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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Biafran ghost

 By: Sam Omatseye
The Biafran ghost
•President Buhari
Like Banquo’s ghost, the past haunts us today, again. Forty nine years after the civil war, we are still fighting the war. Some think the war is over. They are wrong. The war is with us because we are a nation of self-deceit. We lie to and at ourselves. We say peace whereas tribulation lurks and detonates everywhere.
That is why Boko Haram harangues us in the North. It explains the resurgence of the IPOB and MASSOB and the rumblings of the Niger Delta Avengers and the barbarous entitlement of herdsmen. Even before the past few years, when bombs were literally quiet, tongues exploded between tribes. Rhetoric rattled rhetoric. Tribes and tongues differed by saying tribes and tongues differed. The June 12 excitement was a rebirth of the divisions of the 1960’s.
We did not solve the problem when it confronted us. When Gowon exploited his name as an acronym of unity, GO ON WITH ONE NIGERIA turned out to be an empty epithet, a feel-good delusion from a victor. Nothing concrete was resolved other than fell the enemy in battle.
Did we resolve the issue of abandoned properties? Leading up to the war, pogrom lit up the North in incandescent murders. Not only Igbo were killed as many tendentious literature say. Even Adichie’s Half Of The Yellow Sun, for all its strengths, portrayed the single story that the author has campaigned against. The slaughter up North targeted anyone who was not Yoruba, and that included the sweep of minorities in the today’s Niger Delta. Urhobo, Itsekiri, Edo, Efik, Ogoni, etc were mincemeat in the cauldron of death.
Now, did we have any enquiries into that sanguinary chapter? The northern elite, including political, feudal and military leaders, reportedly encouraged the barbarities. Has anyone been punished or even been officially reprimanded? We have not even officially investigated. We know too that Nzeogwu’s coup was seen as tendentious, and it inspired some Igbo to provoke northerners with their proprietary swagger, boasting that they had taken over the country. Have we looked at that, too? If the swagger was bad, the killings were never justified. But even at that, have we addressed them as a people? Ironsi enacted Decree 34, and some analysts said it was naïve because he did not intend to introduce a unitary system to impose Igbo hegemony. If that act was naïve, what of the second act? He did not want to try the coup plotters. That, according to critics, gave him away as an Igbo jingoist.
Have we revisited the Aburi meeting, and its aftermath, and how that confab either ossified or laid bare the fissures of our inter-ethnic relations? Were there blames? Where there acts of overreach on both sides? Was the war avoidable? Did the pogrom make war inevitable? How come a region that knew it was tactically and materially inferior to its opponent take the plunge into war?
So, we also had the war atrocities. We saw what Ojukwu’s army did in the Midwest when Biafra invaded, and the resentment overshadows conversation up till today. We know of the killings of the Igbo in Asaba and how Murtala’s Second Division teased out trusting locals to welcome them and killed them like animals. Gowon, who could not rein in his generals, only had an apology over 40 years after. The apology, however heartfelt, never brought closure.
So, when hostilities ended, Gowon declared that there was no victor and no vanquished. We know that was as vacuous as GOWON. We just wanted to move on, like a child who walks into a party from a bathroom without cleaning up. The smell and mess linger.
The ghost has followed us ever since. In education, over whether we should have catchment areas or not. In the Orkar coup. In Saro Wiwa’s murder. In the Matatsine imbroglio. In the meltdown of Fulani and indigenes relations in the plateau. In the June 12 logjam. In the choice of Jonathan as president. In the choice of Buhari as counter president. The list is endless.
So, when many, including the self-serving Atiku, called for restructuring, it was because the civil war and ghosts of the many dead are still with us, walking the Nigeria earth, apologies to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Developed nations understand the merits of closure. Last week, Britain unveiled the Chilcot report and picked to pieces all the facts of that ignoble chapter of the Iraq War. Tony Blair was exposed, as well as some of the intelligence community and the parliament. The nation looked itself in the mirror, and mea culpa replaced a sense of righteousness.
On the Iraq war, the New York Times issued a lengthy apology for allowing the emotion of the day sway its professional duties. Next time, both England and United States will think deeper before throwing innocents at the teeth of battle. The crisis of the Balkans is still lapping up its culprits today. Enquiries have dredged up the bad guys and they are subjected to the rule of law. The Hutus and Tutsis have also had theirs and those who inflamed the land to butchery have been exposed and punished. Apartheid in South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Second World War could not be concluded without a clear resolution through the Nuremberg trials. The First World War was concluded without such an enquiry. The victors simply punished Germany and isolated it. The result: a resurgent Germany with the Hitler of hate.
A people must always learn not to take its injustice for granted. During the Peloponnesian War, Athens fell because it merely slaughtered its best generals who did not pick up its dead at sea as was the custom. The parliament did not reason. The absence of its best brood of soldiers allowed Sparta to crush it.
So, when Buhari stands accused as nepotist and regionalist in his appointments, it is because he has not transcended the hubris of the civil war. He invokes GOWON but he denies it when his pen signs an appointment. When does a chief of staff to a president become a board member of Nigeria’s choicest corporation? How do we call a truce with the Avengers when the NNPC board is lopsided and has only one name from the oil producing areas?
The civil war haunts because the hostilities have never really ended. Unnerved on his throne, Macbeth could not exorcise Banquo’s ghost. He said, “Avaunt and quit my sight. Let the earth hide thee, thy bone is marrowless and thy blood is cold.”
The Biafran ghost still spills cold blood. We may deny it and say our nation is not negotiable, but the past keeps growling and badgering. The more we claim we are together, the more apart we get.

