Special & Exclusive to USAfrica The Newspaper www.usafricaonline.com
If I hear one more Igbo person ask for apology from the Yorubas for any aspect of the Nigerian civil war, I will throw up. Enough already. No apologies are needed from the Yorubas or anyone to the Igbos. The Igbos need leaders who negotiate the future while remembering the past, not leaders who show lack of ability to face the future because their potential allies do not understand the plight of the Igbos. It is not the duty of Yoruba leaders as Yoruba leaders to worry about the plight of the Igbos.
I have noticed with revulsion that lots of leaders and non-leaders of the Igbos nag the Yorubas with requests for an apology or a show of understanding of what the Igbos suffered during and after the 30-month Nigerian civil war.
The New World Dictionary of the American Language defines "apology" as "an acknowledgment of some fault, injury, insult, etc., with an expression of regret and a plea for pardon." By this definition, I see three elements to an apology, to wit: (1) acknowledgment of fault, (2) expression of regret and (3) a plea for pardon.
From listening to the people who ask for apology, I have concluded that they tend to see apology as simply an acknowledgment of fault. I, as an Igbo person, do not want an apology from anyone regarding the Nigerian-Biafra war. I believe that no apology is needed and none should be requested because the people who fought to keep Nigeria one still believe in the principle of keeping Nigeria as one indivisible entity. Should they apologize for fighting to keep the principle they believed and still believe in?
No Eastern Nigerian who believed in the East going its way, should apologize for that belief either. I think that their belief was rooted on solid grounds: if the people you are forming a nation with treat you in a manner that calls to question your continued existence and survival within that community, it makes sense for you to leave and join another community or form your own.
That principle was valid before the civil war and is still valid today. In the current Nigerian political environment, if the Ogonis or the Yorubas believe that their continued existence within the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not good for them, they should, by all reasonable means, form the Ogoni Republic or the Republic of Oduduwa, respectively. In the past few years, the above- named groups have each suffered humiliation at the hands of the federal authorities all because some members of their tribal groups exercised their basic human rights.
In 1966, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was the military governor of Eastern Nigeria. During that period, innocent people from the East were being massacred in some parts of Nigeria. After fruitless pleas from Ojukwu and others that the Easterners be protected, Ojukwu, with the urging of lots of people in the East, concluded that the Igbos were not wanted in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ojukwu and his fellow eastern leaders declared the Republic of Biafra. The Northerners, with the support of the Mid-West and the West, opposed the move. A war ensued. The Easterners, led by Ojukwu, lost.
It is important to note that the Nigerian civil war was fought out of necessity, not out of any burning desire by the Easterners to break away from Nigeria.
It is my sincere belief that any apologies from the Yorubas will be insulting to the Igbos. I do not know of any war where innocent people did not suffer and die. People who prosecute wars use whatever is within their means to win. Military people are trained to destroy things and kill people. The Biafran side invented "ogbunigwe" (meaning "mass killer") to fight the Nigerian side. The Nigerian side used naval blockade, which caused food shortages and starvation in an attempt to demoralize the Biafran citizens so that they would rally against their leaders. It did not happen because the Easterners honestly felt very unsafe within the Nigerian political system that would not protect them.
Igbo leaders used everything within their means to win the war and so did the other side. I do not know of a Yoruba person who believes that they were responsible for causing the civil war. [Of course, there was a political crisis in the West that caused the military takeover by coup, which resulted in the killing of the civilian leaders of the First Republic except those from the East, who escaped. Because the leader of the coup plotters was an Igbo from the Mid- West, the Northerners retaliated against Igbos by killing them.] Therefore, there is no need for the Yorubas to regret fighting for a united Nigeria they believed and still believe in.
It is a general consensus within the Igbo community that the Yorubas cannot be trusted because they did not break away from Nigeria when the Igbos did, even though their leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had said that the Yorubas would break away if the Igbos did. It is my contention that the memories of the two million souls from the East who died as a result of the war, and the "kwashiokor" babies who were sent for safety to the Republic of Gabon and other countries, are being denigrated if we imply that the principle of preserving the life and safety of Easterners was only worth it if the Yorubas, who were neither persecuted nor massacred, broke away from Nigeria and formed their own country.
