The famed words of George Santayana goes “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is not an amnesia of history that we are plagued by, despite how starved we were in curricula pedagogy, it would seem that the turbulent history of the country we call home has indeed found a way to our knowledge. But my fellow millennials, I am keen to remind us that whatever knowledge we have of the past is not a memory, but a story, a story told by those for whom it was a memory. As with any storytelling, it is not void of its figurative elements, it is not void of the interwoven dance of personality and facts. When it comes to history, no man wields a monopoly of the truth. Yet it is this same history that some seem to exploit today for many self-serving reasons.
The facts remain. A group of five overzealous majors, full youthful nativity as much as the thirst for blood, in a fit of self-righteous rebellion, took matters into their hands and went on a killing spree that would forever change the course of this nation. The coup was seen as an “Igbo-coup” and would prove a tough appellation to argue against; after all, four of the five main coup plotters led by Kaduna Nzeogwu were Igbos. Micheal Okpara, the Premier of then Eastern Nigeria was exempted in the killings; Nnamdi Azikiwe, also one of us was conveniently out of the country at the time of the coup and the fact the somehow the scepter of power post-coup, landed on the laps of Aguiyi-Ironsi—yet another Easterner— didn’t help matters. The Igbo conspiracy was well and truly on solid grounds it would seem. Of course it didn’t matter that Adewale Ademoyega was a Yoruba from the West, or that Nzeogwu himself was a Northerner by birth, born in Kaduna, hardly spoke Igbo and was fluent in Hausa, or that Okpara was not executed that fateful day because he had a foreign clergy visiting, or that the coup itself was foisted by Aguiyi-Ironsi; not at all. It seemed too coincidental to be true. All happening at a time (or so the history books tell us) when ethno-tribal and ethno-religious tension and resentment was rife. It was as though the Chi of N’Igbo had forsaken them and Ekwensu was poised to bring war upon them. It started with the bloodier counter coup that removed Aguiyi-Ironsi from office, along with the slaughter of Igbo soldiers and officers (some say in their hundreds); then came the pogroms, systematic killings of hundreds of thousands (some say a million) Igbos across Nigeria, more so in the North. The war that ensued thereafter was full of atrocities against Ndi’Igbo of Holocaust proportions! In the end, 3 million Biafrans were left dead compared to less than 100,000 Nigerians, 2 million of which died from starvation by the blockade set up by the Nigerian army. War crimes was wreaked against Igbos as the world and the colonial maters turned a blind eye to the conflict. It was a genocide, not a war, a crime “…Not a single person has been punished for…” According to Chinua Achebe. And the cry of that injustice still echoes in the valleys of the ethno-tribal divide between the Ndi’Igbo and the rest of Nigeria today.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “We are not makers of History. We are made by history.” Now all this I know, not by memory, but by the books. I never lived through the war, never saw the bloodshed, or starvation, never held the gun of battle, never saw how my grandfather relinquished his wealth post-war. The war is not memory that I can remember, but history. Yet that history we never made, it would seem, has made us, and brought us back again to face the ghosts of our ancestors restless for justice. We have been dealt a choice as young people — to be the history makers of tomorrow today, we wield that power to either let lie these demons of war or awaken them. It is a choice we have, much like those young majors had when their ideological nativity led to the rivers of bloodshed.
Dear brethren, I am very much empathetic to this Biafran cause, I can understand your frustrations with the state of affairs in Nigeria, and how it seems there is a deliberate agenda by the Nigerian government to destroy our dreams and ambitions. You harbour fears and doubt, and it is that fear that has been seized upon by demagogues. Hypocrites, they are! They rant on about conspiracy theories and monger fear about fictitious suppression, all while basking in a place of privilege or in diaspora, wielding dual citizenships and passports. I recall the Biafra Remembrance Day just last month on the 30th of June, declared by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and I observed something most troubling by the fascist rhetoric of this supposed saviours of the East. In their official statement, where they stated that the leader of IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, (a British-Nigerian citizen by the way) was “ordering” a stay-in to honuor the day. Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering this man was used to making inflammatory and inciting statements, and has previously made it clear that the path to secession need not be peaceful. It is a story reoccurring in history, an idealistic lunatic emerges, charismatically radicalizes many by exploiting their fears, using history to their whims, plundering upon the inefficiencies of the current state, and of course, the garnishing promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, where all your dreams will come true. He fits the bill (with the exception of the charisma part); it is all self-serving thirst for blood. Their alleged grievances of marginalization being bandied about for Ndi’Igbo is also self-serving, and accruing from a deep-seated sense of entitlement we think, along with the Yorubas and Hausas wield over Nigeria. Nigeria is made up of over 200 ethnic minorities, who remain subdued in the overall matter of affairs and decision-making that affect their lives, when it comes to governance. The cry of marginalization is very insensitive to them; don’t you think?
Charity begins at home. We could go back and forth on the shortcoming of the Nigerian leaders to Ndi’Igbo, and remain blinded to the rot of our own. We can ignore state infrastructure in decay, capital projects that drive the economy neglected, we could consider the wealthy Igbos who have chosen to make all major investments and live in diaspora. They build palatial homes in Lekki and Wuse, export our brightest children overseas, many of whom, from the comfort of First World countries, spew on about marginalization nonsense and beat the drums of war. It has been 47 years since the war that essentially brought the Igbos to the lowest of lows in the social spectrum. Wealthy men lost properties and businesses they had in Nigeria, and were reduced to receive only £20 stipends. 47 years after a war that impoverished Ndi’Igbo, and then here we are with Igbo not just surviving under said marginalization, but with millions as private citizens, fiercely industrious, dominating trade in Nigeria. It would seem, as Mr. King did say, the history has made us. Ndi’Igbo have never needed the government, our adversity has fostered our growth as a people. Yes, we should hold them accountable, we should persist in our desire to be politically relevant, but we must not—we cannot—as youths let all our hope be hinged on the mercy of the federal government, that is too much power to give an institution. We can find ourselves right in this country. It is counter intuitive to think that if we can’t do well under a government that is said to marginalize us, that we can do better on our own. We are far too integrated into Nigeria for that to be a reality. Nigeria needs Ndi’Igbo as much as we need her, and we are just as ill-prepared as our ancestors were for the xenophobic backlash that is guaranteed to ensue, post-secession.
Dear brethren, Nigeria may be the source of our unemployment or underemployment, but Biafra is not the solution. Don’t play into the hands of isolationists, who believe everyone else is wrong but them, who believe all their troubles are always external and not internal, who believe that other tribes are their drawback. These drums of war you naively beat up, shall you engage its violent dance? Are you ready to bloody your hands with the lives of innocent men, to destroy dreams, leave mothers widowed and children fatherless? What is the cost of your independence? Let us not romantically beat up the drums of war in longing nostalgia for a time in history we never lived through. Again, George Santayana says “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, yet those who will not LET GO of the past are doomed to relive it. It is convenient to lay your frustrations upon the government and grievances of marginalization, it is easy to give your ears to demagogues who gratify your doubt with fear which is their greatest tool, all for their self-serving purpose. Mana ndi nbe anyị si na onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe. Biko jisike gbawa ngbo nke gi na ebe’ọ bụla. Self-determination begins with you and not your country. ọ zugo.
Emeka doesn’t like to talk about himself in the third-person, he thinks it’s weird and uncomfortable. So Emeka will stop now… but before then, you should know Emeka is a disciple of Jesus. I find solace in the recluse of sagely contemplations; to make meaning of knowledge. Is youth wasted on the young? Or wisdom on the old? A mystery…