By Ike Abonyi
“The class of 1967 to 1970 [is] not the same as today. If war happens this time, nothing in Nigeria will escape the fury. If we [could] stand Nigeria even with [her] foreign helpers, think again.” – Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe
Yes, the Igbo president will remain a mirage until the generation that pulverized the Biafra rebellion passes away. This week’s piece will tell you why. Fifty-four years stand between 1967 and 2021, but some people think the gap is insignificant despite that Nigeria was just seven years old in 1967 and now 61 in 2021. Some people also think that because the Biafran state was not achieved in 1967, it is not ever realizable.
If one Nigeria at 61 cannot find healing for its fractured nationhood whose sore has festered since the age of seven, what do you expect? That’s the sorry state of Nigeria, unfortunately! Truth is that no Nigerian, Ndigbo inclusive, ordinarily desires a breakaway if all is well. But is everything normal? Over time, we have failed woefully to manage our diversity and would naturally reap the fruits of willful mismanagement.
Certainly, the administration of Muhammadu Buhari did not lay the foundation for this anomaly in our polity, but the regime has put more blocks on the anomaly than any of the 14 previous regimes from Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, whether civilian or military.
The 30-months Nigeria-Biafra war ended 51 years ago and the wounds it opened up are still overwhelming Nigeria as if it happened yesterday. Why is it so? Besides other reasons, this is mainly because we have allowed war leaders and combatants who helped to create our problem to linger for too long on the political scene.
If a 78-year-old president who fought a war in his 20s is ruling and threatening his grandchildren’s mates with genocide, reminding them how he killed their grandparents and may visit another carnage on them, then we know why Biafra lives on. After the war in 1970, the idea was to kill Biafra and put it in the scrap heap of history.
As a result, several policies were formulated to push through the unification spirit, including the 3 Rs (reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation). This laudable policy announcement was not implemented due to the same reasons the matter still lingers 51 years on.
After the war, the political leadership was put in the hands of the war leaders and they didn’t see the reason to accommodate a “vanquished” people so quickly into the mainstream. When civilians took over in 1979 under Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President and accommodated Dr Alex Ekwueme as Vice President, it probably annoyed the khaki boys while they retreated to the barracks and had to return four years later in 1983 to truncate the democratic journey that was heading towards installing an Igbo successor to Shagari.
For the avoidance of doubt, Shagari’s body language showed his willingness to hand over to Ekwueme. The closest the nation came to accommodating Ndigbo again was in another civilian presidency of the Goodluck Jonathan era when he had the temerity to appoint an Igbo Army chief of staff. He also authorized a state burial for the Biafran war leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu.
These things did not go down well with the civil war gladiators and they grumbled and began the subversion to edge out Jonathan and return one of their own, Buhari. If you think Buhari is alone in his Igbo animosity, let these retired generals who led the war on the federal side, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Alani Akinrinade, and Ibrahim Gusau, among others, speak up to either decry Buhari’s body language or publicly endorse a President of Igbo origin for 2023. Some of them may have been saying on camera that it is the Igbo turn but go behind the scene to thwart it or remain indifferent to the present scheming against Ndigbo regarding the 2023 presidency.
Maybe when judgment day on Nigeria arrives before God, Buhari will have fewer questions to answer than some persons who stood by and watched when their direct voice could make a difference. Buhari knows the words he would hear and from whom before he realizes he is alone and should adjust, but is he really alone on Igbo persecution? The straight answer is no? What he is lacking is just the mannerism of conveying the consensus of his persecutors. It should perhaps surprise Nigerians that Buhari’s absence in governance ends whenever anything Igbo crops up. In 2016, when the nation was concerned about the long health holiday of the President in a UK hospital, only for him to rush home to make a one-issue broadcast proscribing the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra,IPOB.
He also declared it a terrorist group. He followed it up then as Commander-in-Chief to directing a special military operation called Python Dance in the South East. It was also for the Igbo that he violated his declaration made on his inauguration on May 29, 2015, that he ‘belonged to nobody’ as he told an international press conference a few months after about his 95/5 per cent rhetoric about political patronage that was directly targeted at Ndigbo. Today, six years on the presidential saddle when all areas of governance were appearing insolvent and government watchers declared the President absent on duty, his adrenaline went up last week as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, briefed him about insecurity in the SouthEast.
That was the same time about 200 school children were abducted in Niger State and killings were going on in Benue State and kidnapping in virtually all regions of the country. On hearing about the SouthEast, the President remembered the war and addressed the news as coming clearly from the enemy territory. For more impact, perhaps, they took the news to Twitter where it created a chain reaction that got Nigerians complaining about their president. Then the microblogging platform and the federal government sparred for a while.
If a security dog is so weak that the owner is afraid of its ability to guard the house, and throws a bone at it, you can guess the dog’s reaction if he tries to take back the bone. The Igbo matter has become what is needed to activate an inert president. If the genocide threat had come through a statement, my friend Garba Shehu would have been receiving the bashing as initiating and publicizing it, but in this case, we all saw the sleeping lion rise as SouthEast is brought to the table of discussion. Perhaps, it could be the President’s understanding of the patriotic defence of a loved nation that he fought for and dreams of its indissolubility by ensuring that the ‘enemy’ is kept permanently in check. But such a position contradicts a regime that doses off whenever Fulani herders, whether Nigerians or foreigners, wreak havoc across the nooks and crannies of the country, threatening its unity fundamentally.
But whether alone or not, Buhari and his anti-Igbo collaborators or the one-Nigeria zealots need to understand that there is a huge difference between 1967 and 2021, one is of the 19th century, and the other is of the 21st century. In 1967, Buhari was 25 years old, in 2021 he is to be 79 years in December, so the official records tell us.
A huge age difference and so we expect his discerning ability to mature. The Nigerian Army he worked for in 1967 is not and cannot be the same as the one he is commanding-in-chief now. Then there was only one radio and television station called Radio Nigeria and Nigerian Television Authority, with a few newspapers and journalists. Today, anybody including market women who can afford an android phone can broadcast news. It’s only the language that may differ.
The world has become shrunk in one huge globe by the internet though Buhari thinks he could curtail it by banning Twitter. Unknown to him, today, if he sneezed in Aso Rock, somebody in the US or China could catch a cold before his kinsmen in his home state of Katsina State. What the world watched between Israel and Hamas recently should teach everybody, including the so-called unknown gunmen killing innocent, uniformed operatives in the SouthEast one or two lessons about modern warfare. It is no longer about the number of troops you have, but about the hi-tech at your disposal.
Even the analogue war of 1967/1970, if repeated today, will not and cannot be the same. The Yoruba and middle belters who carried it out last time have not seen any reason to do it again this time for the others to enjoy the booty. In 1967, there were still anxieties for a big country called Nigeria fresh from Independence and rearing to make an impact as a giant of Africa. After six years, a united Nigeria is on life-support, guarded by armed troops to prevent the Nnamdi Kanus and Sunday Igbohos of today from pulling it off.
How long will the soldiers guard it, instead of seeking competent doctors that will prescribe the correct medication? Keeping the patient on oxygen does not give hope for its survival. Since these doctors can be found everywhere, picking them, competence, not their religion or tribe, should be the watchword. Let our past be everything we failed to be and our future everything we dream to be, and in so doing Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe’s advice in the opening of this conversation will be meaningful.
God, please, help us.