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The best way to honor the Biafran cause and all those who have paid dearly during the Civil War years, on both sides of the battle line, is to memorialize that epoch of our history so that we shall never forget to learn from our past experiences. The human tragedy of the Civil War era ought to be seen as the sacrifice for nation building. Failure to learn from our collective experience so far detracts from the import of that sacrifice. The blood of 1.5 million men, women and children who perished as well as the anguish of countless others who endured starvation, disease and poverty during the Civil War ought to be consecrated and enshrined in the minds of present and future generations for whose ultimate survival those sacrifices were made. .... Dr. Nwosu
 

Just like the psyche of the average Jew continues to be teleguided by the memories of the holocaust, the subconscious mind of former Biafrans, particularly Ndiigbo, is still inhabited by thoughts of an era in which their very survival depended on the mercy of a ruthless conqueror. Former Biafrans saw the creation of their own sovereign nation state as the logical response to the cataclysm that faced their citizenship of Nigeria where Easterners were massacred and dispossessed in the aftermath of July 1966 military countercoup. The rest of Nigeria, led by the military junta at the helm of affairs in Lagos, saw it as its sacred duty to scuttle the spirited endeavor to dismember the newly independent nation. The ingredients for unmitigated disaster were glaringly abundant right from the eve of the Civil War. There were plenty of assumptions on both sides. The Easterners, feeling justly aggrieved, reasoned that it was their God-given right to seek self-determination by seceding from country that had clearly reneged on assuring security of their lives and properties. The Federal side saw Easterners’ moves as the machinations of an obdurate and misguided clique who wished to excise a precious chunk of Nigerian real estate in the pursuit of personal or parochial aggrandizement.

What initially appeared to be a test of will between the two military commanders at the head of government in Enugu and Lagos quickly deteriorated into one of the worst human catastrophes that Africa has know in modern times. The presumptions on both sides that the other would soon call off the bluff turned into a nightmare as both sides increasingly dug in and became more entrenched with each passing day. The expectation that the Biafran resistance would crumble in a matter of weeks soon evaporated when the hurriedly recruited and trained Biafran soldiers stifled the multi-pronged blitz to take Enugu from the northeast and northwest axes. The expectation by Biafrans that the West would quickly seize the opportunity of national instability to secede and declare the Oduduwa Republic was dashed when the Yoruba massively enlisted into the federal army division that orchestrated a marine invasion of Biafra from the south. Federal troop occupation of the coastal parts of Biafra, which is home to many ethnic minorities, did not only increase the rate of defections within this population group thereby further weakening the support base of the secessionist struggle but it also completed the sea blockade. With unrelenting military pressure from the north, west and south as well as hunger, starvation and disease, the collapse of Biafran resistance was only a matter of time.

For a struggle that failed to achieve its primary objective despite heroic effort, it is expected that the sense of bitter relief that Ndiigbo and other Biafrans felt since January 1970 will linger for a lifetime. For millions of Nigerians, particularly former Biafrans, there has never been any proper closure for the traumatic experiences of the Civil War. There were noble pronouncements during the immediate post-war period but almost all the principles enunciated were left unfulfilled. The 3-Rs policy of the Lagos junta; rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation, was abandoned midway by an administration that was insensitive to the needs of those whose lives were devastated by 30 months of war, starvation and disease. But Nigeria and all its peoples managed to survive and move along, living their lives the best way they could up till today. Memories of the Civil War and the bone of contention at the time, Biafra, are still alive in the minds of many. Whether we choose to believe so or not, the consequences of the Civil War live with us today because they are directly responsible for the drastic geopolitical transformation of post-war Nigeria. The schizophrenia that is clearly evident in today’s Nigeria hinges on the fact that a broad section of the citizenry, particularly the political elite, are determined to continue to regard the Civil War and the Biafran phenomenon as if they never happened. How else could one explain the continued denial of stark changes that the civil war experiences have brought to bear on the prospects of the average Nigerian?

