The Biafran Tragedy: No Victor, All Vanquished
Fifty years ago in January 1970, the victorious commander of the conquering
Nigerian Army, Major General Yakubu Gowon, pronounced the outcome of the civil war as that of “no victor, no vanquished”. Such generosity of spirit was consistent with the jolly good fellow visage of the youthful Gowon and it rightly earned him accolades across the world as Nigeria’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’. Considering what Nigeria has made of the civil war outcome and the past 50 years, there is the imperative to review and update the verdict to the status of ‘no victor, all vanquished’. It was long in coming but the most peculiar aspect of post civil war Nigeria has been the intra regional genocidal crisis featuring the Middle Belt sub region as victim of a rampaging ‘Fulanisation’ agenda.
It is bad enough that the sub-regional Christian half (of the Northern region) is being literally bled to death, it is worse still that the carnage is being experienced at the hands of its regional comrade in arms in seeming fulfillment of a Biafran curse. If any development can be worse than this ordeal, it is its cheapening and trivilisation by a son of the soil of the order of my good friend, Obadiah Mailafia.
Bertoldt Brect might as well be speaking to Nigeria when he observed “unlucky is the land without a hero, unhappy is the land in need of a hero’. More than any group of people in contemporary Nigeria, the Middle Belt Christians are in dire need of heroes. In a bizarre drama all his own, Mailafia projected himself as resolved on taking the battle to the camp of the friend turned foe and proceeded to unveil the Northern Muslim ruling class as the big masquerade behind the Boko Haram terror.
“We have met with some of their high commanders, they have sat down with us not once, not twice.They told us that one of the northern governors is the commander of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram and the Fulani bandits are one and the same. During this lockdown, their planes were moving up and down as if there was no lockdown”. Knowing fully well the potential consequences of this ‘good trouble’, we were mightily impressed at his valiant act of daring the lion in its den. Here comes the long awaited Middle Belt David rearing to do battle with the Fulani goliath. And then the revolution collapsed before it even took off when Mailafia recanted and pleaded he actually got the rumour from Fulani traders; that he did not know his claim was on video and that he was a fan of Buhari.Those of us rooting for him with baited breath had our faces splashed with egg.
Before him was the brave man himself, Theophilus Danjuma, whose life mirrors the irony of the Middle Belt tragedy like no other. Without a doubt, he played the most decisive role in the mutiny that reestablished the Northern regional hegemony in July 1966. In the spirit of ‘one North, one people’, he was the Arewa avenging angel who arrested and passed sentence on General Aguiyi Ironsi for complicity in ‘killing our leaders’.
Five decades later he found sufficient cause to recant and swallow the vomit of his ‘one North, one people’. From fighting for a united North, he has been reduced to fighting against the North. This time around he formally launched the intra regional struggle with the following bellicose declaration: “You must rise to protect yourselves from these people (the Fulani militia), if you depend on the Armed Forces to protect you, you will all die.This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba, and it must stop in Nigeria. These killers have been protected by the military, they cover them and you must be watchful to guide and protect yourselves because you have no any other place to go. The ethnic cleansing must stop now otherwise Somalia will be a child play. I ask all of you to be on your alert and defend your country, defend your state”.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo took the surrender of the civil war and in the enactment of this role, he read from the tea leaves that providence has crowned him Mr Nigeria with the auxiliary title of foremost Nigerian nationalist ideologue. Fifty years later this is his own situation report on Nigeria: “If after over ten years of fighting Boko Haram, the terrorist group is still waxing strong, let nobody out of self-delusion think that a war of self-determination by one or more geopolitical zones of Nigeria with the present disenchantment would be easily suppressed by the rest of what may remain of the country. Some will fight to the last drop of the blood of their group rather than suffer the indignity of slavery, oppression, domination and atrocious injustice in the land of their birth and the only one that they can call their country. If Boko Haram can get an outside support, any geo-political zone opting for self-determination may equally get an external support. War may not necessarily go as planned, estimated and predicted.”
