Magnus Eze, Enugu, Okey Sampson, Aba, Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha, George Onyejiuwa, Owerri and Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
From Toronto Canada to Abidjan in Ivory Coast, Bamako Mali to Frankfurt Germany and London down to other major cities of the world, Igbo people from the Southeast and some parts of South-south of Nigeria gathered in their numbers on May 30, to honour the over three million persons that died in the defunct Eastern Region during the 30-month Nigeria-Biafra civil war.
In fact, the State of Illinois, United States of America proclaimed May 30, 2019, Biafra Memorial Day in honour of the victims of the war.
In a letter signed by the governor, J. B. Pritzker, just like his predecessor, Bruce Rauner in 2017, the state of Illinois honoured the victims of the Nigerian civil war and urged “all citizens to strive to overcome hatred and indifference through learning, tolerance, and remembrance.”
Back home in Nigeria, many towns and cities of the five Southeast states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, were practically locked down following the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) on that day.
Biafra Day is regarded as the exact date in 1967 when the defunct Republic of Biafra was declared by the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Members of the Igbo Canadian Community Association (ICCA/UMUNNA) led by their former President, Chief Chris Nsoedo, displayed the essence of the annual Biafra Memorial Day at the mega ball room of the Woodbine Hotels and Suites in Toronto, Canada, where they laid wreaths for the fallen heroes.
Speaking at the 16th edition of the memorial organised by the ICCA/UMUNNA, the President; Chief Ugochukwu Okoro explained that the reason behind the annual event was to continue telling the story of the inhuman treatment at their period and also to celebrate the survival of Ndigbo from that carnage.
“This memorial event is aimed at telling our story, owing that the Nigerian Government appears to ignore the circumstances that took lives to the tune of that number. That part of history is facing so much suppression by the actors; unfortunately, the world also seems not concerned as well. Genocide is a crime against humanity.
“The world has recognised and criticised what happened to the Jews from the Holocaust and Rwandan genocides etc. We hope that someday the genocide against the Biafrans will be given the recognition it deserves. I believe that will bring healing to the pain the people faced and probably remove the injustices they still face in the country,” he stated.
Okoro, who noted that genocide has continued to occur in the country since after the civil war, pointed out that the military had at the slightest provocation massacred citizens without remorse.
As the memorial was observed, people wondered why the spirit of Biafra has refused to die almost 50 years after the end of the war. Two other issues of concern were whether sit-at-home was the best strategy for the struggle and why it has been difficult for the various groups agitating for Biafra to work together.
Governor of the State of Illinois, Pritzker said the history of the Biafra war offered an opportunity to reflect on the moral responsibilities of individuals, societies, and governments.
Notable Igbo people and leaders of the pro-Biafra groups said the agitation could only cease when there is fairness, equity and justice in Nigeria.
A Professor of Political Science and former Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Elochukwu Amucheazi said that the agitation would not end soon so long as there is lop-sidedness and marginalisation in the country.
He called for the restructure of Nigeria possibly as a confederation or as it were in the 1963 Republican Constitution.
Clearly, governorship aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Imo State in the last elections; Dr. Sam Amadi and Dr. Law Mefor, Chancellor of Igbo Bu Igbo Foundation (IBI) said that the spirit of Biafra would not die because it has not been appeased.
Amadi said: “It is as simple as that. Such spirits are appeased with justice. Nigeria needs to shut down Biafra by establishing a commission on genocide and the Biafran war. Such Commission will inquire into the mass killing of the Igbo in Nigeria before the civil war and after the civil war. Though in war people die there is allegation of killing of innocents and non-combatants in wanton manner by the Nigerian soldiers. At the Oputa Panel, Igbo leaders brought up this Charge against Nigeria. Nothing has been done to address this grave allegation.
“The Igbo also alleged that they are victims of war crime. There is a potential issue of war crime. After Nazi German we are making such inquests and compensating victims. We can no longer live in the past. But we have closed down the past by redeeming what we can and regretting what we can’t. But bottomline is we must establish the truth of our history and move forward from truth and reconciliation.”
On his part, Mefor said that Biafra was about survival noting though the shooting battles may have abated, but the war was still on in other forms and fronts, adding that was why the only federal presence in the Southeast were police, army and Python Dancers who harassed and extorted the people at will. He argued that the spirit of Biafra would have gone to rest if the policy of ‘Three Rs’ – Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration announced by the Federal Government after the war, had been implemented.
According to him, the “Southeast is stagnating because the Eastern Economic Corridor that was closed since the war has remained closed since then; the Onne and Port Harcourt ports, Calabar Port and even Delta Ports are deliberately kept in disuse. Southeast businessmen are then forced to import through Lagos rather than through the Eastern sea routes, which are shorter but made very expensive through policy.
“Biafra cannot die when the erstwhile Biafrans are kept out of the scheme of things and allowed to play no fiddle at all. The alienation of the Southeast people is what is reinforcing the Biafra spirit. For nearly 50 years, Southeast is cut off from sea, air and land from outside world. It’s a deliberate policy to the people defeated and emasculated.”
