COUNTERING THE THREAT OF PRO-BIAFRA FANATICISM Part 2 Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju

Note on the structure of this essay:
The Sections from “The Expression of Pro-Biafra Fanaticism in Relation to the Death of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu” to “Simplistic Perspectives and Dogmatic Ignorance on the Legacy of Biafra and Odumegwu Ojukwu” are a general introduction that appear in all parts of this essay. The new content in this part of the essay begins from “Olu Oguibe on the Self Evident Universal Value of the Biafran Cause and of the Example of Odumegwu Ojukwu”.

“Where one thing stands, another thing must stand beside it” Classical Igbo epistemological and metaphysical proverb The Expression of Pro-Biafra Fanaticism in Relation to the Death of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu The death of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on 26 November 2011 has led to an outpouring of responses on the significance of his eventful life centred in his role as leader of Biafra, the country formed out of SouthEastern 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 bedevilled human history in the name of differences of opinion or affiliation in ideological, religious 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. Simplistic Perspectives and Dogmatic Ignorance on the Legacy of Biafra and Odumegwu Ojukwu 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”.

[4A].
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. [1] 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. [1] Olu Oguibe on the Self Evident Universal Value of the Biafran Cause and of the Example of Odumegwu Ojukwu

Oguibe dismissed my request for a justification and elaboration of his position, declaring [ I have modified the paragraphing to highlight its central
points and tone but I have not added or removed anything] : All your questions could be answered in one simple sentence of less than seven words: Biafra was not an Igbo nation. That's a very simple fact that any Nigerian should know, and it is astonishing and a monumental shame that so many don't. If you didn't know that, then, the shame and embarrassment of ignorance is yours. There is no good excuse for such ignorance. Every American that I know has a basic factual knowledge of the American civil war. Some misconceptions, true, but they all have the basic facts pert down. That any Nigerian should lack the simplest, most obvious facts of the Nigeria-Biafra war is inexcusable. May it wasn't taught in school, but you don't have to be taught in school to have basic knowledge. How, Toyin, do you explain the very well-known fact that of the Biafra military command that signed a truce with Nigeria to end the war in January 1970, at least two were not Igbo? Maj. Gen. Alexander Madiebo, General Officer

Commanding the Biafran Army was not Igbo. Army Chief of Staff and Biafra's final Head of State Philip Effiong was not Igbo. You probably didn't know that Biafra's last Head of State was not Ojukwu, but Philip Effiong. Astonishing! For any Nigerian of adult age to be ignorant of these things is a disgrace. Don't sit there and give me the history of the American civil war; learn the basic history of your own civil war! Obviously, you haven't read the Ahiara Declaration either, so, how do I explain a document that is an important part of Nigerian and African postcolonial history, when you haven't even read it? At any rate, my post said: whatever your position on the Biafra war, hoist this flag one more time. I don't know about you, but people tend to do that around the world. South Africans have written me and said, sure, we're all Biafrans just this week. That's what decent human beings with self-respect do. That's what civilized humans do when they're serious about building a nation. I paid the price for Nigerian unity. I lost everything, including millions of lives. If you're so petty that for one day, one week, you cannot rise above your prejudices and say, just like the South Africans, let history be history, but we're all Biafrans today, then, there's absolutely no hope for Nigeria. I guess that answers your questions. Just like the victims of the pogroms of 1966 and all that followed, and the mass dismissals from the civil service and the mass executions in the military barracks in both northern and western Nigeria, Biafra comprised of Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, Ikwere, Opobo, Ijaw, and numerous other Delta peoples from both sides of the Niger. That's how come many of her ministers and highest ranking military officers were not Igbo. Got that?

