“For the avoidance of doubt, Biafran agitation is not different from the Scottish agitation for separation from the United Kingdom – an agitation which was settled last year via a referendum. The Biafran agitation is not different from the agitation of Catalonia in Spain for an independent state; neither is it different form the Eritrean agitation for independence from Ethiopia or South Sudan form Sudan. Self-determination is an entrenched principle of international law and this is a fact that must resonate in Buhari’s consciousness each time he boasts of “crushing” the Biafran agitation”.
Arthur Agwuncha Nwankwo
Back in July 1966, former Military Heads of State, Gen. Muritala Mohammed, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and other northern military officers pulled off a bloody counter coup that triggered a choreographed genocidal pogrom against Ndigbo especially in northern Nigeria. This pogrom was most intense between May 29-June 2 1966, July 29-August 2 1966 and Sept. 29-Oct 2 1966. Overwhelmed by the intensity of hate and venom against them, Ndigbo trooped back to their Igbo homeland from all parts of Nigeria with dismembered limps. Tens of thousands of them had been butchered to death in many parts of northern Nigeria. The events of that period convinced our people that we were no longer needed in Nigeria.
Buoyed by the desire to assert their right to existence, the determination to survive in the face of annihilation by forces of darkness, Ndigbo on that occasion took their destiny in their own hands and consequently declared the state of Biafra. The declaration of the state of Biafra by our people demonstrated a new commitment by a persecuted people to do the hard work to live and exist in the midst of infamy and treachery. Several efforts were made to broker peace at that time, the most prominent and significant being the Aburi Accord which took place on the 4th-5th Jan 1967.
Many Nigerians alive today are witnesses to the events of that period. Even as our people hoped and prayed that the conditions set out in that Accord would be respected and implemented, the Biafran State continued to witness the tragic impact of genocide and destruction. The Nigerian military, which by now had become largely northernized, continued to unleash on the Igbo nation a tidal wave of massacre and destruction yet unrivalled in the annals of civil conflicts in Africa.
Our people bore their fate with stoic equanimity for 30 solid months. In the quest to implement the “Final Solution to the Igbo Problem in Nigeria”, the Nigerian government at that time introduced mass starvation as a weapon of warfare. Millions of our people died more as a result of starvation than bullet wounds.
The world watched as this bestiality and mediaeval demonstration of callous savagery unfolded in Igboland. Our people were stretched to the very limits of their elasticity. Within these 30 months of systematic and methodological carnage and human tragedy in Igbo land, our economy was also devastated. Ndigbo, after the war, were the vanquished; the defeated and the humiliated. The proclamation by the Gowon regime of: “No Victor! No Vanquished!!” was as hypocritical as it was deceitful.
After the war, the Nigerian government disbursed only twenty pounds to every Igbo depositor in the Nigerian banks irrespective of the amount of money such Igbo depositor had in the bank before the war. As if this was not enough, the Nigerian government quickly initiated and implemented the indigenization policy- a policy that afforded people from other parts of Nigeria to buy commanding shares in multi-national corporations at a point Ndigbo were incapacitated to participate in such process. The timing and intention of that policy was deliberate and envisioned to finally strangle Igbo economic resurgence and shut them out from the commanding heights of the Nigerian Economy.
The eventual seizure of the Nigerian patrimony by the northern-dominated Nigerian Army orchestrated a period of mindless looting of the treasury by northern military dictators in a relay-like manner. Bereft of any foresight or vision to use the military apparatus to establish the foundation of a modern Nigerian economy, as was the case in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Thailand, Indonesia etc. these military dictators regaled in reprehensible primitive accumulation and aborted the opportunity for a new beginning.
Lacking in any depth of intellectual inquiry into the foundational causes of the Biafran agitation, these northern military dictators saw in the creation of states and local governments a solution to the country’s structural problems. In all this, Muhammadu Buhari was a key player-both in the genocidal pogrom against Ndigbo and running a state of siege in Nigeria.