I have regards for Chief Ojukwu and might have done what he did if I was placed in the same position that he found himself. However, I will lose any element of respect I have for him if he states that he took the East to war at such enormous cost of life and property against Nigeria because Awolowo told him that he was going to lead the West out of Nigeria after the East was gone. If the alleged promised secession by the West was a material motivating factor in the Eastern leadership taking the East to war and lost millions of lives, then all Eastern Nigerians should punish those leaders for the disaster they caused.
Until such a time that Nigeria is no longer one entity, we have to work together. As in all political entities, alliances change from time to time depending on the issue at hand. Some Igbo leaders should stop being naive about a universal accord with the Yoruba leadership before they agree to work together. If some Igbo leaders believe that they cannot take seriously the commitment of Yoruba leaders, I recommend the following course of action: deal with the Yoruba leadership on an issue-by-issue basis.
On a particular issue of mutual interest, negotiate terms that are favorable to the Igbos. Make specific demands that will assure you that the Yoruba leaders will keep their promises. If you are not satisfied, don't reach an accord on that issue. Go it alone or form other alliances.
Most of the Yoruba and Igbo leaders in the USA discussing the East-West Nigeria situation were not in decision making positions during the 1960s and are mainly repeating what they were told by those who have a vested interest in projecting facts that suit their views. Although history is very important in human life, some people tend to over-learn history to their detriment. For Igbos to achieve their proper leadership position in Nigeria of the 21st century, Igbo leaders must stop whining and nagging others and come up with original ideas on how to make Nigeria a place where every citizen has the same rights and opportunities regardless of his or her tribal affiliation or political belief. Continually asking the Yorubas to understand what the Igbos went through during the civil war is tantamount to elevating the Yorubas into demi- gods for the Igbos similar to White-Black relationship in the USA where Blacks complain so much about Whites that almost all White people feel superior to all Blacks.
It is never good, no matter how sound the logic, to place the fate of a whole group in the hands of people who do not and should not be concerned with your best interest. Some Igbos are acting as though the all- mighty and all-powerful Yorubas are holding down the lowly and powerless Igbos by not understanding the plight of the Igbos. In their mind, if the Yorubas will just love and listen to the Igbos and appreciate that bombs were thrown at their churches and homes and businesses during the civil war, everything will be okay. If they will understand that Igbos went hungry and homeless during the civil war, everything will be fine. Then they can repair their "marriage" and move to the future and happy-ever-after.
This is absolutely crazy. This makes some Yorubas make condescending remarks such as: I love Igbos; I have many Igbo friends; I hang out with Igbo people and most of them are good except some of their incompetent leaders who should be replaced.
The Yorubas will not apologize because it is not necesary. If they do, it will not be worth anything. Has anything changed in the Nigerian power structure or in the life of the ordinary Igbo person since Gowon apologized to the Igbos for the civil war? I doubt it. And nothing will change if the Yoruba leaders apologized to Igbos.
Ojay Grace, a Houston-based attorney, is a contributing editor ofUSAfricaonline.com. His next article exclusive essay for USAfrica The Newspaper and USAfricaonline.com explores a provocative the issue "If I were a Northern Nigerian..."
Why we demand apology for killing of Biafrans
by Michael Okwukogu Orji
Special & Exclusive to USAfrica Media Networks
History is usually written as documentation of objective fact to enable those uninvolved to learn the outcome of events. Most times the principal actors are not the ones that document these facts. But when one is fortunate enough both toparticipate and be alive to read, analyze and discuss the true facts of that history, undoubtedly one is in a much better position to give fair judgement.
This was indeed the position that the former Head of State of Nigeria General Yakubu Gowon was in in Abakiliki when he apologized to the Igbos for wrongly waging the civil war against them and other Nigerians of the Eastern region. What I found discomforting was the lateness and lack of effective overtures from General Gowon.
It is rather disturbing to hear Mr. Ojay Grace excuse Gowon for waging war against the Igbos and to accept his lukewarm apology, and turn around and criticize the Igbo people for standing up and straight for their rights. I am most concerned with Mr. Grace for his lack of sensitivity to the plight of the Igbos during and after the civil war, 1967-1970.
