SUNSET AT DAWN.
©All rights reserved. No part of this work should be reproduced without due consent or appropriate referencing to the author.
To the Lord almighty who in his infinite mercies and superfluous grace placed in my heart, the burning desire to pen down this story, and for piloting my thoughts towards the directions to search for materials to develop this story.
To these individuals who played integral roled in this story, some by virtue of their positions in various dispensations this story. They are in no particular order :
My grandmother (of blessed memory), Ibekwe Caroline Nwankemdilim.
Faleye, Caleb Oluwatoyin.
Obumneme, Perfect Chimaobi.
Blessed, Greatman Chidimma.
Chinweze, Akachukwu Chinweze.
Maduabuchi, Joseph Chibuike.
Messers. Udeh Benard, Umoru Michael, Asogwa Ifeanyichukwu, Anowai Emeka.
To the fallen souls of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, and the gallant soilders who fought there in.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE:
This story is a blend of fiction and true life events, as the author attempts to create synergy between the both worlds.
The author wishes to appreciate :
Prof. Chinua Achebe with “There was a country” and ” The trouble with Nigeria”.
Federick Forysth with “The Biafran Story.”
Dim. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu with ” Because I am involved”.
Prof. Kingsley Moghalu’s speech published on The Cable captioned : “How to restructure Nigeria, Why, what, how and when.”
These works helped infused the much needed vitality into this work and as such, were indispensable to bringing this work to fruition.
May we always remember that:
“In the end, it’s the stories that matter. The events that birthed them, the characters and circumstances in which they were written. Which ever direction the tides are faced, we must tell these stories. For the sake of posterity, and for the sake of truth.”
It was a rather dull, solemn morning mid-june. This particular period in the year belonged to the rains, and now they were torrential, mercilessly falling in heavy downpours and with hurricane-like winds. As had become it’s unwritten culture for the past one month, it had once again fallen heavily last night though the rains of this last night were particularly compelling. They fell as though the earth had a feud with heaven, then the heaven unwittingly retaliated with the damning rains. The aftermath was chastening – fallen tree branches here and there, destroyed walls and corrugated iron sheets yanked off their hinges and flapping with the morning winds obviously registering displeasure at the disaster the rains brought forthwith. It was on this cold morning that like every student dressed in cream coloured shirts upon a pair of Ash trousers for the seniors and shorts for the juniors, upon Ash coloured ties to match, I emerged from my hostel, ready for the day’s classes. I came out quite late, albeit hurriedly racing down the stairs in a marathon like manner just in time before Mr. Emeka, the mathematics tutor brandished his pankere cane to discipline the late students. Unlike other teachers who wore stern looks when they punished students, Mr. Emeka always smiled bashfully in brimming handsomeness, even laughing wildly as his piercing strokes lacerated the buttocks of the unfortunate student. The other students after me weren’t as lucky for standing under the Almond tree was the fierce looking Mr. Benjamin, his cellotaped horse whip held firmly in his right hand, beckoning on the erring students.
“Mr. Emeka” he called out in his rich baritone. “We don’t have enough customers today. By tomorrow, we will reduce the count to five”.
Mr. Emeka remained silent but smiled wickedly and nodded. Mr. Benjamin acknowledged with a nod of his own as the trapped students wondered why the teachers derived pleasure in making a meal of their bodies.
“Solo solo” Mr. Emeka called out to me. “You have escaped today, late man” he said, making a mock move to lash his cane at me.
I simply smiled – a fake smile though, and walked away. Behind me were wails of anguish coming from the students who were being flogged with reckless abandon. The cries sent electrifying shocks down my spine as I remembered just how inhumanely we the most senior class were being treated as though we were freshmen, confused and weird looking. I also recalled with great humor, how my classmates and I would “chest” the strokes of cane – a term signifying endurance of the painful lashes. This was however done to earn the admiration of our female counterparts, only to stealthily run to the hostel back yard, strip ourselves pants down and massage our buttocks to relieve the seeping pain.
As I walked past the school’s multi-purpose hall, which served as both the assembly ground, church auditorium and by extension a playground for the junior students, my stomach rumbled sending impulses of pulsating hunger to my brain. The Dining hall was in sight now.
