A sceptre has been looming over our heads, a sceptre called Biafra. For 42 years it has defied gravity and remained poised up above the firmament of the geographical location called Nigeria.
This sceptre most recently was brandished a little closer to our heads by the publishing of Achebe’s book, There was a Country.
It has brought wars. Wars for now, only in an intellectual capacity, fought with the pen and keyboards on Newspapers and on social media. Old friendships have been threatened and new alliances forged. 42 years ago, allegedly, there was no victor, no vanquished; today, for now, that status quo remains. But how long until the balance gives?
Some fear the war would soon be brought down from the virtual world. Tempers are flaring and grievances are being remembered. Stratagems are being mulled over and positions are being noted. This perhaps was a little more than Achebe intended as he said in the book, “My aim is not to provide all the answers but to raise questions and perhaps to cause a few headaches”. Achebe is causing more than just a few headaches.
The Biafran war was fought between Biafra, a secessionist state and Federal forces of Nigeria. Today, the war would be fought by Igbo’s against Awolowo’s Yoruba on one side, and Igbo’s against the Hausa’s on the other. It will be fought by the children who knew nothing of the war except from biased indoctrination by their parents. This generation is largely confused. From the biased accounts, many of the generation believe the war was fought between Awolowo and some hapless Igbo women and children who he allegedly starved to death. Others believe the war was fought between Igbo civilians and Hausa soldiers, very few understand that the war was between a secessionist Biafra and the federal forces of Nigeria.
This mis-information and dis-education has led many intellectuals to clamour that the Biafran story be exhumed, and for the Biafran sceptre to be brought down and wielded -blood, gore and all – for all to confront, and a damn to the consequences. They believe it is history and this history must be taught in our schools, churches and anywhere it would be heard. They believe truth must be faced squarely and that closure is necessary. For them, calamity was wrought and that calamity must be discoursed and judged. Perhaps they seek consolation or apologies or just that Nigeria accepts the fact that genocide was committed within its borders. They think no further than this. They do not consider what their clamour might bring.
An opposing assemblage does not agree. They believe Biafra died long ago, and that it is usually always better that dead things remain dead. They fear that the dead Biafra exhumed will drag many innocent living back to the grave with it. This deferring faction cringe at the thought of what Biafran history will do in classes where it is taught. They have come down to the particulars, the reality, of what such divergent views of history will be like. They imagine a scenario, in a class, where two friends sit, one Hausa and one Igbo, and a lecturer walks in and expansiates on how the Hausa student’s father led an army of angry soldiers to the other friend’s hometown, killing and raping children and women, or how an Igbo mob lynched a group of Hausa traders in Onitsha. They imagine a football stadium where a Hausa footballer misses a shot in a crucial international competition, and one Igbo fan makes a remark on how the Hausa soldiers never missed a shot when it was aimed at Biafran women and children. They imagine a market place where this scepter of Biafran history is brought down.
Biafran history cannot be taught without bias.
An Igbo tutor will recount the tale of how his mother, wife and sisters were raped and butchered; the Hausa man will have no recollection of that, he will remember a war fought to retain the unity of his beloved Nigeria from ambitious and separatist elements.
Imagine a society, already filled with hate and deep gullies of tribal sentiments being given fodder for further mayhem. If it is a human society, blood will spill.
Humans do not learn; Nigerians do not consider that history repeats itself because of rehashing and exhuming of sentiments and mistakes. History repeats itself because we learn from history. Are the World Wars studied so that it could be avoided or so that the next war would be better fought? Is it true that governments have noted their military mistakes and have corrected themselves for the next engagement?
What will the Biafran history teach?
History cannot be forgotten, but where there is no singular true rendition of said history, where a people are not ready for such history, and where this history has the capacity to destroy a nation and innocent citizens, then that history should be left asleep.
If the story of Biafra must be exhumed, then, by all means, let us exhume Awolowo, Ojukwu, the soldiers and lives that were lost, and all the stake holders in that war; let them sit down with the likes of Yakubu Gowon and the living parties of the war. Let them tell us what they did in Biafra. Let them tell us what they did to our country, Nigeria. If history is truly the concern then let Nigerian history be taught. Biafran history is not the Nigerian history. The Civil war of 1967 is Nigerian history. What caused the Civil war? What caused the cause of the Civil war, and what caused that one too? What caused Nigeria? First causes. We should go back to the first cause of things and learn the truth. Biafran history can only be told by Biafrans and it will always be one-sided.
Those who were in the war and others who know of wars are noticeably silent. Even today after hundreds of years the slave story is still selectively taught. In a bus, on a train, in a prison or in anywhere, it will be unwise to engage in a discussion of how African slaves were branded and burnt by white supremacists, when whites are sitting on a side and blacks on the other.
Many governments have secrets and classified files, not because they thrive in secrecy, but because of the volatility of the information and history being classified. Certain historical truths constitute threats to national security; some facts, no matter how true would pose threats to world peace. The story of Biafra is a threat to Nigeria and Nigeria is not ready to face that threat.
We should face our demons one after the other. This is not the time for tribal sentiments. This is a time for survival which we can only attain through unity. This is a time to curb excesses and lawlessness. This is a time to curb certain liberties. Freedom should have its limits. There should be no freedom to insult the religion of others and defame what others term holy and sacred. It is a pity that Nigeria respects all the wrong freedoms: freedom to lynch, loot, and freedom of speech and information that will incite loss of innocent lives.
Prof Chinua Achebe has exercised his freedom, he experienced the war, he is Igbo, he is biased, and he is an old man. There is a reason men wait till they are old, dying or dead before they publish memoirs: It can no longer hurt them.
A country of excesses, this Nigeria: excess resources, excess idiotic leaders, excess crime, excess religion, excess injustice, excess wise men, excess opinions, excess riches, excess poverty, excess people, excess deaths, excess freedom and excess scepters.
We need restraint. Let us hold; let us not be too quick to bring down the sceptre of Biafra, it is worse than all the other sceptres haunting us. We must fight to keep Nigeria one, we must curb certain freedom of expressions harmful to innocent lives. There are those who still love this country deep down in there hearts. There are those who wish they can die for this country. There are those who remember the thrill we have shared in rare moments of national unity. There are those who know that a Nigeria without the Hausa is no nation; a Nigeria without the illustrious Igbos is bereft, and a Nigeria without the Yoruba is inconceivable.
This essay is for them.
First Published on Ramblings