Democracy Day… or Biafra Day?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


I know, I know… I am courting with ‘trouble’.

I, who have hitherto managed to successfully hop around tribal politics and the scars of war, while steering clear of the meat of controversial discourse. I now court with trouble in the open.

Right?

This is the sum-total of the reason we - the Nigerian people - have been unable to move past our untold ghosts: the skirting around our wounds, while never actually ever dealing with them, and moving on.

Thus, our national dance = One step forward, seventeen backwards.

And our national 'code' = Sssssssshhhhhh!

***

May 29: Our nationally acclaimed democracy day.

So christened from the hand-over from the Nigerian military government to civilian rule, on same date, in 1999.  This day has subsequently been observed as a national holiday, to commemorate the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria, and the uninterrupted rule of the people, by “the people”.

Irrespective of the prevalence of corruption, nepotism, terrorism, and other national demons we face, there is much to be thankful for.

If nothing else, for Freedom of Speech. Especially considering that in the military era, I would have been cooling my ‘smart’ behind in the walls of Kirikiri, for attempting to wade ‘forbidden’ territory.

(Halleluya)

There is the business advancement which uninterrupted democracy has heralded. Inarguably, technology and entrepreneurship have taken quantum leaps in our democratized Nigeria.

There is also hope for justice, in the face of breached rights. The judiciary boasts of independence, and provides some recourse to the common-man. Absent the dreaded days, where “the government is always right” was the (invisible) thread of judicial pronouncements.

Indeed, Democracy has visible dividends, which should be celebrated.

*

May 30: Nationally… nothing.

As in…. zilch. Zero. It does not exist.

Well… except in the Gregorian Calendar. Like any other (nationally) insignificant day.

Like August 12. Or November 21. Or April 10.

In the pages of our unacknowledged history however, May 30 will forever remain the day on which the Republic of Biafra was declared in 1967, heralding a thirty-month long war, in which hordes of lives were lost. The majority of them: children.

Yes; it is fifty years since that May 30. Yet, it is as though it was just yesterday.

Biafra is a like that tattered-looking uncle from the village, who stands in front of your polished gate in Banana Island, and has refused to go away.

The scars on ‘both sides’ appear fresh, even as the one ‘side’ insists May 29 be celebrated to the oblivion of what the next day stands for, and the other ‘side’ demands that May 30 be given due recognition, irrespective of alleged attempts to obfuscate its relevance by the preceding day’s celebrations.

Fifty years later, there are still ‘sides'; there is still an ongoing battle of Nigeria v. Biafra, with the difference being that this raging war is ‘cold’.

If you are for Nigeria, you cannot acknowledge the noun Biafra. If you are for Biafra, Nigeria is dead to you.

It is either you are for one or the other”. This is more or less the unspoken theme in this ongoing war, which has been badly ‘hidden’ for five decades.

(Sigh)

I have said this before (here) and I still advocate: until we heal the wounds of our past, we may never move forward as a people; whether in unity or fragmented.

You see, since birth, I have heard of Biafra in whispers. It is a topic forbidden to be spoken of in public. Yet, in every household, it graces the family dinner, as the dessert ‘gist’. Variations depend on the region from which the story is spewed: from the East, through the West, to the North, and even the (claimed) unwilling participants, of the Middle-Belt and the South-South.

The story of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War is probably the world’s worst-kept secret, as it appears there is some unspoken oath to not speak about it. Yet, mottled versions are bitterly handed over from generation to generation, thereby preventing impressionable youths from hearing other (or objective) versions, and further perpetuating the divisions among us as a people.

Like it or nay, the coup of January 1966 happened. The retaliatory coup of July 1966 also happened, leading to the tribal genocide, leading to the declaration of Biafra in 1967, leading to the Aburi talks (which broke down), leading to the thirty long months of fighting, marred with ugly pictures of Biafran children inflicted with kwashiorkor and hunger on one side, leading to the surrender of the Biafran side, and the declaration of “No Victor No Vanquished” by the erstwhile Nigerian President.

Like it or not, this was our reality. This is a part of our history, which we have never categorically dealt with, but have always swept under the carpet and covered with fleeting political alliances, whipped out conveniently as trump cards by power-seekers in their game of thrones, to their own individual and selfish ends.

But the truth is that until we sit together, and deal with the ghosts of Biafra decisively, it will continue to haunt our general existence, and be the bane of national progress.

Ours is not the first country to have a sordid past. Canada has had its history tinted with its treatment of its indigenous Aboriginal people. The United States have their past entrenched in the sweat and blood of black people across corn fields, even after their civil war. South Africa has been synonymous with apartheid, and was once upon a time a global pariah.

The difference between all these countries and ours is that while they have holistically acknowledged their distasteful past and have intentionally charted steps to unify their people (albeit not altogether successful), we have not as much as acknowledged this horrible history we have, and the blood of our brethren crying from the ground.

It does not matter “who struck first”. After all, to each side, their action WAS a ‘reaction’.

The Canadians may argue that their suppression of Aboriginal culture was as a result of the unfriendly resistance by the Aboriginal chiefs. The Americans may argue that the slaves were sold to them by their own brothers. The Hutus may argue that the Tutsis struck first in their guerrilla-style attacks on the government of the day.

It never matters who struck first. In fact, we may never agree on who struck first… until we AGREE on it. And even if we did, it does not matter.

