02 Jul Biafra… Once Again
I have often been asked about the secret behind my belief in Africans, and their ability to forget the past, shape the present, and transcend future visions. I always begin my answer with the words of late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe: “My initial novel which dealt with the African personality was first denied publishing by British Houses on the pretext that literature produced by Africans is unpopular. Though, I insisted on publishing and managed to sell eight million copies translated afterwards into more than fifty languages, a thing that made me among the most outstanding authors whose works have been translated throughout history”.
Although Chinua was a medical school student, he turned to novel writing after reading Mr. Johnson’s novel which depicted the African personality in an inappropriate, unjust manner. Following this, Chinua undertook a mission no less sacred than that of a physician and determined to contribute to improving the African image and criticize European literature falsely portraying Africa.
The history of Nigerian people dates back to 9000 years B.C. The Nok Culture is considered among the most important civilizations in Nigeria, representing man-sized sculptures made of a sort of clay called terracotta.
Nigeria is the chief African power counted on by the international community today. The country is characterized by an ethnic, religious and cultural mosaic that could have become a source of strength for the Nigerian state. Nigeria is inhabited by Muslims, Christians and those embracing African religions and is home to two hundred and fifty different ethnic and linguistic groups. This diversity was a scourge on Abuja and drove it into civil wars such as the Biafra War that continued from 1967 to 1970.
The renewed conflict, which currently appears to be cautious in Nigeria, is among the most important tribes: the Hausa, the Fulani, the Yoruba and the Ibo. The Hausa and Fulani inhabit the northern regions which witnessed what is known as the Sokoto Caliphate founded by Usman Dan Fodio and his brother Abdullah Fodio from1804 to 1903. Conditions deteriorated in the Caliphate, so Britain could easily occupy it in 1902. The Yoruba live in southwestern Nigeria and comprise Muslims, Christians and some believers of the Orisha, one of the traditional religions. The Ibo or Igbo inhabit the Southeast parts, a region known for containing most of Nigeria’s oil reserves.
This diversity was but a secondary cause of the Nigerian conflict, for there are a number of considerations related to the distribution of wealth, power, political discontent and the cultural composition of these groups. All these elements are considered real clues for understanding the Nigerian dilemma.
Nigeria gained independence in 1960, but actual independence was achieved in 1963 when the first republic led by Benjamin Azikiwe was declared. In 1966, a military group from the Ibo ethnicity carried out a coup against Prime Minister Abubakr Balewa, sparking hostilities between the Ibo ethnicity from one side and the Hausa and Fulani ethnicities from the other, at which point General Emeka Auguku declared secession of Biafra region from the Nigerian State.
General Auguku held that confederation is the best governing system while the Nigerian state insisted on the principle of federalism which it did not exercise properly before Nigerians. The central government declared the division of Biafra region into three separate regions, which resulted in the region’s presidency taking over buildings of the federal government and forcing working foreign oil companies to pay fees to the region’s government. Civil war broke out between the central government and Biafra and ended with the elimination of the rebellion in January 1970.
The Nigerian State is aware that the Ibo aim at establishing their own state for they received foreign support from Tel Aviv when they first declared their region an independent state in 1967; moreover, the Ibo belief is rooted in Judaism. Also, the role of Lisbon in supporting the Biafra rebels on grounds of Nigeria’s advocacy for the independence of African colonies that were under Portuguese rule should be borne in mind. Despite this, Abuja managed to maintain a unified state; and it’s worth mentioning when asked about Arabs’ role in restoring the unity of Nigerian territories, Gamal Abdel Nasser said: ‘‘I don’t want Africa to experience a setback due to our own problems”; we have to help Africans because some states out there intend to discourage these regimes so that it’s easier to hold us apart from sub-Saharan Africa”.
In 2016, Biafra once again demanded secession, which is likely to occur in case a referendum has been conducted. Abuja is being criticized for advocating the Polisario Front against its rejection of Biafra to be proclaimed a republic. Though, Nigeria stresses that the two issues are incomparable and that whosoever compares them is completely ignorant of international politics.
In the future, I fear that the Biafra region will turn into a field for settling scores between regional and international parties finding opportunity in the God of Fertility Land (Nigeria) for creating armed pockets that will further complicate the Nigerian scene. Then, I do not expect to see anyone repeating the very words late Gamal Abdel Nasser once said ‘‘I don’t want Africa to experience a setback due to our own problems”.