By Osita Ebiem
At this stage in their collective history it will be very naïve of any Igbo politician of repute, business investor or elite of any shade not to have thought seriously about the anticipated and inevitable breakup of the Nigerian union. The mark of the good politician or leader in any field is being foresighted. The Igbo leader is not only the one that thinks and acts in the interest of the collective, they are able to predict future events and believe in their predictions enough by making concrete efforts to prepare and position themselves, the institution and people they represent to benefit or at the least, not lose as much as they would have when the event eventually occurs. It is always better to be prepared and the event never happens than to be caught unprepared or even under-prepared. The Igbo leader is the one who is able to think of those things that may never happen like they would. Every Igbo leader or any Igbo at all alive today is supposed to have simulated every aspect of what will happen to them and their people after the disintegration of Nigeria. True Igbo leadership is all about responsibility to the people you lead; thinking and planning ahead for them and actually conducting your activities like you mean what you say or think.
Let’s look at the above position in the light of the Biafra War. In the history books and the accounts of witnesses it is well known that the Nigerian state was the aggressor in the war. Nigeria with the help of Great Britain, USSR and the Arab nations combined forces and fought dirty to defeat Biafra in 1970. With that said it is true that Biafra lost the War because of the formidable forces that allied themselves against the new nation. Yet, as it is with other complex things in life, if we looked close enough we will see other reasons why Biafrans failed in their justified first attempt at Self Determination and independence. As we go on we will find an uncomfortable lapse on the side of Igbo leaders. We will see that the War was lost not as a result of lack of courage or necessarily because of the seemingly insurmountable odds against Biafra. Biafrans had all the courage they needed because someone said that Biafrans did not just fight hard and well as heroes, he said that heroes fight like Biafrans. Biafrans so demonstrated courage and bravery against odds that today people equate Biafra with, apart from Freedom and Human Dignity; Heroism!
Photo Above: Map of Defunct Republic of Biafra
Over the years Biafra has become synonymous with those who do heroic things. Today it is believed that whoever that is a Biafran is a hero and does things that befit heroes. But fighting and defending oneself and others as heroes do might sound impressive to some, especially when a vulnerable people come under the threat of total extermination. But when we consider it by a different standard we may be surprised to see that there may not be much in it to be proud of after all. Life force is among the most powerful forces in existence. In summer time, I have seen green grasses grow almost lush in cracks in the middle of busy roads where ten thousand vehicles run on every day. That is an excellent example of the power of the will to survive that is inherent in living things. For grass existence, to endure such harsh and impossible conditions and still survive and maybe thrive is commendable. But here we are talking about human beings with higher intellects than mere grasses. Nature endowed humans with the power of the intellect that enables them to not just exist but determine their existence. Humans have the capacity to, through the power of their mind, determine the quality of their existence here on Earth. This explains the saying; to whom much is given, much is expected.
For Igbo/Biafrans, it is not enough to fight and defend their right to life; they are expected to do more than that. When in the 1980s Nigerian Muslims recommenced the Islamic jihad on the Igbo in Kano and other cities in the North of Nigeria under the name Maitatsine; a variant of today’s Boko Haram, the Igbo after overcoming the initial shock of surprise attack, rose up and defended themselves. The Nigerian government just like today could not defend them. There were Igbo businessmen that had shops in the city that sold guns. They took a quick decision and emptied their stores by distributing the guns to fellow Igbo in Sabon Gari, Kano. Their attackers backed down when their Islamic beheading knives and daggers were matched with Igbo guns and ammunition. We can go on and list other such heroic moments when the Igbo came together and fought as one against a common enemy. Yet, as commendable as the action of self-defense is, for the Igbo to not just survive but become secure and prosperous, they must take it a step further from that basic level. They must shift their attention from fighting survival battles, and learn to come together and fight future battles before they begin.
All progressive societies around the world at one point in their history confronted this truth and recognized its significance to their success. There is no nation or a group of people that has made any significant progress by remaining at the level of the reactionary. The Igbo nation of today must come to the realization that if she must live successfully in this world, then she must learn to take the initiative in all areas of human endeavors. Igbo people must become offensive and take the fight to the enemy territory rather than lead a carefree existence and only fight back when attacked. The Igbo of this generation must position their nation to begin to take advantage of the works of past generations. Again that is the hallmark of all progressive societies; the ability to stand on the shoulders of past generations rather than let each new generation start from the scratch. It is only lower animals and plants that start afresh at every new season. Even then they have the advantage of their natural instinct and self-adjusting genetic coding capability to compensate for what they lost in their lack of the ability to process complex information and stimuli and make adjustments ahead of events.