Re: The Biafran Ghost

SIR: As I read last week’s article with the above title by Sam Omatseye, my heart bled and my thoughts ran rings of frustration. The write-up was a grand and veritable riposte to a betrayed, raped and vilified country I call my own.  Like a novel I read years ago by Dorren Wayne with the apt title “Love Is A Well-raped Word”, Nigeria has been serially abused, tormented and brutalized since Independence by its elite – political, economic and military – sans boundaries.  Meaning that when it comes to exploiting and despoiling Nigeria, our elite have no qualms about religion or ethnic configuration; they gang up in unified subversion of our common good.  I submit that the average Nigerian had no problems with his Nupe, Urhobo, Fulani or Yoruba compatriots until the politicians (Khaki or Agbada) came along with their incendiary and combustible rhetoric of religion and ethnic jingoisms.
From the first military coup till date, our various rulers (no leaders, please) have perpetually played the ostrich game without shame or remorse. As he pointed out in that article, we, as a people have  imbibed a culture of lying through our problems while refusing to confront the usual demons that come with pragmatic nation-building. Beginning with the botched Nzeogwu coup to Aguiyi-Ironsi’s naïve alchemy in political engineering, culminating in his blunt refusal to try the January 1966 coup plotters, the beneficiaries of his policies saw nothing wrong with his agenda as it affected the sensibilities of other Nigerians.
This, however, does not justify the horrendous massacre of southerners in their hundreds in the northern part of the country, majority of who were Igbo between May and September 1966. In a cynical play of role reversal, the “Swagger of the Igbo” in early 1966 gave way to the “Triumphalism of the North” later that same year.  The elites on both sides winked and connived at these despicable acts that were to be the harbinger to the civil war from 1967 – 1970.
As a young man growing up in the then Eastern Region, I was a witness to the bloody orgy of mindless massacre and dehumanization of the Igbo. However, whether secession from Nigeria was the final solution remains debatable.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of the post-civil war was not effectively handled as Nigeria suffered a deficit of quality leadership in the ruling military and its subservient and colluding civilian wing. I suspect that till today we are still caught up in an infernal contradiction between the “Igbo Swagger” and the “Northern Triumphalism”. Throw in the mix a burgeoning restive Niger Delta with their avowed Sense of Entitlement, and you have Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s “Cauldron of the Witches”. And as Omatseye pointed out, we are still to live down the “Biafran Ghost”.
There is no doubt that a society, or nation makes no significant progress in the face of grave centripetal tendencies such as we have in ourpolity, no matter how well-meaning the intentions of its leadership. The time to sit back, reflect and chart a new course for our beloved nation is NOW.
For a start, we, leaders and followers, must hearken to the rebuke of former U.S. President Bill Clinton to immediately begin the process of building strong institutions and jettison the jaded and anachronistic culture of entrenching the “African Big Man”. Nations are founded on institutions and not primordial values of religion, ethnicism and cronyism.
  • Victor H. Ikikhueme,

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