COUNTERING THE THREAT OF PRO-BIAFRA FANATICISM Part 1 Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju

“Where one thing stands, another thing must stand beside it” Classical Igbo epistemological and metaphysical proverb
The death of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on 26 November 2011 has led to an outpouring of responses on the significance of his eventful life, a significance centred in his role as leader of Biafra, the country formed out of South-Eastern Nigeria on 30th May 1967 in order to secede from Nigeria, an initiative that crystallized the causes of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970, concluding in the dissolution of Biafra and the difficult process of reintegration of its mainly Igbo citizens back into Nigeria.

One body of thought among the various responses is pro-Biafra fanaticism. Pro-Biafra fanaticism is centred in the insistence that points of view expressed on Biafra by those who identify with that nation are the only valid perspectives on Biafra and related issues. This pro-Biafra mindset becomes dangerously fanatical when it is reinforced through violence, even when the violence is purely verbal. Verbal violence demonstrates its own destructive capacities different from but related to physical violence and is often the inspiration and justification for physical violence. Verbal violence provides the ideological justification for physical violence, particularly in the conflict between opposing points of view. Pro-Biafra fanatics become violent when they interpret the fact that others see the facts or issues differently from themselves as a justification for trying to dehumanize those who think differently from themselves. If others see the issues about Biafra differently from us, then those others cannot be fully human or even human; anybody who is fully human, or even human in the first place, must see the issues from our point of view, runs the mental processes of the pro-Biafra fanatic. Since those who think differently are either not human or not fully human, they should not be treated as human; they are not deserving of the respect and consideration due to a human being, so runs the train of thought of the pro-Biafra bigot. This style of thinking, in which difference of perspective is equated with nonhumanity by the pro-Biafra fanatic, is at the root of the various orgies of violence that have bedeviled human history in the name of differences of opinion or affiliation in ideological, religous or ethnic conflicts.

Pro-Biafra fanaticism is often based on emotionally charged ignorance or twisted understanding beceause it refuses to inform itself about or address the variety of perspectives on the highly conflicted history of Biafra. This strain of bigotry must be vigorously countered, particularly with reference to Nigerian society at home and abroad. This fanaticism is particularly dangerous beceause it shares the fundamental attitudes that define the bigoted schools of thought that have repeatedly convulsed Nigerian society. These dangerous qualities are dedication to a simplistic understanding of complex issues, an understanding loaded with a blind rage, inspiring agents of those views to treat with the utmost violence anyone who disagrees with their largely ignorant or distorted positions. The dangers of such schools of thought are particularly evident in contemporary Nigerian history in the violence visited on innocent Nigerians by fanatics determined to impose their warped views on other Nigerians. Part 1 A. Simplistic Perspectives and Dogmatic Ignorance on the Legacy of Biafra and Odumegwu Ojukwu Olu Oguibe’s Call to Honour Odumegwu Ojukwu and Biafra by Flying the Biafran Flag My encounter with pro-Biafra fanaticism emerged through my response to a post by the Nigerian scholar Olu Oguibe calling for people to fly the Biafran flag regardless of their position on the secessionist initiative that Biafra represents, the creation of Biafra as a secessionist enclave crystallising the causes of the Nigerian Civil War of July 1967 to January 1970. In this post of 30th November 2011 to the Nigerian literary group Ederi, on a thread titled “Make it Viral”, Oguibe called for people to fly the Biafran flag regardless of their positions on Biafra in honor of the recent transition of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, whom Oguibe addressed by his title as General Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, military leader of the Biafran nation during the Nigerian Civil War. Oguibe based his call for this honour to the Biafran initiative in the name of Ojukwu on his description of Biafra as a multi-ethnic nation, embodied in philosophical terms by Ojukwu’s Ahiara Declaration of 1969,which Oguibe described as “a visionary blueprint for full postcolonial self-determination”: There's a call for universal observance of a week of mourning in memory of Gen. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu beginning on Thursday December 1.

In the spirit of reconciliation, use the Flag of the Republic of Biafra as your Facebook profile picture from December 1-6 or at the very least, on Thursday, December 1. Even if you're using his photograph now, swipe it for the flag on Thursday. Remember, Ojukwu was not an Igbo chieftain or warrant chief, never mind all that "Dim Gburugbu" stuff. He was an illustrious Nigerian soldier and administrator, and a battle General and Head of State of a multi-ethnic, postcolonial African nation whose Ahiara Declaration remains a visionary blueprint for full postcolonial self-determination. As some have pointed out here lately, he was also one of our unique Nigerians, born of parents from both the south and the north: born in the north, raised in the west, and fated to destiny in the east. He spoke all three major Nigerians languages, lived in all three regions, and served Nigeria as proudly before the war as he served Biafra during the war. Whatever your position on the Biafra war, let's bid Ojukwu farewell by hoisting this flag one more time. Like America continues to honor Gen. Ulysses S. Grant[ a mistake, meant to refer to General Robert E. Lee, leader of the defeated Confederate army in the American Civil War] let's join together and honor his memory. Share this with your friends and on your group walls and listservs. Let's paint Facebook red, black and green with half of a yellow sun, in one rare moment of unity, and not discord. On the Need to Justify the Call for the Universal Validation of Biafra and Ojukwu by Flying the Biafran Flag In response, I expressed appreciation of that initiative, but stated that A call for a universal recognition of the significance of the Biafran cause and of the leader of that cause, particularly in relation to flying the flag of Biafra, suggesting either identification or sympathy with Biafra, is a very significant initiative and needs detailed explanation. Such explanation would be most relevant in educating the public within and beyond Nigeria. A discussion of the questions raised by your call would be most helpful in properly contextualising the Biafran struggle, its significance for Nigerian history before and since the Nigerian Civil War and for as long as Nigeria exists as well

as the vision of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in relation to this history. To facilitate this process of clarification, I requested that Oguibe 1. Explain his understanding of why the Biafran flag has relevance beyond the aspirations of a particular ethnic group [the Igbo ethnic group being at the centre of Biafra and its subsequent memory]. 2. Elaborate on the significance of the Ahiara Declaration beyond the interests of the Igbo. 3. To explain the sense\s in which Biafra was multi-ethnic as he claims beceause the general understanding of Biafra is that it represented a struggle for Igbo self determination. 4. To justify his call for everyone, regardless of their position on Biafra, to honor the Biafran cause by flying her flag. I described such a justification as crucial in the light of tensions created by Biafra and still alive since the Nigerian Civil War. I argued that such a justification is particularly significant in relation to Oguibe’s equating the memory of the defeated Confederate cause in the American Civil War with the memory of the defeated Biafran cause in the Nigerian Civil War. The memory of the Confederate cause in the United States remains controversial, particularly in relation to flying the Confederate flag. Secondly, a central cause of the American Civil War was the ultimate direction of development in the country, including slavery, which was central to the economic focus of the South in agriculture in contrast to the industrialisation steadily gaining momentum in the North Yet, after the Civil War, and after Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration freeing all slaves, the unity of the dominant ethnic group in the US, an ethnic group that spans both the victorious North and the defeated South, was reinforced by the establishment of Jim Crow laws which ensured the subjugation of Black people, the former slaves. Racial unity is more problematic in Nigeria. Even in the context of such racial ideological unity in the US, the act of flying the Confederate flag would need to be explained in particular contexts.     To  Be  Continued       14  December  2011      

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