Any society that is serious about nation building cannot afford to fail to utilize its past experiences as guide in designing the future. With the return of democratic governance, a large number of Nigerians have seriously begun to search for the ways and means to move the polity forward. Through the decades of military dictatorship that effectively muzzled political discourse in the populace, pent-up emotions have smoldered underground amongst many groups who are now emerging to publicly air their views as expected within the framework of our newly refurbished democracy. The Igbo political elite, for example, have used all channels available to them to portray their diminished stature at the center stage of national politics since the Civil War. Some have asserted that an unspoken conspiracy by their rivals in the North and West has been responsible for a grand design to marginalize Ndiigbo in all aspects of national governance. Superimposed on the repeated bouts of civic unrest, which regularly took their toll on lives and properties of Ndiigbo around the country, Igbo political pundits have cause to call for a comprehensive review of the Southeast’s future participation in the Nigerian federation.

Most people agree that finding a meaningful closure to the Civil War remains the most important hurdle that Nigeria must scale before it can extricate itself from the political quandary that it faces today. The Civil War was a watershed in the history of post-Independence Nigeria. The fact that the circumstances around the Civil War are still considered no-go areas in our national discourse could be attributed to the legacy of military governance. In retrospect, our benevolent dictatorial rulers believed that ignoring the existence of a problem was as good as solving it. Some considered the sharing of the spoils of war, including creation of client legislative enclaves to reward the good guys, as practical gestures that would hopefully help to mollify all the pains of the past. The most significant fallout of the Civil War is the arbitrary radical transformation of geopolitical structure of Nigeria by past military administrations. Out of the four semi-autonomous regions that existed at the eve of the Civil War, we now have 36 states that are virtually dependent on the central government in Abuja for everything, including payment of their civil service payrolls. In the apparent attempt to devolve power, post-war military statesmen and their cohorts have created an even more centralized control in national governance.

Other legacies of post-Civil War era include official corruption, economic decline, deterioration of societal infrastructure, general loss of innocence and pervasive moral turpitude amongst the citizenry. It is easy to see that Nigeria is heavily laden with the burden generated from a crucial period of our history that some wishful thinkers would prefer to sweep under the rug and plod along the uncertain path to nationhood. In many minds, the Civil War is synonymous with Biafra. The Biafran territory was the battlefield theatre for almost the entire duration of the Civil War and its population bore the brunt of that bloodletting exercise. Citizens of former Biafra, most of whom are Ndiigbo, still bear the psychological and physical scars of a murderous war that has irreversibly changed everything else in Nigeria. The generation of combatants that fought the Civil War are in their middle age or older. Nigeria owes this generation the onus of providing some type of closure for the mayhem that they lived through in the epic struggle to keep Nigeria’s territorial integrity whole. Not doing so could mean one of two things namely: that the Civil War has really not ended or that its outcome is unworthy and irrelevant in nation building.

In the meantime, the Civil War era is subject to all sorts of revisionist contortions by individuals and groups who often feel that, somehow, there must be ways to exploit such human tragedy for short-term material or political gain. President Obasanjo, for example, during one of his many off-the-script remarks, alluded to the Civil War as a battle for resource control. While this assertion served whatever interest he sought to placate at the time of his comments, the generality of Nigerians, particularly former Biafrans loathe his audacity and simplistic conclusions on an obviously controversial subject. That was certainly not a statesmanlike way to address a subject that has left bleeding wounds in the minds of millions of compatriots who paid dearly during the Civil War. It was also not a befitting requiem for the millions of lives that perished prematurely during that costly war. Some politicians, both military and civilian, have also on occasions sought to exploit the civil war matter in ways that detract immensely from the true significance of that national experience. It behooves Nigeria to adroitly come to terms with what that war was really all about because the status quo allows for a void which is now being filled in ways that are clearly counterproductive to the interests of all concerned.

