Special to USAfrica magazine and USAfricaonline.com, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper on the internet.
Ken Okorie, an attorney, is a columnist and member of the Editorial Board of USAfrica
On February 9, 2022, I wrote a commentary here on USAfrica titled Biden, Putin and Third World War knocking at Ukraine’s border. I was concerned about the increasing scale of the danger that was emerging from the moves by Putin towards Ukraine. https://usafricaonline.com/2022/02/09/usafrica-biden-putin-and-third-world-war-knocking-at-ukraines-border-by-ken-okorie/
The war on Ukraine has been on for 16 days resulting in more than 2 million people turned refugees in their own country. Civilian deaths are numbering in thousands, and growing. Russians have bombed and targeted residential apartments, homes, office buildings, and a nuclear plant. Families in the millions have been displaced. None of this is comforting or should be acceptable, but are reminiscent of Soviet (now Russian) military footprints in Biafra, Syria, and elsewhere.
The United States, European Union and NATO (the European-Western security and military alliance) are operationally leading the global response. Standing out in that leadership are the United States and Great Britain. Germany has also reversed its post-2nd World War restrictions and policies. Germany is shipping weapons to Ukraine.
Within 14 days of fighting, a case of genocide has been filed against Russia at the International Tribunal that considers allegations of crimes against humanity. Indeed the court has already held a preliminary hearing, albeit with Russia not showing up. An extraordinary session of the United Nations General Assembly convened, at which a resolution that reprimanded Russia for invading Ukraine and demanded that Moscow withdraw its troops passed overwhelmingly. 94 countries sponsored the resolution. Of the 193 UN member states, only five (Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea) voted against the measure; 35 abstained. A whopping 141 (73%) of UN member states voted in favor of the resolution. The outcry and condemnation of Russia is global, nearly universal.
Shortly before the invasion, Russia recognized as independent states, Denetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions of Eastern Ukraine. Collectively known as the Donbas, the two regions had proclaimed themselves independent of Ukraine in 2014. The act of recognition was Russia’s pretext to open the gate to Russian troops, estimated at 200K, on what Putin called “special military peace keeping mission”. What manner of peace-keeper raids cities, shells indiscriminately into non-military installations, including nuclear plants and hospitals? More significantly, why did Russia suddenly create new offense punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment for any Russian to call the incursion of Russian soldiers into Ukraine a war or an invasion? Is there better example of classic disinformation and misinformation to cloud and mask the truth anywhere?
Let’s go back to June 1967. Nigeria invaded its former Eastern region after the people of that territory proclaimed themselves an independent Republic of Biafra on May 30. 1967. For 30 months, Russian MiG fighters and Ilyushin bombers, piloted by Egyptians, ravaged the land and people of Biafra. Markets, schools, hospitals, community centers, and residential areas were common targets of raiding Russian jets. Ukraine is a painful reminder of similar bombings in Biafra. Added to military annihilation, Biafra was blockaded by air, land and sea. Food became so scarce, Table salt was a luxury. Hunger and Starvation led to malnutrition, kwashiorkor and other diseases that wiped off over 3 million Biafrans. Over 90 percent of Biafra’s population numbering in excess of 10 million were displaced or dislocated. Millions crowded in refugee camps. This went on for 30 months as the world looked on, as the world said and did nothing!
In unholy alliance not previously seen and not since repeated, British military advisors teamed up with Russians to aid Nigeria’s genocide against Biafrans. That genocide was of a scale not witnessed since Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The facts suggest that the more recent Rwanda genocide between April and July 1994 was a child’s play relative to what happened in Biafra. But today, while Rwanda resonates in the media, not a single mention of the Biafran genocide is heard except among its victims. The world looked the other way as Biafrans were slaughtered, and has continued to pretend as if nothing happened, as if the lives of Biafrans did not matter. Thus the often asked question: Do African lives matter?
Assuming any aspect of the Biafran experience obscures into the rear-view-mirror of time (which my personal experience suggests is imposible), how about the currently ongoing, systematic marginalization and wanton killings of the peoples in former Biafra under the federal administration of General Buhari since 2015?
As I write, millions of Nigerians have escaped from the homeland because of rampant killings by agents and instrumentalities of federal Nigeria. Government- imported Jihadist armies of Fulani herdsmen maraud villages, pillage farmlands, rape women, and waste the youth of Middle and Southern Nigeria, including the territory of former Biafra. What has the West done? Where is Washington or London? The absence of an outcry has been deafening as fresh genocide continues against Biafrans! Why are America and Europe indifferent to genocide in Biafra?
On the other hand, could NATO’s response in Ukraine be an inadvertent affirmation of grand design to expand its defense positions and armaments to Russia’s border? If not, how does any conscience that had been riled up against Soviet missiles in Cuba, 80 miles off the Florida coast, not appreciate Russia’s sensitivity to any similar designs on Ukraine by NATO? More importantly, why is it okay to pick and choose when genocide can be called genocide or territorial integrity by what it is?
It might be convenient to explain the prompt, broad and decisive response of Europe and America to Russian invasion of Ukraine as happening on Europe’s soil. By extension of such thinking, the devastation in the heartland of the Gulf of Guinea fifty years ago might have been too remote to be a concern of Europe. Yet the unholy Soviet-British alliance participated. But how about America, known to present as the police and guard of democracy and human rights? Where was America as the British-Soviet unholy alliance aided and abated genocide on Biafrans?
Does this not pair down to one conclusion: Sentiments rise, condemnations roar, sanctions fly, depending on the locale of the action. If in Europe with White lives in jeopardy, tolerance is zero. But if African lives are wasted in Biafra, it does not matter much to Europe and America, not even worth their speaking up. In an interview in late 2021,
Buhari boldly reminded Biafrans of the genocide Nigeria had visited upon them 50 years earlier, and threatened to again speak to Biafrans in the language they understand! What did Europe or the Americas say or do?
There should be no doubt, yet restate I must, that genocide is wrong and condemnable, regardless the situs. Suffering and violations of human rights should be abhorred no matter the perpetrator. The selective consciousness and reaction shown by the world, Washington and Europe in particular, create an imperative to remind that African lives do matter.