“Senior Solomon” Timothy called. He was my senior age wise but junior in class and was largely despised by the student majority for his alliance with the authorities. He was their trusted watch dog, always sniffing to uncover crimes perpetrated by students. “Senior Faleye asked me to call you”
“What for? I impatiently asked, uncontrollably hungry.
“I do not know. But he is with Perfect, Greatman, Akachukwu and Joseph in the computer lab. Mr. Ifeanyi is there also.
I heaved a sigh in frustration. Faleye would have to wait. My stomach needed urgent attention. As I made to walk away, Timothy said hastily. “Forget it. There’s no food in the dining anymore. Your classmates played games”
I instantly stopped in my tracks, looking back at him. He remained indifferent, with a face that cursed my class for our several acts of deliquency, one of which was this – about seventy-four boys of my class scavenging the meal of nearly three hundred students!. I waved him away, turned round and began walking towards the computer lab. Passing to the alley adorned by sour-soup trees, just behind the building that served as our Conference hall, I heard music blaring loudly. Looking through, I saw the girls of my class gyrating vigorously to the tune, disturbing the peace and quiet of the school in the process. Afar off, Mr. Benjamin and the physics tutor, Mr. Chibuzor stood, watching in dull spirits. Other times, they would engage in petty talks and dry banters just to get the insurbodination of my class off their minds. I also pictured our Principal, a disciplinarian by all standards in her apartment just blocks away in bed, covering her ears with a thick blanket because the “accursed” class disturbed her favoured state of tranquility. I chuckled a little, recollecting that she was yet to get over the shock she got from a classmate of mine who erroneously attempted to snatch a fully loaded double-barelled gun from Oga Peter the chief Security guard, unwary of an accidental discharge!
The alley gave way to a broader walkway that passed through Conquerous hostel, en-route the administrative building where the Computer Lab was located. I responded to endless greetings of “Good morning senior Solomon” as I walked past. A few meters away I sighted some junior Students “picking pin”. Picking pin was an ardous kind of punishment where the sufferer would be required to stand on his left leg with the right suspended mid-air, then flex his spine and with the index finger of his left hand touch the ground while suspending the other hand mid-air also. The poor students must have been in this painful position for at least thirty minutes by my estimation because they were unstable, like the stalk of a malnurished plant left out in the cold and without care. They looked like they would fall any minute from now.
“Who punished you?” I asked, willing to plead on their behalf.
“Mr. Benjamin” they replied in unison.
I was taken aback, not even wanting to inquire about the crime they had committed. It was not difficult to tell that the crime was either fighting or noise making which were peculiarities of the Juniors. However, pleading with Mr. Benjamin was out of the question, for the sake of my face at least. No one dared “challenge” him without receiving a life changing slap as reward for the efforts. I looked upon them with pity and all I could really say was:
“Don’t worry, he will soon be done caning late students in front of the hostel. Then he will come and release you. But next time, conduct yourselves properly and stay out of trouble!”
“Senior it’s Paul o. He was the one that started it…” one fired in the comic fashion of apportioning blames for which the juniors were famous.
“Don’t be unfortunate this morning! Senior don’t mind him o! Was it not Simon that poured water on my shorts without apologizing!” the accused fired back.
“Hei! You can lie eh!”
The accusations raged back and forth that they didn’t realize I had long gone. I observed much to my surprise that the parking lot, just adjacent to the administrative block was empty. The cars of the Vice-Principal, Dean of Students and Economics tutor were missing and these persons were notable early birds. I shruggd at this inconsistency as I made my way up the energy-sapping fleet of stairs to the computer lab, ensconed in the corridor of Jss1 classes.
“Ah! High Chief atugo down!” Joseph, as ebullient as ever exclaimed as I came in to meet them in a feast of gala and soft drinks.
“Joe, I no chop o.” I replied angrily, still very hungry of course. Joseph was the school refectorian and I demanded an explanation I knew he couldn’t provide. Like me, he was handicapped in the situation. Not even his famed “one move” signature jab could save him from the onslaught of my class boys whenever they joined forces to embezzle food.
And so, his resigned response of ” Our class boys play games nah. Wetin I for do?” didn’t suprise me.
