“Is the information blockade around the war a case of calculated historical suppression? why has the war not been discussed or taught to the young over 40 years of its end? Are we perpetually doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past because we are too stubborn to learn from them? ”. (Achebe, 2012)
Growing up, my only knowledge of the Biafra war was from Social Studies class where I was taught that a civil war fought between 1967- 1970; and that was all that was ever said about it. There was no mention of the actors, its effects and consequences. It wasn’t until my undergraduate days when I decided to educate myself about the war that I became aware of its details and till today I am still learning and attempting to reconcile the conflicting narratives of the war. But still, I wonder why as a nation we continue to shy away from Biafra, why none of the successive governments have found it necessary to face this issue squarely and heal all those who are hurting as a result of the war.
But what does it even mean to ‘face’ Biafra some may argue, Shouldn’t we just let sleeping dogs lie? Surely, 45 years after, everyone ought to have moved on. I honestly wish it was as easy as that but certain events during the 2015 elections revealed that the ethnic tensions which led to the collapse of the first republic are still very present in our society. More recently, the protests by the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) under the leadership of the delusional Nnamdi Kanu reveal that the ghost of Biafra is still very much with us.
These recent agitations also reveal two other things; First, a lot of millennials have no clue whatsoever what the war was about. I find this rather unfortunate, especially as this generation shall lead us someday. What I find even more frightening is that future generations may never even be aware that such a war was fought. What type of future do we then intend to build when our knowledge of history is inaccurate and incomplete?
Second, the absence of a relatively coherent national narrative on the war has created an opportunity for the likes of Nnamdi Kanu to create adulterated and perverse versions of the accounts of the war. The combination of such fraudulent accounts and a largely uninformed youth is surely a recipe for disaster.
Back to the initial question; ‘How do we face the Biafra issue?’ Unfortunately I do not have the answers but I believe it is a conversation every patriotic Nigerian should start having. By a conversation, I do not mean seeking to apportion blames or resorting to vacuous partisan arguments that have come to characterize issues that have ethnic and political dimensions. Rather an open, honest, objective and intellectual discourse which seeks to highlight the causes and consequences of the war with the view of ensuring that we do not repeat the same mistakes.
But in as much as I advocate for a conversation, I have my fears. I am not very convinced that we have developed the capacity to handle the revelations that might come with such discourse. I also fear that it might be hijacked by the political elites to further divide us along ethnic lines.
Nonetheless, I believe we need to do something about it, we cannot keep living in a false sense of unity pretending that the war never occurred. But what do you think can realistically be done?