Former Biafra warlord, Col Joe Achuzia (Air raid) reminisces on the Nigeria–Biafra war, concluding that the short-lived Biafra republic was neither defeated, nor surrendered. The famous author of Requiem Biafra and General Secretary of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) also speaks on the recent Enugu killings by Fulani herdsmen, declaring that nobody has the monopoly of aggression.
He added that those who believe that Nigeria is indivisible are living in a fool’s paradise. Sunday Sun met him at his residence in Asaba.
Col. Joe Achuzie
My own opinion is that we have never got the situation right since after the first coup in 1966. Democracy means a political arrangement by the people, for the people. In other words there must be a concord or disagreement between the led and the leaders. In this instance, since the 1966 coup took place and the military came on board, the military introduced a system of government where aspects of development are arrested and the majority of those being led are at the bottom. Within that system, it is the person at the top that gives the order. What he wants, with his cronies around him is what takes place. But in a democracy, it is supposed to be the wishes of the people, and for democracy to work, the top hierarchy must be weak enough to derive its strength from the lower bottom, where the masses are. It is the wishes of the masses that make for democracy, not the autocracy of the person on top.Do you attribute the prevailing ethno-religious tension and clashes as manifestations of the dictatorship you are talking about and where do you think it will lead to?
The ethnic clashes have always been about the pogrom. It was ethnic clashes that led us into a civil war, or what you can call a genocidal war. It was a one-sided genocidal war, that we on our side were able to defend ourselves. I will always say thanks to the Almighty who gave us the knowhow and the ingenuity to be able to ward off a war that would have decimated and wiped off the Igbo nation from the map of the world. That notwithstanding, ethnic clashes have two factors that one should look into.
First, nobody whose land or ethnic environment looks good and serves the people well, will dare to move out of their own surrounding and go to lay down their lives in another person’s territory in an attempt to possess that place. It is only when a group finds wherever they are unfavourable and uninhabitable that the thought of venturing or adventuring into other people’s territory becomes the vogue. At the moment, ethnic clashes in Nigeria, have what we call environmental problem, which even the government hasn’t been able to look into. They continue thinking it is a political arrangement that can be solved politically. No. I don’t believe that.
The Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes in the south, which I believe is what you are alluding to has consumed many lives. How do you think it can be resolved?
The issue of Fulani herdsmen could be solved, but not the way our present government is treating it. The way our present government is pursuing it, taking into consideration all the hate accusations and hate propaganda that took place during the last election, and within the last 12 years to be precise, is wrong. When Jonathan was in power; all that was coming out from the north was that we will make the government ungovernable; we will make the country ungovernable. Somehow, political pundits will say they were able to make the country ungovernable. Now the situation is that the same people who were saying that they will make the country ungovernable are now the people in government. Their coming into government was predicated on the adventures of Boko Haram, which, they said, they will put a stop to. Instead of Boko Haram, we are now hearing about the Fulani herdsmen.
These herdsmen are the same people who attacked people from the middle belt since the past seven years or more, and shifted them from the west bank of Benue state into the eastern part, and it has taken almost three years for the same people (Fulani herdsmen) to cross River Benue to the eastern side and killed these ethnic people that live there; and are now pursuing them into Plateau State. And while at Plateau State, they are now pursuing them as if the instructions given to them are pursue and occupy. You don’t burn houses and kill people so that cows can graze. We are shocked that the herdsmen that we used to know are involved in these kind of killings. I ask myself, is it Boko Haram metamorphosing into a specie called herdsmen by virtue of the fact that they are all armed?
For them to be armed, somebody must be arming them, and I don’t believe that any sensible Fulani person will go out of their way to arm the herdsmen who they expect will carry their herds down southwards , so that they will make money out of it. By using sophisticated weapons and arms against the people who they expect to buy the cows, means that they are not really interested in taking their flock down south for economic purposes. It is an adventure into land occupation, and if it is that, what happened recently in Enugu is a clear signal to us. It is a declaration of war, and we have taken note. We will not tolerate such a situation happening again. Any more move of such nature will meet with force. Our neighbours in the middle belt have been fighting them, and they have now gone beyond them to our doorsteps. As far as I am concerned, to be cautious doesn’t mean that you are afraid. Caution is a state of stop and think, and prepare so that you are not taken by surprise.
How do you see what happened as a declaration of war?
If you listened to the statement of the governor of Enugu State, and that of the security officials, they had up to four, five days notice. How did that warning reach them? And what action did they take? The governor said he called a security meeting, which is the proper thing to do. But instead of action from the security officials, they were telling him to reach the president. But unfortunately, the response that should have come from the president was not forthcoming, and as a result the officers refused to act claiming that they are federal officers. And so the threat took place as scheduled, and those that came from Nasarawa state were fully armed. Who are those that we know that are fully armed in Nigeria? They are Boko Haram. In other words, are they trying to tell us that Boko Haram has headquarters in Nasarawa State. If that is so, Boko Haram is already at our doorsteps masquerading as Fulani herdsmen.
Now you have got the notice for declaration of war, what is to be done?
When you get a notice of declaration of war, you put the mechanism of diplomacy in place. That way, discussions on the ways and means of averting any clashes that will take human lives. But at the same time, you that got the warning will reply by telling the other side that you have received the notice, and that you are sending words back that any more move of this nature, you will not wait for interpretation. You will react automatically.
Have you put the mechanisms you just enumerated in place?
Of course! Do you expect us to sit back and wait for other communities to be attacked? Of course not! I said earlier that caution is not fear. We were cautious by not reacting immediately, because if we do that things will go bad. The period or the need for diplomacy would have eluded us. The government will now listen to what we are saying, because the threats from these herdsmen have been with us for a long time. We have been tolerating it because we felt it is because of lack of education on how to handle animal husbandry. They are used to nomadic ways of life of moving from place to place, but what has happened in the last few years is not nomadic way of life. It seems to be a deliberate external action. The only way of getting weapons is through external sources. To say we don’t know where the weapons are coming from is a lie. Boko Haram doesn’t get their weapons from the ports in Port Harcourt or Lagos.
