Guest Columnist

Biafra Holocaust, Victims’ Eternal Wounds and Pains, By Onu John Onwe

Barrister Onu John Onwe
Barrister Onu John Onwe

The Biafra story is a difficult one and as said earlier, it excites passions difficult to control by the victims. And the story is most difficult for those who did not personally experience the actual hostilities of that period. The Biafra story is the reverse of the ordered nature of history as it is the defeated victims that are weaving endless yarns of the story to the annoyance of the victors who found the story unpalatable for their taste and conscience. Not just the story but the fact that declassified records of the British Empire and the United States that are now available in the public space, all vindicating the earlier suspicions, guesses  and accusations that Britain instigated the war, supervised and managed it against the Biafrans. The most annoying aspect of these thousands-paged declassified British documents linked up the activities of Britain that deliberately designated the Igbo in particular and other ethnic nationalities to be contained, subjugated and subjected to the rulership of the Fulani. This subversive British treacherous betrayal of trust created by customary international law and statute over Nigeria by way of bias in favour of the Fulani is the trouble that has been responsible for Nigeria’s interminable crisis of existence conducing to state failure with its consequences like poor leadership, corruption, political instability, turbulent, poverty and disease-wracked society. It is this knowledge of Britain’s subversion that upset many knowledgeable Igbo more against Britain than against their Nigerian ethnic compatriots who were instruments in the hands of Britain to achieve its neocolonial agenda of having and keeping Nigeria as its neocolonial facility. It is this anger that excited Dr. Uju Anya’s outburst against Queen Elizabeth.

Understanding Dr. Uju Anya’s outburst against Queen Elizabeth would be difficult for persons outside the world view and socio-cultural milieu of the Igbo and all those who know the British colonial and reo-colonial agenda that made Biafra war possible. Colonialism, under international customary law was lawful. So, it was an accepted usage which several European states Spain, Portugal, France, Denmark, Germany, Britain and Belgium) embraced as an economic tool to enrich their respective economics. Almost all these colonizer-countries engaged in humongous acts of violence and dehumanization that dislocated or even obliterated the cultural values and human dignity of the affected societies as witnessed in American India communities, the Congo, Nigeria and southern Africa. But it was the structuring and administration of these colonies that the actual irreversible damage of the communities happened in terms of their humanity and dignity. And this damage remains quite painful. It is the knowledge of what Britain did to Nigeria and particularly to the Igbo which resulted in Biafra holocaust that is so painful to every Igbo of the younger generation and this pain is what you see physically expressed by Dr. Anya and Nnamdi Kanu in their actions.

When Britain conquered the geographical space containing over 250 ethnics nationalities, humped them together to form Nigeria between 1861-1914, the Igbo were the most difficult to subjugate because of their socio-cultural setting of scattered communities and culturally ingrained ethos of freedom, egalitarianism  and equality that made their subjugation difficult. Having pacified the Igbo and other tribes, Britain set to govern the new country not on the political parameters of Lagos, its first colony’s governance structure, but on the parameters of Sokoto Fulani feudal and autocratic caliphate system and this was inimical to the peoples outside the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate, particularly the Igbo and their immediate neighbours of Akwa-Cross and Rivers areas. The 1929 Aba riots was a testament to these groups’ rejection of feudal and autocratic system. Britain is a slave and conformist society and expected nothing less from its subject-communities. So, when the Igbo proved stubborn to govern, Britain took note and bided its time. So, when in the 1930s, Nnamdi Azikiwe happened at Accra, Gold Coast now Ghana and later returned to Nigeria settling in Lagos where he became a journalist, founded West African Pilot newspaper that subjected British colonial policy to blistering criticisms and graduated to become one of the early political nationalists that become thorns to the tender skins of British colonialism, Britain took note. Knowing Azikiwe’s Igbo root, Britain marked the Igbo as public enemy to be dealt with. The major political party, the Nation Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (later National Council of Nigeria Citizens, NCNC) formed by Herbert Macaulay, an Yoruba and Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo became the major vehicle for nationalist agitation for decolonization of Nigeria and again, Britain took note of this seeming Igbo pestilence to Britain that appeared pertinacious threat to British interest.

