Why the Biafra hurt is not going away quickly
BY UBAKA OKOFU
For what they suffered at the hands of federal troops, it will take a deep and genuine reconciliation to fully bring back the people of south east otherwise known as Biafrans to get back a truly Nigerian consciousness. Other than secession, Biafra means so many things to the Igbos. Significantly, Biafra has further defined Igbos as a people who belonged to all of the land area that was targeted and bombarded during the Nigerian civil war (1968-1970).
It has not been disputed that Biafra holds out the Igbos as the most balkanized and marginalized ethnic nation in the comity of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities. Its on record that Biafra is one region that has not produced an elected President of the Nigerian federation since the return of our nascent democracy in 1999. Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise that the Igbos have been mildly declared persona non grata or enemies of state even after the ‘No Victor and No Vanquished’ description of the civil war by Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd).
One would not be wrong to say that the massacre of Igbos in Northern Nigeria and the eventual outbreak of the Nigerian civil war was a spill over of hate from the counter coup of July 1966 where top Igbo military officers and a few others from the rest of the south were targeted and killed in revenge for the death of some northern military officers in an earlier coup. Perhaps, the reason Igbo civilians who were nicknamed ‘Yamiri’ by the Fulani/Hausa dominant soldiers were crushed without mercy during the 30-month long Nigerian civil war ( 1968-1970).
The Nigerian civil war has since ended and the people of Biafra have also been formally reintegrated into the Nigerian fold. However, some 50 years after, sentiments as a result of the war can still be found in bucket loads. Lashing out at the Igbos without observing the rules of engagement as was allegedly done by the Fulani/Hausa dominated Nigerian side in the said civil war was meant to be a massage to other ethnic groups who were also averse to Lugard’s amalgamation of the Southern and the Northern Protectorates in 1914.
It was a clear signal that they would get even more if they dared to thread the path the Igbos had threaded by asking to be freed from the unfederal federal structure of the Nigerian state. Its’ imperative to state that the lopsided federal structure of the Nigerian state is also choking to the Middle beltans that include the people of Plateau, Adamawa, Benue and Kogi. For over 60 years, the south has borne much of the burden of the entire country at expense of a despoiled environment from unending oil exploration in the region.
The war was executed with so much venom and viciousness against the Igbos of Biafra. The economic twist to the war was even more heart breaking. It was not a surprise when it was alleged that the Federal side distributed unsafe food and water from the air to hungry Biafrans. Why this weighty allegation was not fully investigated is not known. Most of the authors who wrote memoirs on the war were also not really explicit and elaborate on the allegation of aerial distribution of poisoned food over Enugu, Aba and other strongholds of Biafraland.
The Igbos of the then Mid western region were not spared the deep seated animosity which soldiers of Fulani/Hausa background allegedly churned out to the people of that region known today as the Delta north senatorial district. Asaba was a human abattoir. The killings at Asaba was unprecedented, so much that vultures hovered tirelessly over the entire Asaba air space. Every Anioma person from Ogwashi-uku, Issele-uku, Agbor, Kwale, Abhor, Obior, Igbodo, Ubulu-uku etc was a suspected Biafran, and a large number of natives were said to have been summarily executed at Asaba. There should have been more cenotaphs at Asaba if we were to go by the quantum of summary executions that took place there. It was a puzzle back then, and yet to be seen why a right thinking Anioma person would not be sympathetic to the Biafran cause.
Till date, signs of the ruthlessness of the Nigerian side are still visible in the region. The region still bears silent and harrowing memories of the civil war. The federal troops took the war to the Biafrans, so Asaba became a base for launching offensives into the heart of Biafraland. The heavy military presence at Asaba and environs was scary and asphyxiating. The military occupation meant that the best yields from their farms, livestock and even their beautiful daughters were to be conscripted, appropriated and consummated by senior commanding officers. Every shade of the peoples’ lives was distorted.
Its true that the people of Anioma could not deny their filial ties with their Igbo brothers across the River Niger. But, there was no evidence that the people of the Mid-western region which Anioma was part of had formally joined in the secessionist campaign of the Igbos. Further railroading the fact was that both regions were under the leadership of two different military governors, and it was not found that the Military Governor of the Mid-western region was taking orders from Late Col. Emeka Ojukwu who was the Military Commander as well as the political head of Biafra. Nonetheless, this was not enough to deny what the people of Anioma had felt for their Igbo brothers during the war. No doubt, the entire region was sympathetic to the Biafran cause. It was only natural that it was so.
The history of the Aniomas and the Igbos of Biafra intertwine. Save for the natural boundary of the great River Niger, there is no difference between the people of both regions. Permit me to say that the Aniomas are more of Eastern Nigerians than they can ever be to the Niger Delta. They simply do not belong there!
The history of the people of Anioma and Onitsha which I will mean to represent the whole of Eastern Nigeria has very little room for doubts. Hence, its’ incontestable. Eze Chima was the progenitor of the people of the region. Eze Chima who founded Onitcha was said to have migrated from the ancient Bini Empire. Another account had it that he left Ile Ife with his three brothers who were all princes. While others settled at Bini he wandered farther East. He was noted for the quest to explore and conquer. Before he finally settled down at Onitsha, Eze Chima created several settlements at Obior, Ubulu-Uku, Ogwashi-Uku, Issele-Uku, Onicha-Uku etc.
Evidently, the people of the present day Anioma have everything in common with the Igbos of Biafra. The tradition and culture are similar. The language, a major component of both cultures is mutually intelligible. Names borne by the people of both regions which have ‘chukwu’ as a dominating component reflect the consanguinity and a singular identity of the people.
Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu