• Friday, July 12, 2024
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Neo-Biafranism and the realities of war


Haunted by the systematic atrocities of war, the American Civil War hero, General William Sherman, in a speech, shouted, “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance and more desolation. War is hell.” Yes, war is hell. War is an infernal monster that racks, devours and devastates.

Following its final gasp, Biafra died in January 1970. And all over the erstwhile Biafra the pains, sorrow and ravages of war were palpably evident. A proud and resourceful people broken by the horrors of war tottered out of the last hold-outs of Biafra, with their future hinging precariously on the whims of Yakubu Gowon. Hundreds of thousands of youthful and able bodied men, the cream and promise of their people, were no more; their skeletal remains strewn around battlefields and makeshift graves. More than one million civilians had died from starvation and other afflictions of war. Many once lusty, ebullient and confident young men were reduced to wobbly and feeble public wards by the crippling and disfiguring injuries of war. The unyielding lament of inconsolable mothers and widows were depressingly ear-splitting. Igbo land lay completely exhausted and totally powerless at the feet of a battle-hardened army giddy with victory.

Unfortunately, lately, starry-eyed, impressionable and excitable Igbo youths, led by charlatans and cranks, have been agitating for Biafra. The country has already fought a gruesome war against secession, and the Nigerian constitution is unequivocal in its stance against it. And to the generality of Nigerians, it is an anathema and the talk about it is sacrilege. So, secession demands the defiance of the collective will of Nigerians and trampling of the Nigerian constitution. It is unlikely that these can be done peacefully; it must involve war. Although I did not fire a shot or hear the cry of the wounded in battle, I vividly remember the horrors of war. For example, in early 1968, the Nigeria Air Force, with its Soviet-made MIG fighter-bombers, attacked Aba. After their bombing and strafing of the city, the people of the city erupted into something of a collective wailing because so many people, mostly civilians, laid dead. Among the dead was a successful medical doctor, Dr. Onyejiaka. Years later, at Ngwa High School (located outside of Aba), a somewhat withdrawn junior student with a grave demeanour and an aura of innocence caught my attention. He was the son of the late doctor. He must have been about seven years old when the war rendered him fatherless.   

In my neighbourhood at Orlu lived a widow. One day, Biafran soldiers arrived at her house bearing a crude coffin. It contained the remains of her army officer son killed in battle. She stood before the opened casket of her fallen son. Overwhelmed by grief, she ranted hysterically: my son, my hero, farewell; when you get there, greet your father; when you get there, greet your sister that was killed by a bomb at Aba; etc. I was bowled over. Unable to repress my emotions, I wept. The soldiers, hardened by the repulsion and revulsion of war, betrayed no emotion. After a perfunctory ceremony that included attentions and salutes and a number of gun shots into the air, they disappeared with the coffin. Such grim scenes and their attendant jolting and irretrievably shattering of the lives of parent(s) were replicated tens of thousands of times in Biafra. The remains of army officers were retrieved and buried but those of the other ranks were left where they fell. I did not grow up in my village. As such, I have a very limited knowledge of people in my village. But I am still profoundly troubled by the excessive number of the dead from amongst the people I know in my village. So many cousins, uncles and neighbours, sometimes the family’s only son, and sometimes, two sons of the same parents, were snuffed out by the war. War decimates a people, especially, the youth. It eviscerates a people; strips them of virility, vigour and vitality.   

The leaders of the neo-Biafran movements and their supporters are young men and women, mostly, born after the civil war. They are crying “aloud for blood, more vengeance and more desolation” because they have “neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded” and also, have neither seen nor lived through the terror and misery of war. Thus, they cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, imagine what war is. Before the start of the civil war, the peoples of Eastern Region of Nigeria, mesmerized by Ojukwu’s oratory and histrionics, and completely unable to imagine the specifics of war, romanticized war. Similarly, pro-Biafran activists, in their total incapability to envisage the realities of war, are romanticizing war.

But there is absolutely nothing romantic or alluring about war. In the words of Martin Luther, “War is the greatest plague that can afflict mankind. Any scourge is preferable to it”. This worst of all plagues has afflicted the Igbo once, and as a people, we must forestall another affliction of this plague. Thus far, Igbo leaders have been ambivalent of neo-Biafran activism. They have not demonstrated courage and resolve in addressing the issue. The Igbo leadership should squarely address the issue. It should demand that pro-Biafra activists snap out of their delusion, and channel their youth, talents and creativity to more constructive ends. For Biafra is dead. The thought of its resurrection is fantastic absurdity, and the attempt at its resurrection is criminal lunacy. 

Tochukwu Ezukanma