My friend and school head boy Caleb, a person whose presence depicted affluence and whom I suspected sponsored the feast asked in his usual calm, boss-like manner. ” You were late today I guess?”
“Don’t mind the fat boy” Akachukwu interjected playfully in his rich namibian accent. He was one of those friends that mastered the art of trouble making so well that on more than one occasion, I attempted calling off our friendship. We had scaled a lot of hurdles together anyway, and were deeply indebted to each other so even with his truck-load of troubles, love was never lost.
“See his face, feigning anger” Perfect spoke for the first time. “Why won’t he be late? After watching movies through the night”. I made a resentful face at him annoyed that he had blown my cover, this tall, lanky trouble shooter that was my friend and roommate. His demeanor always betrayed his enviable intellect and class in sports, yet little complaints were made. He was the all rounder, the guru after all.
I requested for some snacks and and was given two gala sausages and a bottle of coke which I consumed voraciously.
Mr. Ifeanyi, our student friendly Civic Education tutor spoke for the first time since I came in. ” Solomon, I escaped death by whiskers today”.
I was instantly terrified. “What happened Sir?” I asked in between mouthfuls.
“It is the IPOB people. They are marking two hundred and fifty days since Nnamdi Kanu was arrested by the Federal Government. Their protests were difficult for the police men with only batons to contain. Most of the policemen were thoroughly beaten and their vans destroyed”
“The Army got involved thereafter?” I asked impulsively.
“Of course. Even the Army found it difficult. Because they could not just shoot randomly into the crowd, they resorted to the use of tear gas. The whole of Upper iweka upwards to the head bridge is completely closed, leaving travellers going to Lagos stranded. Down to Nkpor junction too, there is no movement at all”.
“But sir, what about the sit-at-home order?” Joseph asked.
Mr. Ifeanyi hissed in contempt. “You know Anambra is a major IPOB strong hold. They have a lot of members here. So after the order was first announced on Radio Biafra, the compliance was certain.”
“Maybe just here Enugu and Abia, other south eastern states would not obey it. The hell!, It’s not a Federal Government order and after all these protests, Kanu will not be released, at least not now” Caleb said.
“My thoughts exactly. If the government could disobey the injunction of the ECOWAS court as in the case of Dasuki, and various calls from institutions like Amnesty International, nothing anyone says or does will force them to do otherwise” Perfect put in.
“Well, there’s low compliance only in Imo. Ebonyi adhered.” Mr. Ifeanyi said.
“Still, it amounts to nothing in the end. These guys are killing themselves, while Kanu is probably sleeping soundly in Kuje Prison. But really, I think the Federal Government is missing the point” Akachukwu spoke pensively and I knew that he was about to say something more damning. ” You know, the Bible says Wisdom is profitable to direct. For me, arresting Kanu was a very terrible mistake. With the kind of cause he was championing and the number of followers he has, the arrest made him more famous than he initially was. You know, the Martin Luther King and Mandela kind of famous.The most annoying thing the government has done is to proscribe IPOB a terrorist group! By God, that is insensitivity at its peak! At a time when the herdsmen are conducting detailed massacres of villagers all across the south east and south south? It is really disgusting!” He was close to yelling now.
“What the Government would have done reasonably was to send Delegates to Kanu at a round table. They would have allowed him air his grievances. In turn, the government would have looked into them, and profer solutions. Believe me, this whole Biafra thing would have been History if all these was done. You know, Nnamdi Kanu is not a riff-raff that seeks cheap popularity. If you’ve listened to him speak, you’ll know that you are dealing with an intellectual. So he is not stupid. Neither is he Lazy. The Government is just so beclouded by ego that they limit themselves to think he is only challenging them” Joseph said.
“I swear!” Greatman spoke for the first time. “You need to see the scores of corpses these herdmen left behind at Nimbo, in Nsukka. The Governor could not even contain it and wept publicly like a child. And the annoying thing is that asides all the statements the government puts out, nothing of great seriousness has been done to stop the rampage.”
