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CNN International interview with Nigeria's President Obasanjo and Publisher Chido Nwangwu on Democracy and Security Issues


Obasanjo's obsession with Biafra versus facts of history
By Prof. Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and CLASS magazine, The Black Business Journal and IgboEvents

Hardly a week passes recently in Nigeria without its President, retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, making pointed references to Biafra or more specifically, to the Biafra-Nigeria war (1967-1970).

A few weeks ago in 2001, during a visit to Yenogoa, he told a gathering that the war was caused by what he called 'resource control,' a reference to the current democratic liberatory demand by the oil producing states and several others particularly in the South of the country to control their resources as a crucial feature of their membership of the federation. 'If Biafra had won the war,' Obasanjo intoned enigmatically, 'I would have been dead, your governor would not have been in the position he is today'. Having researched on, lectured on, and published extensively on Biafra in the past 20 years, I am not aware of any other post-war Nigerian head of state who has been so obsessed with this subject as Obasanjo.

Not even five previous military rulers centrally associated with the conflict (Gowon, Muhammed, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abubakar), all northerners whose involvement impulses were dictated and driven largely by their desire to safeguard the north's hegemonic political and military leadership of Nigeria. Indeed, one or two of the surviving quintet of leaders just mentioned have either shown more reticence over their involvement in the war and one other has at least offered what amounts to an unqualified 'apology' over his own participation.

It is tempting to think that Obasanjo is more ideologically welded to the war than his predecessors, but then what does this actually mean in our understanding of that conflict? Biafra was a war of genocide, a war that was waged in its totality (with all the annihilative indices that this particular war strategy connotes) in a very limited expanse of territory (Africa's most densely populated area outside the Nile valley) where the victims did not have access to a 'neutral' or friendly contiguous state for refuge and respite.

The war was waged by Nigera's armed forces (and its foreign allies) to overwhelm and destroy the corporate ability of the Igbo people to resist an aggression triggered, in the first place, less we ever wish to forget, because they were simply expressing their inalienable fundamental human rights to freely decide to belong or not to belong to a political relationship in the wake of the most horrendous spate of massacres. During the course of four months in 1966, 80,000 Igbo and other Eastern Nigerians were hunted down and killed in several Northern towns and cities and elsewhere in the federation. It is therefore utterly disingenuous for anyone to describe what in effect was then an extended territorial range of armed attack on a national group, already the target or subject of a sustained pogrom elsewhere in the country, as some war of 'resource control.'

Yet, if 'resource control' was indeed the cause or what the Biafra War was all about, then Obasanjo must urgently answer either of the following two questions which are essentially the same but with the second re-phrased to capture the salient features evident in the thrust of this essay:

(1) Why did the federal military still continue to wage the war against Biafra after the former's June 1968 capture of Port Harcourt (namely 11 months after the start of its military operations in July 1967) which effectively had ensured its complete take-over of all the non-Igbo speaking territories of Biafra including the oil fields and installations?

(2) Why did the federal military surround and embark upon the siege and devastating attack of the so-called Igbo heartland for a period of 19 months (almost twice as long as the offensive in the non-Igbo provinces) beginning from June 1968 after it had effectively captured from the Biafrans all the non-Igbo speaking territories of Biafra including the oil producing fields and installations? What must be stressed here is that the 'success' at Biafra in 1970, if that is what is called federal Nigeria's victory over the Biafran resistance, was at best pyhrric as subsequent events in the past 30 years in Nigeria and further afield in Africa have shown. Three million African lives were destroyed in Biafra.

This figure is more than the casualties recorded in either the Vietnam War or the Iraq-Iran Gulf War, the much longer duration of the latter conflicts notwithstanding. The three million dead represented a third of the Igbo population then. No Igbo family in the world escaped the immediate or long-term impact and consequences of this holocaust. So, besides the Oputa Commission, Igbo people must exercise their right to seek full restitution for these dreadful massacres beyond Nigeria's territorial jurisdiction, if need be. To ensure that this bloodbath never happens again in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa, state(s), corporate interests, and persons responsible for it must be made to account. No other African nation had suffered such a grand-scale slaughter in 200 years. King Leopold of Belgium, 'The Rapist of Congo', had in the 19th century killed three million Africans in the Congo as his troops ravaged the country in search of ivory, diamonds, and the like - enormous wealth that would soon transform the nascent Belgian state into a modern European country. But that scourge at least included peoples from several nations and nationalities that make up contemporary Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic and Angola.

Equally reprehensibly, those who ordered and sustained the war against the Igbo between 1967-1970 had the unenviable record, and should we add responsibility, of literally clearing the undergrowth from which the gruesome killing fields that have since littered Africa expanded almost inexorably. The chilling milestones of Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, and Southern Guinea testify to this. Closer home, just as its devastating consequences were overwhelmingly evident in Central Africa 200 years ago, the 'Leopold Syndrome' dictates a switch from reckless human destruction to other fronts of pillage and sacrilege. It is therefore not without significance that those who played varying roles (especially in direct military operations) in the wanton destruction of Igbo lives 30 years ago with scant opposition from any other constituent nations or nationalities of the federation or concerted critical opinion (especially from intellectuals), have since been prominent, if not central, in making up the managing cast of the unfolding drama of the socio-economic tragedy that has characterised Nigeria.

