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It should not take the activist stance of Uwazuruike’s MASSOB to remind Nigerians of unique national interests that would be served by revisiting Biafra, its central role in shaping present Nigeria and the circumstances that preceded and followed the Civil War. The greatest tragedy of military intervention in the nation’s political governance is not the annulment of a democratic election a la June 12, as some would like us to believe. By far, the most important legacy of military rule has to be the radical political transformation of Nigeria through the prosecution of one of Africa’s most tragic civil wars. The Civil War has bequeath for posterity a united Nigeria with a more centralized national government than anytime before in the nation’s history. The Civil War was an epoch that played a pivotal and decisive function in shaping contemporary Nigeria and will certainly continue to influence the nation’s destiny for the foreseeable future. Students of political history and socioeconomic development of Africa’s premier nation cannot perform creditably if they fail to thoroughly comprehend the Nigerian Civil War, factors that made it inevitable, its astronomical cost in human and material resources and the lessons that can be derived from that traumatic experience in nation building.

It can be said that most of Nigeria’s present difficulties have their roots in the issues that surround the Civil War and its aftermath. Loss of innocence of the polity, degradation of national infrastructure, disregard for sociocultural values and overall decline in quality of life for the citizenry had their origins in the immediate post-war era. Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), in spite of the unrealistic nature of the ambitions of its founding leaders, has brought the relevance for a revisitation of the Civil War era to the center of our national consciousness. Furthermore, the emergence of this group has helped to unmask some hypocrisies of our national existence where it is quite okay to perpetuate the marginalization of Ndiigbo because of their role in the Civil War while the very mention of the name of Biafra still upsets the sensibilities of some Nigerian politicians and interest groups. Revisitation of Biafra, as a deliberate national endeavor, should be seen as a necessary catharsis that will prepare the new political dispensation to rid itself of the inertia of the past as well as allow the present leadership to redefine the national mission and ambition for coming decades. Re-emergence of the Biafran issue should not be seen as just a national security matter. It should also be seen as a call to revisit a relevant era of our past which can help to accelerate national healing and the revival of erstwhile can-do mentality that Nigerians had in the immediate post-Independence era.

Revisiting Biafra will frontally deal with the desire by many citizens to find some type of closure to the traumatic experiences that confronted many individuals and groups in the heat of the Civil War. Biafrans particularly and other Nigerians will utilize such opportunity to finally bury their dead, reflect on the circumstances that necessitated the untimely demise of 1.5 million fellow citizens and hopefully reaffirm our commitment to honor and respect the outcome of those sacrifices in our future interactions with each other. Biafrans should also utilize this revisitation to review their struggle, assess their roles in the prosecution of that war and reconsider whether the huge and catastrophic loss of lives could have been mitigated if certain situations were handled differently in retrospect. Ndiigbo and the minorities of the former East will get the chance to reflect on their mutual relationship before, during and after the Civil War. Many people now believe that the bad blood, which has marred the historical relationship between Ndiigbo and their neighbors to the southeast and the Niger Delta, is an ill wind that militates against the primordial interests of both sides. The reality of present-day 36-state structure is indisputable and this paradigm should continue to be the basis for the evolution of this democratic dispensation. Events over the past decades, however, have made it clear, to even the skeptics, that regional solidarity will facilitate speedy economic development for the area. The present zonal configuration notwithstanding, Ndiigbo and the neighboring minorities of the former East share identical political and economic interests that are backed up by geographical contiguity as well as historical and sociocultural links.

The soured relationship that underscores interactions between the East and West were aggravated by the events that surrounded the Civil War. Revisitation of Biafra will provide appropriate basis for coming to terms with issues that continue to engender mutual suspicion and distrust. Some Igbo pundits feel that the marginalization of Ndiigbo since the Civil War was borne out of an opportunistic conspiracy between the North and West to use military dictatorship to dominate national politics for the past 3 decades. The ploy to utilize the Nigerian mass media to insinuate a political crisis between the North and West will continue to be viewed as a charade by the marginalized until there is a visible genuine intent to aspire for universal justice that is based on inclusiveness, not parochialism. The North and West have exploited the cataclysm of Biafra to project their regional interests and ambitions in the national political landscape. The futility of attempting to perpetuate this trend in democratic governance will become more apparent in the coming years. Restructuring Nigeria can only make sense if there is a genuine desire to first heal the wounds of Biafra and the Civil War. It is only after doing so that one can see the need for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) if there are still any other lingering issues to sort out.