“That is a very big problem. One issue with us in this country is that we lack leaders that are capable of engaging in honest dialogue and telling themselves uncomfortable truths. Kanu seeks session of the east not in violence, but by popular votes – by referendum. But these herdsmen who are terrorists in every sense are not attacked with the same ferosity as Kanu and his followers. How will a nation like ours hinged on Injustice and marginalization progress?” Caleb asked. “Moreover” he continued. “I strongly believe that since democracy returned in 1999, all our leaders have concerned themselves just with is winning elections without actually having an agenda, a clear cut plan. I’m not talking about the White lies they tell on their campaign posters and fliers. I’m talking about an achievable plan based on a sincere and true introspective thought.They care about elections, and that’s it.”
“I second this!” Perfect screamed, almost jumping off his seat. “My thoughts exactly! After winning the elections, they are now faced with the sudden reality of not just their newly attained status, but the burdens that come with it. They now start to strategize at that eleventh hour. And to aid them are band wagons of intractable sycophants who coax them to make decisions in their favour, and are always on hand to sing their praises. Ultimately, we the masses suffer for it.”
“Speaking of Marginalization.” I began. “It has been evident for a long time now and it is a key point in Kanu’s argument for Biafra. However, if the Government is restructured as many have clamoured, I think the country will be better of.”
“Solomon, you know that word restructuring has been very misunderstood. How about we give it another name? like Re-designing? or Reforming?” Mr. Ifeanyi said.
“Sir, changing the name will not still change the intent. The same thing will still be done. If we are to restructure, a whole lot of changes must happen. First is desolution of powers.”
“What are you saying? Desolution of powers? The legislature and Judiciary have their own powers too. So which power are you talking about?” Greatman chipped in.
“What I am saying is that though we claim to practice Federalism – with a central government and other subsidiaries, our country still remains backward. You know why? Because in reality, we run a Unitary system of government, where the Federals wield so much power. When a particular group of persons exert so much power on a large population like ours, injustice and marginalization is bound to be the order of the day.”
“Which is one reason why Dasuki for instance, was stubbornly remanded in custody even after the courts granted him bail” Joseph interjected.
“Exactly. So what we need to do is to confer powers upon the six geopolitical zones, with the states under them. Every zone in this country has natural resources some in abundance, others moderately but none sparingly. Let them have their courts. Let them generate their revenue and create their own economy. If this is done, these zones with trade and manufacturing will have huge monies but with lesser mouths to feed. The result is a very bouyant economy. Think about it. Plus, they should have their own Ports and Police.”
“This makes a whole lot of sense!” Caleb’s face lit up. “Because really, many states are incapable of existing on their own without the monthly allocation coming from the Federal, and the support of the Central Bank. So, these states under the new Zones will thrive better. But what becomes the fate of the Federal Government?”
“Very good question. The Federals will have less work to do, and to greater effects. They will only supervise the zonal governments. The zones will in turn pay say, 30 or 40 percent of their revenue to the Federal as tax.This doesn’t mean the Federal Government will be useless. It will still retain sovereign powers like the Armed Forces, Citizenship, Immigration and of course, the Central Bank.” I answered.
“This is very intelligent” Perfect commended and the rest nodded in Unison. “The zones will then be forced to plan on how they utilize their resources for their own good. The growth will promote influx of investors and that way, there will be healthy competition between the zones so that every zone grows at different rates. Look at the U.S for instance, California grew on her own. Same as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Even Las Vegas grew because of something so common in Nigeria – gambling. That way, the general image of the nation is promoted”
“True. In Federalism, the Government has no business controlling national resources and allocating shares to the states” Greatman chipped in.
“If you come to think of it, restructuring will enable the citizens to be better placed to hold their leaders accountable. In turn, the Government is better enabled to serve. Not a kind of situation where roads are built in January and by June when the first rains come, the road is destroyed.” Caleb said.
“Another reason why these Zones are important is for proper documentation. In this case, i mean a proper record of every person, and every family. The Federal Government has a database of this sort, but I strongly doubt it’s viability because of our number and diversity. With these zones, we can have a database with meticulously prepared records of our people, even those living in the most remote parts. And as more babies are born, they can be registered under this system too.” I said.
“Good idea, Solomon. But you really have not said the reason why this database is important. We can not have something of this nature for fancy” Akachukwu put in.
