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- Oguchi Nkwocha, MD.
( Tuesday, February 28, 2006 )
It sounds so trite: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana. Or, those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
Exactly 40 years ago, the Igbo and other Easterners erstwhile residing in the North limped back to Eastern Nigeria, bloodied, maimed and in both physical and psychological shock—and these were the “lucky” ones. Their families and relatives and friends were not so lucky: they never made it back alive—victims, by the tens of thousands, of Northern Nigerian pogrom and genocide against the Igbo and other Easterners. For the most part, their corpses never even made it back to the East, having been burnt or left to rot where they were felled by unimaginable bloody pre-meditated viciousness of Northerners. And that was only the first wave of a trinity of bloody pogroms against the same people by the same perpetrators within a period of less than six months or so that year.
Today, a few persons and authors deny that there was such a bloody set of pogroms; others continue to deny that it was this that eventually led to the Biafra-Nigeria War, and in fact, a few a willing to falsely fix the blame for that war on the Igbo rather than on the pogroms. For a great many others, anyone younger than 40 years of age is completely clueless as to these events. The peculiar demographics of so-called Third World Countries of which Nigeria is one, places 80-90% of the population of Nigeria at 40 years of age or under; therefore, only well under a quarter, most likely a tenth of those living today in Nigeria experienced these events directly. It is a good thing that those among these cynics and skeptics and outright liars and or re-writers of history are alive to witness this past week in Nigeria and Biafraland in contemporary times. The 40-and-under group may now get an idea of what really happened 40 years ago, to place side-by-side with the stories and adulterated history they heard of those past events.
Onitsha, a quintessential Biafran city, is in the news today. The reports state that when Igbo youth in Onitsha saw and or learnt of the bodies on a bus of Igbo people killed in the recent Northern Nigeria Muslim protests, they went on a rampage on a reprisal killing program of Northern Nigerians living among them. It is not in dispute that the Northern Muslims started the killing, and targeted Igbo, and other Christians living in the North. It is not in dispute that the Igbo had nothing at all to do with the gripe of the Northerners who were protesting against the cartooning of their supreme religious leader by a Danish newspaper—thousands of miles and a few oceans and deserts and mountains from Biafraland. And, if the Northerners’ grouse as stated later by the Press is Obasanjo’s third term machinations, it is not in dispute that Obasanjo is not an Igbo and that the Igbo are not at fault for Obasanjo’s selfish, unconstitutional and dictatorial ambitions. Yet, the Northern Muslim still went after the Igbo living in the North. Of course, this is a pattern rehearsed, perfected and repeated many times over since the big one of 1966 (and the “baby ones” in the 1940’s and 50’s): seek out and destroy the Igbo living in the North. Has anyone ever asked what the crime of the Igbo is?
Back to Onitsha. In 1966, the bodies of the Igbo dead, and the mangled and crippled Igbo living-dead arrived at this way-station and gateway city to Biafraland. The Igbo were shocked by the brutality. The youth, too, were shocked. No one believed their eyes. And, no one wanted to believe the event. So much so that when General Ironsi, the then Military Head of State of Nigeria appealed to the Igbo to return to the North as a show of Nigerian unity, many Igbo trooped back to the North—only to be caught and mauled in the second and third waves of pogroms against them by the same Northern Nigerians. For the second and third times that year, 1966, bodies of Igbo men, women and children who were killed by Northern Nigerians managed to arrive at Onitsha. For the second and third times, their relatives in Onitsha and Biafraland buried the bodies, mourned the missing, nursed the badly wounded and accepted their losses. With great reluctance and difficult-to-rationalize-or-justify pain, the Igbo seemed to have understood that they were no longer safe outside Biafraland. Eventually, one year later, sovereign and independent Biafra was declared.
Biafrans lost the Biafra-Nigeria war and were forced back to Nigeria in 1970. They were made to believe that everything was now okay. The Igbo returned to Northern Nigeria. And kept returning, year after year. Between 1970 and 2005, Onitsha, that way-station, was to witness the arrival of more Igbo corpses—usual victims of the usual causes by the usual culprits; most recently in 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000. Many times, it was just news. Sometimes, one or two. Many times, unreported—not news worthy. Other times, the bodies were burnt at the scene of the murderous action in Northern Nigeria. And then, there were the Igbo missing and never heard from again, and never mentioned, in Northern Nigeria after another of ongoing rampages. On some occasions, even the Nigerian officials stated clearly that the corpses of Igbo victims of Northern Nigerians would be buried in mass graves in Northern Nigeria rather than be returned to their grieving families in Biafraland for proper traditional burial, for the reason that the sight of the bodies might incite the Igbo to retaliate against the few Northern Nigerians living in Biafraland. Well, on that score, they were right, and it is now 2006.