As the monolithic North continues to come apart at the seams because of the resurgence of the long-suppressed angst of the Northern minorities, a revisitation of Biafra will enable involved parties to learn from the past so as not to rehash the tragic drama of our recent history. The core of the fighting force that subdued the Biafran rebellion was mostly from the Northern minorities. Whatever motivation there was at the time, some of those combatants are now being compelled to live under Sharia law in their states of origin, 30 years after the conclusion of the Civil War, even though they are non-Muslims. Establishing the methodology for recalling the invaluable experiences of Biafra should enable key players of the North to truly face up to the reality of the crisis in their midst and hopefully to quickly evolve acceptable and durable solutions. Former Biafrans, since the end of the Civil War, have returned in massive numbers to all parts of the North where they are playing very valuable functions in the operation of the local economy and other societal services. Bringing the bitter legacies of the Civil War to a satisfactory resolution is to the best interest of the Northern political establishment because it can utilize the same process to mollify the incipient militancy of the minorities in their midst.

The best way to revisit Biafra is for the Nigerian nation to solemnize the traumatic experiences of the Civil War through the declaration of a national holiday for the sole purpose of remembering the human tragedy of that era. A National Memorial Day holiday should be used by citizens to reflect on the essence of our nationhood since the Amalgamation of 1914, our accomplishments, tragedies and our collective vision for a full realization of the dreams of our founding fathers. Tribute will be paid to our national heroes whose sacrifices have bequeathed to us the nation that we inherit today. A special rite shall be performed during the occasion by the President of the nation to remind compatriots of the need to inculcate the essence of our collective destiny into the mindset of every component of the Nigerian society. Activities will be organized nationwide to celebrate Nigeria’s will to persevere in spite of overwhelming odds. After the Independence Day, the National Memorial Day should be the next important date for the reaffirmation of our existence as a nation. The sudden announcement by the presidency proclaiming a Democracy Day for May 29th every year is welcome but the National Memorial Day is even more meaningful and more relevant to our national experience. It is hoped that when the legislature considers the President’s proposal for enactment, serious consideration should be given to amending the former to become a Memorial Day instead. Failing that, another special day should be earmarked by the national legislature for commemorating the enormous sacrifices of the Nigerian Civil War.

The notion that all the tragic experiences of the Civil War, issues that brought it about as well as its unpleasant sequel, can be safely tucked away in the subconscious while the business of nation building continues as usual has been shown to be seriously flawed. To move the nation to the next logical level in our national evolution, it has become necessary for us to call for a timeout to take stock of the past and devise the means to effectively harvest the wealth of our collective experiences, both good and bad, which can help to streamline our future efforts at nation building. A fratricidal duel, which led to the loss of 1.5 million Nigerian lives, billions of dollars of valuable resources and assets, including a 30-month stagnation in national development, must be memorialized so that we can never forget the consequences of allowing issues that impinge on our collective destiny to become so trivialized again. Part of the reason for the resurgence of micro nationalistic agitations in the cloaks of OPC, MASSOB, MOSOP and a plethora of youth movements nationwide is the failure to institutionalize visible and compelling symbols of our collective past as components of the present and future aspirations of the Nigerian nation. Revisiting Biafra will certainly have a salutary effect on our national psyche. Those who understand the process of nation building should now hop on the bandwagon and support the bill that is presently being processed in the houses of legislature nationwide for the creation of a National Memorial Day holiday.

The Survival Struggle for Ndiigbo

Newsletter Biafran Story

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