Echoes of Nigerian Civil War

Last Monday, 6th July, marked the 54th anniversary of the start of the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War. On that day, in 1966, the first shots were exchanged between the then Nigerian troops and Biafran Forces in the Nsukka Sector. It would signal the beginning of the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War that claimed over a million lives in what remains the country’s darkest moment.

That war was precipitated by a number of factors which included the first and second military coups in January and July, 1966; the organized killing of Nigerians from the Eastern part (chiefly the Igbos); and finally the collapse of the Aburi Accord which represented the last chance to save Nigeria. Then followed the war that lasted for thirty long months.

The first coup led by five majors, including Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna, took place to check the widespread corruption in the system at the time. Unfortunately, it was termed an Igbo Coup because of the killing of then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello. Though Lt Col Arthur Unegbe, an Igbo military officer, was also killed, and despite the coup being carried out by many northern military officers that included former Military Administrator of East Central State, Col John Atom Kpera, the notion of its being an Igbo Coup stuck, leading to devastating consequences for the Igbos.

In that war, the odds were heavily tilted against the Biafrans who were very ill-equipped for war. On top of that, the Federal Government enjoyed the support of the country’s colonial masters, Britain; as well as Russia, which supplied them with arms and ammunition, as well as fighter jets.

Despite their huge disadvantage, the Biafrans held on – thanks to their ingenuity that led to the production of locally manufactured weapons like armoured tanks, bombs and rifles. They were also able to refine petroleum and build airstrips from where they took delivery of aids and ammunition from foreign bodies like Caritas and the Red Cross, as well as the few African countries that supported them.

At the end of the war, the then Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, announced that there was neither victor nor vanquished; something that ended up being a hollow pronouncement, given what transpired soon after, including the policy that barred Igbos from having any account in the bank beyond twenty Pounds.

Many years after that war, it has also become very clear that the Igbos are yet to be genuinely reintegrated into the scheme of things in Nigeria. In politics, there has been this obvious refusal to deny the Igbos from taking a shot at the presidency.

Ordinarily, one would expect that at the end of such a debilitating war, the people would learn from history. But in the Nigerian situation, no lessons have been learned. The very things that triggered the Civil War are back again and even worse. Rather than learn from history, Nigeria is killing history; doing everything to suppress it, including stopping History from being taught in schools. What is the country afraid of? 

Corruption, nepotism, and marginalization are very much in place, while the pogroms of 1966 are being seen today in the form of religious killings against the Igbos in parts of the north over the years. The killings by Fulani herdsmen are also something that Nigerians have come to live with. Thus, some would argue that the situation is worse today than before.

After many years of democratic experiment, the country is far from being a truly democratic nation. Elections are still being manipulated, even in more brazen manners, with the judiciary far from being the last hope of the common man. To tell the truth to power is to be hounded and jailed. Lives do not matter and daily people are being slaughtered like chicken without the government at the centre doing much, if anything at all.

Today we have a country where some people have arrogated power to themselves, taking almost everything and leaving the crumbs for others. It is a nation where the oppressed are crying out for justice; a nation where the labours of her founding fathers have been in vain; a country potentially great but held down by mediocrity occasioned by ethnicity and religion.

Today, Nigeria has become one big joke before the comity of nations and each passing year sees things progressively getting worse. Nothing in this country inspires anyone, being a country that kills talent.

As we remember the events of 54 years ago this week, we have sadly come to the conclusion that only God can save us.

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