If, before the civil war, there was the hope that the mutual distrust and hostility between the South-west and the South-east could be assuaged, the outcome of the civil war threw a bigger spanner in the works- to the ruin of the South and Nigeria at large. Rather than reach a common purpose for compelling the North to join them in the competitive race for modernisation, they chose to signal the latter to come and fish in their troubled waters.
On account of the role he played in the civil war, It was reasonable of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to expect the political support of the North towards the realisation of his fervent presidential aspiration. Not only was it a forlorn hope, it also conclusively cost him the support of the South-east on which he predicated his presidential ticket in 1979 and thereby deprived Nigeria of his superlative leadership aptitude. Chief Emeka Ojukwu was not kidding around when he saluted Awolowo as the best President Nigeria never had. And then karmic justice ensured the return of General Muhammadu Buhari to come and round off the circle of the Biafran tragedy syndrome.The sum of my objection to the candidacy of Buhari was that no Nigerian political leader who rose to political stardom on the platform of unparalleled divisive demagoguery should be rewarded with the Presidency of Nigeria. Regardless and in its peculiar wisdom, if not outright folly, the Nigerian electorate elected an unrepentant Fulani supremacist to come and provide a leadership quality he critically lacks. He wasted no time in validating the reputation that preceded him but in the process he has managed to bringing down the roof on his primary Northern constituency.
Professor Usman Yusuf is unsurpassed in summing up the tragedy “President Muhammadu Buhari came into power thanks to the loyal support, trust and goodwill of the masses particularly in Arewa. They gave their money, blood, sweat, tears and for some, their lives to elect him in 2015 and re-elect him in 2019. When he laid sick in hospital in the U.K., millions kept vigil praying for his recovery. Arewa has for too long made excuses for and given a lot of latitude to this President in spite of all that has been going wrong in their personal lives and the nation”.
“Arewa today is under siege and terrorised by rampaging bandits and insurgents. They roll into our towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles riding three on each, brandishing AK47 rifles with impunity. They spend hours killing, burning, raping, carting away livestock and abducting women as sex slaves.
“From Adamawa to Zamfara, the death toll all across Arewa is mounting. Images of the massacres are too gruesome to watch and the stories from survivors too heartbreaking to hear. People in the region feel that all they have to show for voting in President Muhammadu Buhari in massive numbers are increasing poverty, death and destruction to their lives and livelihoods and the painful emotional trauma of rape of girls and woman in rural communities. Mass burials of our people massacred by bandits and insurgents is a common occurrence and the land is soaked wet with the blood of innocent, unarmed, undefended folks living largely in rural areas that have never had any government presence. Yet, we the elite have become so immunised to this carnage and injustice in our midst that all we do is share the video clips on WhatsApp then recoil back into our shell of fear, docility and nonchalance instead of raising our voices.
“Arewa’s collective silence to these injustices is a bigger tragedy than the terror and cruelty that these murderers visit daily on our people. In the name of God who created us all, I call on all men and women of conscience to speak up loud and clearly against these injustices and our government’s inability to stop the bloodshed. Let us not forget that we will surely be asked to account for what we did when our people were being kidnapped, killed, maimed, raped, abducted, their houses razed down and displaced from their ancestral homes”.
In similar vein, Bishop Matthew Kukah noted “neither Islam nor the north can identify any real benefits from these years that have been consumed by the locusts that this government has unleashed on our country. The Fulani, his innocent kinsmen, have become the subject of opprobrium, ridicule, defamation, calumny and obloquy. His north has become one large grave yard, a valley of dry bones, the nastiest and the most brutish part of our dear country. Despite running the most nepotistic and narcissistic government in known history, there are no answers to the millions of young children on the streets in northern Nigeria, the north still has the worst indices of poverty, insecurity, stunting, squalor and destitution. His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, and the Emir of Kano are the two most powerful traditional and moral leaders in Islam today. None of them is happy and they have said so loud and clear. The Sultan recently lamented the tragic consequences of power being in the wrong hands. Every day, Muslim clerics are posting tales of lamentation about their fate. Now, the Northern elders, who in 2015 believed that General Buhari had come to redeem the north have now turned against the president”.