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BIAFRA AS LED BY CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU OJUKWU
1.1 The Remote Causes of the Biafra Declaration
By remote causes we mean those errors committed, mistakes made, events, etc. that in one way or the other contributed to the Nigeria’s political instability, which are often ignored, but form the bedrock of the immediate crises that led to the attempted secession. We need to note, and importantly too, that these remote causes date back to pre-amalgamation era, and equally too, that their negative consequences still persist as freshly as ever till today.
Before the arrival of the colonial masters, the different peoples that make up what we now call Nigeria lived as independent kingdoms, empires, republics, caliphates etc. These peoples had their different socio-political structures, cultures and (sometimes) religion, which in most cases differed greatly from one another’s. In the North, it was a highly centralized socio-political structure, with the caliph at the head possessing an absolute power both in political, judicial and religions matters. It was a theocracy with Arab oriented culture and the official religion was Islam.
In the South the case was different. Here we see diverse political administrative systems and cultural orientations, with some little similarities among some groups. In the Yoruba dominated South-West it was another form of centralized system of government which was more democratic and largely less totalitarian than the one in the North. Their orientation was basically African both in religion and culture. The most prominent among the Yoruba kingdoms was the old Oyo Empire. Moving eastwards from there you meet Benin kingdom in the Mid-West which had some similarities with the Yoruba kingdoms but politically independent of them. There are equally some other smaller independent political entities and kingdoms in places like Bonny, Kalabari, Lagos etc.
Coming to the Igbo dominated East, the system of government was mainly republican. The small political units scattered everywhere independent of one another. The system was totally decentralized and no one had the power to lord it over the other, yet they had leaders who just had the mandate to represent their people the way the people wished. Everybody was involved in the political life of the community and everything was by consensus; thorough republicanism.
When the colonial masters came, they signed treaties of protection with these different peoples and these treaties were most often signed after long wars of resistance1. This means that some of these peoples never for once accepted the colonial masters’ protection, but were rather overpowered. What followed immediately was total exploitation of their resources in the name of protective administration. These different peoples were summarily administered separately but the major dividing line was drawn between the North and the South as separate entities. These peoples were later fused together for the British economic and administrative conveniences without their consent; they were only talked to and not talked with. This is how what we now call Nigeria falsely came to be a country, after the 1914 amalgamation.
After the amalgamation, one would expect the colonial masters to begin to unify the minds of these peoples who had little or nothing in common and more still who never consented to the amalgamation. This never happened; instead the reverse was the case. The British did all they could to plant as much disharmony as possible among these different peoples till they left, that the effects are ever strongly holding the so-called country to ransom till today. Yet they tried their best very cleverly to prevent any section from leaving the fold and granted them independence as a country and still fight for its corporate existence more than any person till today. At this point a normal thinking mind will ask, ‘Why this double standard?’. Alexander Madiebo puts the answer thus:
The federation of Nigeria as it exists today has never really been one homogenous country, for its widely differing peoples and tribes are yet to find any basis for true unity. This unfortunate yet obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master had to keep the country one, in order to effectively control his vital economic interest concentrated in the more advanced and “politically unreliable” South.2
Despite all these, there have never been any serious efforts by either the British themselves or the Nigerian government afterward to find a basis under which there would be true unity, to bring these peoples together. The colonial master would not allow that to happen for such a move would be a great threat to their economic interest for which the disunity was deliberately created. They would rather go on to introduce more measures of ‘divide and rule’ policy which would always go further to widen the gap between the different ethnic nationalities.3 What this is saying is that contrary to our belief, Nigeria as a country does not exist. What we rather see is a mere shadow whose real existence is in the British economic world, in the manner of Plato’s world of forms. Thus, it is only the peoples identified with this name that exist.
My conclusions may sound superfluous, or frivolous, or even sentimental to some ears. To such people I would demand to see the following with me. What should be the case in a country? Is it not supposed to be a place where all citizens are equal in everything as the case may be? A place where all citizens live safely in every part of the territory without molestation by fellow citizens? A place where every citizen has equal civil rights and can hold any political office in any place within the territory? A place where citizens are recruited to government institutions based on qualification and not on ethnic or religious identity? Is it not supposed to be a place where all citizens are first class citizens and see the whole territorial landmass as fatherland? The questions can go on infinitely. But what has been the case in Nigeria from the time of colonialism to date?