“Let me answer this question, please” Joseph implored, and I gave him the floor. “Remember the Ebola Virus outbreak? And how we were forced to vacate school temporarily, with movements restricted? Thank God the government was able to tackle it on time. But what if it had been worse? And lockdown of states were ordered with interstate boundaries closed? What about the future? Yes, we do not wish ourselves bad luck but bad things are a recurring decimal. We just cannot pretend as if unfortunates will cease to happen. What if more insidious disease arises in the future? What if flooding or any other natural disaster befalls us? How does the government reach out to each and every one of us? It is through this database. That’s why a smaller zonal unit will be better suited than one huge database in Abuja that might not even contain up to 70 percent of the population.”
“Very valid point. But what about the Police issue and the Ports?” Joseph asked.
“I will use the U.S as an example, as perfect had earlier done. There is nothing like the United States Police. What you hear is the New York Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and so on. With state policing, Crimes will surely be reduced as there are no transfers and deployment of personnel across states. Every police officer remains in a particular zone for life, familiarizing himself so well with the area that he knows whom the potential criminals are, and how to hunt them down when they strike. Sadly, it is not so here. The Police system here is Federal and because of this, the Inspector General can just wake up one morning and decide to transfer an officer anywhere he pleases or recall him. As for the ports, I will say that one of the major reasons why the Lagos Traffic has defiled all measures in curbing it is because almost every import and export of goods happens at their ports. And their roads most notably, Apapa roads have never been worthy. Imagine a businessman in Nnewi, Aba, Kano or Calabar always paying huge sums for clearance and transportation of his goods from Lagos. It doesn’t make life easy, and it does not encourage efficiency.”
“So you are suggesting creation of more sea ports to ease the load off Lagos?” Greatman asked
“Yes. We have ports in all the water ways in the country I think, but they are not as functional as the Lagos Ports. The government should make them functional and life becomes easy”
“We have all spoken well on practical ways of making this country work. But it’s not going to be very easy” Mr. Ifeanyi said.
“I agree sir” Caleb spoke. ” But we need to start somewhere. The continued failure to do lays credence to Kanu’s agitations”
“So you are a supporting his quest for Biafra?” Joseph asked.
“It’s not like that” Akachukwu rose in Caleb’s defence. ” What he is saying is that the Government has cunningly avoided the calls for restructuring for reasons that can best be explained by greed and insatiable quest for power. They want to be in charge of all the revenue being generated from oil , so they can keep getting rich off our monies, so they will not even give restructuring half a thought. And the Legislature is constrained because our constitution does not give room for restructuring to thrive. We are talking about governments since time past who chase rats when their house is on fire…”
The aplomb entrance of Mrs. Nkwelle, the Computer Science tutor abruptly halted Akachukwu. She was drenched in sweat, heavily panting and with her torn sandals in her hands. She loudly gulped down two cups of water, then found her voice.
“Nkpor Junction is a no-go area now. The Army and IPOB had a messy clash there. We all had to run for our lives. Many were caught by stray bullets and others badly injured. The Army General had to send every soilder out of the barracks to contain the ever surging IPOB members. You know,many of them were fortified with charms that shielded them from.the bullets. The protests have even crossed the Niger bridge, and into Asaba.”
We all felt empty and tired, our ears itching from the horrible stories we were hearing. My thoughts drifted homewards, how my mother and aunt Linda, core Biafra activists would go hysterical as the news of this Onitsha protests reached them. My father I imagined, would be writing his articles unsmiling, complaining that they were making too much noise. They would both nudge him playfully, calling him “a man from the Zoo country”. Indeed, since Nnamdi Kanu, a London based man decided to resurrect the previously slim calls for the secession of the Eastern part of Nigeria from the rest of the country, the trend of events took a new turn.