I believe that's what multi-ethnic means: multiple ethnicities. Quite simple. [4B] On the Conflicted Legacy of Biafra I remain puzzled by the content and tone of this response from Olu Oguibe. Can the tensions related to Biafra be so easily explained away? Is it necessary to honour Ojukwu by assuming a Biafran identity, to assert “let history be history, but we're all Biafrans today”? Is Oguibe’s attempt at sweeping a mountain under a carpet a valid way of identifying with the massive loss Nigeria and Biafra suffered through the civil war? Must one assume a Biafran identity to identify with Biafra? How does one identify in this context with the numerous non-Biafrans who were also victims of this war? Can the pain associated with Biafra in the minds of Igbos and non-Igbos be so easily dismissed? Would it not be wiser for a person claiming to pursue reconciliation to pursue the universal adoption of a less divisive and emotionally inflammable symbol than the flag of a highly controversial nation which many Igbos and non-Igbos, Biafrans and non-Biafrans see as emblematizing the profound and lingering physical, psychological and social disruptions created by the Nigerian Civil War? Does a person advocating such a controversial initiative not owe others, particularly Nigerians, a detailed explanation that recognises the complexity of the issues involved and the differing interpretations at work on the conflicted history symbolised by the Biafran flag? Can the attitudes to Biafra Oguibe claims for South Africans be equated with more likely responses from a cross-section of Nigerians of various perspectives, from various parts of Nigeria? How accepting would a crosssection of South Africans of various ethnicities and ideological persuasions be if they were asked to fly a flag that represented to them the wars and laws that represented inter-racial conflict in South Africa, that being the South African example of conflict within the same geographical boundaries that may be most readily compared with the Nigerian experience? Is it realistic to dismiss the national and international understanding of Biafra as an Igbo initiative? True, there were non-Igbos in Biafra at different points in its history, some at the highest echelons in Biafra even at the collapse of the nation, but is that equivalent to Biafra not being an Igbo nation? Does the rationale for the founding of Biafra, the rationale for its continuation during the various stages of the civil war and the manner in which the Biafran

leadership described the country to the world, the manner in which most Biafrans understood themselves, along with the post war identification with the Biafran legacy, justify the idea that Biafra was not an Igbo nation? Does the development of the geographical boundaries of Biafra justify the idea that Biafra can be described unequivocally as multi-ethnic? If those geographical boundaries included non-Igbo peoples, how did the lands of these peoples become part of Biafra and how long did they remain part of Biafra? Were these peoples largely united in support of Biafra, as a good number of Igbos within the boundaries of Biafra almost certainly identified with Biafra? Has the postwar legacy of Biafra been taken up by non-Igbo people and if so, at what level of identification with Biafra? I don’t think an effort to explore these questions will support the notion that Biafra was not an Igbo nation in a manner that does not need qualification. Idealisation of Biafra could represent an ideal one sees as valid for human society. What is worrisome in relation to such a vision is an insistence that one’s idealization of Biafra is the only valid understanding of Biafra, what is dangerous is the defence of this ahistorical idealisation through violence, even if that violence is purely verbal, an effort to subjugate other Nigerians to one’s idealisation of Biafra. If others don’t agree with you that Biafra was not an Igbo nation then the “monumental shame and embarrassment of ignorance” is theirs according to Olu Oguibe. Olu Oguibe’s Further Valorisation of Biafra and Ojukwu and Condemnation of Those Who Do not Share His Vision of Ojukwu and Biafra

Oguibe further asserted his position on the unquestionable validity of
the universal value of honoring Ojukwu by flying the Biafran flag: I did, indeed, have two completely different responses to Toyin's questions; one a short statement of surprise that he did not seem to consider that Biafra had other ethnicities, not sections of the Igbo community. However, I deliberately decided on the response that I gave. As anyone on this forum knows, subtlety is great but subtlety is not my forte. No matter the number of schools that exist on those details, there are certain facts that are not in dispute. We ought to know those facts. It is our collective history. …I suggested that perhaps simply showing the flag[ on Facebook] might do just fine. For a week or just a day. Unless you believe that a people slaughtered like the Eastern and South-eastern Nigerians were deserved their fate, and

