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Today 6th of July 2017, marks the Golden Jubilee of the commencement of hostilities against the then secessionist “State of Biafra”.
What commenced ostensibly as a “quick, surgical police action that would last 48 hours” turned out to be a bitter Civil War that lasted more than two and a half years and cost more than two million lives, a large number of whom were women and children.

This clearly showed the naivety of the then military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon and his trivialization of the political situation in the old Eastern Region.

It is important to note at this juncture that while the immediate cause of the civil war may be identified as the coup and the counter coup of January and July 1966 which altered the political equation and destroyed the fragile trust that existed among the major ethnic groups, the various people that made up Nigeria had never really been a united people.

The land mass known today as Nigeria existed as a number of independent and sometimes hostile national states with vast linguistic and cultural differences until 1900.  The Colonial Governor General of Nigeria from 1920 – 1931, Sir Hugh Clifford, had described Nigeria as “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.”

The glossing over the cracks through the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1914 did little to unite and integrate the Country’s diverse people and neither did General Gowon’s unilateral division the original four regions into 12 states in May 1967 make things any better.

The former Eastern Region under Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu saw the act of the creation of states by decree “without consultation” as the last straw, and declared the Region an independent state of “Biafra”.

The Federal Government in Lagos saw this act of secession as illegal.  Several meetings were held to resolve the issue peacefully without success.  Of particular significance is the Aburi Peace meeting which among other things sought a diplomatic cum political solution to the lingering political crisis in the Country which finally degenerated into secession and the resulting war.

Federal Government had entered into the conflict expecting a swift victory while the “Biafrans” saw the war as that of survival and were ready to fight to the last man. By August 1967, the war had been extended to the Mid – Western Region by the Biafrans who came as far as Ore, in present day Ondo State and were set to threaten the Federal Capital, Lagos before they were repelled.

The conflict eventually was drawn to a close when on the 10th January 1970, Lt. Col. Ojukwu, handed over to the Commander Biafran Army Maj. Gen. Phillip Effiong, the administration of Biafra and flew out of the enclave with his immediate family members in search of peace. Maj. Gen. Effiong consulted with the Biafra Strategic Committee on the situation and they decided that enough was enough and that the only honourable way out was to surrender.

Fifty years after, the ghost of Biafra has continued to rear its head.

The ‘No victor no vanquished’ slogan which was introduced after the war seems to only have been paid lip service to. The widely acclaimed ‘3Rs’ —Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration have remained a mirage. The South East zone has less States than any of the other 5 geo-political zones.

Most of the Federal infrastructure in the zone is in a very dilapidated state and in dire need of urgent government intervention. The people can rightly claim to have witnessed a greater level of marginalization. The most important government infrastructure in the region which is the Niger Bridge is in a sorry state.

The lopsided appointments of the current administration which are obviously skewed in one direction make the neglect even more apparent.

The present agitation has reached a crescendo with the activities of groups like the Independent Peoples Of Biafra (IPOB), Biafra Zionist Movement, Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to mention but a few.

The heightened activity of this groups and a “Sit at home” protest to mark Biafra Day (May 30th) which paralysed economic activities in the South East triggered a response from a coalition of youth groups in northern Nigeria who issued a threat, giving all Igbo in the region three months to leave.

While the threat has been widely condemned, it has also received endorsement by some notable Northern leaders.

Despite calls for the arrest of the members of the groups behind the threats, they continue to walk free.

The nagging issue that must be examined is whether the reasons for the war have been addressed in the present day Nigeria. To many, the ongoing agitations in the country should not have arisen if there was genuine and proper implementation of the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration mandate.

For instance, the effects of the war could still be seen in many parts of Igbo land and most Igbo believe that the area had not been fully reintegrated. The major complain of the agitators remains that the region is overlooked in the provision of infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity, medical care, education, e.t.c.

Over the years, it has been seen that the justice question is crucial and fundamental to the realisation of peace, unity and genuine development.

Now is a good time to lay these problems to rest and really forge ahead in the quest for the Nigeria of our dreams.

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