Biafra Remembrance Day: Why grievances, resentments linger 50 years after

Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu
Late Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu [PHOTO: Nigerian Archives]

The remote and immediate triggers of the Nigerian civil war which ended 50 years ago after claiming millions of lives have not been resolved, Nnia Nwodo, the leader of Ohanaeze, the apex Pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation has said.

This is mainly because the Nigerian government has failed to attend to the grievances that sparked the war, he explained.

Mr Nwodo spoke as a guest at a live broadcast organised by the BBC Igbo on Saturday, May 30, the day earmarked yearly for the commemoration and remembrance of those who died during the brutal civil war better known as the Biafra war.

Musician and activist Onyeka Onwenu and writer Tony Nnadi were also guests that spoke during the programme that started around 12 p.m.

The Biafra war (July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970), was a war fought between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included a military coup, a counter-coup, and persecution of Igbos living in Northern Nigeria.

Ultimately, it led to the declaration of a sovereign state of Biafra by the then 33-year-old military officer, Emeka Ojukwu, at the helm in 1967.

In reaction, the Nigerian government declared war and after 30 months of fighting, Biafra surrendered. On January 15, 1970, the conflict officially ended.

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Mr Nwodo said the government has not made enough effort in preserving the historic event, giving room for people to exploit the vacuum.

The Nigerian government has often been criticised for not prioritising the preservation of the history of the war like other countries such as Rwanda and the U.S. who have also fought civil wars.

There is no date marked in the Nigerian calendar for the remembrance of the civil war and no cenotaph was built in remembrance of any of those who died.

Pro-Biafra protesters in Orlu [Photo: TodayNG]
These and many other perceived marginalisation have fuelled renewed Biafra calls by separatist groups like IPOB.

“I am not advocating for a violent revolution but the fact is that there will always be agitations until the government resolves certain resentments and marginalization of the Igbos,” Mr Nwodo explained.

Reminiscing on War days

Speakers at the programme took turns to recount several events that shaped the history of the war.

They all spoke in Igbo language.

Mr Nwodo said anyone who was up to 5ft in height in the Southeast was enrolled into the Biafran Army.

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The Ohaneze leader also recounted how the Biafran soldiers built different local weapons they used in the fight. He said the Biafran army built an airport and an aircraft.

Speaking, Onyeka Onwenu said she helped during the war as a nurse in a clinic.

“I learnt the job of public health under two weeks. We were teaching people health hygiene and the kind of food to be eaten,” she said.

The veteran singer said it is important for all Nigerians to read, know and understand what happened during the war.

“They need to know how much their fathers and forefathers suffered to make their future better,” she said.

Mr Nnadi said he was only three years when the war ended but has been researching on the historic event.

He said from his research and consultations, the war has not yet ended.

“This is why there is need for government and well-meaning Nigerians to come together and look at what were the underlying issues and grievances.”

The panelists also deliberated on several programmes that could help in unifying and uplifting the Igbo people.


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