did not have a right to protect themselves, then, there is no understandable reason to be petty about the suggestion. To then go beyond and repeat the kind of cluelessness in Toyin's post was, to my mind, unacceptable. By now there ought to be enough patriotism in Nigeria for people to say, you know what, clearly a whole bunch of people got it wrong at that point in history, but be that as it may, these people did pay such a huge price and it's proper for us all to own that episode and claim it. Enough decency to say: "You know what, that guy did what he felt he had to do to stand up for his people. I may not agree with it or fully understand it, but I respect it; that was one hell of a fellow, let's raise glasses to his memory. And move on." That sentiment would not be exactly historically accurate, because Ojukwu was called upon to lead, but the historical details would not matter; just the spirit. In my book, anyone who is not capable of that is not worthy of my respect, or the sacrifice to keep Nigeria one or move it forward. That's in my book, of course. Anyone else is entitled to their own position on that. [4D] Contrastive Views on the Logic Behind the Founding of Biafra This position of Olu Oguibe’s is disturbing beceause it equates identification with those, largely Igbos, who were exterminated in the 1966 Northern Nigerian pogroms, with identification with Biafra by flying the Biafran flag. Can Oguibe not be described as trying to conscript people into a Biafran identity through a form of redmail? “If you don’t agree completely with our views, then you are against us, showing you are an evil person, not worthy of the respect due to a human being”, is a fit summation of the style of thinking Oguibe is displaying. How does one honestly dismiss the developments between those pogroms and the founding of Biafra, such as the efforts to reassure Eastern Nigeria of its place in Nigeria and the rejection of those overtures by Ojukwu and his collaborators, leading to the founding of Biafra? How can one ignore the fact that the esteemed Nigerian and Igbo statesman and former Biafran, Nnamdi Azikiwe, echoing the views of others, Igbo and non-Igbo, Biafran and non-Biafran, described as a cruel hoax, an ‘April Fool’s Tale’ the notion that Igbos were in danger of extermination even after they

had fled from other parts of Nigeria to the Igbo heartland beyond the Niger, a fear of extermination that was presented by the Biafran leadership as being at the centre of the founding of Biafra and its subsequent war, a war undertaken in the face of practically nothing to fight its much militarily superior opponent with, not to talk of the desperate fight for Biafra that persisted even though the war was obviously lost, condemning countless lives to destruction and maiming? Jennifer Allison Gluck in Building Biafrans: The Role of Propaganda in Creating the Biafran Nation, sums up Azikwe’s reassessment of the Biafran dilemma most compellingly:            On  August  28,  1969…Azikiwe  released  a  text  in  which  he  which  he                  outlined  his  new  position:                                       “I   would   resist   to   the   limit   of   my   mental   and   physical   abilities   any concerted attempt to exterminate any linguistic group, whether Igbo, or non-Igbo, for any reason…there is no concerted plot to exterminate them or any of their leaders. I want them to believe me when I say that the world has taken cognisance of their fortitude in the face of extreme suffering in addition to the valor and gallantry of their soldiers. There can be no doubt that they fought and died in the conscientious belief that they and their people were slated to be exterminated.”   He reminded the listeners of his loyalty to all Nigerians and his pure intentions. He dispelled the core piece of propaganda for the Biafrans by affirming the safety and security of the Igbo and nonIgbo who now lived in the Federal territory of Lagos as well as those who resided outside of what is now left of former Eastern Nigeria. He then called for the end of the civil war. Furthermore, he attacked Ojukwu and his “false propaganda”. By acknowledging that Biafrans had fought nobly, he allowed for honor and dignity in surrender. However, he called them victims of a hoax, a “cock and-bull-fairy tale,” a horrible “April Fool’s tale.” His recommendations were made quite clear : “Blood has flowed quite freely beceause of this false propaganda. The killing should stop. Now. Enough is enough.” He had no reluctance to place blame. He removed the blame from the Nigerian people and placed it on the “false propaganda” and those who created it. He blamed Ojukwu for “bamboozling” the people and for prolonging the suffering. He directly called upon Ojukwu to end the war so that he would not “disfigure the pages of Nigerian history as another political impostor and petty tyrant.”

[2].

