Monday, December 5, 2011

My first memories of the name 'Ojukwu' involved a scandal. All I knew was that his girlfriend was very young and it was a very bad thing.

I later learned about Ojukwu's role in Nigeria's civil war. The creation of Biafra and the millions who died as a consequence. I learned about the pain felt and left unaddressed by many over 40 years later. I also discovered a family secret that my grandfather almost died at the hands of Biafran soldiers who lined up Abonema's villagers because many refused to recognize the new country they were forced into.


It was not until Ojukwu's death on November 26th, 2011, that I decided to truly take the time to think about the circumstances that forced the creation of Biafra. Of course, the cards were stacked against the 30,000 square mile-wide nation: former colonial controller Great Britain supplied the Nigerian military with an even greater tactical advantage than it already had in the form of weapons, strategic advice and more. And Egypt provided military planes.

Black gold also ensured Biafra's failure. Oil was found at Oloibiri, which is now in Bayelsa State, in 1956. That area and most of what is known as the oil rich Niger Delta were encompassed by Biafra. There was no way the ruling military government, Great Britain and other interests would lose control of that money maker. And so, Biafra was crushed, Ojukwu fled into self-imposed exile, and a shabby peace was imposed.

The saddest thing of all is that the very things that caused Biafra to secede: lack of true federalism, a government that failed to protect the people (as was the case when 20,000 easterners were killed across the north in 1966, forcing two million to leave the region) and pervasive injustice, have become worse in today's Nigeria. And not just for easterners but for everybody.

It seems the lessons of the past were for naught. As Chinua Achebe once succinctly said of the late 1960s Nigeria, [a] state that failed to safeguard the lives of its citizens has no claim to their allegiance.” That statement holds resoundingly true today as millions of Nigerian children die at birth. So do their mothers. Those who manage to survive live in a twisted nightmare: a rich country full of poor, uneducated people. Violence is used to survive and terrorize (a la Boko Haram and MEND), existing ins the form of kidnappings, thieving pastors, students raping their fellow students while videotaping the horrendous act, politicians choking their pockets with stolen money and a host of other issues that should be addressed but are not. Yet, politicians have the time to create a law that punishes homosexuals. And that is because all the players in the game that is Nigeria lack the credibility to effect true, long lasting change on the issues that really matter.

Make no mistake, I have no intention of painting Ojukwu a hero, I leave that to others to do. After all, he uncomprehendingly fled to the Ivory Coast with a white Mercedes Benz when he realized the Nigerian military had won the war. Not to mention, his relationship and marriage to Bianca Onoh his third wife. She was the young girlfriend I mentioned at the beginning of the piece. Although May-December relationships are no longer as shocking as they once were, the fact remains that his wife was the child of a childhood friend, and it is alleged that Ojukwu himself attended her Christening and may have even been her Godfather. Those things, whether true or not, may one day be a part of the complex story told about the complicated man that was Ojukwu. 

But what will really be sad is if Nigeria never tells its children the story of what created a man like Ojukwu and Biafra. Failure to understand or at least acknowledge those circumstances is partly to blame for why Nigeria is the country it is today: a nation of such great promise, quickly imploding with nobody from within or without yet in a position to prevent complete destruction.

Related Articles of Interest:
- Biafra 

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