Between 1944 – 1948, it was clear to Britain that unless something was done to this NCNC nationalist agenda, Nigeria would slip out of its neocolonial hands without adequate safeguards for preserving and maintaining British interest and other neocolonial intentions. So, John Macpherson was posted to Nigeria from Sudan where he had successfully engineered the constitutional framework to entrench the chosen Arab Islamic leaders to rule the country for it. On replacing Sir Arthur Richards, John Macpherson as governor, bent backward for rapproachment with Nigeria nationalists particularly Azikiwe and cultivated their friendship and understanding by integrating him into British colonial government by way of appointment into colonial board and by that action quietened the blazing fire of the nationalist fervour which the Zikist Movement led by Kola Balogun and thousands of Nigerian youths across Nigeria have ignited. Between 1946 and 1953, Britain through Governor Macpherson had commenced and consummated the entrenchment of a state structure and constitutional framework that assured Britain of protection of its interest and neocolonial agenda by instituting a unipolar political praxis that assured political leadership in the hands of people loyal to the Sokoto caliphate and led by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. This British political agenda of neocolonialism was the result of the committee chaired by Sir N. Brook whose summarized conclusion was to retain Nigeria at all cost as a neocolonial facility as a dedicated market for British manufactured goods and services, a government with parliament that is mere consultative assembly rigged with official majority and an executive branch that is paternalistic and strong enough to ward off official opposition and ruthlessly subjugate it. M. E Allen in a colonial office report 058/213 had noted that this state structure and constitutional framework will ensure that the federal government will be strong enough to keep Nigeria together but certainly undemocratic and unjust. This masterstroke against Nigerians was achieved by “rigging the parliament through official majorities and restricted franchise such as proportionate representation” and indirect election. By I960 when Britain was ready to leave Nigeria, it had accomplished its aim of creating a neocolonial state safely entrusted in hands of local allies and destined according to Suzanne Cronje in her book, The World And Nigeria: The Diplomatic History of Biafra War 1967 – 70 to suffer the following: a large neo-colonial state tied to the apron string of Britain and strong enough to be a brake on black Africa’s ambitions; a safe and dedicated raw material market for, and market for British finished goods and services; a leadership so hopelessly divided by internal contradictions, schisms and rivalries which guarantee that no evolution of a strong African state capable of challenging Britain and its allies’ neocolonial interests in Africa. These British neocolonial agenda against Nigeria are now out in declassified British colonial records collected and published by the University of London as British Documents on the End of an Empire.

Before leaving Nigeria in 1960, Britain had already set the stage for the political kataka (violent upheavals) as expressed in Tivs riots, Western Region crises 1962-1965, the coups of January 15 and July 29, 1966, the pogroms against the Igbo and the eventual Biafra War 1967-1970. The Biafra war was instigated and discreetly managed by Britain who provided the diplomatic cover for Nigeria and supplied the lethal weaponry and logistics that resulted in the Biafra Holocaust. The killing field and consequent genocide that Biafra became was made possible by the irresolute and unbending diplomatic stance adopted by Britain in supporting Nigeria’s Federal Military Government. Most British foreign affairs official such as Arthur Richard and John Macpherson who served as colonial governors in Nigeria had after colonial service in Nigeria been elevated to peerage as Lords Millerton and Caradon. Both continued to serve Britain in Colonial Office and United Nations as UK permanent representative from which vantage positions they blocked all entreaties for the world to hear and respond to Biafra’s cries of genocide until over three million people perished. Several historical accounts from within and outside Nigeria have furnished the young Igbo a full account of the war and the unabashed role of Harold Wilson’s government in that dark chapter of Igbo national life which inflames and set the minds of these vicarious victims at turmoil over man’s inhumanity to man. Before the start of the Biafra War, British government led by Harold Wilson had taken sides by supporting the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon against the Eastern Region and made little effort to broker peaceful settlement between the belligerent parties and even the indigenous settlement effort in the Aburi Accord was sabotaged by Britain that considered Nigeria too precious a prize to be toyed with in local remedies and solutions that did not factor British interests. Lord Walston, then British parliamentary secretary for trade was emphatic that Britain would do anything to safeguard Nigeria for British trade, especially by securing according to him, British interest in the petroleum resources of the country. British’s official, Lord Shepherd had also declared that “Britain was probably the only country in the world that could not in fact or in honour, be neutral about” Nigeria crises. Throughout the question of genocide debate, British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson strenuously opposed any suggestion that the number of deaths happening in Biafra through actual battles and hunger-induced diseases had reached genocidal proportion not even when Winston Churchill, the erstwhile Prime Minister travelled to Biafra and conducted a fact-finding tour that proved the claims of genocide as he witnessed bombings by Federal Government’s Ilyushin planes on hospitals and markets with several hundreds casualties.