For you reading this, without adequate knowledge of the war, you might be inwardly asking yourself what Biafra is, it’s history and struggles. Now, Biafra is the defunct country of the old Nigerian Eastern region. Just seven years after nationalists wrestled power from the British colonial masters in Independence, Nigeria still in her formative years plunged into a bitter civil war which lasted for thirty months before being amicably resolved (or so we thought). The reason for this war is clear, but the prelude of events leading to it is far more complex and so I will try as much as possible to tell this story plainly, and as gotten from the stables of my grandmother Nwankemdilim Ibekwe, and from my own extensive research of the war and it’s ethno-political undertones. My granny in particular told me so much about the war from her own perspective that though not born at the time, I could write a novella about it. Her and her husband, my grandfather Timothy Ibekwe fled Minna, present day Niger State with their three children in the cover of one night in October 1966. It was one of the nights of assult on Igbos living in the North, a gruesome massacre that has come to be known as the “Pogorom.” They had lived in Minna for fourteen years of their lives, my grandpa establishing himself as a renowed Post Master and my grandma, a Hairdresser. Because of their fluency in Hausa and cordial relationship with neighbors, they were sneaked out of town on the back of a Mercedes 911 lorry carrying herds of cattle to Lokoja. She recalled how they had to sacrifice the little space they were allocated in the lorry for the comfort of their children and had to literally stand on tip-toes, resting on the fragile tail boards of the lorry, the nauseating stench of the cow dung and unwashed mouths of the cattle rearers notwithstanding. From Lokoja, they boarded one of the open vans evacuating Igbos back to the east, finally arriving Enugu, the Eastern capital to great relief and welcome from the resident indigenes.
This Pogorom which claimed the lives of over thirty thousand Igbos living in the North was a devilish, premeditated and meticulous retailation of the First ever military coup on January 15, 1966. The coup plotters were led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, a ruthless military Major who was more of Hausa in Lifestyle than Igbo – he spoke little Igbo and very fluent Hausa and always wore nothern dresses when not in Uniform. The coup failed anyway, and because majority of the plotters were Igbos, the coup soon became known as the “Nzeogwu” or “Igbo” coup.
“You must note one thing” My granny reflected “The Igbos were despised then, and I dare say even now. Anyi kacha guo akwukwo, wee norocha n’okwa n’oru oyibo.” This translates thus: we had the most intellectuals and we headed most of the Civil Service parastatals. ” This hatred was not caused by the Coup, and no one really can say how it came about. The coup only precipitated it.”
I meditated upon these statements long after her death, reading articles and books that affirmed them, and others which had no definite stance. Now back to the story. As a result of the growing hatred against the Igbos, no thanks to the coup plotters, lots of socio-political uprisings began to sprout from different angles. Because of this pre-existing hatred and resentment, powerless Igbos were attacked heartlessly, becoming scapegoats for the “sins” of their brothers who plotted the coup. Random and organized attacks became the standing order. Homes of Igbos were sacked, their inhabitants killed, properties stolen and enterprises destroyed. This was no random war or protest that claimed lives. As my granny stated, it was a case of chota fa, gbute isi fa meaning: “Capture them and get their heads.” I remember this particular horrific tale:
“I was returning from plaiting a customer’s hair when I saw them, a group of young men hoisiting the head of a woman, still freshly dripping blood. She had just been beheaded. Atop the head were strewn pages of a book with it’s back loosely attached. On a closer look, i saw it was the bible. Her sin? She had refused to stop preaching the Gospel when she was warned to stop and leave the area.”
It was this massacre that was later christained “The Pogorom.” The Military Premier of the Eastern Region, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu watched with great chargin as the fleeing easterners from the North rose in tens of thousands, and the Federal Government’s apparent nonchalance to address the issue. Accusations and counter accusations raged back and forth until the warring parties decided to lay their grievances at the table of dialogue, and hopefully resolve the issues. For transparency of the talks, a neutral ground outside Nigeria was chosen – at Aburi in Ghana. The resolutions of that meeting was to be called the “Aburi Accord.” Two months on, the Federals had not implemented the accord, and tensions were rife that they were not willing to do so. Ojukwu in his charismatic fashion, warned that secession of the East was imminent if the Federals deemed it fit to be hot-headed. Gen. Gowon responded by issuing a decree, Decree 8 which concerned imbibation of the Aburi Accord but in ironic fashion, top officials and Northern leaders formed bulwarks of opposition which stalled it’s implementation.