But nowhere else are the implications of the Civil War felt more acutely than in the former East. With the defeat of Biafra, the wedge between Ndiigbo and minority groups of the former East has become widened and entrenched to the detriment of interests of all inhabitants of the region. Within the Igbo heartland, individuals and groups are at daggers drawn because of the unresolved status of Biafra and residual issues that surround the prosecution and outcome of the Civil War. A viewpoint, which is typified by stance of the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), calls for transformation of Igboland into a resurgent nation called “Biafra”. According to its leadership, the modern-day Biafra shall be brought into existence through nonviolence where its prototype was subdued militarily only 3 decades ago at the conclusion of the Civil War. The overwhelming majority of Igbo political elite envision the future of Ndiigbo within the context of a united Nigeria for obvious reasons. Within the pro One-Nigeria Igbo political alignment, there are various shades of opinion as regards the extent of autonomy that shall best protect interests of Ndiigbo within the federation. For the average Igbo, the choices are not easy hence the ongoing propaganda battle to mobilize popular support for diverse entrenched positions.

Should the Civil War and its repercussions, as important as they are to the evolution of today’s Nigeria, be allowed to continue to mire the development agenda of Africa’s premier nation ad infinitum? The obvious answer is no. The Civil War deserves more honor and respect from all and sundry that it gets at the moment. Tragically, everyone appears to be more interested in exploiting it rather than according it the reverence that it rightly deserves in the lives of all whose destiny have been irreversibly changed in its wake. If Nigerians have learnt no enduring lessons from the bloodbath that extinguished lifetime prospects of millions of fellow compatriots, then maybe the Civil War should never have been fought. The war did not only happen, but it also resulted in a total transformation of all aspects of the Nigerian society since its conclusion. The Civil War may have been a great teacher but we, its survivors, are obviously slow students of history. How else can one begin to rationalize the lackadaisical attitude with which we trivialize an experience that affected millions of lives directly while rocking the very foundations of Africa’s most populous nation state to the point of near total collapse?

One indubitable fact about the Civil War is that no sane Nigerian is advocating for its repeat at this time in spite of all the daunting myriad of problems that confront us as a people. There may be a lot of saber rattling from competing interest groups that comprise Nigeria but it is obvious that no single entity or group is willing or able to press for agenda that can lead to open hostilities reminiscent of the Civil War. The challenge that confronts us as Africans and Nigerians in the 21st Century is to devise the means to make our unpalatable history and cultural diversity to work in our favor, for a change. The bellicose rhetoric that emanate from rival interest groups may be pleasing to the ears of the immediate target audiences who often feel that their ills are the handiwork of others. Currently, it has become fashionable to be identified as parochial champions of ethnopolitical causes. This is understandable because of the pernicious nature of the crippling crises that continuously torment Nigeria. Some have proffered laudable ideas for defanging the monster that threatens to devour the Nigerian nation and its peoples. The truth, however, is that the complexities that abound in Nigeria’s geopolitical history cannot be wished away overnight or instantly resolved by dealing with single item issues.

The Civil War should be made a focus for rallying Nigerians once more for a new beginning. That historical watershed has defined the world in which the average Nigerian lives today. The Civil War, circumstances that precipitated it and the enormity of costs for waging it must be kept alive in the minds of the average citizen in perpetuity. For Nigeria to move forward, it must establish structures that shall help to honor the memories of fellow citizens who paid dearly in the struggle to define the country that we inherit today. That historical epoch must be etched into the consciousness of the average Nigerian through formal education as well as through creation of national monuments and historical sites to honor the sacrifices of millions of victims of the Civil War. The National Assembly should enact and the President should sign a legislation creating a National Memorial Day as a holiday to commemorate heroic sacrifices made on both sides of the battle line by fellow citizens during the Civil War. Funds should be mobilized by all levels of government in collaboration the with the general public, business community and NGOs, for creation of befitting monuments to depict the nation’s resolve never to repeat the tragedy of the past in our collective search for a better future. A history that repeats itself is that which was ignored.

