Between 1966 and 1970, Biafra was all over the news media for those old enough to remember. What was called a war, was in fact a genocide comparable to the Rwandan genocide of the ’90s or worse. Let's fast forward from 1966 to Sept 12, 2017.
The late ’60s were a period of international turmoil. The Vietnam War was on every household TV screen. Student protests met violent repercussions in many places. A time of cold war on the one side and détente on the other. Symbols of flower power, peace, and love, competed with scenes of war atrocities in the news headlines.
Then this conflict flared up in a West-African backwater called Biafra. The world news dominated by Western media corporations had some difficulty framing this story properly. It didn’t involve the ‘ghost’ of communism. It didn’t involve ‘our guys’. It was in a place nobody had heard of before.
It wasn’t a war, It was a genocide.
Nevertheless, the story made its way to the headlines. Documented, reported on, yet misreported as a ‘war’. It wasn’t a war, It was a genocide. The deliberate and systematic extermination of the national, racial, political, and cultural group of the Igbo people, native to the Biafra region of South-West Nigeria.
Biafra had separated itself as an independent nation from the fledgling Nigerian state, which in return had freed itself from British colonial rule in 1960. Nigeria is an amalgamation of (very) different cultures, religions, geographical regions, and environments. More than 100 independent languages can be discerned in the area that covers Nigeria proper.
Biafra had decided to free itself from what is considered by many as the artificial state of Nigeria.
The global community responded to the conflict as ever so often in the wrong way.
In most cases, the genocide was diplomatically downplayed. The concerned Western audiences were told that the Nigeria-Biafra ‘war’ was an internal issue, unwarranted external interference. But the Western public was being lied to. It was not in any way an internal crisis, neither was it a war. It was a genocide carried out on such a diabolically grand scale with certain Western governments as its major players.
Oil was the prize. It still is...
Oil was the prize, and it mattered not that the Biafrans were simply fighting for their right to survive as a people independent from an artificial and oppressive central government. Millions died of starvation which was deployed as a weapon of warfare.
Egyptian mercenary pilots dropped bombs onto civilian dwellings; the central government forces were better supplied and had more sophisticated weaponry at their disposal. Most important of all they were diplomatically backed by their profiteering Western allies. It was such a colossal disgrace to the human virtues, such as makes the Rwandan genocide appear to be child’s play.
In 1970 the Biafran separatist movement was crushed underfoot and their resistance smothered. The oppression that ensued was intensified many times over and has been continued up to this day.
This is all being played again out today, right at this moment.
Over a 40 year time period, new generations were born into a world of systemic oppression. The present-day Biafran protesters are youths who never witnessed the genocide of 1966-1970. They were born into oppression and taught to sing the national anthem, recite the pledge and show patriotism to a country that treats them less than slaves and threatens their every will to live up to their potential.
Fed up, they have gathered under the umbrella of The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. They invoke the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples as enshrined in The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. They have a case.
'Biafra' the forbidden word
In spite of this, the Nigerian government will hear nothing about the forbidden word ‘Biafra’. They roll out truckloads of soldiers with weapons and use the machinery of government, including the local media, to silence people who are hell-bent on shouting out their legitimate cause from the rooftops.
In a brazen show of disregard for every basic human right, lives are trampled. Security and law enforcement agencies have shot and killed thousands of unarmed civilians in recent years, abducted a good number of them, and are still at it. In all of these cases, evidence is abundant, yet none has brought the central government to account.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu was incarcerated by the government for nearly two years and treated to the most torturous of conditions unbefitting of an era thought to be modern as we believe. His eventual release from prison in May of 2017 came as a relief to his supporters numbering in the millions.
The central demand of IPOB follows democratic principles and is comparatively modest compared to the gravity of the situation: a referendum. Would the Nigerian government consider a referendum to decide the issue? Surprisingly not. Instead, Biafra has been militarized in recent days and a siege was laid about Nnamdi Kanu’s home, with the sole intent to abduct him without any court warrants. And for what reason? To execute him?
So far the Biafrans have yet to revoke their non-violent approach in the push for their legitimate right to self-determination. Unarmed civilians have come out in numbers to resist the trigger-happy soldiers in their armored carrier vehicles.
In recent days a bloodbath has ensued around Nnamdi Kanu’s home, one of the too many gruesome bloodbaths that Biafra has suffered since 2015. And it didn’t end there. The violence has spilled over into neighboring Aba and then Obigbo counties. Casualties are in such a state as confounds the senses. Aba has imposed a curfew to quell tensions, but in Obigbo, the security agencies began on the morning of September 12 by abducting youths from the streets at random.
History is about to repeat itself
The current situation is as it was in 1966; a time when the pogroms were heated and civilians died in bloodbaths. What we have on our hands today is an ongoing genocide, a humanitarian crisis. This is the beginning of a new chapter in history, a history that is repeating itself in quite the exact form.
Like in the previous one, the prize is oil and it matters not if the lives of millions of unarmed Biafran civilians are sacrificed for this dear prize. And what does the rest of the world say or do? Who is to hold the Nigerian government to account?
Well, this is not the kingdom of heaven that runs on righteousness alone. It is the world and her kingdoms running on oil.