You know, there is a thing about bruising a person’s spirit. Apologies do no justice to appeasing the wounded soul, neither do gifts or enticements. Many Easterners who survived that pogorom were injured physically, but that was only ephemeral. Long after the injuries had healed, the battered souls still dripped blood. These people anticipated concerted effort of the Federal Government, not just to say sorry with long speeches, but to act the apologies. They expected the salaries of the displaced workers who fled because of the hostilities to be paid. The wanted the crowd of displaced persons to be compensated and returned to their residences, and above all, they needed to be assured that security agents will ensure the malevolent attacks do not cause further mayhem. All of these and many more never happened and finally on the 1st of May, 1967 Ojukwu released a nation wide broadcast stating the stance of the Easterners. First was that the Igbos spear headed Nigeria’s Independence, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. Secondly was that the transgressions of a few persons who plotted a failed coup was transferred to the rest of the Igbo populace resulting in the Pogorom. Thirdly was the lassiez-faire attitude of the government to cater for the displaced Igbos and failure to implement the Aburi Accord. For these acts of gross wickedness and targeted annahilation of the Igbos, Ojukwu declared the secession, proclaiming the Eastern region as the soverign state of Biafra.
I have realised one thing from my extensive study. The Federals were wary of the fact that the minority ethnic groups which made up the oil producing regions ( now known as the Niger Delta) would join Biafra in secession. This was why Gowon, when he sensed that Biafra would seccede, quickly divided the nation into twelve states, sandwiching the Igbos in the East Central and isolating these oil regions in a bid to cripple the seccessionist calls. Moreover, there was growing tensions that the West will not be far behind in withdrawing from Nigeria should the East succeed. Hence, to hold Nigeria intact and prevent a dissolution, they had to fight Biafra.
The smouldering hostilities gave way to a spiteful, hate filled war that lasted for thirty months. The Nigerian troops kicked off from what was termed a “Police action”, and surged from different entry points to meet stiff Biafran resistance. The attack was so intense that at some point, the Federal war planes descended so low that the Biafrans could see hands throwing missiles out of the planes, to them. The next move was to effectively barricade all forms of relief supplies and humanitarian support to the scores of dying and severely malnourished Biafrans, many of whom were children. More than 90 percent of them were Inflicted with Kwashiorkor – a disease borne out of severe deficiency of Proteins and characterized by fatigue and lethargy, sunken eyes, sever weight loss and a large, protuberant belly. The Federals also went ahead to close the channels of supply of ammunitions to Biafra from Ivory Coast and Gabon, two former french colonies. This fuelled speculations that the French headed by Charles De Gaulle, was in support of Biafra. Indeed this proved to be true because Britain and the the Soviet Union supported Nigeria, and enriched their arsenal with sophisticated weapons. France and Britain never saw eye-to-eye and though I cannot say how the events played out, I think Britain supported the Nigerians because she was not happy that Nigeria, one of her greatest colonies had split up.What Britain failed to do was to properly ask questions, and their diplomat in Lagos, a man famous for racism John Hunt relayed false messages to his bosses in London because Ojukwu refused to be loyal to him. As expected, Mr. Hunt’s dishonourable actions did not help matters. The second reason was simply to antagonize her arch-enemy, France. By executing these strategies perfectly, the Biafrans were clearly fighting a loosing battle. Enugu, the Capital soon fell to the Nigerian troops and soon followed Umuahia, the next capital and then Owerri. The Biafran troops halfway through the war were seriously deficient in man power and fire power. To solve this problem, young men and even tennage boys were forcefully recruited into the Biafran Army, very naive and inexperienced. My granny recounted her ordeal trying to hide her boys from the recruiters :
“It was one morning in Okigwe, just days after Umuahia was captured by the Nigerian troops and we were forced to flee from Ibeku, a town close by. The previous night, we got wind of the visit of the Biafran Soldiers to our camp, with the intention of forcefully taking our men and boys. Your father and his brothers though not of age, were so grown and mature that one could pass them for full fledged adults. So I could not take that risk. They camped on top of trees in the forest for close to two days. Other men did the same too. Few however, willingly gave themselves up. These ones were laden with hate and revenge, always disturbed us with threats of capturing Gowon and severing his head. Ojukwu nye anyi egbe ka anyi nuo ogu a, they kept saying”
I tried to picture these rather brave folks, hearts battered, bodies stripped of essence, knowing that they might not survive the war, but rearing to take the enemy down with them. By this time Biafra was already a ghost nation – decimated buildings here, fallen bridges there. Rapidly decomposing bodies lay carelessly on the streets and the sight of blood became as common as the sight of water. Capping it all was the escape of the Biafran leader, Ojukwu from the nation. Months after the war ended, the Igbos would learn that the Ivorian Government had granted him amnesty. He would remain in exile for twelve years, returning after a state pardon was generously offered to him by the then President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. And so it came to pass, on January 15th 1970, the Biafran second in command, Phillip Effiong and other top Biafran officials on behalf of Biafrans, surrendered to the Nigerian government. Gowon in his speech called for the Igbos to be re-welcomed into the Nigerian brotherhood, and that plans were in place to rebuild the crushed East. My granny believes the actions of the Nigerian Government afterwards proved they were as recalcitrant as ever. Sadly, this was very true.