Onitsha, 2006. The sight of the corpses of Igbo people killed by Northerners in Northern Nigeria during yet another Northern Nigeria Muslim protest action which clearly had nothing to do with the Igbo, sparked off a huge reprisal killing undertaken by Igbo youth in Onitsha, and was soon to spread to a few other towns in Biafraland. This dominated the news.
The lesson of Onitsha 2006 is not so much “Lessons unlearned” about the Past or about History; it is about another triteness—if it has become that trite—: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” --John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 1966 Igbo youth accepted their losses in shock. Between 1970 and 2005, for the most part, it was the same. But, by 2006, forty years from the index year, Igbo youth would mount a sustained reprisal program aimed against the kith and kin of the initiators of yet one more episode of the unnecessary and unprovoked slaughter of the Igbo in the North. The epoch of violent revolution made inevitable by the negation of peaceful change, is, predictably, officially here.
It is the collective silence of Nigeria, Nigerians and the Nigerian government regarding these pogroms against the Igbo in Northern Nigeria which make peaceful change impossible. It is the tepid response and the hypocrisy of Nigerians, including Nigerian Christian Organizations, regarding the oppression and torment of the Igbo in Nigeria which make peaceful revolution impossible. It is the denial by a small minority of influential Igbo of the ordeals of the Igbo at the hands of Nigeria—Northern Nigeria especially—which make impossible peaceful change. It is the hypocritical clinging to the failed and unnatural concept of one-Nigeria which makes peaceful revolution impossible; of which a few Igbo of the political and elite class are also guilty.
The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has offered Nigeria a non-violent agenda for a mutually negotiated separation of Nigeria into its constituent ethnic nations. In response, General Obasanjo and all the armed units of Nigeria under his command and by his order, from the military, police, and the SSS (State Security Services) to plain-clothes security operatives, have gone after members of MASSOB and other Biafrans with a viciousness that matches the aforementioned pogroms against the Igbo by Northern Nigerians. Many MASSOB members, un-armed and defenseless, have been slaughtered in cold blood or ambush, most shot in the back, by bragging Nigerian agents; many are languishing in Nigerian dungeon-prisons; MASSOB property has been destroyed with extreme and brazen malice relished by Nigeria. As we speak, the leader of MASSOB, Ralph Uwazurike, and many top officials of MASSOB, including many rank-and-file members, are in various Nigerian jails. Specifically, Uwazurike and six other members of MASSOB are facing charges for Treason after having been kidnapped and imprisoned by the Nigerian SSS. To spite and besmirch MASSOB, Nigeria has even gone as far as trumping up charges of arms- and weapons-possession against MASSOB in a bare-faced lie that not even the Nigerian officials can sustain with a straight face any more. Even the Nigerian Press often categorizes MASSOB with militant organizations, or vigilante groups, although not one specific example of such activity can be attributed to MASSOB, as opposed to the numerous documented, experienced and reported cases of known, notorious and truly militant and vigilante groups in Nigeria.
These activities have made peaceful revolution impossible, ushering the age of violent revolution. That is the significance of Onitsha 2006. It took 40 years to get there. Incidentally, and significantly, it is the same attitude and activities which have also radicalized the Niger Delta to the point of taking foreign hostages now. The days of hypocritical “innocence” is over for Nigeria.
If Nigeria continues in its adamant refusal to accept a non-violent and peaceful schema for the separation of the different ethnic nations as offered by MASSOB, violence will be firmly entrenched as the means to this revolution, a revolution which is really unavoidable, though Nigeria can pretend all it wants to the contrary. Nigeria is set to be a statistic in the double adages of:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The coming weeks and months will determine which side of the equation Nigeria contributes to in each saying. The window for a peaceful mechanism of change is still open.
Oguchi Nkwocha, MD.
Photo Above: People flee with their belongings from a riot affected area in Kaduna, Nigeria, Friday Nov. 22, 2002. Over 100 people were killed in riots in Kaduna that started after a newspaper suggested that if Prophet Muhammed was still alive he may have chosen his bride from the contestants of Miss World beauty pageant who were then in Nigeria.
Photo Above: Soldiers secure a riot affected area in Kaduna, Nigeria, Saturday Nov. 23, 2002. The Miss World pageant was relocated to England from Nigeria after over 100 people died in days of rioting in the city of Kaduna and more trouble erupting in the capital Abuja, the venue of the pageant.
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