By Uche Amunike
I was almost moved to tears a couple of weeks back as I watched the Arondizuogu born popular Nigerian singer, activist, actress and journalist, Onyeka Onwenu when she passionately spoke about the losses suffered by her family in the Nigerian Civil War and why she hasn’t had closure till date. It was a very touching and emotional event organized by a sociocultural Igbo group known as Nzuko Umunna. They called it the ‘Never Again Conference’. As I listened to her narrative, I saw anger and bitterness in her words and countenances. As I listened more, I totally understood her position on that matter and fully took sides with her. She had every right to vent and so does every Igbo indigene. No apologies to Nigerians, of course. We have been marginalized for decades and been treated like 3rd class citizens of a country that cannot boast of being progressive in all spheres without our tribe. In virtually every area of life, we are cheated out of our fundamental rights as citizens and yet, we equally belong to this space called Nigeria. My friend, Ikeddy Isiguzo did a brilliant piece on why the Civil War is still on and I need you to read it. That war certainly still rages in our everyday lives. It never really ended. I totally agree with him.
Do enjoy it…
FIFTY years may seem to be a long time. It should be; we are looking at half a century. For the mind, 50 years are nothing, and a good proof is the Nigeria Civil War that ended those number of years ago. Locked up in the minds of millions of Nigerians of that generation, that the war is still on. They are right.
Has the war ended? Nigerians are likely to give different answers. The formal war finished with the signing of the surrender that General Philip Effiong handed in on 15 January 1970. It was quickly followed by another – the war against Nigeria, by Nigerians. More Nigerians have become victims of that war than the Civil War.
Cyprian Ekwensi’s novel, Survive The Peace, captured this aspect of the war. A blistering emergence of the consequences of the war, which manifested in the post haste farming out of the spoils of the war, the victors never minded about the East, administered by those who appeared to have instructions to continue the damage.
Another war began of people taking advantage, entitlement heightened, ravaging of Nigeria’s resources continued as if people no longer believed in Nigeria, and a systematic divestment of the country through inflated contracts, unexecuted contracts, and outright theft, boomed leading to dooms they call economic downturns. Development plans became paper works without practical works.
Then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon had announced that there was no victor or vanquished from the war. He papered over the consequences of the war and the rehabilitation of the victims on all sides. He promised a reconstruction of damaged infrastructure in the East. They were mere words.
Gowon was over-thrown five years after the war. He had adequate time to ensure that the East was re-constructed, or at least the re-construction started. Not much has been done at the federal level in re-constructing the East since then. In fact, there are traces of consistent policy thrusts that foreclose the industrialisation of the East in any meaningful manner, especially in the face of a federation that awards the centre rights to make many important decisions.
The national mind has been cultured since 1970 to see the East as capable of another war. Instead of ending the war, Nigeria has arrayed negative attention on the South East, the South South is also bearing part of the brunt, it was part of Eastern Region (excluding Delta and Edo States). The thinking is that any advantage the South South enjoys would flush into the South East.
Nigeria has mapped out parts of Nigeria that would not be developed and expects that other parts, those being developed, would not be affected?
The East is not considered suitable for the location of any major project, even if all parts of Nigeria are assigned the project. Examples abound.
Olusegun Obasanjo sprayed steel rolling mills in Jos, Katsina, Osogbo, and two iron and steel integrated plants in Ajaokuta and when he was the military Head of State. They were deemed critical to Nigeria’s industrialisation. The present South East was excluded. There is no refinery in the South East. The seaports that are nearest to the South East are dead. They are not about to be revived.
Federal projects in the South East are mockery of what are seen elsewhere. Offices the Federal Government rents for its businesses in the South East tell more of the story; they are so run down that they reflect the centre’s lack of interest in the South East in any meaningful manner.
Conditions of the roads are such that former Senate President Chuba Okadigbo, remarked 25 years ago, that it was wrong to say the roads in the South East were bad. The real position according to him, was, “there were no roads in the South East”. A combination of these manipulations has resulted in policies that are turning the South East into a wasteland. Its human resources drain to other parts of Nigeria, and abroad, in search of survival.