For fact, the Igbos lost over one million people, and I want to remind him again that I lost three family members including my own father.
I bear the physical and emotional scars of the Nigerian civil war, and it's very painful. I do not know Mr. Grace’s but I know that Yorubas have experienced nothing in modern Nigerian history to be compared to the suffering of the Igbos, Ibiobios, Annangs and other Easterners.
I find Mr. Grace’s argument appalling. He does not seem to get the fact behind the Biafra war or understand the bond between the Igboman and his 'Land of the Rising sun.' He failed to reckon that defending Igboland was a choice that many men of fighting age made. They counted it a privilege; they were prepared to pay whatever price, and without fear, even if the price was death.
Igbo men of honor are no cowards. They kiss up to nobody nor do they take shams for reality. They fight for their cause and human right. And many have continued the fight, even in this country.
The emphasis on obtaining an apology is not to bring back one million Igbos that lost their lives or to wipe away the lingering pain and suffering of hard working Igbos who are still victims of the war.
The real reason is neither to solicit pity nor seek redirection from others, especially the Yorubas who have recently experienced in Nigeria what the Igbos have been going through for the past 32 years.
Nothing more than recognition of fact and reconciliation of known differences could be achieved by a genuine apology.
Apology is the showing of remorse for a misdeed. The real effect may not be quantified; but an apology is a potent symbol: it can quell a raging bull, or calm a turbulent sea. That's what Ojay does not comprehend in his diatribe. Apologies can serve good purposes of atonement for forgiveness especially when the culprits have publicly admitted their wrongs. A wrong that cost a people one million lives is in every measure worthy to be decried and condemned.
Apology to a people wronged can offer consolation and make amends in differing degrees, as it has done for the Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Today, there are still some countries and institutions offering apologies and restitution to the Jews for their wrongs during World War II.
What is so wrong for the Igbos to hold those that caused them pain responsible for their action? Ojay should know.
Orji is Special Projects Manager for USAfrica Media Networks.
Copyright, September 10, 1998
Apology is vital but trust is the issue
by Ken Okorie
Special & Exclusive to USAfrica The Newspaper USAfricaonline.com
Ojay Grace usually engages in good intellectual reasoning. However, in this case, he is totally off the mark and the argument he makes on the issue is flawed fraught with internal inconsistencies. I recall that my high school teacher always reminded us that the best essay receives zero points so long as it is off point.
In this issue, therefore, Mr. Grace misreads the concern of his fellow Igbos and is certainly off point. Here is why. The Igbo man's fundamental concern toward his Yoruba brother is the issue of trust, not apology. In focusing on who apologizes for what and when as the core issue, attorney Grace misses the core issue.
This mistrust derives not primarily from Yoruba conduct in the Nigeria-Biafra war, but from a pattern of conduct whose genesis predate independence and is generally deemed outright deceitful and misleading.
Although psychologically tempting, I must agree that an apology is neither imperative nor even necessary, on many of these issues. Apology, no matter by whom or how, does not of itself establish trust, nor will it necessarily repair the damage Igbos have suffered. Notwithstanding, one should never be so arrogant as to not recognize one's wrong and be accordingly contrite.
No one doubts that Yoruba and others who fought on the Nigerian side in the Biafran war believed in their cause. But that does not mean they were right. Recall that Germany's Adolf Hitler believed strongly in his cause, but he was wrong. The architects of apartheid in South Africa believed in the supremacy of whites, but they too were wrong. Both sides in the Nigeria-Biafra conflict could not be right, and serious wrong was done, a fact since acknowledged by no other than then Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces (at the time, and for 8 years Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
Asking for contrition on the part of the Yoruba or their understanding of the senseless carnage committed against the Easterners in the war does not elevate their standing or power over Ndi-Igbo. Far from it.
If anything, Ndi-Igbo have demonstrated an unquestionable capacity to stand their ground if pushed you cannot say as much for the Yoruba who have tended to be opportunistic and sometimes outright cowardly in their approach. The bundle and number of insults and deprivations they have suffered since the June 12, 1993 (especially in the hands of the late Gen. Sani Abacha) validate my point.
