By Russell Bluejack
I write as an Ijaw son from Bonny and Nkoro in Rivers State. Ijaw is my tribe, but Biafra remains my national consciousness. I have noticed an inexplicable and unnecessary division in the South-East and South-South in analogy to the reinvigorated quest to restore the Sovereign States of Biafra. I think our people in these sister regions should reflect on these political and divisive ascriptions and rediscover themselves. We are neither South-South nor South-East. We are the people of the Eastern Region, a people politically and economically impugned by our enemy in their bid to break our solid SOLIDARITY. We were too formidable for our enemies. Some of our people think Biafra is an Igbo thing because they are ignorant of the origin of the name. Let me do justice to the origin of Biafra.
THE ORIGIN OF BIAFRA
Biafra is not aboriginal to Biafrans since it was birthed out of the need to work together and escape the pogromists, rapists, land invaders, and religious fundamentalists called Fulani. The leader of the Eastern Region, Dim Ojukwu, an educated military officer, assembled stakeholders from Ijaw, Ibibio, Efik, and other tribes that constituted the region in his bid to come up with a name that would reflect the heterogeneous ambience of the region. Chief Frank Opigo, an Ijaw traditional ruler that hails from today’s Bayelsa, suggested BIAFRA, and this went down well with everyone in attendance, for it referred to the water body that covers the entire region. What Ojukwu sought after was a name that would not be exclusionary to any of the tribes (Ijaw, Ibibio, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Anioma etc) in the region. Biafra became the baby of that quest.
Biafra, having come from a non-Igbo stakeholder, became the national consciousness of both the Igbo and non-Igbo constituents of the Eastern Region. Thenceforth, the need to actualise the nation of their dreams, the Land of the Rising Sun, became the aspiration of every easterner. The failure of Nigeria to heed the Aburi Accord reached in Ghana for restructuring stoked the fire of the agitation for freedom. The Sovereign States of Biafra was declared, but it was short-lived because of avoidable internal wranglings that spiralled into the loss of the Civil War. The incongruity in the Eastern Region was the result of the feud between Ojukwu and Dr Kenule Benson Saro-Wiwa, an illustrious Ogoni son and Ojukwu’s military mentality and disposition.
WHY THE STRUGGLE FAILED IN THE 60S
Popular perception has it that the struggle for emancipation from perceived and obvious oppression by Nigeria was scuttled by the Civil War. That is part of the truth, not the whole. Biafra was rocked by internal wranglings. Two prominent figures in the region, Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa, became estranged friends over an issue that should have remained personal. In one of our serious meetings, I was made to understand this side of the story. Legborsi, Emmanuel, a very prominent Ogoni son who doubles as a formidable member of my team, THE SOUTH-EAST/SOUTH-SOUTH COALITION FOR BIAFRA, opened up the Pandora Box concerning the real cause of their feud. Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa were caught in a love triangle, with Princess Amina, the daughter of the then Sultan as the magnetic force. As scions (sons of very wealthy parents), they had the needed charisma to steer the imagination of the Sultan. Gowon, a senior military officer, joined the fray, but found himself as an underdog, financially and academically, for the duo of Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa were of both fabulous financial and transformative academic standing.
Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa, once friends, now rivals, had to slug it out. The laurel at stake was Amina’s affection. Saro-Wiwa dishonestly struck a cord in Amina’s emotion and carried the day. The Sultan, according to the veracious story, could not find his daughter and had the innocent Gowon, the suitor he abhorred, to blame for it. A triangle of hate became the result of this misdeed by Saro-Wiwa: Gowon hated both Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa; Ojukwu hated Saro-Wiwa for edging him out in the most dishonest manner, and Saro-Wiwa burned in annoyance over the contest. An Ikwerre elder, nonagenarian, corroborated this story when I met him. He told me that the struggle hit the rock then because of two reasons:
(1) the feud between Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa
(2) the militarised mentality of Ojukwu’s.
The elder thinks that if Ojukwu, though well educated and exposed, were a civilian, he would have appreciated the need to dialogue with other stakeholders before going to war. If the stakeholders had been told what each constituent would benefit from the emerging nation, the leaders would have had what to say to their people to excite them to take the struggle seriously. Ojukwu, on the other hand, wanted these stakeholders to convince their people to fight first and discuss later. This did not go down well with them. Some, however, saw the need to fight. The festering relationship between Ojukwu and Saro-Wiwa led to a huge sabotage. The bottom line of the accounts of Legborsi and the elder is that our people were not united. Our disunity caused by personal grouse and lack of tact cost us that war. It is incontrovertible that we would have won the war had our house not been in disarray.