In addition, interests that are against the development of the South East anoint viceroys into all cadre of political leadership in the South East. They simply do their masters’ bidding. They waste the resources of the region in some of the most wanton thievery that Nigeria has witnessed.
Some justify the state of the South East by listing individual South East businessmen and women who are “doing well”. The point is made as if their successes were a post-war achievement, and new. Business people from the East prospered before the war with businesses located all over Nigeria. They were at the apogee of their spheres.
The “abandoned property law” is possibly the most divisive post-war policy. Under it, Igbos lost their property, particularly in Port Harcourt. Their offence was that they “abandoned the property” while fleeing from a Nigeria that made no effort to protect their lives.
Heavy security presence in the South East and South South is another evidence of the present war. How are there so many check points manned by armed security personnel in numbers, and settings that are absent in other parts of Nigeria, even places with security threat? Where else do security personnel make a routine of molesting the populace?
Who have the quota system in job placements and admission into higher institutions hurt more than the East? Federal Character Commission and the National Universities Commission are agencies that harness national resources to share in ways that Igbos lose opportunities that a competitive environment would have provided. Discriminatory admission marks to federal government colleges means a child from a State in the South East would not be admitted with 138 marks (the entry point is 139 for his State) while his compatriots can gain admission with 4, yes, 4 marks.
Yet an epochal event 53 years ago would have cured most ills of our country by making it remarkably competitive. The Aburi Accord of 4-5 January 1967, which was put together in Aburi, a small town, 36 kilometres outside Accra, provided for strengthening of the Regions as one of the ways to stop Nigeria’s slide to disaster. Everyone – the East, Mid West, North, and West – agreed it was a great move. If the Regions agreed, and the military, who were in-charge also agreed, it looked like the war would be avoided and the Regions would continue to develop at their paces.
Everything called fiscal federalism, true federalism, were positions the East espoused in Aburi 53 years ago. Nigeria still struggles with discussing her future because it points to Aburi.
Different interpretations of the Accord emerged. Gowon was against more powers for the Regions. He made a major move that eclipsed any hopes of resolving a crisis that had claimed thousands of lives. He dismembered the Regions into 12 States on 27 May 1967.
Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Governor of Eastern Region, responded by declaring the Republic of Biafra on 30 May 1967. Biafra included all parts of Eastern Region. The tensions heightened.
July 6, 1967, Nigerian troops fired the first shots in Gakem, a South Eastern State settlement, now in Cross River State, that shares boundaries with Benue State. Biafra had to defend itself. Gakem was in Biafra.
The war that was to cost millions of lives had begun.
On 15 January 1970, at Dodan Barracks in Lagos, with General Gowon present, Phillip Effiong, acting Head of State of Biafra announced the end of the conflict thus, “I, Major-General Phillip Efiong, Officer Administering the Government of the Republic of Biafra, now wish to make the following declaration: That we affirm that we are loyal Nigerian citizens and accept the authority of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. That we accept the existing administrative and political structure of the Federation of Nigeria. That any future constitutional arrangement will be worked out by representatives of the people of Nigeria. That the Republic of Biafra hereby ceases to exist.”
Effiong died weeks to his 78th birth in 2003. He explained his position in a 1996 interview. “I have no regrets whatsoever of my involvement in Biafra or the role I played. The war deprived me of my property, dignity, my name. Yet, I saved so many souls on both sides and by this, I mean Biafra and Nigeria. I felt that I played a role which has kept this country united till today. At the end of it all when I saw they (Biafran soldiers) could no longer continue and Ojukwu had fled, I did what was ideal after wide consultation,” he said.
The civil war ended 50 year ago, but an uncivil war has raged since then, pitching Nigerians against Igbos and generating enough hatred that more Nigerians than Igbos are hurting. It is a worse and longer war than the civil war fought with guns.
Few are doing anything to stop the ignored war that started 50 years ago.