“Imagine this” she began, her voice now shaky. “Igbos who ran for their lives during the Pogorom returned to find their Positions taken over. The Government found no need to re-instate them, instead regarding them as having resigned. This reasoning was extended to Igbo owned properties and houses as people from other regions were quick to take over any house owned by an Igbo person. You know what the Government did to justify this? They termed those buildings abandoned. The worst of it all was the economically debilitating policies that were enacted. First was the currency that was changed from the pound to the Naira, so that pre-war Nigerian currency was no longer honoured. At the end of the war, only 20 pounds was given to every Easterner regardless of how much the individual had in the bank. This was a delibrate attempt to hold back the enterprising Igbo middle class, leaving them with little wealth to resurrect their businesses.” Nnamdi Kanu many years after other pro-biafra groups had tried with minimal effects, ressurected the Biafra Agitation through his Radio station, Radio Biafra and his group, the Indigenous People of Biafrans(IPOB).
“It is Finished” Mr Ifeanyi announced triumphantly. The Army has finally over powered them. The Niger Bridge and all other closed places have been opened.”,
We all thanked God for having made us scale through the vulnerabilities of the chaos. Just then, a thought struck me painfully hard. It was the reality of the present situation we found ourselves in – the certainty that like every other uprising, the government will be swift to extol the law enforcement agencies for doing “a great Job” without bothering to really ascertain the cause of the revolts. This is what they are perfectionists at, like the patent medicine dealer who treats the symptoms of an illness without treating the underlying cause. The illness will still persist. These protesters do not protest for the fun of it, neither do they seek vainglory. They discard all damning thoughts of the likelihood of being killed or severely injured to protest. And I’m not talking about the the IPOB now, because they are not the protesters in most need. Hell, they can suddenly decide to sheath their swords, return to their homes and still live their normal lives. I am talking about the persons who serve their country on a day to day basis, but are indiscriminately trampled upon. I am talking about the mess created as a result of rigged elections. I am talking about pensioners who dedicated 35 years of their lives to service, yet still complain that their dues aren’t paid regularly and even when they are paid, are distributed in meagre amounts. I am talking about the lecturers who strive to impact knowledge into our youth, our next big thing, but still embark on strike actions because their salaries are delayed for months. I am talking about that child who hawks on the streets even after his leaders have promised free education. I am talking about the man who has been languishing in Prison for years “awaiting trial”, because the courts are so mesmerized with Politicians and their incessant issues which they must resolve. I am talking about the Youth who live in a country that stifles their aspirations and sniffs life out of their dreams. They become depressed, and resort to violence. I am talking about that First class graduate who is currently a bus conductor because less qualified persons are chosen “on recommendation” above him. I am talking about the market woman whose fortunes for the day dictates if her family will eat or not. I am talking about avaricious police man who busies himself collecting “roja” from bus drivers when he should be upright in his duties. I am talking about these people, who have no voice and are bereft of even the semblance of the sense of belonging, who live below the baseline of poverty and will most certainly never live a good life.
I could not stand this thoughts as they welled up in my heart, threatening to escape through my eyes in tears.
“Look through the window!” Akachukwu exclaimed.
Looking through the window, and into the vast, virgin lands that kept the school compound company, Our teachers running as fast as their legs could carry them,and bearing those same faces of pain we bore each time they flogged us, could be seen approaching.