Is it just Boko Haram you are suspecting; or you feel there is state involvement?
Boko Haram has disrupted the structure in parts of the north by claiming that they are a religious organization on a jihad. It is for this reason that sometimes we tend to associate what Boko Haram is doing with islamization of the country. But most of our friends who are Muslims say Boko Haram are not Muslims. Boko Haram have declared that they are here to gain territories. They have had time to establish themselves in some states in the north. It is possible that they have changed their tactics by fusing with these Fulani herdsmen, find minor jobs, and interact with the local people while waiting for orders. That’s why I say that a message of war declaration has been sent to us and we have taken note. We will now start searching to make sure that any remaining camp of Fulanis within our territory does not contain arms dump, ammunition dump and terrorists.
Do you believe that the herdsmen attack has given fillip to the struggle for Biafra?
The struggle for Biafra has been going on since the day the war stopped. The Federal Government failed to do what the three “ R’s” suggested . We sent a lot of our children abroad during the war, for fear of extermination. These children went out wearing labels on their necks indicating their names and birthplaces and country; for example Okafor, native of Biafra. Not Nigeria. We packaged them to different countries. They are now adults. Coming home, they find that they need to be engaged with work or business. They are now asked to state their state of origin, local government, etc. If he says he was born in Ohafia, they tell him to go and get a letter signed by his traditional ruler, and local government chairman. If he fails they say where were you all these years? He becomes an alien in his own country. That’s why we the elders insist that we need interpretation of the law so that these children will be treated as Biafrans in Nigeria. To get it clear, we had to take the Federal Government to court.
What hope do you have that the court can help in this sensitive issue because there is no precedence?
Precedence are created by people. If we didn’t go to court and such a situation occurs again, the people that will seek interpretation will come across the same thing you are asking me that there is no precedence. If we lose, we will seek redress in a higher court.
In this quest for self determination, are you consulting other ethnic groups?
The former president set up a committee to look into ways and means of dousing this agitation for self determination across the country. Recommendations were made, but steps were not made to actualize the decisions taken. Obasanjo also set up a similar committee, but they accused him of nursing a third term agenda. Jonathan was accused of trying to go beyond two terms in office for setting up the committee and efforts were made to scuttle whatever was intended from that conference. The new government ought to take up the resolutions of that conference.
You were involved in the last struggle which was violent. If diplomacy fails, and you are asked to fight, will you fight?
( Laughs) It is not only one person that has the monopoly of aggression. If aggression is imposed on my people, of course, I will react accordingly.
Is Nigeria indivisible as some people are wont to say?
No country is indivisible. If a country like Britain with four component parts –English, Welsh, Scottish and the Irish – can split after so many years, then that argument can’t stand. The Irish pulled away and fought for self determination for so many years. The Scottish have been using diplomacy all along and we aware that a few years ago they were almost on the verge of going. The Welsh are just waiting to go, if Scotland goes, they will go.Who packaged Nigeria? Was it done by a Nigerian? This is a legacy of colonialism, and because of that it is a cloak that can be thrown off anytime. When Ghandi was fighting for the independence of India, he chose passive resistance, like what we in IPOB have chosen. After independence India became divided. Pakistan went its own way. Bangladesh went its own way, and so on. That of Nigeria, it is only a fool- hardy person with a colonial mentality, and who wishes to replace the colonial master that will be working under the mantle of an indivisible Nigeria.
But northern elders recently urged the president to crush any resuscitation of Biafra like was done before. Do you have that defeatist psychology?
It is only a fool who did not understand the history of the Nigeria- Biafra civil war, and how it ended that can say such a thing. The fellow you are talking about how old is he? What role did he play during the civil war? Those who partook in the civil war, none of them will go out of their way to use such a language. Even the younger officers like Babangida, and Buhari will not say, we won the war. Where was he at the time.?
So was Biafra defeated?
Of course, not. Biafra was never defeated. If anybody…
(Cuts in) But you surrendered.
We didn’t surrender. If there was a surrender, there must be a surrender terms of agreement. There must be a paper to that effect. Let them publish the terms of surrender, so that the country will know. It has been so many years since the war ended. Any document that is being kept should now come out of the archives, so that we should be able to know exactly what took place.
Are you still bitter about how the war ended?
If I was bitter, I wouldn’t have taken the steps that I took that brought about the end of the war.
What were the steps?
The steps that I took were first being told by the members of our exco to bring the war to an end. I could have said no, that I will not, because to bring a war to an end requires certain amount of knowhow and techniques. And if you don’t put it right, it will escalate the battle. But if you handle it properly the way we handled it, everything dies down. The federal troops picked up their guns, went back to their camps. Our troops picked up their weapons and went home.
That was why there was no exchange of prisoners of war, no exchange of weapons seized. Is that how a war of such magnitude should end? And some people are saying that they won? If they won, there would be prisoners of war.
How optimistic are you that Biafra will be realized in your lifetime?
No. I wasn’t looking for the realization of Biafra or no Biafra. My interest is that the present situation where the youths that were born in Biafra claiming their rights should be listened to and something done to either accommodate them, or allow them to set up their own country. Setting up their own country, to me shouldn’t be what they should be asking for at the moment. First, they should ask for the legitimization of their positions within the state called Nigeria, because we didn’t fight to get out of Nigeria as we cannot carry the soil away. What we fought for was that nobody crushed us and annihilate us so that there would be no Eastern region.
By Chidi Obineche