Biafra did not lose the war because Nigerian forces fought better, but because we fought a combined Anglo-Soviet equipped, Egyptian-assisted force, and a near universal acquiescence to the starvation of our people. Therefore, anyone ascribing Biafra's collapse to some untold gallantry (personal or collective) by Yoruba colonels, hausa or Fulani soldiers either fought a different war or wallow in a delusion of serious kind.
Today, a war crimes tribunal sits over Bosnian commanders although the same did not on the crimes against the Biafrans. The reason is the unusual backing Nigeria received in that exercise from Britain and Russia whose advisors might have been directly implicated in the cold-war setting. That unholy alliance has never been replicated anywhere.
The conjecture that Ojukwu might have taken the East to war on the hope or belief that the Yoruba too would secede, is a fallacy directly contradicted by Mr. Grace's own acknowledgment that the war was fought out of necessity for survival of the Easterners. Biafrans did not initiate the war, but merely defended themselves after the #1 Area Command of the Nigerian Army attacked Obollo-Eke near Nsukka, Obudu and Ogoja on July 6, 1967 in what Gowon described as a "police action.” This all-frontal attack was preceded by the massacre of innocent Igbo men and women and children, Ibibios, Efiks and other Easterners as Grace also accurately recognized.
The Igbo-Yoruba relationship needs accommodation in its totality, not piecemeal or issue by issue as Ojay suggests. A relationship concerned with such important or close human problems cannot be meaningful on issue by issue approach. One does not want a friend or spouse she can only trust on some issues but not others. Nor can one negotiate, deal, demand or work meaningfully on any issue in the absence of trust. Trust is the durable foundation on which any meaningful relationship is grounded. I contend that one cannot negotiate the future until one first believes that he can trust his counterpart on the other side of the bargaining table.
Regarding Mr. Grace's suggestion for achieving proper Igbo leadership position in Nigeria of the 21st century, I will simply suggest that the real challenge is for the rest of Nigerians to follow the Igbo example on how to be Nigerians in the true sense. From Nnamdi Azikiwe to Mokwugo Okoye and many more, famed Igbo leaders have often operated on the principle that what is good for Nigeria is good for Ndi-Igbo.
To the contrary, both the Awolowo-led Yoruba and Sarduana-led Hausa-Fulani have operated on the notion that what is good for their ethnic group is good for Nigeria. Besides, I doubt there is a kindred in Yorubaland or Hausa-Fulaniland where Ndi-Igbo have not independently settled with an inclusive and enterprising mind as Nigerians. To the contrary, it is a rarity to find a Yoruba man visiting a local government area in Igboland, moreso being a resident. These are indicators of peoples’ mindset and its relative consistency with the national ideals of uniformity of existence and equality of citizenship devoid of parochial tendencies and inclination.
I am most surprised at Mr. Grace's stance on history, even after acknowledging its importance in human life. The most important thing about history is that it be kept pure and undistorted. One reason is to ensure that Nigerians, including those he identifies as current Igbo leaders in the US who were not decision makers at the critical points in time (1966-?), are not left vulnerable, misinformed or misled. Steven Spielberg may not have been present when Jews were massacred in Hitler's death camps, but relied on credible historical facts to propagate the story.
By the same token, the answer to the continuing humiliation of Igbos is not to play dead or sweep history under the rug or, worse still, distort it. A major step to eliminating for everyone humiliation is by enabling everyone realize how they have wronged or been wrong by the other. That is how we learn. Without the lessons of past, we can't comprehend the realities of the present, and will not be prepared for the challenges of the future.
The bottom line is that the Igbo and Yoruba must find accommodation if there is to be a meaningful shift in the balance of power in Nigeria.
The North controls power not by virtue of superior intellect or ability, but by default as beneficiary of the gap existing between the Yoruba and the Igbo. Thus, Yoruba and Igbo need this accommodation for their respective good, not as a favor to the other. The day that accommodation is found, Nigeria's music will sound a different and more pleasant note.
Okorie, attorney at law and member of the editorial board of USAfrica Media Networks, serves as Secretary-general, World Igbo Congress