August 3 1966: “there is no basis for Nigerian unity, which has been so badly rocked, not only once but several times.” –Lt Col Yakubu Gowon
Having said the facts and publicly stated the truth of the matter, Gowon proceeded to act contrary to this living reality of Nigeria. He would drag the peoples to a war which took millions of lives and wrecked his Nigeria forever. Not content and obviously no wiser, Gowon would claim victory and continue to preach one Nigeria today, even as the war he started still rages on in all spheres of human existence, which for the peoples living in Nigeria, is a truly terrifying, misery-filled, bloody and charred Hell of an existence. And Nigeria and Gowon are still so eager to continue to blame the victims for that war: if he defeated the victims as he and Nigeria roundly claim, then, why is Nigeria still in flames today, forty-some years later, with the same pre-war issues fuelling the fire? Simple: it is the attempt to keep Nigeria one—in defiance of the truth—which is causing all the ills of Nigeria. “One Nigeria” is the problem with Nigeria; until it is defeated, Nigeria will know no peace and no salvation; the war goes on, in one deadlier form or another. There is no basis for one-Nigeria.
Gowon tells us that he was inspired on “one Nigeria” because his people turned G-O-W-O-N into “Go On With One Nigeria.” Like all superstitious fools and those who rationalize an evil act, he could not see how the omission of just a few characters from an expression could falsely proclaim Heaven when in fact it is Hell. How about “Go On WithOut Nigeria”?—“Go On WITHOUT One Nigeria”? Does that not specifically and truthfully fit the picture of Gowon’s most important epiphany, that there is no basis for unity in Nigeria?
BEFORE ABURI: the conveniently forgotten “National Conference”
By January 1967, political and social conditions in Nigeria were continuing to deteriorate rapidly, the only certainty being the Northern-led and dominated Nigerian Military and their full and total control of Nigeria. The ABURI meeting that month of the regional military leaders of Nigeria graciously hosted by General Ankara in Ghana and its decisions brought a rare but genuine beam of hope for Nigeria. But, it was Gowon who destroyed this Hope by reneging on the agreements, all but dismissing them as a frivolous exercise wherein he and other Northern leaders merely humored Ojukwu by “giving Ojukwu everything he [Ojukwu] asked for.” If it is assumed, as often ignorantly bandied around, that ABURI was solely Ojukwu’s imprint, how about “the Lagos Peace Conference” four months before ABURI?
On September 5 1966, well before Aburi, in response to ongoing and deepening social and political upheaval and continuing bloody ethnic cleansing exercise directed against Easterners residing in Northern Nigeria (mostly; but also, generally in the rest of Nigeria), Gowon’s Nigerian Military Government “initiated” a “National Conference” with Lagos as the venue. Each of the four Regions (East, West, Mid-West and North) would send three high-ranking representatives “to decide Nigeria’s political future.” A national Referendum would come out of such a meeting assuming there was agreement. So it was that on September 11 1966, a month after Gowon’s earlier quoted statement, 26 prominent Nigerians met to decide on whether there was any basis for Nigeria’s unity.
Skipping the reported hourly-daily deliberations and maneuvering as a topic for another day, here’s the tone of the reports for the outcome of the conference, as of September 17 1966: “Conference leans towards confederation” and Nigeria heads for a breakup into four virtually autonomous states bound only by a loose confederation.
So, in fact, Nigeria’s first National Conference compelled by the indolent lethal crisis had recommended complete Regional Autonomy. It was a verdict of “no basis for Nigeria’s unity.” This was in September 1966. This recommendation thus had preceded by 4 months ABURI which essentially prescribed the same solution. Parenthetically, this conference then also predates the variously named contemporary configurations and permutations of a putative Sovereign National Conference by 40 years or so. It, along with ABURI, should serve as an education and lesson for those today who think to fix beforehand the outcome of such a conference by assuming as a given the preservation of one-Nigeria: there is really no basis for unity of Nigeria.
But, as with Aburi, this (Lagos National Conference outcome) was not to be. Enter Gowon. The headline of the New York Times newspaper of Saturday, September 17, 1966 screams: “Gowon Opposes Confederation and Derails Conference”. Further read: “Under pressure from Gowon and his top aides, the civilians who make up the Northern delegation were reported to have backed away from confederation…Above all, the Northern militants in the army are said to be determined to thwart any move to split the army into four regional forces. These officers want a single army under tight national control.” (Recall that it is the same Northern officers who are by now still rampaging and still fishing out any remaining Igbo Military officers for instant execution!)
