50 years ago, 32-year-old General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu took to the airwaves and announced the planned secession of the Sovereign State of Biafra from the Nigerian Nation.
This declaration which followed months of intense pogrom and massive ethnic cleansing of the mainly Igbo South Easterners resident all over the other parts of Nigeria, led to an even more horrifying genocide as his declaration sparked off a war, the types of which we hope never to experience in these climes ever again.
There is hardly any family in the South East and some parts of the South-South, that did not taste from the dividends of that war.
The struggle to survive another day, see another sunrise.
The surprise attacks.
The bombings and shellings.
The stark abandonment.
Even those who set out to war with the boldest of determinations were beaten into submission by the vicissitudes of war.
So when some of us decry the undertones of war in the present agitations for Biafra, it is not out of cowardice but rather a reluctance to live through the horrors of war as narrated by our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties.
Those who lived the horrors of war.
These same ones who insist: never again.
War does not leave only physical scars, it leaves long buried memories seared into the soul by eyes that wish they could unsee, by minds that wish they could walk back and erase their participation in it.
We struggle to forget.
But we remember because however much we want to forget, the reality of that war has been woven into the fabrics of our existence as Nigerians. And I believe with all honesty that this exists on both sides of the divide – the Nigerian side and the Biafran side.
However slight the impact, however different the stories, however, twisted the narratives depending on the perspective of the recounter; we all were affected.
In all the remembrances that occurred yesterday the 30th of May 2017 however, one question stood out from those who felt it was a needless exercise casting our minds back to what went before in order to determine what goes ahead. The people who felt Biafra had “come and gone and there was no need picking old wounds”.
Some of these people even asked: South Africa has moved on from their issues as have Rwanda, they have resumed their lives as one country and have put the past behind them. Why do we find that difficult to do in Nigeria?
Let me try to answer:
In South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 1994 to address the grievances of those who had witnessed and experienced apartheid.
Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
And what about Rwanda?
The Rwandan case is not too different. In 1994, the country witnessed a horrifying genocide that shook humanity to its roots. Over one million people were brutally murdered while over 250,000 women were raped during the course of the 100 days of bestial violence.
In the aftermath of the war, there was a desperate need to reconcile and heal in order for the country to move ahead and the first recourse were the gacacas or native judicial system.
The victims were encouraged to speak out and bare their grievances while the aggressors were encouraged to come out and confess their involvement in the genocide and apologise openly to the survivors.
In exchange for this open confession, they were given lighter sentences than they would have served and genuine reconciliation was encouraged between the warring factions. Today in some communities, both victims and aggressors reside side by side, in peace.
Now, these are just evidence of how an open and dispassionate post-mortem of the events leading up to and during the incidents that created mistrust, fear and disunity, were handled in some African countries.
Even in the United States of America, while issues relating to the slave trade and consequent misuse and mistreatment of blacks are topics of constant conversations at all levels, the Black History Month is dedicated to the retelling, reliving and celebration of the dark history of the American slave trade era.
Reconciliation is an ongoing process with people seeking to openly make amends and heal the wounds of that era – even if for the sake of political correctness.
Back home in Nigeria, what do we have?
> The expunging of history from the school curriculum to prevent the study of the issues that surround Nigeria as we know it today. Effectively the darkest era in Nigeria’s history – the Biafran genocide – would never be discussed within educational circles.
> Victims and survivors of the Biafran genocide are constantly denigrated and jeered at. They live with the emotional and psychological scars and that is when they also do not bear the additional burden of physical scars, and are offered no closure whatsoever.
> When their aggrieved generations to whom the stories have been passed down agitate for closure, they are taunted and threatened with more violence in like circumstances as in their parents and grandparents’ past.
> The word Biafra has become an anathema to the extent that identity-confused Igbo men seeking politically correct relevance, misguidedly lash out at their brethren who choose to sit at home in remembrance of an era that marked every life that lived it.
And we seek to move ahead?
When the retelling of the story of the hunt has been left to the memory of the lion? We now listen to the retelling of the Biafran era by revisionists, most of whom fought on the side of the aggressors, some of whom escaped with a bullet in their buttocks. All grandstanding and twisting and obfuscating with a view to masking the truth.
And you want us to heal?
When no one has taken responsibility for any of the actions that led to the cruel slaughter of millions and mouthed those three little words, “I am sorry”?
And you want us to forgive and forget?
How can we forget when even our history and our story is being taken away from us? You may abolish history from the schools to prevent the retelling, but the Biafran story will be passed on from mouth to ear and from generation to generation.
And until the Biafran story is retold nationwide with a view to bringing victims and survivors some form of closure by having the perpetrators admit to their participation and making restitution, we shall not forget.
We will never forget.