Biafra ; a case of collective memory
There was a country written by Chinua Achebe on the Nigerian-Biafra war – a civil war fought from 1967 – 1970 in Nigeria. It’s on record over a million people from the East of the country were killed. While I didn’t witness the war but I’ve relatives who did and I have read some books too. In the personal memoir written by Raph Uwechue who served as Biafra’s envoy to Paris until 1968 (Uwechue, 2004) as quoted by Achebe in his book wrote
In Biafra two wars were fought simultaneously. The first was for the survival of the Ibos as a race. The second was for the survival of Ojukwu’s leadership. Ojukwu’s error, which proved fatal for millions of Ibos was that he put the latter first.
At the time of this writing tens of thousands of youths in the South East of Nigeria are protesting for the release of Nnamdi Kanu – who before his arrest by the Nigerian government was clamouring for the nation of Biafra. I’m currently enrolled for a course on Religion and Conflict. It’s been an amazing five weeks of lectures filled with loads and loads of information. We are currently on the role of religion in peace building process. Bosnia is a case study for this week and we are looking at collective memory – Bosnia was under former Yugoslavia before the war that caused the break up.
I think it’s time for the Ibos to go down memory lane; are they about to tow the same path the former leader of Biafra took? Is one man’s error (Nnamdi Kanu) going to cause the lives of millions again or is he the messiah the Ibos have been expecting to take them to the Promised Land. For those agitating and chanting ‘No Biafra, No Peace’ do you really understand what you are saying? War has never really been the answer besides, the absence of war isn’t necessarily the presence of positive peace. Some might succeed at fighting a war like in the case of Biafra, probably become a nation and still experience structural violence – policies and structures established that causes unequal advantage creating a class divide, group privileges over other.
The Ibos have the right to self-determination, but the question remains are they prepared to govern themselves. The aim of the protest is to embark on a million march and from what I’m observing they are gradually achieving it. I’m not sure they have ever succeeded at such unity in the past elections for key positions like the Presidency. This goes to show some underlying truth – they do believe in the project Biafra. The scars of the war are still there, most of them protesting may never have witnessed it but the stories have been passed on by their forebears.
This brings up an important area for the new administration. There’s a need to foster unity among the already severed tribes in the nation. This is not the time to favour a particular set of people on the basis of loyalty. Nigeria has gone through many violent conflicts and many people had prophesied the Balkanisation of Nigeria. Somehow she finds a way of bouncing back on her feet even if she has to be supported to walk.
The issue of Biafra shouldn’t be swept under the carpet; the Nigerian government shouldn’t rest if it is successful at quelling the ongoing protest. It will only be temporary if meaningful dialogues are not held. At the same time the Ibos should look inwards and ask themselves if they’ve made good use of the opportunities handed to them in the past. It’s written if you are not faithful in little, who will give you something bigger. Posterity will judge us all for the various parts we play.
Uwechue, R., 2004, Reflections on the Nigerian civil war: Facing the future, Trafford on Demand Pub.