DIVISION RUNS DEEP: How the British saw it, what they knew and did
It is such a pity that the different peoples forced together as Nigeria refuse to acknowledge the depth of their differences, and want so much to pretend that such differences are not there, are not important, or can be ignored. All over the world, different peoples are living side by side; but nowhere are they forced to live together against their will in a forced union that reveals every single day that it does not work. Forced, troubled and troublesome sociopolitical arrangements of sovereign import just do not happen anymore. Except under Slavery and or Colonialism. Or Nigeria.
Steeped in such a pretense and denial, some Nigerians like to borrow from successful nations by talking wistfully of Nigeria’s “Our founding fathers”. The fact is that those ”our founding fathers” being referred to never wanted one-Nigeria and had made consistently strong positional pronouncements on the matter as such. Is anyone listening? For that matter, facts, yes, evident facts reveal that Nigeria’s so called “our founding fathers” are no more than colonial British, with contemporary Britain acting like a successor.
An Irish author published this in his 1961 book about the colonial British impressions and attitudes towards the peoples whom they would force into their impossible and macabre social experiment to be called Nigeria / one-Nigeria:
“The majority of the Fulani and Hausa of the North dislike the Southerners fundamentally. Historically the Northerners have always despised them, enslaved them and treated them cruelly, and above all regard them as inferiors. This was true particularly of the Ibos whom they considered savages. The memory of all this still lingers and is making the British policy of creating one Nigeria nation out of the three main Regions difficult enough. But the average British administrator in the North also feels much the same and cannot speak too critically of the Ibos and the Yorubas.”
Robert Collis (1900-1975) in “AFRICAN ENCOUNTER: A DOCTOR IN NIGERIA”, pp. 120-121. (Publisher: Scribner; First Edition (1961))
Quoted from the book, “Biafra War Revisited”, chapter 2 “THE BRITISH LEGACIES” p.12 by Egbebelu Ugobelu Second Edition (revised) 1994; Published by Obiesili Publishing Co, Spartanburg, SC 29306
This sums up the real situation and picture of Nigeria, right from the beginning, as it was seen and known by the British. Incidentally, it is only recently that the “Middle-Belt Northerners” have begun to realize that they, too, are in fact “Southerners”, in the eyes of the Hausa-Fulani. The entire picture indicts the British for their policy to force-create one-Nigeria from disparate peoples between whom one-national unity was, not just another “difficult enough” task but, downright impossible. And the British knew it then. They still know it now.
What, according to the same author (and taken from the same source), did the colonial British (and do the British) think of the North? Well, here…
“Here proud emirs, lordly princes, rule over vast areas, and the poor are very poor, and quite illiterate. But both still are part of a tradition which stretches back into history. It was, and is a way of life, a civilization utterly alien to ours, so different, in fact, that it has always been possible for Western gentlemen to live on easy terns with these Northern peoples, each respecting the others high qualities of honour and good manners. In this relationship there is no vulgar familiarity, no crossing the bar into the other's private life, but a mutual respect and honour.”
Robert Collis. AFRICAN ENCOUNTER P.195 (Publisher: Scribner; First Edition (1961))
Today, most Northern elite are mounting a strong public relation effort (and seem to be winning another [pyrrhic] victory at it) to misdirect the peoples of Nigeria and the stakeholders to think that the problem of Boko Haram is due to poverty, which poverty they would like the world to believe is somehow related to Southerners withholding what is due the North (if any sane person can even imagine that and how that might be possible, given who have aggressively controlled Nigeria thus far). But here above is the social and political landscape of Northern Nigeria as it appeared even before Nigeria became Nigeria; it is a landscape recorded by the British, a party which is friendly and sympathetic to the North, by the way; even though belonging to a civilization “utterly alien”, thus inadvertently justifying the branding of the British civilization as Boko Haram by the Boko Haram group.
What these Northern elite should stop pretending about is the fact that the North and the South are vastly and unbridgeably different, and it is not just a matter of who is poorer, where poverty as we know it is defined almost in purely Western Civilization terms and by Western Civilization standards, which Western Civilization is embraced by the South, and is so fundamentally alien to the North that Boko Haram would label it what it really is to them: anathema—a veritable sin, to be forbidden in the North! There is in fact no compelling reason why Western Civilization should not offend the North: the worldviews and life-views are so dramatically and drastically different; more so when it is forced upon the North through the forced vehicle of a forced union of aliens and incompatibles called Nigeria. There has never been, and should never be a basis for the unity of Nigeria: that’s what Boko Haram seeks to remind everyone of, including and especially pretenders who are busily doing their pretend-spin dance. For that matter, the Northern elite should draw no comfort in the British crediting the Northern system with “high qualities of honour and good manners”; it is hardly a compliment by Western Civilization standards to a system which generates and embraces this level of poverty described by the same British, and which the same Northern elite now use as rationalization for the despicable destructive reactionary acts of Boko Haram today. The Northern system was already that way before Nigeria was created.