Photo Above: Ojukwu, Ex-Biafran Leader Inspecting Guard of Honour
From available evidences Igbo leaders, politicians and intellectuals failed to fight the Biafra War ten, twenty years before it began. Such lapses on the side of the people in responsible positions in Igbo/Biafra Land are unacceptable and must never happen again. Contrary to Igbo people’s attitude about the country, the others in Nigeria never hid their negative feelings and intentions against the Igbo long before the 1966 Igbo pogrom/genocide that led up to the 1967 to 1970 war. For any careful observer it was not difficult to see how the Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and others fought their own side of the war long before it began. They won the War not necessarily because of the combined forces of Britain, Soviet Union, Egypt and the Arab League of Nations. (Readers who care to pursue this point further are encouraged to listen to and read what the Ahmadu Bellos and others of Nigeria had to say about Igbo people ten, twenty years before the War). The present generation of Igbo people cannot afford to allow the repeat of that pre-War mistake. The leaders must learn to think and plan ahead while calling the bluff of the frowning faces of demagogues who flaunt before them the catch phrases; “you want to break up the country,” “you want to be rebels”. Igbo leaders, politicians and intellectuals must stop falling victims of the trap of wanting to please these Nigerian browbeaters by recoiling and apologizing for their very existence. They must stop being content with just living for the moment and “safe” so that no one accuses them of “trying to break up the country”. Nigeria should have broken up long before now, anyway. The union should never have been in the first place.
Anyone for that matter, but especially Igbo leaders in any capacity should be concerned about what verdict the next generation would pass on what they did or failed to do. If the present Igbo political leadership and intellectuals failed to see ten, twenty years before now the eventual breakup of Nigeria and emergence of an independent and sovereign Igbo or Biafra nation then something is wrong. By today they ought to have completed all preparations needed to run a successful Igbo/Biafra nation state, separate from Nigeria.
It is gross negligence and irresponsibility on the side of Igbo political, business and intellectual leaders of today to be so concerned about what their neighbors, “the frowning demagogues” will say or just being “conscious” of the feelings of the others who are working only for their own people’s benefits, and fail to work for the improvement of the fortunes of the present and future of Igbo people. We are not stretching the truth when we say that the current Islamic Boko Haram scourge against Igbo/Biafrans would never have happened if Igbo intellectuals and leaders had prepared for it ten to twenty years before it began. If this tide of death and destruction that is continuously unleashed on the Igbo in Nigeria must be turned away then Igbo leaders and intellectuals must resolve to reverse this collective suicidal trend of only reacting after the heads of their people have been Islamic-ally cut off.
At this point there may still be those who are yet to be convinced and are still bent on finding “solutions” by finding ways through which Igbo people will continue to coexist with the rest of Nigerians in the same country; that is not a problem. It is the duty of the collective Igbo/Biafran leaders and thinkers to patiently work harder still to persuade such persons. No single Igbo or Biafran will be left behind. Igbo opinion leaders, politicians, intellectuals and business people must find a way to patiently educate and persuade every Igbo/Biafra skeptic on why their only option is living independently away from Nigeria. Let them show the people why one-Nigeria is not and can never be an option for Igbo people. Igbo leaders and intellectuals must find the way to convince the residual doubters that the fault or impossibility of a one-Nigerian state is too fundamental and practically irreconcilable. The fault line lies at the center of the unbridgeable differences in the way of life of the various peoples that make up one-Nigeria. The cultural/religious diversities existing amongst the various ethnic peoples that comprise the Nigerian union are irreconcilable. It is the duty of Igbo leaders to convince the unbelievers among their people that culture and a people’s way of doing things is the very essence of the people’s being and cannot be compromised. Let them know that it is the reason why people everywhere fight to death to preserve the way they do things as distinct from those of others. It is the duty of Igbo leaders to convince their people on the fact that no matter the rhetoric on the contrary, no one will win the war for one-Nigeria. It is an ideological warfare, a cultural/religious browbeating. And to win is to begin by positioning the Igbo nation and showing the people how to fight the next Biafra and all other Igbo/Biafra wars before they begin.