In essence, Biafra projects an enveloping shadow across and within which subsequent crucial national events and processes become intelligible: the asphyxiation and retarded development of the Nigerian state by the military; the virtual loot and environmental destruction of the Niger Delta; the staggering export by thieving state officials and their allies of gargantuan sums of national capital to overseas banks and interests; the anti-Igbo/anti-Eastern Nigerian course of national politics and development (what Igbo states people and intellectuals often euphemistically term 'marginalisation'); the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni human rights spokespersons; the blocking of Abiola's presidency, his detention and mysterious death whilst in custody; the varied incarceration, without trial, of citizens Agbakoba, Anyanwu, Fawehinmi, Irabor, Obi, Ransome-Kuti, Thompson and numerous others, including, ironically, Olusegun Obasanjo. It is against the backdrop of the murder of three million children, women, and men that these seemingly arbitrary events become possible.

Contrary to our earlier assertion that Obasanjo has some ingrained ideological attachment to the war his forces waged in Biafra 30 years ago, his current obsession with the subject is perhaps more politically electoral, hemmed unto the tapestry of the discourses associated with the 2003 presidential elections. Whilst it is true that Obasanjo has not openly decided whether or not to seek re-election at these polls, a number of his senior aides have indicated variously in the past few months that he would run.

One indeed noted several months ago that there would be 'no vacancy' in the seat of power as the new elections approached. All sorts of organisations have mushroomed all over the place advocating or proffering support for the president's re-election and there is no evidence to date that Obasanjo himself has convincingly distanced himself from some complicity in the operations of these groups including even the bizarre outfit run by Senator Arthur Nzeribe.

Even then, one does not need to wait for Obasanjo's formal declaration of intent to stand for re-election to conclude that it would be extremely unlikely if he didn't run. If anything, his comments on Biafra and the amazingly and unabashedly anti-Igbo tenor therein clearly indicate the evident link to 2003. Interestingly, in this context, it is no coincidence that Obasanjo's references to Biafra have been stepped up since the concerted declaration made during the conference earlier on in the year by Ohaneze (the pan-Igbo cultural group) to work towards the twin-track programme of the election of an Igbo as the president of Nigeria during the next presidential elections and support of the right of constituent states in the federation to control their resources.

The attempt by pro-Obasanjo delegates at the meeting (mostly legislators, ministers and presidential aides) to scuttle these expected historic declarations and instead choreograph an Ohaneze endorsement of their patron's possible 2003 bid was a humiliating failure. Given the brutal facts of the current regional arithmetic of electoral choices, alignment and opposition across the country for particularly a presidency that is perceived to be completely out of its wits in tackling the country's staggering woes, Obasanjo now knows that if he is to run in 2003 against an Igbo candidate, he really would have to contend with a serious contest that could not guarantee success.

He would hence become vociferous in his anti-Igbo rhetoric, fighting the Biafra War all over again in intemperate propaganda outbursts even though this war supposedly ended on January 12, 1970. It is this unimaginable politics of hate against one of the very leading nations of the Nigerian federation that informed Obasanjo's outbursts in Yenegoa and, in the same vein, his recent Owerri sergeant-major mode of response or rather Anthills of the Savannah's His Excellency-style pugnacious declaratory dismissal of successive federal government anti-Igbo policies. Here, Obasanjo charged his host, who incidentally felt slightly amused, 'Show me your marginalisation!'

In the broader Nigerian political calculations therefore, Obasanjo's politics of anti-Igbo virulence is predicated on constructing an anti-Igbo alliance (as was done against Biafra) but he must increasingly find it very depressing that this strategy doesn't seem to be working. The historical circumstances that help to create or enhance the creation of alliances or coalitions for a specific political project are ever in a state of flux, ensuring, thankfully, that they are not recreated subsequently as some mathematical construct. So, despite the vehemence of Obasanjo's anti-Igbo tirades in Yenegoa, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People reaffirmed its determination to control their resources themselves in a statement it issued after: 'Resource control is an inalienable right. The human right to development also implies the full realisation of the very right of people to self determination which includes the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.' Also, despite these contemptible tirades, the progressive position of southern governors on 'resource control' and the expansion of other vistas of democratic participation is holding firm.

At their March 2001 Benin conference, the governors defined 'resource control' unambiguously: `The practice of true federalism and natural law in which the federating units (the constituent 36 states of the federation] express their rights to primarily control the natural resources within their borders.'