How did the British with their cultural antithesis to the North remain friendly and sympathetic to the same North? Well, the British left the North to the North’s own ways: they, the British, would not attempt to change the North, nor would they for one moment accept the North’s ways. It is a matter of their respecting the ways and traditions of the North, without entertaining any thoughts of ever adopting the ways of the North themselves: stay in your own space and we stay in ours, while we do ugly business (of Nigeria / Southern domination) on terms; no basis for uniting, assimilating or mixing as it were, and no reason to; but respect for the other’s ways and stance. That’s how the British did it. Yet, the same British would force on a structure called Nigeria wherein such different sociocultural and political entities are not retained in their own respective different spaces and there is no respect as such, let alone, “mutual”. Thus, with malicious deliberation and intent, the British created Nigeria—“this relationship” in which there is now to be allowed “…vulgar familiarity,” and “…crossing the bar into the other's private life,” with neither “…mutual respect” nor “…honour”, to borrow the British’s own terms in the negative, as quoted above.
Such irony that in Britain today, Scotland, one of four nations making up UK, nations which already have substantial autonomy (called “Devolution” over there), is getting ready for a Referendum for complete Independence. Even if the British do not want or like that, the Scots have a right to it, and no one will contest such right or the exercise of such a right. Whether the referendum passes or not is not the issue; even if it does not pass, it is predicted that the Scots will try again within 5 to 10 years, and yet this is not the issue. The point—the issue—is that British peoples, even with so much more in common among them, including a shared heritage, worldview and values, can still exercise the right to separation and political independence; but the same British somehow do not see how the smothered peoples, different in every way, forced together into Nigeria—by the same British—can exercise the same right. What does that say about African peoples vis-à-vis their colonial masters? It is clear that, to borrow a British saying, “what is good for the goose should be good for the gander” does not and cannot apply when the British are dealing with Africans. What a colossal shame!
For the woes and calamities befalling Nigeria, a failed and genocidal State smothering the peoples, there is little time to ascribe villainy to any group, although it is obvious that Gowon and the colonial British and its successor policy-augmenters vie for that noxious prize. These parties know the fact and the Truth, but they push in the opposite direction, rooting for Darkness. What needs to be done is for the peoples to accept the rather obvious about Nigeria: there is in fact no basis for unity—never was, not now, and never will be. Having accepted that, with civility, the peoples need each to retrieve their own respective sovereignties and rescue each their humanity. Then, they may live side by side in mutual respect for one another’s ways, and one another’s space. Where and when they choose in mutuality, consent and respect to cooperate, let them agree and by such abide. Otherwise, and in all cases, let them remain each her own sovereign nation.
May 30 1967, Tuesday: Biafra is declared
Nigeria went to war in 1967 thinking and pretending that its fight was against Biafra and against secession. Nigeria defeated Biafra in the battlefield and celebrates victory, but remains and acts brain-damaged since then not because of wounds inflicted on it by Biafra, but because of ongoing battering by the real enemy—one-Nigeria. There is no basis for unity of Nigeria: that’s the truth and that’s the known fact; acting otherwise is to knock oneself out, which is precisely what Nigeria has done to itself. Biafra was right. Biafra is right. Biafra will always be right: peoples who are starkly different and especially who cannot get along should and will go their own different ways; no force can keep them together forever. It is a natural survival and existential imperative. Self Determination, the new reality of our times, in fact takes this a step further: you don’t even have to not get along; it is the inalienable and unconditional right of every ethnic group to take full control and charge of its own national destiny, period. That’s what Scottish people of Britain are demonstrating today. The peoples of Nigeria should copy and follow. Biafra has.
May 30: Biafra Day, Self Determination Day, everyday
No one solves a problem by trying to kill the solution to the problem. Nigeria, in waging war against Biafra, merely makes war against the solution to the problem called Nigeria. At the end of such a warring day where efforts have been directed against the wrong target, the problem remains, and stays on for the remainder of days. At the same time, the solution also lives on, undefeated (there is no way to defeat the solution of an extant problem!), waiting for the day of the inevitable, the day of its acceptance, signifying finally the end of the problem. Then, the peoples can be liberated, free at last.
Oguchi Nkwocha, MD
A Biafran Citizen