The case has been extremely opposite in Nigeria. In the first place, there are as many territories as there are ethnic groups in Nigeria. An Igbo who finds himself in Hausa land is totally an unsafe stranger who can be attacked and killed any moment by the citizens of the land. An Hausa who is in Yoruba land is in turn a stranger, and the case continues on. All these are products of the British ‘divide and rule’ policy which they carefully and consistently created and maintained in their successive administrative constitutions. They emphasized what divide the peoples than what unite them, and rather than treating them as a people, they projected them as Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Christians, Muslims, etc, among themselves and as enemies. They went further and polarized the so-called country into Hausa-Fulani dominated North and, Yoruba and Igbo dominated South, with the North having the seventy five percent of the total landmass and the purported sixty percent of the total population.4 Yet some of the Hausa-Fulani dominated minorities in the North have more affinity with the South than with the North. The South was further divided into Igbo dominated East and Yoruba dominated West and the later extraction of the Mid-West. This calculated unbalanced polarization did not go without protests from the leaders of the two sides of the South, yet it was imposed on them and meant to be the platform for political activities from that moment on.
As one would expect, based on the fact that this unbalanced division into regions was meant to be the platform for political activities, the federal government automatically became dominated by the North who had at least fifty percent of the total seats in the Federal House of Representatives. This became the climax of events that injected instability into the bloodstream of Nigeria’s polity. How can a section of Nigeria dominate the rest put together and always dictate to them what would be done? This single act destroyed every aspect of Nigeria’s life as a political entity, starting from politics, which is the life wire of a society, to civil service, economy and so on. Worse still the dictating North was far behind the South intellectually that it became a case of the blind leading the sighted. What would one expect from this other than a constant revolt by the sighted who would always see the leading blind dangerously taking him to a pit? The situation is even far from being better in the military as the ethnic quota system of recruitment introduced shortly before the independence offered a compulsory sixty percent recruitment to the North, fifteen to West and East each and ten to Mid-West in any recruitment at all in the Army.5 The sum total outcome of this would be nothing short of sacrificing merit, competence, excellence, productivity, etc, on the alter of ethnic politics. Yet it is always imposed on me to say that Nigeria is a country. But I know that in a country every citizen is as important as the other and everything is therefore done on the basis of the most competent whether or not they all come from one section or even a family, provided they do it for the general good.
At this juncture I would like us to think a bit. Do the above events appear coincidental? Emphatically no! All the above happenings during the foundation laying stone of the Nigeria’s permanent political structures were done for certain ends, not for the people called Nigerians, but for the people that masterminded them. They were permanently laying the foundation for the inter-ethnic rivalry, conflicts, suspicion and hatred that has always made it extremely difficulty for Nigeria to be a real country, besides laying the foundation for today’s Nigeria’s steady movement away from development instead of the other way round. If one is in doubt I would suggest that one casts one’s mind through the history and study more closely the developments of events to date.
Before the arrival of the British, these different peoples, even though they were of different political sovereignties, had some friendly and diplomatic relations among themselves especially through trade. They dwelled side by side more peacefully than now. Their relationship with one another turned very bad with the above happenings. They now find it extremely difficult to co-exist and since then have always held one another to the throat. Yet they were going to be a country by 1st October 1960, without first being a people. How would they manage together to get their independence, one may ask? What would follow afterwards?
The answers to the questions above are not surprising at all. They never worked in harmony even close to the independence. At a point the date for the independence itself became a source of serious political clash between the poles, which was crowned with the Kano riot of 1953 that left tens of thousands of Southerners in Kano dead and their properties looted. It further led to the attempted secession of the North5. Even among the Southerners themselves there was no unity of purpose. Apart from the earlier nationalists like H.O. Davies, Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Ikoli etc. who were true nationalists, in the West, the younger generation of Yoruba politicians led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo were ethnic nationalists who were fundamentally interested in the welfare of their ethnic group other than the general good. 6 The same was also the case in the North, were Ahmadu Bello was totally playing egocentric sectionalism, especially after the independence. The Northerners led by Ahmadu Bellow once said that the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria was a regrettable mistake in the Nigerian history7 while Awolowo said that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.8
In the East, you again find a people of different belief altogether. Led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, they strongly believed and worked for a united Nigerian course, sometimes to a self-destructive extent. Thus Uwalaka puts it:
The early Igbo positive disposition in the construction of this Nigerian project contrasted sharply with the attitude of the leaders of the other two major tribes, the Hausa and Yoruba… in 1947, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa(later to become the first Nigerian Prime minister) said “since the Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper…”…Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto(later to become the first Nigerian Governor of northern region ) said “Nigeria is so large and the people so varied that no person with any real intellectual integrity would be so foolish as to pretend that he speaks for the country as a whole.” We know the famous statement of Obafemi Awolowo, the post independent Yoruba leader, that “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.”9
After everything the summary is that there was no unity of purpose. There has always been a strong division between North, East and West, but the division has been stronger between North and South in general. Therefore the people we now parade as Nigerian nationalists were actually ethnic nationalists, except in some cases. But after everything, they got their so-called independence as a country. How come that this could happen? At least from the story so far, there is no basis for unity. Instead there have been some separatist signs. The Muslim North had never wanted to associate with the Christian South, and had at least once made a bold step to secession but which was neutralized by the British.