It does not nothing to the sad fact that scores of lives were needlessly lost; ranging from 1,000,000 to 6,000,000 (as no report has been agreed on globally, regarding the exact figure). It does not erase that a large part of this unknown number were children, who had no choice but be helpless pawns in the selfish skirmishing of 'adults’.

What is fundamental is that there is a need to revisit the events of 1966 to 1970. There is a need for a national 'sit-down’ from all 'sides'. Not the surface-scratching conference of the erstwhile Oputa Panel, but an actual ‘family meeting’, where the war, and its still lingering effects are discussed. Perhaps, there may even be need to travel as far back as 1914, to the birth of the name ‘Nigeria’ by Lugard’s 'Belle' and the amalgamation of erstwhile abjectly different people, now unified by fate.

There is a need to agree on a national story, and infuse it into our history lessons to our children; to be taught at schools objectively, without the bitterness and angst of one-sided narratives, handed down from ancestors to descendants.

There is a need for national discourse on whether the claimed marginalization of the Igbos – such as the outright government disregard of the untapped potentials of the Aba industry - is indeed a fact (or merely a myth), alleged as an outcome of the war which must never be spoken about… or a whether it is a fruit of the systematic failure of government after government who have failed to take advantage of the wealth of resources at our finger-tips, irrespective of the tribal affiliation of the government of the day.

This is not a utopian call; this is a feat achievable in our lifetime, with the determination of a willful government.

Perhaps, if we are able to discuss in the open these hurts we have born individually and collectively for half of a century, we may successfully move on, and chart our future with oneness of purpose. And even if we decide to break our unity, at least, we cleared the air, and made a genuine effort.

Worst case scenario, we will be peaceful neighbours.

In the present however, we can collectively embrace our painful past, without denigrating from our desire for a continued united existence, by acknowledging these sad events which bind us, yet, threaten to disintegrate us. That we are Nigeria need not mean we are not also Biafra.

Because until we are able to face our hitherto ignored history, and genuinely settle our deeply ingrained grievances against one another, “No victor, No vanquished” may forever remain an illusion for the Nigerian people to aspire to.

Paz,

Meg.


Note: Comments on this post will be censored. It is not the desire of the writer to vilify any persons, or enable the promotion of hate in any form.

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10 comments

  1. Nice write up. And don't worry, it won't get u into trouble. Unlike Boko Haram that has no agenda, Biafra has one. So if the govt can talk about it and address these issues, then there would be no need to create another country. Just ignoring or forcing them to be quiet would only make it worse. Like u said, we need to talk about this and address these issues

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  2. Awesome piece. But I still insist that clamouring for the actualisation of the Biafran nation is not something we should be on about. The Igbos feel marginalised and its understandable where they are coming from. Lots of lives have been lost in the fight for this independency but we are still far from actualising it. Countries like Southern Sudan clamoured for this same thing and the world over knows how impoverished that state is. One thing is to get the Biafra state independent and another is to manage that independence. An average Igbo person is self-centered and greedy, who then is going to rule this country when it gets this independence.

    They should rather channel the energy they are using to clamour for independence to lure investments into the south east. Igbos can't survive without Nigeria, Nigeria also can't survive without the Igbos. It goes two - ways.

    Ekwu cha m.

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  3. Hmmmm,good piece I do not entirely agree with the writer, I think the declaration or otherwise of a Biafra day does not in any way address or in any way attempts to address the fundamental issues, the focus is for the Nation to pursue a pathway of forgiveness,equity,justice and National reconciliation!!! Not to pursue intangible things as regard the unity,peace and progress.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. However, the writer dors not in this post advocate for the declaration of Biafra. The writer advocates for national recognition and agreemebt by all sides on the events that happened, an actual reconciliation, and an official infusion of the Biafran story in our national history, taught objectively in schools.

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    2. Thank you for your comment. However, the writer does not in this post advocate for the declaration of Biafra. The writer advocates for national recognition and agreement by all sides on the events that happened, an actual reconciliation, and an official infusion of the Biafran story in our national history, taught objectively in schools.

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  4. This piece is awesomeness at its peak. You just hit the nail on the head Meg. I keep saying it, the Nigerian government and their hitherto 'classifying' of events leading up to the Nigerian/Biafran civil war and the war itself, is the ONLY reason why majority of the Igbos are still clamouring for an autonomous Biafran state. The Igbos have always felt marginalised since time immemorial and the Nigerian government is perceived generally by the Igbos as not doing anything about it and rightly so. I'm of the opinion that the government should have used the fallout of the war to fully integrate the Igbos into the Nigerian system so they won't feel marginalised. During the war, majority of the weapons and ammunitions used by Biafran soldiers were locally made, I repeat, LOCALLY MADE. And what did our government do about it after the war, NOTHING, allowing such ingenuity to go to waste all in a bid to 'bury' the past. You made mention of Aba, look at the talent and potential there going to waste, all because our government have till now failed to realize that there's more to Nigeria than just crude oil. All these salient issues and more are the reasons the Igbos are still asking for a Biafran state. Tackle them effectively and like you said, finally addressing the issues of the Civil war objectively as a country and we'll have a unified Nigerian state and secession will be a thing of the past. God bless Nigeria.

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  5. One step forward, seventeen backwards - this has been our predicament.

    Nice writeup as usual

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  6. very nice write up and thought provoking.....

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