During the pre-independence days, as the struggle to have the colonialist hand over the reins of power was in its peak, there were genuine fears from the northern part of Nigeria. The strong man of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, protested and expressed his fears that he does not think the North is ready for independence from the colonial masters. One of his reasons was the proportionate number in academically advanced Nigerians of Southern extraction, compared to the dismal number of educated northerners. One of the frontline nationalists then, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe tried to allay the British knight’s fears with the statement “let us bury the hatchet”. The Sarduana reiterated: No, let us not bury the hatchet, let us first of all acknowledge our differences and know how to accommodate them.
It is needless to say what every in-depth student of Nigerian history is already informed about: our differences as a people were never addressed properly before our independence. Zik, whom in my opinion, factored that with independence, he would be the head of the anticipated independent Nigerian government, since he was the most visible nationalist, undermined the genuine fears by the Northerners of Southern domination, and was finally outwitted by the imperialist and the Sarduana. Firstly, they made sure the census figures favoured the north. Secondly, they stage-managed the congress election, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) claimed almost all the seat in the north. Through these means, NPC got to have the highest number of lawmakers. And, as we know with the arithmetic’s of Parliamentary system of government, the party with the highest number of MP’s, has to produce the prime minister. This clean mathematics saw the emergence of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa as Prime minister, and, by extension truncated Zik’s precious dream. Poor Zik!
Perhaps, assuming Zik saw this coming, he would have paused and addressed our differences when Ahmadu Bello expressed his fears. Zik got the independence but missed his greatest goal because of his insensitivity. However, Zik is long gone but our differences as a nation are still yet to be addressed. We Nigerians, since our independence, have nurtured and perfected the art of pretense, the same old pretense that Zik resorted to. We pretend that we are united, we pretend we are the giant of Africa, we pretend there is no imbalance in our set up and most regrettably, we pretend Nigeria never fought a civil war. Yes! We pretend Biafra never happened, as if it was not a part of our history. Just as we pretend and put up a blind eye over all our genuine problems, we have closed our mouths about Biafra. And, we have consciously expunged it out of our educational curriculum, thereby, giving history ample chance to repeat itself.
Feigning ignorance about our history as a nation is one of our recent anathema. And, as we all know, ignorance kills faster than a bullet. What happens when ignorance pervades the land like a blanket of darkness, is that it makes mountains out of molehills, forges disorder where there should be order, makes hate virile and fecund where love is supposed to flow. Ignorance makes people to willfully keep themselves in bondage while blaming everybody but themselves for their woes. Ignorance will always bring a numbskull giant to his knees. And some of the sources of our ignorance are; leaving the mediocre to do our thinking for us, believing every lie we read and willfully withholding information that is supposed to rid the society of ignorance.
Is it not funny that Nigerian Civil war is not taught in our primary and secondary schools? Even in the newly introduced compulsory subject for secondary schools: Civic Education. The topic was resourcefully schemed out of the course curriculum. Now, how can you teach one how to be a better citizen of his country when you have deliberately decided to hide a part of the history of the same country away from him? How can you teach one patriotism and nationalism when the sour part of his history is being shrouded by secrecy? The effect of this is: when the child grows and learns about the mistake of the past – woe betide him if it is from the wrong source – the child will always question the rationale of being patriotic.
It is highly inconceivable that a country ranked as the second largest producer of films is in dearth of serious films, documentaries and TV series that tell her citizens about the darkest part of her history. Why? Because, the posturing of the federal government and her citizens whenever the issue is brought up is not encouraging. Or perhaps, because we have been indoctrinated to believe that discussing such issues will threaten national unity. And, I ask, which unity? Trumped-up unity? Diversionary unity? Illusionary unity? Please, which unity?
Two incidences that occurred in recent years have made me question seriously the unity of this country. First, was when the Chinua Achebe memoir, There Was A Country, was released. Most Nigerians, without reading the book, took sides based on their ethnic divide. And the funny side of this particular incidence is: the opposing and proposing side in the war of words, to the best of my knowledge, till date, have not written a rejoinder to counter or support the old man’s book. The second incidence was when Governor Fashola sent some Igbos back to Anambra state. Immediately, the ethnic jingoism phobia amongst us reared its ugly head. This incidence was quickly viewed from tribal lenses without the commentators trying to get the facts of the whole matter. These incidences are few cases where Nigerians are quick to take side on tribal leaning, not based on the fact of the matter. And, whenever the tribal card is played in Nigeria, the fear of Biafra is remembered.
No doubt, most Nigerians have one or two misgivings about Biafra. But the naked truth is, Biafra is deeper than the actual war, the root cause of the war is our real fear. And the way we keep treating this issue is our stigma. Biafra was about the only time the essence of our union was questioned radically and extremely. Therefore, it is evident we cannot discuss Biafra without discussing our differences. We cannot discuss Biafra without discussing the question of identity. And, we cannot discuss Biafra, without discussing the basis of our unity.
In the light of this I ask: is it not yet time we discuss this Biafra? Is it not about time we ask publicly what truly led to Biafran war? Is it not time we set up a commission of enquiries to question the few surviving actors of Biafra? Is it not time preventive measures are put in place to forestall future occurrence of internal civil war? Again I ask, is it not time we allow this part of our history to be taught in our primary or secondary schools? Is it not time we talk about our ethnic fears and hurts so we can heal and move on without these lethal suspicions and ethnic back biting?
True healing begins when bellicose and aggrieved people freely talk about their hurts. This is because, there can be no genuine forgiveness without confession, there can be no lasting peace without sincere apology, and there can be no authentic repentance without acceptance. On this premise I say, Nigeria can NEVER move on till we face this Biafra issue. We can pretend we are united, but let’s remember that pretense is like an umbrella without a roof that always shows its true nature when the rain of reality comes falling down. It is time we talk, it is time we heed the advice of Sir Ahmadu Bello. But if we decide to say let us bury the hatchet like Zik, then, let’s remember that a covered wound does not heal, it only festers and worsens. As for me, I say, for the sake of all the innocent blood spilled in Nigeria, let’s discuss now! There is never a right time to do the right thing.
May GOD open our eyes of understanding.