Looking at all these, there are certain things glaringly clear to any thinking mind. The totality of the Nigerian political structure is a product of the British mind, imposed on the people, for the former’s future use, despite protests by the later. They had all this while been putting things in positions for use, mainly after the so-called independence. Now look at it. The British strongly wanted to lock these peoples together as a country, not in a real sense, but in a formal sense, so that they would continually exploit them after the so-called independence, as they would be at one another’s throats as had been institutionalized. For this they cleverly neutralized every move towards disintegration. Because they felt they could always deceive the North than the South, they put everything in the control of the North, through the regional inbalance by which the North would always control every political decision in Nigeria through their population domination, and then they would now make the North their mouthpiece and hence control Nigeria through them. That was why they hypocritically played romance with the North to the detriment of other sections, to deceive them into believing that they were friends, and always inspired every of their political moves. But the North is only a means to an end; we are all looked at together as Africans. Therefore Nigeria is not real; instead it is a mere economic institution of the British. The so-called Independence Day was the day everybody in Nigeria ‘gloriously’ matched into the tract of the race to perpetual dependence and slavery, otherwise called neo-colonialism. What happened after the so-called independence, which I classify in this work as the immediate causes of the Biafra declaration gives credence to this.
1.2 The Immediate Causes of The Biafra Declaration.
After the federal fraud called federal election 1959, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the opposition leader in the Federal House of legislature respectively. Also, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief S.L. Akintola and Dr. Michael Okpara became Premiers of North, West and East respectively and the race started.
After the independence, Nigeria was hailed as Africa’s hope for democracy. This was because the independence was by peaceful means rather than violent revolution, and because Nigeria was economically viable with great potentials for future development, particularly in view of the large market it presented for industrial goods.10 All this big hope came to nothing for the destructive seed of ethnicity, corruption, inter-ethnic mutual hatred already institutionalized in the system during the foundation laying by the colonial masters, which had long matured into a big tree, soon began to disperse poisonous fruits into every sector of the society’s life. There were socio-political explosive situations originating from unhealthy inter-ethnic rivalry, nepotism, chauvinistic and egocentric sectionalism, corruption, power tussle etc.
In the West it was Action Group party crisis through which Awolowo and his group were permanently neutralized with the purported treason offence and Akintola imposed on the people despite their protests. The West turned into ‘Wild-West.’ The East had relative peace except for the census crisis of 1962/63 and federal election crisis of 1964, none of which was regional crisis in a strict sense, and perhaps, the case of Isaac Adaka Boro. In the North, the Chief actor was Ahmadu Bello who ruled the whole federation from Kaduna through the puppet Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He was a Muslim fanatic and an Hausa-Fulani ethnic bigot.11 He was openly, and shamelessly too, an ethnic chauvinist to an embarrassing degree. He was the unrivalled leader of NPC, a party which developed from a Northern ethnic organization. Because of the regional imbalance, this party would perpetually have the majority seat in the Federal House of Representatives and therefore was very powerful. The Sardauna was therefore very powerful and enjoyed an unrivalled popularity in the North. Because of his unrivalled popularity among the Northern politicians, coupled with the Northern domination in the Federal House of Representatives, he held the whole federation to ransom, and was politically undisciplined. He was actually the Prime Minister in the body of Sir Tafawa Balewa. He used federal institutions like the military at will. Thus he used the military for private matters and mainly for political purposes; with the federal Army he politically suppressed Tiv minority uprising in the North. He was equally behind the crisis in the West.
In his bid to stuff the whole rank and file of the federal military with the Northerners he suffocated it with Northern chaffs, that every Northerner on trousers became a military man, just to out-number the Southerners. Because of his power and influence, military promotions were mainly based on ethnic identity, which naturally favored the Northerners, while the Southerners who were ambitious had to openly identify with Northern politicians before realizing their dreams. The military thus turned into a place of political maneuvers. The climax of this maneuver was the competition between Brigadier Ademulegun and General Aguiyi Ironsi on whom to succeed the last British General Officer Commanding (GOC). Ademulegun was seriously romancing with Northern politicians by all means while Aguiyi Ironsi showed little interest, but the latter was however made the GOC after everything.
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