Three decades after conclusion of the Civil war, an organization has emerged to pursue the cause of articulating and presenting the perspective of Nigerian war veterans. War Veterans Social Welfare Association of Nigeria, which now boasts of membership that runs into tens of thousands across the country, provides an overdue organizational platform for those who have physically borne the burden of nation building through exposing their lives to great risks. The rank and file of the veterans’ group cut across all strata of the Nigerian society. Its leadership has functional rapport with the government and the military establishment. The veterans are destined to become a powerful force, now that they are organized, in influencing the future direction of the country in coming months and years. There could never be a better way to truly understand and appreciate the story of an event than to get to hear the firsthand account of those who orchestrated it. Those who are genuinely interested in seeking the way to find closure to the Civil War and its consequences ought to welcome and collaborate with this veterans’ group as its agenda unfolds. Many groups that had attempted to provide succor to disabled veterans encamped in Oji River, Enugu State and elsewhere, now have a better platform to make their contributions to wield a greater leverage.

The danger of not properly memorializing the Civil War is that modern-day sophists may continue to dissipate huge amount of energy and time in trying to reinvent the wheel. Some individuals and group may indeed be in complete denial about what the war was all about and of course, its outcome. The problems that confront 21st Century Africa are legion. But the best brains that Africa can afford today are wiling away their time, energy and God-given talents bickering and pontificating on the purest way to organize our society while millions of our kith and kin languish in material poverty and accompanying sociocultural decay. Nigerians, as a people, must quickly come to terms with reality and begin to focus their attention where it ought to be, which is addressing the daily survival needs of compatriots. Our political pundits, particularly, should begin to disabuse their minds of the notion that nothing good can ever happen to our people until we first correct all errors of the past. The world that we live in is a dynamic one. Life is an ever-unfolding phenomenon. We should make necessary moves now to put the past in perspective by etching the relevant lessons from it into our subconscious while we move on to the daunting task of seeking the means to educate, feed and provide for our people.

A collective project to memorialize the Civil War will serve as an elixir that can soothe the pains that abound in contemporary Nigeria. Creating a National Memorial Day can become a powerful symbol around which Nigerians could rally to establish a fresh confidence in shoring up our collective destiny. Such a national day shall become the only other holiday, aside from the Independence Day, which is not religious in nature or reflective of Nigeria’s Eurocentric colonial legacy. Establishment of monuments and historical sites shall energize the tourism industry and help in generating meaningful employment for localities where they are located. The Oputa Panel shall soon submit the report of the hearings it conducted to listen to inputs from all segments of the polity. The expected verdict should be that which can hasten the healing of wounds and soothing of pain that were carryovers from a bygone era. The task for the executive and legislative arms of government should be facilitated through initiation on a package deal that can be seen to be fair to all. A legislative bill creating the National Memorial Day shall go a long way in giving every citizen a new sense of belonging while establishing a fresh basis for national solidarity.

Dim C. Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi, is the archetypical Biafran. But his take on the notion of Biafra actualization still remains that it should be a mental and psychological phenomenon, not a physical one for obvious reasons. As a good student of history, he does appreciate that times have changed and that only fools would opt to stagnate or retrogress amidst a fast-moving global environment. The best way to honor the Biafran cause and all those who have paid dearly during the Civil War years, on both sides of the battle line, is to memorialize that epoch of our history so that we shall never forget to learn from our past experiences. The human tragedy of the Civil War era ought to be seen as the sacrifice for nation building. Failure to learn from our collective experience so far detracts from the import of that sacrifice. The blood of 1.5 million men, women and children who perished as well as the anguish of countless others who endured starvation, disease and poverty during the Civil War ought to be consecrated and enshrined in the minds of present and future generations for whose ultimate survival those sacrifices were made. Biafra and other relevant aspects of the Civil War shall ever endure in the consciousness of all those who experienced them firsthand. Achieving peace by finding acceptable closure to our unpleasant past is the creative way of dealing with the Biafra on my mind.

OKENWA R. NWOSU, M.D.
Upper Marlboro, Maryland, U.S.A.

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