As a young military officer during the war, Buhari was among the Nigeria soldiers of Fulani extraction who led military campaigns into Igbo hinterland. Muhammadu Buhari’s hatred for Ndigbo has never been in doubt. This hatred is the kind of hubris that triggered the anti-Semitic sentiments against the Jews under the Nazis. But I know that history is generous with the fact that such ingrained hatred for a group of people is usually hugely consequential and catastrophic.
I am persuaded to state that Ndigbo have borne the brunt of the Nigerian conundrum for no other reason than their resolve to take their destiny in their own hands. This proclivity by the Igbos to weather the storm and make a success of a seemingly impossible situation has excited the jealousy and hatred of less-endowed groups in Nigeria. For nearly half a century, the core parts of northern Nigerian have not hidden their fiery hatred of Ndigbo; and on the slightest excuse; have physically demonstrated their intention to wipe out the Igbo race.
That Muhammadu Buhari, as a young military officer in the Nigerian Military, internalized this anti-Igbo sentiment in the north is not in doubt. That Buhari was part of this plot to exterminate the Igbo race during the civil war is stating the obvious. That his hatred for Ndigbo is still ingrained in him even till date is glaring; his being current president of Nigeria does not diminish this fact. The leopard never changes it colour no matter the weather.
If, therefore, the Igbo view Buhari with suspicion and disdain, it is because they are aware that he played an active part in the genocidal pogrom committed against them during the war. For instance, it is on record that Buhari was the person who led the federal military onslaughts against Ndigbo in Nsukka, Abagana and Nkpor sectors during the war. Under his instructions, Nigerian soldiers under his command massacred our people and torched all the villages around, which were occupied by harmless, starved and starving Igbo children, men and women as well as the sickly. At the end of the massacre, the Nigerian soldiers began to chant, “Nnewi is next”.
Despite this multitude of evil against our people, Muhammadu Buhari is still breathing fire and brimstone against Ndigbo. Like his predecessors, he has refused to understand that the issues, which created Biafra has become more entrenched and hydra-headed today. In 1983, he usurped power in a military coup and sought by force of arm to address the Nigerian problem. He failed woefully and this time around, I have no reason to believe he will succeed.
What Buhari and his journeymen have failed to understand is that Biafra has become a recurring question mark on the sentences of our civilization; that Biafra has become a huge moral burden on Nigeria, Africa and the world; that Biafra as a cause, movement and belief has become entrenched, irresistible and inextinguishable. He has refused to appreciate the fact that Biafra is a clarion call for freedom; a rallying point for a people so hated by Nigeria but loved by God; that Biafra remains the symbol of Nigeria’s failure at an authentic state- building and therefore the only route for Nigerian’s safety.
Therefore, Buhari’s constant threats and vilifications against the agitation for Biafra indicate a man at crossroads with the realities of history. His vaunting and bogus assumptions that he will “crush Biafran agitation” confirm a crass understanding by him of the global principle and convention of self-determination.
For the avoidance of doubt, Biafran agitation is not different from the Scottish agitation for separation from the United Kingdom – an agitation which was settled last year via a referendum. The Biafran agitation is not different from the agitation of Catalonia in Spain for an independent state; neither is it different form the Eritrean agitation for independence from Ethiopia or South Sudan form Sudan. Self-determination is an entrenched principle of international law and this is a fact that must resonate in Buhari’s consciousness each time he boasts of “crushing” the Biafran agitation.
The truth is that the irrepressible spirit of the Biafran agitation cannot be crushed. Rather it presents an opportunity for the renegotiation of Nigeria. I am convinced that a thorough-going and properly renegotiated Nigeria would assuage the yearnings of the people and douse the rising ethnic nationalism in Nigeria. If anybody thinks the only way to “crush” the Biafran agitation is to unleash terror, or organize Fulani Jihadists in the mould of herdsmen to slaughter Igbo people in their homelands, that person must have a rethink. We cannot continue in this absurdity. Enough is enough!!!