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Monday 18 July 2016

The Biafran ghost

The Biafran ghost

18th July 2016

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 literatures 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 sways 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.

Posted By: Sam Omatseyeon:

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