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Friday, 30 May 2014

Biafra: How Could Anyone Forget The Genocide

Children were starved to death. Women were raped to death. Pregnant women's bellies were cut open with knives. People were killed in a barbaric fashion. The dead were counted in millions. Humanity was lost in Nigeria and its restoration will take ages.

As this genocide was ongoing, the other side rejoiced. The leaders of the winning side proclaimed that all were fair in a war and remaining true to their confessions, they were motivated to wipe out a human race. Ironically, the genocide was called a mere police action.

Biafra struggle was a story not told. No book has given us the complete picture of the genocide. Chimamanda Adichie's Half Of A Yellow Sun was an understatement compared to the crime against humanity during the war. Alexander Madiebo's Nigerian Revolution and Biafran War and Emefiena Ezeani's In Biafra Africa Died did not capture the extent of this genocide. Chinua Achebe's There Was A Country did not paint detailed picture of the genocide. I read several other books, novels and articles on the war but I still believe that the genocide and crime against humanity in Biafra have not been told. And it must be told.

I was born 16yrs after the war but I saw the war. I saw it in the eyes of my parents who were teenagers during the war. I saw it in my grand mother's heart. I saw the war on scarred skins and broken legs of my uncles who fought and defended themselves with machetes. I was told about the lost relatives

I believed the stories I heard from my relatives about the war. I believed because I saw the evidence of the war in them. I came from the University Town of Nsukka, a Biafra border town with Northern Nigeria. The town was a thriving town of intellectuals. the University was established 6 years before the pogrom and the subsequent civil war. It was the second university in Nigeria with the great promise of Restoring the Dignity of Man.

So the war started in a community I was later born. My people became refuges from the beginning of the war. They hid, fled and most times killed by the Nigerian soldiers. Their houses were burnt, their books destroyed and their humanity stripped off. They also killed themselves to save themselves; whenever they were in hiding in caves or forests and a child cried when Nigerian troops were passing, they quickly shut the child's mouth or strangled the child to avoid inviting the enemy's troops from opening fire on the rest of the people. Therefore, if you start the genocidal story from here, you may not have the entire picture but I'm sure you will present convincing account of genocide.

Make no mistake: I witnessed the genocide. I was born after the war but I saw the war. I used to visit my grandmother at Nguru(Nguru produces this Nigerian Yellow pepper) and there is a large expanse of land called Agu Aya (land of war) along the Legge road if you are going to Government Girls Secondary School in Nsukka. Beside Egu Aya is a very imposing mountain called Ugwu Itike Iyi. As kids, we used to climb this mountain to roll big stones against people passing the Legge road (mischievous kids then). The first time I reached the summit of this mountain, I saw human bones. I asked questions and I was told how the people who used the mountain as a refuge camp were destroyed.

More than 25 years after the war, people were still being killed by the weapons of the war. I was used to being warned not to pick any metal object in the bushes. Radio jingles and television commercials used to caution people against landmines scattered in different areas in my State.

One thing that is obvious is that we all have our own truth about the war. Individual truth based on one's experience, not the world's truth. It is one's own truth that is always pulsating, fresh and untarnished. My parents have their own truth about the war likewise other Biafrans. Chinua Achebe told us his own truth. The new generations of Biafrans after the war have started telling their own truth. Chimamanda Adichie has set the ball rolling with her Half OF A Yellow Sun. The Biafran stories are not yet told. A genocide can never be told in a single fashion; there must be too many perspectives, too many sides but all telling a single story of genocide.

The inhumanity against the Biafrans didn't end with the war. Every Biafran person who had money in a bank was given only 20 pounds no matter the amount they had. Their houses and businesses in all other cities of Nigeria were taken and never returned to them. They were stripped of everything they had. They came back to Nigeria as a defeated people. Thereafter, Nigeria began its indigenisation and privatalisation. Biafrans were left out of the economic equation because they had nothing to participate in the new economic arrangement. They had to rebuild their lost homes first.

There was little government presence in the defeated territory. So the Biafrans were on their own. They had to figure out their own salvation. So it became a kind of survival of the fittest, everyone on their own. No other option but self-reliance, discover your own haven. They were not given opportunity in government or any government controlled economic structure. so many of them took to trade to survive.

It is amazing to know where the former defeated people of Biafrans are today in Nigeria. If you talk about poverty rate, their states are among the least; in education, among the highest; in business, among the highest; in overall standard of living and social well being, among the highest in Nigeria. They have proven that they can survive without holding political powers and their conquerors had told them they would never have presidential slot until after 200 years of the war. That 200 years may never come! Governor Nyako recently reminded everyone that GEJ is a son of Eastern Nigeria.

The outcome of the genocide for the defeated Biafrans was that each individual had to work out one's economic salvation: intense self reliance and a sort of "you are your own god". This explains probably why they thrived despite the intention to crush them. This also accounts for why they are envied and resented. Other Nigerians often see them as being over ambitious people and lovers of money.

A lesson the defeated Biafrans probably learned in a hard way is that you do not fight war in your own territory. This is a lesson I believe they will never try to relearn.

The former Biafrans have moved on in the spirit of United Nigeria. They are more Nigerians than Biafrans. They are the most travelled Nigerians. They have embraced Nigeria wholeheartedly by inter marrying and having real estate in all over the federation more than any other tribe in the country. If that isn't a testimony to their belief in One Nigeria, I wonder what it is. But the question is, do other Nigerians believe in one Nigeria as defeated Biafrans do? If they do, we need evidence, not just words.

"To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done". My dad told me about this phrase which Nigerian soldiers used to chant during the war. I hope our soldiers are still chanting this phrase in our war against insurgency in the Northeast part of the country. The bickering, the uncertainty, the mistrust, the suspicion, the accusation and the politics of 2015 are questioning how far we are determined to accomplishing this age-longed chant of keeping the country united.

As the former Biafrans remember the genocide, I also join in remembering millions of innocent people, mostly women and children who died in the war. I still feel the bones I trampled upon at Ugwu Itike Iyi with cold running down my spine. For those who still think that Biafrans got what they deserved, I wish you well in your perception because you have lost your humanity.

One of the "Holy Books" says that if you kill an innocent, it is as if you have killed a whole mankind. And the same Holy Book maintained that if you save an innocent, it is as if you have saved a whole mankind. Going by this pronouncement, how many "mankind" did the world lose in Biafra?

If there is only thing I have learned, it is that man, especially African, doesn't learn from history. The killing of the innocent has not abated in Nigeria. It has assumed a darker dimension with religious element. Religiously motivated killing is the worst form of humanity.

Regardless of the genocide, what matters now is that former Biafrans survived in new Nigeria. May we never make that mistake again. History is for the living. We will always remember!

Chikezie Omeje is a broadcast journalist with Aso Radio in Abuja

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