At long last, there has been a recent upsurge in reviving the Biafran tragedy, thanks mainly to the Igbos, pro-Biafra organizations and conscientious people from every part of the globe, who have put humanity above selfishness, hate and bigotry. The efforts of young people also deserve special attention, including writers, activists and those clamoring for separation (whether we agree with them or not). They have the right to express themselves and can hardly be accused of a crime in a country where former military dictators and other VIP rogues have roadways and airports named after them, and are honored with national awards, honorary PhDs and a cozy spot in the Council of State. Even if unruly behavior has been sometimes cited within these groups, this cannot be used to condemn their larger vision and concerns, which is of utmost importance here.
For 50 years and counting, painstaking efforts have been made to deodorize or suppress the story of Biafra, all in an effort not to give any legitimacy to the self-determination struggles of its people, and to conceal the war crimes committed during that period.
But there is no going back; more than ever, we are now determined to revive the story, ask pertinent questions and demand justice. To use a common cliché, better late than never! History has shown that whenever a silenced people find their voice, the rest of society is threatened. So, it should come as no surprise that references to Biafra often meet with accusation, condemnation and narrow-minded criticism. Ironically, a lot of such attacks come from fellow Nigerians who flaunt themselves as righteous disciples of unity. How can you want to unite with people whose pain and concerns are of no consequence to you? Interestingly, too, these persistent critics of any and anything Biafra would hypocritically express compassion with regards to tragedies in distant places like the Sudan, Liberia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa, among others.
But it really doesn’t matter. Despite the curses, disapprovals and ridicules from haters of the Biafran narrative, we will no longer be silenced and we absolutely don’t care what you think or say!
In April of this year (2017) at the SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies), many of us gathered from different parts of the world (not just the Igbo community as some would like to speculate) to contemplate, debate and resuscitate the legacy of Biafra. We recalled and lamented, but most of all we held intellectual discussions, celebrated and vowed to continue to keep the narrative alive. Our conference was just one in an increasing number of movements and seminars designed to reappraise Biafra and to honor the numerous innocent lives that were wasted during that dreadful experience.
I was a Biafran child and the spirit of Biafra will always live in me! It was a spirit of self-determination and security, and of unprecedented ingenuity, creativity, efficiency and resourcefulness. It was all the above, notwithstanding its imperfections, and a valid reason why I am extremely proud to have been nurtured by that young nation. We were not rebels; who were we rebelling against? A regime that itself was enthroned by means of a rebellion? A government that was not legitimately voted into power? We were not Biafrans because we suddenly embarked on a self-centered mission to separate from Nigeria and destroy its “glorious” oneness. Like thousands of eastern families that were chased out of northern Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, places like Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan, we were compelled, in fact ordered, to return to the east. We are still confused about why we were asked to leave, and why were suddenly exposed to such venom, since we had not committed any crime. My father, our patriarch, had served diligently since enlisting in the Nigerian army in 1945, eventually serving as its first indigenous Director of Ordnance. He has never been accused of participating in or supporting any coup, or of embezzling a penny of government money. But we didn’t wait for answers to our perplexity and left Kaduna and Lagos as we were required to. We were actually fortunate to have made it out safely; after all, there were thousands who also agreed to leave, but were slaughtered before making the trip back home.
My father and his younger brother fought conscientiously for Biafra; they never regretted and never apologized for their military roles. Like them, I also make no apologies and have absolutely no regrets or shame for being a Biafran. I remain eternally grateful for the protection that Biafra afforded my family against a ruthless enemy; Biafra was our only source of hope at the time.
|Photos from Legacies of Biafra Conference held
in April 2017 at the SOAS University of London
(School of Oriental and African Studies)