Historically, these are breathtaking positions to take by ever-widening spaces of Nigeria's national publics. This is a critical development. It can only augur well for the urgent and far reaching restructuring needed to transform the debilitating quagmire of the conflictive and murderous European-imposed nation-state in Africa which has since not benefited from an all embracing autochthonous dialogue and interrogation. It was in Biafra that barely 10 years after the start of the process of the African restoration of independence that Africans fundamentally challenged the efficacy of a non-deconstructed 'nation-state' to cope with the exigencies of multinationality, multiculturality and re-development in the aftermath of the devastating European conquest and occupation.

Since Biafra, nine million additional Africans have been slaughtered in the other extended eerie killing fields of the continent over the continuously thunderous demands made by desperately deprived and exploited constituent nations and nationalities towards the construction of extensively decentralised and decentring political arrangements that empower people at their locale. For its very survival, which it will ever strive for, Africa has no other choice towards embarking on the accomplishment of this goal. As for the desperate forces that work against this presently, all that they can do at the very worst is to delay the process.

Prof. Ekwe-Ekwe, contributing editor of and CLASS magazine, is a research scholar at Senegal's Africa Research Institute and the director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies in Dakar, Senegal. He has taught at the London School of Economics, and is author of several books. Written and published May 23, 2001.

Is Biafra war too sensitive to discuss?
By Attorney James Okorafor and Chido Nwangwu
Exclusive to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

Since the end of the war, Nigeria's federal government has not satisfactorily resolved the Biafran issue.  Therefore, some of the conditions that led to the declaration of the republic of Biafra exist latently.  For example, the April 1990 failed attempt to topple the regime of ex-Gen.  Ibrahim Babangida had the coup plotters seeking to break up the country, again.  After the annulled June 12 199 3 elections the resulting crises led many to believe the country was on the verge of collapse and disintegration.

These are indications that unless and until the Biafran issue is satisfactorily resolved and the former Biafrans particularly the Igbos, the Ibibios and the Riverine peoples of the East  are reasonably compensated and fully integrated into the Nigerian polity, the stability of the country will continue to be in question.

Those who suggest that Biafra should not be discussed or brought do not have a proper knowledge of history.  Why?  It is an endemic part of the history of Nigeria and a fact in today's federalist questions in Nigeria.  Biafra was equally a question demanding what form of government Nigeria should have. We recall that it was the great historian and scholar, nigeria's first president, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who cautioned that "It is better we disintegrate in peace and not in pieces." From 1966-1970 Nigeria was on the verge of disintegrating "in pieces" in the face of the genocidal killings of Igbos and other easterners which gave rise to the reality of the declaration of Biafra.
Yet, the debates continue but some say hush; no one should talk about those difficult parts of Nigeria's history.
As a philosphical person, why should anyone wish away a debate, adiscussion of history? We note too that Robert Penn Warren wrote "History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future."

(Ojukwu, Biafra flag, Gowon, Nigeria flag digital graphic design by Chido Nwangwu with agencies/archive photos)

Biafra was a sacrifice, an effort for the rights and privileges of any Nigerian citizen.  Could an Igbo or Hausa live in Ijebu Ode or Bori?  Biafra goes to the issue of citizenship.  Is it limited to a Nigerians area of origin or is it co-extensive to the boundaries and territories of the federal republic of Nigeria?  It is a valid debate.  All those who say don't talk about Biafra should look at the history of World War 1 and World war II.  The unsatisfactory resolutions of the issues of the WW 1 played a major part in the emergence of the 2nd World War.  After World War 2, even the victors established the Marshall Plan that revived Germany and Asia.

The U.S leadership with Gen.  Douglas MacArthur helped in reviving Japan.  Thanks to the wisdom of the victors, today Germany and Japan are making significant contributions to world peace and development.  Those are  useful lessons for those who pretend that Biafra never existed or is too sensitive an issue to discuss. The fact is that the advantages of learning from history outweigh self-defeating denial of what we all deeply know. We'll simply conclude with the words of George Santayana that "A country without a memory is a country of mad men." And, may we add of women!
Okorafor, member of the editorial board of USAfrica The Newspaper, served as president of the Nigerian Foundation, Houston chapter while Chido Nwangwu, who appears as an analyst on the Voice of America, CNN's Inside Africa and CNN international is the Founder and Publisher. Chido is writing a book titled 'BIAFRA: History Has No Mercy'

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These views were stated during an interview CNN's anchor Bernard Shaw and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield had with Mr. Nwangwu on Saturday November 18, 2000 during a special edition of 'Inside Politics 2000.'
Nwangwu, adviser to the Mayor of Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S., and immigrant home to thousands of Africans) argued further that "the issues of the heritage interests of 35 million African-Americans in Africa, the volume and value of oil business between between the U.S and Nigeria and the horrendous AIDS crisis in Africa do not lend any basis for Governor Bush's ill-advised position which removes Africa from fair consideration" were he to be elected president.
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