Presenting Igbo Case Before The British

 [ Masterweb Reports: Osita Ebiem reports ] – When I read Orji Uzor Kalu’s article about his belief in the “. . . unity and indivisibility of Nigeria.” the first reaction would have been to be alarmed. Then he was writing about the Nigerian government crime of murder against its citizens in Zaki-Biam, Benue State in October 2001. Kalu in his essay insists that Olusegun Obasanjo by his action of ordering the mass killing of Nigerian citizens in Zaki-Biam deliberately committed crime against humanity.


Obasanjo was Nigeria’s President in 2001 and he gave orders to the military to destroy the villages in and around Zaki-Biam over some inter-ethnic disputes involving Tiv and Jukun. The entire area was sacked with hundreds of civilians killed and properties destroyed. This was a repeat of what the same Obasanjo government did earlier in Odi, Bayalesa State in November 1999. The Odi incident is considered by most analysts as genocide.


Some readers will also recall that it was the same Obasanjo as the commander of the Nigerian 3rd Marine Brigade in January, 1970 committed what has become known as the Njaba Massacre against Igbo civilians after the war had ended. For several days after ceasefire agreement had been signed by the Biafran General Philip Effiong and his Nigerian counterparts, soldiers under the direct command of Obasanjo went on a killing and pillaging spree at Njaba and its surrounding areas. Majority of the victims were civilian children, women and men in various refugee camps. Witnesses remember that the entire Njaba River was turned into a river of blood and a putrid soup of human flesh. Thousands of people were killed, women were raped and some were seized and taken away as sex slaves. For many months after wards the entire river and surrounding area festered with thousands of bloated bodies floating and others rotting in the open fields.


43 years later the Ezu River dumping of 2013 where more than 40 bodies of young men were found by horrified villagers would rudely remind the people of the Njaba Massacre. Reports have it that Ezu victims were suspected members of the non-violent separatist group; MASSOB, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra. They said the MASSOB members were executed extra-judicially by the Nigerian Police and dumped in the river.


Most Igbo consider Kalu’s seemingly harmless statement in the opening paragraph of this essay as thoughtless, reckless, insensitive and roundly condemnable. In the mind of most Igbo they see the statement as more devastating than it appears to a casual reader. For such Igbo they consider Kalu’s “flippant misspeak” as negatively impacting on the psyche of Igbo people and demeaning of the memories of those of them who died for Biafra as the crime of pogrom/genocide itself. Prominent among those who vehemently condemn the statement is Oguchi Nkwocha, the Biafran expert and an advocate for the division of the Nigerian state along ethnic lines. In his reaction, as well as calling Kalu’s confessed position shameful Nkwocha describes it as “. . . typical of the stupid  Igbo trying so hard to be more one-Nigerian than any others, completely oblivious to how ridiculous he is in that: it is more nauseating than convincing. After all, which other ethnic group in Nigeria would use that as an opening statement in any discourse, serious or not?” ( Nkwocha is a reputable force in the campaign against genocides and typically condemns genocides anywhere. So his anger would not have been against Kalu’s position on Zaki-Biam and Odi. This is clear because he goes further to explain his anger which is held by most Igbo. He says; “. . . in that mien, he [Kalu] goes on to ignore the ongoing Genocide by Nigeria against his own people [Igbo people]—he has to; and is ever willing to lead the charge of genocide against any another group.” Nkwocha and other Igbo believe that Biafra genocide remains the most heinous and the one with the greatest number of people killed in Africa and any honest commentator on African genocides and mass killings cannot justifiably ignore it for any reason. The people in this group argue that the other major reason why it is not only dishonest but dangerous to gloss over Biafra genocide is because the ethnic/religious cleansing of Igbo people is still on-going in Nigeria just as Nkwocha pointed out.


Some commentators believe that Nkwocha’s statement about Kalu’s supposedly unthinking effusive patriotic gushing for one Nigeria is too strong, but others feel that he did not condemn Kalu enough. The people in the latter group believe that Kalu by his statement is making a mockery of the memory of more than 3.1 million Igbo people and other Biafrans who gave their lives in the process of trying to free Igbo people and others from the clutches of one Nigeria. And this group is pained more by what they consider as perhaps the longest running or unremitting genocide in history: Igbo/Biafra Genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing of Igbo people in Nigeria.


Another group that would be alarmed at Kalu’s statement would be those Igbo who believe that in today’s Nigerian political scene any Igbo politician should be knowledgeable on the important highlights of the history of his Igbo people that he leads. In their opinion such insensitivity as displayed by Kalu becomes more disturbing when such a politician had risen to an important position of being governor of an Igbo state. (Kalu served as governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007). It is believed that such level of insensitivity and grandiose dreams based on irrationality among Igbo leaders may only be forgiven in the likes of the quintessential Pan-Africanist (Nnamdi Azikiwe) who had very little history to refer to. In today’s scheme of things in Nigeria they contend that it is expected that all Igbo participants in the Nigerian politics should be more of realists than mere dreamers.


In today’s Nigeria any Igbo confessing like Kalu did would not only be considered reckless but to be dangerously impacting negatively on the well-being and future of his entire people. The argument of those Igbo like Nkwocha who appear to hold extreme position is; if there is one single most important episode in the annals of Igbo history, Biafra would surely be it. So it would baffle any Igbo political analyst any day how an Igbo politician could attain any meaningful position in Nigerian politics without a sound knowledge of the Biafran tragedy? Hence it is believed by most Igbo pundits that a good knowledge of the Biafran experience is supposed to be the first qualification for any Igbo public participant. In the real world of politics no one should ever dream of leading a people to a future without knowing about their past? The road to the future is always found in the people’s past. Generally, historians have always had the consensus that those who would get to a planned and successful future, whether as individuals or a group, would always first find their past and learn all the lessons in store for them there.

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