But even most intriguing was British subversion of its mandate over Nigeria when at the very formative stage of Nigeria’s development, it set out deliberately to betray its trust by choosing the Fulani ethnic group and setting it on a false unipolar political foundation to become ruler of their compatriots’ ethnic groups and expect such devious artifice to endure? It is this situation and continuance of that system that make the young Igbo, and now the Yoruba (Sunday Igboho) to react to Britain the way Dr. Uju Anya and Nnamdi Kanu have reacted to the British Government, people and key officials such the Dr. Anya’s September 8, 2022 outburst against Queen Elizabeth.  A dispassionate appraisal of Nigeria’s tortuous history and difficulties it has occasioned makes it imperative that instead of taking umbrage at Dr. Uju Anya or even Nnamdi Kanu’s outbursts or tantrums, the world, in particular Britain and Nigeria should take deliberate measures to find solution to the Igbo Question in Nigeria. After all, the Jews who suffered similar but even worse mistreatments through almost two millennia turbulent history of anti-Semitism and violent attacks and pogroms in Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, Spain, France, Russia, Britain and many others culminating in the Germany’s Hitler’s Final Solution during the World War when over six million Jews perished which sacrifice made the victorious allies led by the United States to acquiesce to the founding of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine, in accordance with the earlier British Declaration of Intent called Balfour Declaration during the 1st World War, which promise Britain reneged on due to diplomatic balancing of its interest over the Arab and Persian oils. So, instead of the world taking umbrage at Dr. Anya’s outburst against Queen Elizabeth, the world should take diplomatic steps to assist Nigeria to effect a closure of the Biafra War which it helped instigate and helped to execute by pressuring Nigeria’s rulers to abolish the autocratic, iniquitous, draconian and oppressive state structure and constitutional framework that resulted in the Nigeria crises (1962 – 1999) with the end products of Biafra conundrum, state failure and diseased society plaguing Nigeria since 1999 to date. A resolution of this systemic socio-political problem in a way similar to the dismantling of Republic of South Africa’s apartheid system or Rwandan regeneration will be wholesome justice served the Igbo and other ethnic groups that became victims of this British subterfuge. Justice is first condition of humanity that assures peace and such will heal and change the mindsets of the eternally wounded Igbo. What the Igbo, and other aggrieved groups need in Nigeria is freedom tempered with justice to unleash the natural creative energy of Nigerian society which will make Nigeria a new country with boundless prospect to greatness. Without this closure of Biafra, the Igbo and invariably the several groups that became victims will continue to nurse their wounds and endure the pains, like the Igbo proverb says: “nobody beats a child and prevents it from crying.” Without this closure, there are many Dr. Uju Anya, Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho, all born after the Biafra War that have read that sordid history and asking questions and without satisfactory answers they would be prone to react the same way these aggrieved Nigerians arte reacting. Let’s heal the wounds and the tantrums resulting from the pains will cease.



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