Is it possible to realistically dismiss the arguments by various figures that the founding of Biafra as a secessionist enclave was an unnecessary and costly gamble? Kola Tubosun’s Association of Biafra with Revolution

Kola Tuboson presented an identification with Biafra that avoids condemnation of contrastive perspectives while raising fundamental
questions on the nascent nation. His approach is therefore not the same as that of those who deify Biafra and Odumegwu Ojukwu while responding to contrastive perspectives as damnable heresy. Identifying with the call to fly the Biafran flag, Kola Tuboson lists literature on the Nigerian Civil War and notable personalities on both sides of the conflict, and, from this platform, identifies the Biafran flag with what he describes as a revolution at that point in Nigerian history: …a Nigerian/human story that I have found fascinating for a long time: the Biafran story and Ojukwu's role in it. My teenage years was spent poring through books like Cyprian Ekwensi(?)'s "Divided We Stand", Ojukwu's "Because I was Involved", Forsyth's "Emeka", Soyinka's "The Man Died" and very many others that give fascinating multi-dimensional insight into a great time in world (and Nigerian) history. What I have found over the years is that in spite of the mediocre dialogue in Nigerian politics of the last decade(s) that have divided and thus defeated our national cohesiveness, the Biafran story still stands as a record of a crucial moment of more than our nationhood: a real experiment in nation birthing that to me seems more affecting than the fight to break from the British. Nigerians were forced to self-reflect and take life and death decisions with long-term implications. In spite of much of the unnecessary killings, it was something of a crucible (a word I'm using in the place of "our finest hour" in adversity). Men were made, and characters defined: Soyinka, Achebe, Okigbo, J.P.Clark, Saro Wiwa, Banjo, Obasanjo, Danjuma, Awolowo, Azikiwe etc. Nothing else in Nigerian history - baring perhaps the first coup - has had such a lasting and extensive influence, connecting one generation to the others. Biafra was all of us, unhinged. I will be proud to fly the flag of the revolution symbolized by that period in Nigerian history. Maybe, just maybe, in the acknowledgement of the role of Biafra, we may forge a just nation based on self-determination, industry, rebellion, pride, and a dogged quest for the best condition of mankind. Biafra is us. In the death of the man that best

represented that time, may something else rise: a new nation, since Nigeria doesn't look like it holds anything for us other than vestiges of intolerance, waste and denial.[5]. Sadly, Tubosun does not justify why Biafra may be correctly identified with revolution, since secession in and of itself, is not identical with revolution. How accurate is it to associate Biafra with a revolution at the crisis period that led to its founding? What are the views of the actors on both sides of that tortured drama on this assessment of Biafra? What are the opinions on the ultimate meaning of Biafra of the very Biafrans and Igbos, who were at the heart of the secessionist state, and whose history is still related to that experience? What were their views about Biafra before its founding, during its existence and what are their views after its fall? What are the perspectives of Nigerian Civil War scholars within and outside post civil war Nigeria on the significance of Biafra? To what degree is the lofty description of Biafra in terms of revolution shared among members of these groups and to what degree is Biafra understood as significantly a self serving initiative built on cunning and deceit, a gargantuan lie fed by the blood, mutilation, psychological maiming and displacement of Nigerians and non-Nigerians, and particularly of countless Igbos? An effort to answer these questions might prove disturbingly revelatory for many.

To Be Continued in the succeeding parts that examine contrastive perspectives on Odumegwu Ojukwu, Ojukwu’s Ahiara Declaration, Biafran multi-ethnicity and the conflicted meanings of the Biafran flag

References

1. Adepoju, Toyin on the thread “Make it Viral”, on the Nigerian literary group Ederi, 30th November 2011. URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7552 Accessed 17 December 2011. 2. Gluck, Jennifer Allison, Building Biafrans: The Role of Propaganda in Creating the Biafran Nation, Honors History Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2007,p. 59, URL:discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/jspui/bitstream/.../HHTGl uckJ07.pdf Accessed 17 December 2011. 3. Kirk-Greene, Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook, 1966-1969. London: Oxford UP, 1971. 4. Oguibe, Olu, on the thread “Make it Viral”, on the Nigerian literary group Ederi, 30th November 2011. A.URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7551 B. URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7553 C. URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7554 D. URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7565 Accessed 17 December 2011. 5. Tubosun, Kola, on the thread “Make it Viral”, on the Nigerian literary group Ederi, 30th November 2011. URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Ederi/message/7563 Accessed 17 December 2011.

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