The death of frontline Nigerian civil war hero, Brigadier-General Benjamin Adekunle, two Saturdays ago and the necessary reactions that followed it have thrown up once again the need to answer the Nigerian question: should Nigeria remain one eternally indivisible entity? An attempt to give the dead the commonest of all honours, a minute silence, at the plenary of the House of Representatives was savagely jaded by two Igbo members of the House who not only refused to stand up like others but rudely polluted the air with uncouth noise. They did not care whether the dead lived in peace or not as long as their dream Biafra remained buried in graves dug by the victorious.
A Facebook commentator on the death of Adekunle spoke my mind: How this man is buried will speak to where President Goodluck Jonathan stands on the Nigerian question. The leader of the rebellion which Adekunle and others helped put down, Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu, died a few years ago and Jonathan’s Federal Government rolled out all available drums climaxing with what was clearly a state burial. Even the dead was pleasantly surprised as he was variously addressed as “General” (his Biafran rank) although his actual, legal rank, was Colonel. I cannot recollect a single Yoruba person in government grumbling at the obvious anomalous situation of burying a rebel leader as a president. Everyone patched things up in the usual spirit of togetherness. But the time we are now is one of undisguised anomaly. No one cares whether what is wrong is wrong as long as it serves some parochial end. There are too many prejudices competing for space in the soiled minds of the minders of our affairs. Why would lawmakers who are maintained and pampered from the national purse assail the nation’s spirit by wilfully and insolently seeking to denigrate the memory of one person whose sacrifices, with those of others, made it possible for there to be a Nigeria today? And who told these noisemaking Biafrans in Nigeria’s parliament that even if their dream Biafra had succeeded in the 1960s, it would have guaranteed them the privileges of today?
We may not know how many members of that House agreed with those rude two who refused to observe the one minute silence. However, a casual textual assessment of what people posted online on the death of Adekunle showed how badly divided this country is. You could tell the ethnic origin of these commentators by merely looking at the direction of their emotion. Yoruba elements shared a deep sense of loss; Igbo ones yelled and cursed just like their brothers in the House did. General Adekunle commanded a division during the war and so was an enemy of the Igbo! Adekunle himself interrogated that mindset even as the war raged: “I didn’t start this war…and I do not want to lose this war…” Whoever starts a war should be prepared to win or lose. You cannot win a war without preparations for victory. Just as we have it now that an Azikiwe Jonathan is the president of Nigeria, Igbos of the civil war era believed noisemaking was enough to rattle and defeat the enemy. I suggest they try and read Adekunle’s opinion of their mythologised leaders preparations in his The Nigeria-Biafra War Letters. Adekunle, who saw Biafra in its raw form, likened it to Hitler’s Germany and posited that “if propaganda was the sole determinant of military victory” it would have earned Germany the world. But this was not so with Hitler and “so it was in Nigeria (where) the events on the battlefield soon caught up with Biafran propaganda.” Adekunle was very clear on the reasons he was fighting. He was also clear-headed in the appreciation of the environment in which he operated: “While I consumed my entire being in the fire of patriotism and vowed to excel in the service of our fatherland, some dangerous little khaki clad boys in authority were organising deception as an instrument of national policy to retain power…while some people, namely the aggrieved Ibos perceived their struggle in terms of survival and preservations, some of their leaders harboured ulterior motives fuelled by ego… oil politics with its attendant financial prowess prevailed on both the North and the East in their ultimate decision about the fate of the political existence of Nigeria.” He was right. Those who started the war (victims and oppressor) eventually became friends, cohabiting in the NPN in 1979.
The truth about Nigeria is that it worships only the rich, even if criminally so. If Adekunle had lived a billionaire doling out millions to all, Igbos inclusive, no one would have dared what those Reps did. Everyone would have forgotten that he once fought Ibos (although he did not go beyond the creeks of the Niger Delta).
But one major problem here is that Igbo people enjoy reading only that history of Nigeria written by themselves. They have allowed that wrong (or prejudiced) history of Nigeria, which they wrote, in peace and in war, rule their relationship with all other groups in Nigeria. For instance, at independence, they decided, eyes fully opened, to team up with the conservative north for advantages that soon turned out to be very fleetingly temporary. Today, they are enjoying, as usual, a very cosy relationship with an Ijaw president they enjoy calling Azikiwe Jonathan, believing that he is one of them (maybe he really is!!!). Other groups are watching and enjoying the show. Should they blame the Yoruba (or their leaders) then for that their ill-fated First Republic alliance with the conservative north against the West? If they have suffered injustice in Nigeria, who should they blame beside themselves? What was Adekunle’s role in the war? Or, better put, was Adekunle or any of the Yoruba officers who fought in that war part of the pogrom or the massacres that have continued to rile the Igbo? Were Yoruba officers commanders of the First and Second Divisions of the Nigeria Army variously blamed for the Asaba and other massacres of 1967? Those divisions were under Murtala Mohammed and Mohammed Shuwa and I cannot remember the last time our Igbo brothers yelled at the memories of these iconic Generals who deservedly have national monuments named after them. As we remember all these, we wait to see how the Black Scorpion is buried by a Federal Government which gave Ojukwu, the man Adekunle defeated, a national burial. Only then shall we know if truly Nigeria lost that war of unity.