Security was less important. He preferred to show the world Biafran children who starved than end the war! Security could be achieved through secession or negotiation, but the option of secession in this context is suicide in itself. The young Republic Biafra was not prepared to fight Nigeria in a real War. Argument to the contrary is a waste of time and sheer self-deceit.

In my opinion, it would be best to reflect on why the wrong decisions and choices were made which led to the failure of the Biafran project rather than propound a baseless theory in the name of creating scapegoats upon whose head the failure of the Biafran project is to be laid.

I am not Chief Awolowo. He knew best why he joined the Nigerian Government of General Yakubu Gowon. His decision to join the Nigerian Government did/does not make him the problem of Igbo, if Chief Ojukwu had planned and though well before secession like he claimed, then these words of his would have come true: No power in black Africa would be able to touch Igbo once they secede.

I have said earlier, Chief Awolowo was human, therefore fallible. One must not fail notwithstanding to recognize his brilliance. In fact, it is even this humanity which speaks strongly for the recognition of his brilliance. Thus, it can be said in praise that Chief Awolowo’s brilliance won that war to a large extent for the Federal side. If that explains the hatred, it is understandable. It must be made clear that Chief Awolowo did not risk a war for personal gains; he did not capitalise on the state of a traumatised people and brutalised nationhood. A study of the personality of Chief Ojukwu would help to understand the decision-making mechanisms and machinations which eventually culminated into his choice for war.

Some also raised some wishful accusations against Chief Awolowo, but the man answered those questions. Here is a link to the interview in Abeokuta, where he addressed the issues of starvation, the 20 pound policy and other baseless accusations against his person http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/newsflash/exclusive-chief-obafemi-awolowo-on-biafra-in-his-own-words.html

I am always shocked each time I listened to claims like this:

(1) Igbo are the best in everything

(2) Other Nigerians hate Igbo because they always achieve better than other tribes.

In the 1950’s, one Dr. Sylvester Anieke, an Igbo, who trained in Canada as a medical doctor, claimed he got a PhD in Medicine. He got a job at the University of Ibadan. Rumour had it way and he was forced to resign. Years after, this same Sylvester Anieke was forced on the University of Ibadan as Chairman of the Governing Council. This misconduct is well documented in Wole Soyinka’s memoir: Ibadan, the Penkelemesi years. This saga, among others, throws doubts into claims of Igbo supremacy theory at all cost.

It is not much of a surprise anymore after having read the article of Dr. Johannes Harnischfeger, a German who lived in Igboland. He describes the discourse in Igboland about the theory of Igbo supremacy and the purported conspiracy theory against them. He pointed out the Igbo-belief in a Jewish root and historical connectivity to Jewishness. They are the purported Jews through the theory of the lost tribes of Israel. They believe they are God’s own people. Others around them are thus pagan and inferior. The cited article is a must-read to better understand this jingoist argument. Here is the link:http://www.afrikanistik-online.de/archiv/2011/3042

Scholars have claimed that Yoruba people are also part of the lost tribe of Israel, but nobody is interested in this myth in Yorubaland, here is another article by emeritus Professor Dierk Lange in an attempt to connect the Yoruba people with Israelhttp://dierklange.com/pdf/LOST_TRIBES_OF_ISRAEL.pdf

The Igbo people have the right to believe whatever they want, but the perception about themselves will definitely shape how they see others. An objective reflection would help a lot.

Thinking that the way you cook your own food in your own culture or tribe is the best and others are inferior is the height of jingoism. It is very dangerous. Here is a worthy reminder: Should they be led to war again, only the masses would fight and suffer the most like it happened in the defunct Republic of Biafra: Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu had enough to eat. One would even think he would commit suicide when Biafra lost the war. He did not. He simply fled.

Children, who did not tell Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu to fight, suffered and were wasted! This need not repeat itself. I want to state clearly here that not all Igbo people believe in the aforementioned conspiracy theories, but the more left unchecked, the likelier the possibility of an ever-increasing followership and believers. Unfortunately, winning followership and faithfuls at any cost- therein lies the ultimate goal of conspiration theorists and peddlers of such irresponsible mercantile.

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Civility is demanded when commenting. Comments will be forwarded to Mr. Abiola Oladimeji for response if neccesary.