THE URGENT NEED FOR OUR UNITY NOW
Several years have gone by, yet the socio-economic and political inconcinnities that gave rise to the agitation then still stare us in the face. As a matter of fact, there is no gainsaying that if our fathers had reasons to fight then, there are more reasons to fight now. The situation today is worse than it was then. Oppression, socio-economic exclusion, and glaring prejudice meted out to the South-South and South-East, the real economic mainstay of this contraption called Nigeria, have reached unbelievable and unimaginable proportions. Even Ojukwu could not have conceived the precarious level of hate shown to us by the sons and daughters of Uthman Dan Fodio. The unfair treatment we are shown should make our unity imperative. Our personality issues and lack of tact gave them the happenstance to divide us and make us conquerable. We, the South-East and South-South people, are the victims of their jihadist rituals. Our women get raped, our lands invaded, our crops killed, and our men butchered.
The Igbo, Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Anioma, Ibibio, Efik etc have always lived together in love and conviviality. A critical observation of our values and culture reveals our common ancestry. We dress alike, eat alike, behave alike, and worship alike. How different are we, brothers and sisters? Let us come together and fight this monster. They have sent their soldiers to occupy our two regions out of fear of our imminent reunion. Exasperated by their inability to stop us from uniting, they have taken to poisoning our children under the pretence of immunization devoid of the viva of the health departments. In their bid to hold on to power at all cost, they flouted the constitutional proviso concerning the absence of the President. Their hatred for us led to the embargo placed on our Igbo brothers and sisters, which makes it difficult for any of them to become President of Nigeria. We and our Igbo brothers and sisters are the real victims here. We have to come together, sit together, discuss together, reach a documented agreement, and escape together.
Our unity is the only leeway out of this fortress called Nigeria. Is it not shameful that whereas we have all the resources the Gambari are the ones exercising power over them all? Our Igbo brothers and sisters own both oil and the business environment that sustain this oppressive dungeon called Nigeria, but travel to the East and you will weep. They killed the Bill seeking the relocation of company headquarters to regions where the raw material is fetched. They killed the Bill seeking compensation to developing the Eastern Region. Whatever comes from the South-East and South-South dies on arrival. If bills that seek better welfare packages for our regions always die, who is that mad person that is telling you that we can restructure this dangerous citadel that they claim belongs to them? Was it not the failure of Nigeria to heed restructuring agreement that sparked off the Civil War? The only way out of this quagmire is the unity of South-East and South-South. Let us unite and live in peace and harmony. Our sister regions need a respite from rape, massacre, genocide, pogrom, alienation, discrimination, and prejudice. Let us keep our unreal differences aside and face the enemy together. They will continue to defeat us as long as we remain divided. Our division is their strength, but our unity is their weakness. Jasper Adaka Boro, Dr Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Sen. (Dr.) Obi Wali is some of the great men this fake nation has killed gruesomely. We have not found Mazi Nnamdi Kanu even as I write. Do you see how they hate us? The python that danced in the East has become a crocodile smiling in the South-South.
Brothers and sisters, Saro-Wiwa was guillotined by Nigeria after a kangaroo judgment. Boro was used and shot. Obi Wali was butchered like a condemned chicken. Our beloved leader of IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is nowhere to be found because of his liberating activities. Nigeria is a place where it is a heinous crime to speak up against oppression and neo-slavery. Nigeria has become too dangerous for Christians. Nigeria has become too stuffy for anything that breathes. We have to go, brothers and sisters. We have overstayed in this prison. We do not even know who signed the 1914 amalgamation since all our nationalists were either adolescents, toddlers, or unborn at the time. Nigeria is the property of Britain’s under the management of the Fulani. Let the South-South and South-East come together and rebirth Biafra. They hate us and we hate ourselves. Let love and understanding lead the way this time. Let us dialogue and end our differences once and for all. The enemy has become vicious. We should become more tactical now. May God bless us all as we heed this clarion call. May God bless the entire constituents of the Old Eastern Region.
(Russell Idatoru Bluejack is a thinker, revolutionary writer, university tutor, and socio-economic and political analyst that writes from the creeks in the coastal part of Biafra.)