By Chuba Keshi
MON, MARCH 20 2017- “I will go to war again if the unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria is threatened”. This was Ojukwu’s comment when interviewers from The African Guardian Magazine asked him if he would fight again. As far as I know, this testimony on Nigeria and by implication of the substance of it, Biafra, by Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu did not change before he died.
A popular newspaper columnist himself Igbo, not too long ago remarked that pro Biafra campaigners curiously forgot that Ojukwu’s post humus birthday came up on the 4th of November. Now, given Ojukwu’s last testament on Biafra and the curious omission of his remembrance, one wonders where any truth rests in the claim by the Biafra protagonists that they are carrying on from where Ojukwu stopped.
I was barely five years old when the Biafran war broke out in 1967. As a five-year-old the episode of the war was a very interesting one. First, I recall the day my uncle, a very young Lt. Colonel A. A. Keshi who was a commander somewhere in today’s Edo State, stormed Agbor to pick my father and his family back home in today’s Aniocha North of Delta State. It was a spectacle I enjoyed as a child as we “strolled” past checkpoint after checkpoint which heavily armed soldiers in bandoliers long as snakes, saluted smartly as my uncle and his esteemed convoy headed home. I, my immediate older brother even took the liberty to tease the soldiers sometimes, until our mother’s stern eyes put us in check.
But the concert had only just begun. In the village, I and other children enjoyed colourful sights of soldiers of occupation in warm-up parades. We enjoyed the many sights of fisticuffs between two soldier friends over a stick of cigarette or a girlfriend. We also enjoyed the frog jumps meted out to some of the soldiers by their “kolofo” colleagues. To crown it all, young men who had been conscripted mainly into the Biafran army used to tell tales of escapades in war fronts when they came on short breaks. These we savoured during the tales-by-moonlight sessions or seated by my grandmother’s smoldering faggots from the evening’s cooking. It was lots of fun seeing the dusts of the civil war.
But when the dust settled we were to learn that over one million soldiers, officers, men, women and children had died. We were to learn that there had been no victor and no vanquished. We were to learn that indeed the economy of mainly Igbos had been destroyed. Many rich men and women had been pauperized by the war. We were also later to learn that nothing, actually nothing had been gained from the war. Not even the “reverse engineering” technology developed by sheer Igbo ingenuity was built on. These were in oil refining, in transportation, vehicular parts and accessories, military hardware, food technology, just to mention a few. We were also to learn much later from Generals Gowon and Ojukwu – the two principal actors – that the Biafran war could have been avoided.
Very importantly, as a child of between the ages of five and eight – the time the war started and ended, I was very familiar with the word “saboteurs” which I thought then was not an English word but a word taken from the Biafran vocabulary, because a sentence then made by a “Biafran” hardly ended without the word “saboteur”. This is to say that all the ills being paraded today by Biafra protagonists against Nigeria were in the Biafra of Ojukwu’s time. “Saboteurism” was a form of protest by those who felt marginalized, who felt deprived, cheated, and the out-rightly greedy in Biafra. And there is nothing to show that there is now the collective trust among “Biafrans”, so to speak, such that a new Biafra would be the Orwellian sugar candy island.
In effect, the envisaged most gain of a Biafra namely social justice would fly in the wake of mutual distrust which was, as already observed, even present in the old Biafra. That would be when the Wawa would know that he is distinct from the Ngwa or the Bende. The Ohafia would know that he is distinct from the Abakaliki, the Uyi, the Onitsha (if Onitsha will ever be part of it), the Owerri, etc.
All said, we must see the present agitation for Biafra wholly for what it is. It is now a campaign by a group of brigands and farragoes who have smartly come to realize that terror seems to pay big money in Nigeria. Militants from MEND have been “amnestied” with bogusly huge pipe-line watch contracts and more; the same for the militants of the OPC. Boko Haram war lords burn through the North-East like the Hitlerian hot knife through butter. And I am sure that if they are interested, they too would be offered the greet twig of amnesty.
At best Biafra agitators, mostly young men and women born after the civil war are only consumed in that pristine child-like fun which the debacle of the civil war gave the likes of us children. This time however their “gain” is beyond the amusement we enjoyed as children, but in millions and millions of naira and dollars. And all these at the cost of lives, mainly Igbo lives, and potentially at the cost of the comfortable position of the Igbo as the rulers of business and commerce in Africa’s largest economy, today. To be continued
Dr. Chuba Keshi is journalist and CEO at Core Business Consulting Associates Ltd.