Between Bravery and Bane of Biafra

Hometruths By Adeola Akinremi; Email:

When it comes to the issues of race and justice, I am left-leaning. It is one thing: I have long held onto the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

That exactly has been the reason behind my sympathy for the Easterners on their subjugation during the civil war that lasted for 30 months from 1967-1970. The war left legacies of death and destruction in which no less than three million people reportedly died with highest casualties on the side of the Igbo people.

Now, 45 years after, the echo of that war has resurfaced with the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Kanu was born after Biafra war and his campaign is coming after his forbearers, Colonel Odimegwu Ojukwu, the man who started the freedom war and Ralph Uwazurike (the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) had suffered defeat in their own quest to keep Eastern Nigeria separately from the Union as an independent state.

But why Kanu has chosen this time to test the water is what I find very difficult to understand. As with any campaign, time and tools are of essence. Does Kanu have the time and tools to actualise the sovereignty of the land of the rising sun at this time? My answer is no. Yes, Kanu will be famous for his courage and probably move on in life to seek an elective post or build a strong political party in the East in the long run.

The tools that Kanu needs were available to Ojukwu during the war. He had the people and money-at least something enough to wage a 30-month long war-with him.

The time was equally available to him, because Ojukwu’s grievance was genuine and coming a few years after independence provided him with ample opportunity for secession.

Besides, a part of Ojukwu’s tools was the population size of Nigeria at that time. Nigeria was said to be about 57 million people, of which eight to 10 million were Igbos. Rallying such number for support was not a difficult task unlike today’s population size of Igbo people that Kanu must convince to go along with him.

To be sure, Ojukwu had the backing of Tanzania, Zambia, the Ivory Coast, Gabon and France and other nations who supported his campaign of secession. That will be critical to any successful war since no nation has ever gone into war with another without an ally. At the end, the war failed despite the fact that Ojukwu had the time and the tools on his side.

The war failed not because Ojukwu didn’t have the right strategy or the most important element, which is the support from his people, but because Ojukwu confronted a monstrous Nigerian Army, where the Yoruba and Hausa intelligentsias were available to counter his force in addition to the support from Egypt, Soviet Union, Britain and the United States.

For his part, Uwazurike’s campaign lacked theme, so he was leading a Janjaweed-like group of people who had their days in and out of detention until they were burned out. It was clear that Uwazurike had no support base from the Igbos, except a few emotional Igbo people.

And while Uwazurike has not given up on his campaign despite the lack of steam, the courage of Kanu and how his words have mobilised thousands of young people unto the streets to stage protests and raised Biafra flag in Abuja, Port Harcourt and other big and small cities in Eastern Nigeria in recent weeks should be praised.
Still, after listening to Radio Biafra and watching the television station online many times to understand where this is going I came to a conclusion that Biafra died in 1970.

Kanu does not have majority of the Igbo people with him, despite the crowd of young people raising the Biafra flag home and abroad at the moment. The Igbo people are extremely divided on the issue of sovereignty.
For instance, many of the callers on the Biafra radio called to express their anger at how Igbos are divided and how the past struggle for sovereignty couldn’t take them far just because an Igbo man from Orlu doesn’t believe in another from Mbaise, though they are from the same Imo State in Eastern Nigeria.

I can tell that Kanu has the charisma, but he doesn’t have the tools and time. With democracy full-blown in the country, Kanu’s best bet will be how to get referendum and that cannot happen through the street approach.
His appeal must be first to the elected political officers throughout the Eastern region and to those representing the region in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Those people are part of the essential tools that will galvanise his action. They represent a bloc at the National Assembly that cannot be ignored by the government.

In appealing to these people, Kanu must remember the law 13 in Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power that “If you need to turn to an ally for help, do not bother to re¬mind him of your past assistance and good deeds. He will find a way to ignore you. Instead, uncover some¬thing in your request, or in your alliance with him, that will benefit him, and emphasise it out of all proportion. He will respond enthusiastically when he sees something to be gained for himself.”

Put differently, Kanu must not sound like a hero. He should know that even the most powerful person is locked inside needs of his own, and that if you make no appeal to his self-interest, he merely sees you as desperate or, at best, a waste of time.

Clearly from my conscience I believe Kanu cannot win this war just like his predecessors, but before he continues he should pause to look at the video of the event between 1967 and 1970, when images of Biafran babies with bloated bellies and human skeletons were on parade in the war’s final days. That should remind Kanu and his followers that there’s no substitute for peace.

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published on this page on November 28, 2015

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