On the economic implications of the sit-at-home syndrome in the observance of Biafra remembrance, it was gathered that all the markets in Onitsha, Anambra’s commercial city, including the Onitsha main market, Ochanja market, Ogbaru relief market, New spare parts market Nkpor, old spare parts market Obosi, and the Building Materials market Ogidi were shut down as traders shunned the markets in obedience to the order. It was the same scenario in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State. Chairman of Onitsha Main Market Traders Association, Chief Ikechukwu Ekwegbalu lamented that traders lost over N100 million for shutting down the market, saying the exercise affected the economy of the state and the country at large.
“We opened the market but there was nobody in the market. Traders refused to come to their shops due to fear of possible attack and looting of their goods by hoodlums as had been experienced in the past. The pro-Biafran groups should find another way of honouring the fallen heroes.
“We must not close markets to remember our dead ones. We should do our businesses; we are losing a lot closing our shops. So, we should have a rethink and find another means of honouring those who died in the Biafra struggle,” Ekwegbalu appealed.
In Ebonyi, where the sit-at-home order did not make any impact, human and vehicular movements were free in Abakaliki, the state capital; just as shops and other business areas opened for the day’s business.
Chairman of Abakaliki (Abakpa) Main Market Traders Association (AMMTA), Mr Eze Christopher, said he ignored some persons who purportedly sent him a letter from IPOB, demanding that the market should be closed.
Also in Abakaliki, State Chairman of Motorcycle Transport Union (MTUN), Mr Paulinus Attam, said their members operated that day because they needed to survive to talk about Biafra.
“Some of them are on hire purchase arrangement. They are paying on daily basis and weekly and from there they feed their families. So, if any of them decides to sit at home, I am not the one telling them to sit at home”, he said.
Not a few people believe that sit-at-home is not the best approach to actualising Biafra.
One of such persons is the traditional ruler of Ehere community in Obingwa near Aba, Eze Young Nwangwa who said that people only stayed at home for fear of being molested if they came out.
He urged the Igbo to press for restructuring of the country, which could be easier to achieve than Biafra in the present context.
Like the Abia monarch, President of Billie Human Rights Initiatives, Dr Innocent Amadi also said no amount of sit-at -Home or the blocking of roads can grant Ndigbo the sovereign state of Biafra. He said that one person or a group cannot order the entire people of Biafra to abandon their businesses to sit-at-home knowing full well that Ndigbo are mainly traders.
According to him, “Nigeria is signatory to the right of indigenous people and that they have right to choose how they want to be governed and it is on that basis that we sued Nigerian federation to grant the Indigenous People of Biafra the right for self-determination. So, Biafra can only be achieved through diplomacy and not through secession or terrorism,” he urged.
Though Amadi said that the shutdown obviously imposed considerable hardship on the people of the region, he believed that it was a bearable and tolerable burden.
But, he would want a migration to other economically compliant mode of commemorating May 30 like conferences and other social activities.
He also pushes for the declaration of the day as a public holiday, which should allow private businesses to open by the governments of the region.
“I believe one day Nigeria will come around and commemorate the day that our collective folly led to the avoidable destruction of our people,” he said.
Mefor too, was of the view that it was not much taking one day off to mark the deaths of the estimated three million Biafrans that died.
The IBI Chancellor declared that “Passover is still observed by the Jews till today. Those millions that died gave those of us alive the chance to live with dignity, and not as slaves. They gave their lives for our today.
“It’s just that governors of the Southeast are cowards otherwise they should have made May 30 official public holiday. Southwest governors did it with June 12 even for one man – MKO Abiola.
“Yes, the stay-at-home may not give us Biafra, but it keeps on the pressure for equity and social justice.”
Regardless, Emma Kanu, younger brother to IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu did not see anything bad in the sit-at-home order since it was not aimed against anybody, but the restoration of Biafra.
He expressed joy that this year’s sit-at-home against efforts made by IPOB detractors to truncate the exercise, was a huge success in parts of Biafra land
He thanked the entire members of freedom of Biafra worldwide for honouring the sit-at-home order and added that the huge success of the exercise was keeping the Biafran hope alive.
“We want to make it clear to the Nigerian government that what we are doing is about Biafra, it’s not about anybody; we don’t kill and we will never kill. It’s about Biafra, whether they like it or not, Biafra must be restored,” he said.
Meanwhile, a coalition of pro-Biafra groups at a press conference attended by their various leaders in Enugu, that day, unveiled its new name.
The move put to rest fears that Biafra agitators might not be able to work together.
Presenting their position, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Comrade Uchenna Madu said the coalition would henceforth be called Biafra Peoples Liberation Movement (BPLM).
He explained that they had not formed a new organization, but merely came under one umbrella for purpose of restoration and freedom of Biafra.
“As it is not a single organisation, it does not have single leadership. The structure and its operations are based on a collegiate leadership and control. The college of leaders of BPLM (coalition) is consisted of the leaders of all the participating groups and decisions are based on equal voting rights in council. There are equal representations of groups in the council,” Madu stated.
He added that the BPLM comprised Biafrans of Ijaw and Akwa-Cross origin, Igbo block and others.
Madu, therefore, called on all the groups and leaders agitating for the restoration of Biafra; resource control, restructuring and regional autonomy or sovereignty to join hands with them.
Some of the 15 pro-Biafra groups that make up the BPLM include: MASSOB, Eastern Peoples’ Congress (EPC); Igbo Youth Cultural and Restoration Initiative (IYCRI), Movement of Biafrans in Nigeria (MOBIN) and Customary Government of Biafra (CGU) among others.