Continued from last week
By Chuba Keshi
MON, MARCH 27 2017- Beyond this, it is central and for the purposes of justice to point out very clearly that Biafra should not be only about the Igbo. There are indeed other ethnic groups trapped in the erstwhile Biafra enclave. And it is on record that perhaps these non-Igbo ethnic groups may have suffered the most from both from the sinews and the ruins; the real detritus of the Biafran war.
It is a fact of history that apart from Ojukwu himself who provided most of his personal fortune toward the Biafra course, there was perhaps no other Igbo who willingly gave his resources for the war apart from the ones that were confiscated. The flip side of this was the fact that the brunt of the war was mostly borne by either the non-Igbo or the Igbo of the Midwest. First these people’s lands remained the theatres of war, such as Asaba in the Midwest and parts of the Southeast, even after some important towns of the Igbo heartland such as Nsukka and Enugu had since the early days of the war, fallen to the Federal side.
In addition, most of the quality officer core of the Biafran Army was made up of non-core Biafrans. These were either Midwestern Igbos or officers from other ethnic groups. There was for instance Col. C.D. Nwawo a Midwestern Igbo who was the most senior commissioned officer in Biafra. He was senior to both Ojukwu and Effiong. Other Midwestern Igbos included Cols. Joe Achuzia, Emmanuel Ossai, Mike Okwechime, Rudolf Trimnell and Alphonsus Keshi. Majs. Kaduna Nzeogwu, Albert Okonkwo, Onyekwelu, Ochei, Okonweze, Nzefili, Okafor, just to mention a few. There were those from the old Southeast or Rivers State such as Cols. Philip Effiong (Ojukwu’s deputy), George Kurubo, E. A. Etuk, Assam Nsudoh, Maj. Victor Achibong and Capts. Fiberesima and Etuk-Udoh, just to mention a few.
Indeed the Midwest Igbo officers who were conscripted into the Biafran Army initially refused to fight for Biafra; a project they did not believe in. They only fought and most gallantly too, when they had no choice; faced with prospects of serious reprisals even from the Federal side. In an interview Col. Keshi remarked to The Sun: “When we (Midwest Officers) got to Enugu (after the fall of Midwest), we held a meeting with Eastern officers. … we insisted on neutrality. Chude Sokei (Lt. Col) who was my colleague in Sandhurst – and we were quite close – reminded me that we (Midwesterners) were defeated people. We were instructed never to travel to the Midwest without permission from Ojukwu. … In fact, when we (Midwest Officers) were ‘conscripted’ in Enugu, we decided that we were not going to use the Biafran insignia of the rising sun. Instead we adopted our own which was a palm frond and which I kept to until I returned to the Federal side.”
Officers like Col. Henry Igboba (Midwestern Igbo) bluntly refused to be conscripted into the Biafran Army. He was promptly detained in Benin prison by Col. Banjo who commanded the invading Biafran Army. Igboba was later to be executed by overzealous Federal officers after Midwest was retaken. As a result these Midwest officers were marginalized in spite of their relative edge. Nwawo, Aldershot-trained and Biafra’s most senior officer (Commissioned 1954; Effiong 1956; Ojukwu 1957) was not given an appreciable place in accordance with military custom. Keshi, Nzeogwu and Kurubo (the latter from Rivers State) three of the very few Sandhurst-trained officers in Biafra were not given serious commands (Keshi was the first Nigerian military officer to undergo a full course in the US Army Command and Staff College Leavenworth). Nzeogwu died under suspicious circumstances. Keshi, Trimnell and Kurubo took the risk and returned to the Federal Side. While as noted, Igboba was killed, Keshi and Trimnell were detained in Ikoyi prison by the Federal side until after the war. Kurubo – a non-Midwesterner – was sent to the Soviet Union as Nigerian Ambassador.
All said, it is very clear that Biafra as a geographical entity had no place for ethnic groups other than Igbo, the heartland Igbo. Not even Igbos of the Midwest and indeed those of Rivers State had a place in Biafra. Effiong (Ibibio of today’s Akwa-Ibom) became Vice Head of State in a bid to woo the people of his region obviously because of the strategic economic relevance of his oil-rich region. However, de facto, he was a ceremonial deputy to Ojukwu. So, given the real experience of these non-Igbo-heartland peoples of old Biafra, it is certain that in a referendum today, these groups will promptly vote themselves out of Biafra.
As already noted, Ojukwu’s last wish was to keep Nigeria one. Even in another account as recorded in an online article titled: “Biafra will be realised without war …” Petrus Obi recounts Ojukwu’s statement, made in 2009 as he (Ojukwu) installed Col. Emmanuel Ossai – a Midwestern Igbo, Commander of the Biafran Legion. This was as recorded by Ossai himself: ‘You have to use this opportunity (of commanding the legion) to do good things. … anything you do must be taken to remember me; … as you go out remember that you are my followers; wherever you go I am there. …you are scattered because of greediness but if you are united nobody can scatter you;…”
Finally as earlier noted, there is nothing to show that the Easterners, not even the Igbo, will be united in a new Biafra. Biafra in Ojukwu’s heart represented equality of all persons, unity of all, free enterprise and above all, peace based on social justice. All these are achievable in Nigeria. An enclave Biafra (definitely without non-Eastern-Igbo groups) will only stifle the Igbo especially in terms of business landscape, and yet would not guaranty them the absence of greed and the presence of the philosophical ideals of Biafra as conceived in Ojukwu’s larger-than-life heart. The Igbo must remain wise.
Dr. Chuba Keshi is journalist and CEO at Core Business Consulting Associates Ltd.