BY ROBERT OBIOHA
Chinua Achebe’s new book, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, has really brought to the fore those issues some actors on the 30-month gruesome Nigerian/Biafran war would not want to hear. Achebe’s book has revealed, among other things, the genocide visited on Biafrans by the Nigerian establishment.
What Achebe said is not novel to the Igbos who witnessed the war and those that have read books on the war. The war has generated and is still generating many scholarly articles. What Achebe said can only sound foreign and unreal to those who have made up their mind outrightly to disbelieve his personal account of the war.
The book, no doubt, generated heat and is still generating heat in some circles. While some opinion leaders from the victorious Nigerian side and the vanquished Biafran side have called for a truce on the matter, some others like former President Olusegun Obasanjo has advised that Igbos should forget about that ugly chapter in our history.
Others have urged the Igbos to forgive and forget grieving about the war and forge ahead. Their suggestions are welcome but let me also remind the like of Obasanjo why the war has become a recurring theme in our national discourse.
While it is true that the Igbos have forgiven those that offended them during the war, it is also true that no Igbo will forget about the war. To forgive is one thing, to forget is entirely a different thing altogether. Forgiveness does not amount to forgetting. That one writes a book on the war does not mean that he has not forgiven his enemies. War is a good subject for history, anthropology, political science and literature.
The two World Wars generated lots of literary and non-literary works and still doing so. The American civil war is still a subject of discussion, likewise the Spanish wars and Kenya’s Mau Mau struggle.
The apartheid policy in South Africa has produced so many books. In the same vein, the civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and other wars of independence have informed lots of books.
These wars are still being discussed. If people can still be talking of the Jewish holocaust that happened very long ago, I do not see any reason somebody will be asking the Igbos to stop talking about the Biafran war in which they were unjustifiably treated by their fellow country men.
How can the Igbos and other aggrieved Easterners forget about Biafra when on a daily basis, the Nigerian establishment keep bringing out policies that make us remember our vanquished status? If you take a look at past Nigerian leaders, the only Igbo in that list would be the late Maj-Gen JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was only a ceremonial president.
Ironsi’s regime lasted for only six months. When I see the pictures of past Nigerian leaders, I ask myself: Are Igbos part of this country? We fought a civil war from 1967-1970. Since 1970 till now, how come an Igbo man is not yet the president of the country his tribesmen helped to found in 1960?
This is one question I want Obasanjo and all those asking the Igbos to forget the war to answer. Why is it that no Igbo have been allowed to head commanding heights in the nation’s economy and establishments? Why has an Igbo not headed the Customs beyond the six months of Bernard Shaw Nwadialo? How many Igbos have headed the Prisons? Is that how it should be? I don’t want to talk about the Police and Immigration in this article because their Igbo heads have been mere tokenisms. What of the Petroleum Ministry? Has an Igbo headed it as a minister?
The answer is in the negative. This is happening despite the fact that two Igbo states, Imo and Abia are among oil-bearing states. Now Anambra State has joined the enviable oil-producing league. Has Igbo headed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)? No is the answer.
How many roads have the federal government built in the South-East since after the war? What is the state of federal roads in the zone? How many factories have the federal government built in Igboland since after the war? Is there any remarkable federal presence in the whole of South-East since after the war? What is happening to the second Niger Bridge? Why can’t the federal government site a refinery in Igbo area of the country considering the fact that three Igbo states are oil-producing?
How come that the South-East is the only geo-political zone in the country with five states and fewer councils? One zone has seven states and the rest had six states apiece. Is that justice?
Why can’t the Igbos remember their Biafra with love and nostalgia? Let me tell Obasanjo and other Nigerians asking us to forget Biafra that it is not a possibility for now. It is not easy to forget that we fought and lost a war of independence. How can we forget the lost souls? How can we forget the genocide meted to Igbos?
How can we forget the bombing of villages, towns, markets, hospitals, churches and markets during the war? How can we forget the dead, the wounded and the raped? Remembering for us is therapeutic than forgetting? Forgetting the Biafran experience will be a mortal sin on our part.
Our remembering them is a way of erecting memorials for our lost ones. We owe them such a national duty for they died so that we should live. How can we forget what has become part of Igbo, Nigerian, African and World history simply because in Nigeria we are used to sweeping things under the carpet?
How can we forget our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts lost in the war and childhood friends lost to kwashiorkor? To the Igbos, the war is a holocaust. It is a sad and terrible experience that ought not to be forgotten.
The best way to pay lasting tribute to our heroes is through etching them in our memory in the way Achebe has done. And whenever the Igbos try to let bygone be bygone, Nigeria keeps reminding them of their vanquished status.
Let the structural imbalance in the number of states against the Igbos be addressed immediately. Unfortunately whenever the Igbos ask for this imbalance to be corrected, all other Nigerians unite to push it aside alongside their vocal Lagos/Ibadan media axis.
All Nigerians have united to ensure that the South-East remains the only zone with five states. It is a big conspiracy. And Obasanjo and co want us to forget remembering Biafra. It will not be evil if an Igbo becomes Nigeria’s president. What is good for other Nigerians should also be good for the Igbos.
The integration of Igbos into Nigeria since the end of the war is incomplete as far as there are still no-go areas for the Igbo like the presidency and some others. Having an Igbo as the vice-president, a spare-tyre role, cannot be taken as integration of the Igbos into mainstream Nigerian politics.
The situation of the Igbos in Nigeria shows that while the physical war stopped in 1970, the psychological war, which is even more devastating, is still raging. Obasanjo and his like should put if off before asking the Igbos to forget the past.
All past errors in Nigeria, especially those that led to the war, should be addressed. If such mistakes are not corrected, they will continue to haunt the nation.
Nigeria must not continue to live as if there was no Biafran war or a country called Biafra never existed. Rather, the war should be remembered and talked about so that generations unborn should learn about the futility of wars and avoid them.
So far, there is no indication that the Nigerian establishment learnt any useful lesson from the war. If it learnt any lesson, it should have addressed the problems that gave rise to the war. Those problems have been buried under the carpet and they keep erupting in other forms to haunt the nation periodically.
Hence there are MASSOB, MOSOP, OPC, AREWA YOUTHS and now Boko Haram. These separatist groups are in place because of unattended past grievances. It is high time the nation addressed all suppressed grievances. Let other Nigerians stop treating the Igbo problem as if it is not a Nigerian problem.