By Emeka Alex Duru
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has, since the last days of April, been announcing a sit-at-home to the Igbo, to mark the anniversary of the defunct Republic of Biafra. Earlier announcement fixed the event for May 30, 2021. It was later slated for May 31.
The date, according to IPOB, is to remember Igbo men and women that had lost their lives in various instances of oppression against the people by the Nigerian system. According to the group, the exercise would be observed in all states of the South East and South South zones, as well as Abuja, Lagos and northern towns, up to the diaspora.
Part of the activities is a directive on the people to sit at home that day. By that, the Igbo, whether members of IPOB or not, are being asked to stay off their business or commercial activities as mark of respect to their brothers and sisters killed in the 1967 – 1970 Civil War and other occasions that had to do with the Igbo self-determination agenda.
Fidelity to this appeal by the people, had varied in the past. In some instances, it had been thorough. In others, it had not. It is perhaps, in a bid to achieve total success in this year’s edition that accounts for the early commencement of the announcement.
The 1967 – 1970 Civil War is a particular issue that touches the heart of every Igbo, one way or the other. It was an event that resulted to the loss of more than two million Biafrans (Igbo and non-Igbo that believed in the cause) and total destruction of the zone by the federal forces. The remembrance ceremony, in principle, is therefore necessary, especially as there is hardly any family in Igboland or the then Biafra, that did not experience loss or displacement, one way or the other, on account of the war.
Nations and peoples all over the world, choose particular days to reflect on their journey to existence. The Israelis still celebrate the end of holocaust, 76 years after the Second World War. Americans set aside July 4 in remembrance of their freedom from British colonialism. Nigeria as a nation state, marks its independence from Britain on October 1. For such people and nations, that particular day, is usually a watershed in their history. For the Igbo and other ethnic groups and individuals that constituted the Biafran Republic, May 30, is always a special day. It was on May 30, 1967, that the late Biafran leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was mandated by his people to declare the state of Biafra as home for indigenes of the Eastern Region and their kin visited with unmitigated pogrom in other parts of the country. To some, therefore, May 30, is even spiritual.
But more than any other consideration, the event calls for sober reflection on the place of the Igbo in the larger Nigerian state. Coming from the ashes of the field hostilities in 1970, the Igbo were meant to believe that the war was over. They were promised reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Even with the duplicity in implementing the policy as demonstrated in the paltry Twenty Pounds handed to each of them with deposits in the banks, regardless the volume of money previously kept, they bore their pains with dignity.
They rather believed that Nigeria had learnt its lessons. Some even went as far as giving their children such names as Oguebego (the war is over) and Ozoemena (May it never happen again), not as mark of cowardice but in forging a new beginning.
But 51 years after, the scares of the war exist on every facet of Igbo life in relation to their status in the country. Successive administrations in the country, are yet to accord the Igbo their deserved place in the scheme of things. At every juncture, they are being reminded that they are a conquered group. But perhaps, at no time had the lot of the Igbo been more piteous as in the current Muhammadu Buhari presidency. In policies and actions of the government, the Igbo is usually at the backwaters of consideration. When therefore the people raise their voices on their programmed alienation by the President and the Nigerian state at large, there is much sense in their complaints.
Ordinarily, the protest should have been led by those who saw action in the days preceding and during the conflagration of 1967 to 1970; those who knew what the Biafra Dream represented and what they stood to gain from it if it did not encounter its sunset at dawn. But the present-day agitators are mostly young men and women, who never knew much about the defunct entity, but are bearing the brunt of the perceived ‘sins’ of their parents; the sin of resisting to be crushed in a country they had invested much.
It is these children that are now asking questions and raising issues on the unpleasant developments around them. They see in their region of birth abandoned or dilapidated federal government projects. When, for example, they cannot move freely between Onitsha and Enugu on account of the death trap that the expressway has turned to, aside other incidences of insecurity and the harassment by the security men on that stretch; when the same fate confronts them on other federal highways and establishments in their area, their disillusionment in the country, easily finds expression.
When they are discriminated against on job recruitments and placements, admissions into federal institutions not on the basis of merit but because of the so-called quota system, you would see why their belief in the system is seriously shaken. Most painfully, when they are treated as second class citizens in their places of residence where they fulfil their civic obligations, it can be understood why their anger knows no bound. You may not agree with the strategy and leadership of the agitation but the content of their message, deserves attention.
It is in this context that the call by IPOB on the Igbo for the remembrance of their kinsmen and women who sacrificed their lives in defending their dignity in the face of massive onslaught by monstrous federal troops and their mindless international collaborators, could be understood. But for whatever reasons and no matter the genuineness of their complaints, observing the day, should not provide basis for hoodlums to disturb the peace of the region or carry out attacks on those with contrary opinion. Compliance to the remembrance should be by conviction and not compulsion. The South East has had enough incidences of tension and insecurity, lately. Nothing should be done to escalate the trend.
The occasion should also not offer reasons for Nigeria’s military, to once again, see the South East and surrounding states as veritable grounds for experimenting the capability of its marksmen or efficacy of its weaponry.
The report by Amnesty International, on the atrocities of the Nigerian Army against members of IPOB between August 2015 and August 2016, is still fresh in the consciousness of men and women of goodwill across the globe. It put members of IPOB killed by the soldiers within the period at over 150. The report was based on analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and 146 eyewitness testimonies, all revealing soldiers firing live ammunition to disperse IPOB members.
A chilling aspect of the report was on how, at least 60 defenceless IPOB protesters were shot dead within two days leading to the Biafra Remembrance Day in 2016. The Army has however debunked the allegation. But this is the type of news that works against Nigeria’s reputation abroad and alienates it from its citizens. The government should guard against it this year.
Duru is the Editor of TheNiche Newspapers, Lago and can be reached via 08054103327 and firstname.lastname@example.org