September 23, 2018

Shadows of Biafra: From pre-colonial to present day Nigeria – Uchenna Nwankwo

Shadows of Biafra: From pre-colonial to present day Nigeria – Uchenna Nwankwo

Uchenna Nwankwo is an architect and writer. Before his present book, Shadows of Biafra, he had written seven books. The Shadow of Biafra, a 511-page volume, is a formidable intellectual work. The book traces the political history of Nigeria from the pre-colonial political/cultural organisations of Nigerian ethnic groups to the daunting and complex problems buffeting present day Nigeria. It ends with recommendations on what must be done to address these multi-facet problems.

It gives an overview of the three broad political/cultural structures of the multi-ethnic agglomeration that was amalgamated and called Nigeria by British colonialism. It postulates that these three main pre-colonial political and cultural ideologies, to a great extent, shaped the attitudes, tendencies and ideologies of the major political actors in Nigerian politics. And that the “consistent squabble and swing in national policy directions” that have been plaguing Nigeria are explainable by the clashes of these different ideologies that define Nigeria politicians and policy makers. These are the Hausa/Fulani monarchical autocracy and empire building and its inherent expansionism, Igbo individualism, republicanism and meritocracy and the Yoruba hybrid of the two systems. In other words, the contemporary political problems of Nigeria can be traced to the different primordial cultural structures that continue to shape the mindset, and political proclivities and objectives of our political leaders.  

The book sheds new light on different areas of Nigerian history, and brings new insights and added details to aspects of the 1966 coups and the civil war. It lent credence to Aguiyi-Ironsi’s knowledge of the January 15 1966 coup, at least, a few hours before the coup plotters struck. It wrote that there was more than met the eyes in the face-off between the two main protagonists of the civil war, Yakubu Gowon and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. The rift between them pre-dated the July 29th 1966 counter coup. The 1964 federal election was rigged by the Balewa government and boycotted by the opposition United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). When in the aftermath of the flawed election the ceremonial president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, inviting the Prime Minister, Tafawa Belewa, to form a new government, Ojukwu and Victor Banjo broach the idea of a coup. Trying to enlist other officers into the plot, Ojukwu approached Gowon. Gowon reported him to the then British Commander of the Nigerian Army, Major General Welby-Everard. When questioned by Welby-Everard, Ojukwu adroitly wriggled out of the accusation. This episode left a permanent blot on the relationship between them; it influenced their uncompromising stances in the days leading up to the civil war.

It lucidly expatiates on the military, political and diplomatic personalities and events that shaped Biafra. It elaborated on the conflicts of interests and clashes of personalities within the Biafran enclave, like Ojukwu’s friendship with his intellectual soul-mates, later turned foes, like Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Victor Banjo, “Major” Alele and Sam Agbam, and his relationship with a few distinguished military officers in Biafra, namely Hiliary Njoku and Chukwuma Nzeogwu. Although Hiliary Njoku was ultimately discredited by the Biafran government, the author did not dissemble his respect and admiration for him. Njoku was with Ironsi at Ibadan when the mutineers led by Theophilus Danjuma seized Ironsi. As he escaped, he was wounded by the mutineers’ gun fire. With 15 bullets lodged in him, he eluded the mutineers, who were on his trail, and made his way to Eastern Nigeria. While still convalescing from his wounds, he undertook the enormous and seminal task of organizing the Biafran Army (Eastern Command) and laid the groundwork for the defense of the nascent Republic of Biafra. The author dedicated this book to Brigadier Hilary Njoku.   

The book also elucidated the tortuous and volatile relationship between the two most important Igbo political leaders of the 20th Century, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu; Okoi Arikpo and Obafemi Awolowo’s attempt to subvert the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) peace initiatives; and Ojukwu’s diplomatic triumphs in Africa. It listed the African countries’ Azikiwe approached in search of recognition for Biafra, why some of them recognized Biafra and why others refused. In addition, it discussed the confluence of forces, internal and external, that conspired against Biafra. At the end of the war, Gowon’s declaration of No Victor and No vanquished, and his promised 3Rs (Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction) were most magnificent. They distinguished Gowon from the brute and vindictive milieu of African politics and heightened the hopes and expectations of the defeated. However, Gowon reneged on his laudable promises, and acquiesced to vindictive anti-Igbo policies and actions.

The last section of the book dwells on the post civil war problems and challenges confronting Nigeria. Nigerian unity remains tenuous because, at the end of the war, the federal government failed to make a just and equitable peace between the victors and the vanquished. In the thrill of victory and in the refusal to rein-in forces of vengeance that needed to extract their pound of flesh from the Igbo, the federal government allowed deliberate repressive and discriminatory policies against the Igbo. In addition, Hausa/Fulani hegemony continues to rock Nigeria unity.  Its most recent blatant and egregious example is the unbridled murderous rampage of Fulani herdsmen in Central and Southern Nigeria. The revived Igbo agitation for Biafra is a direct consequence of continued oppression of the Igbo, and Hausa/Fulani hegemony. The author is a proponent of one Nigeria but believes that the unity of Nigeria cannot be upheld with guns and bayonets. It can only be predicated on social justice and a shared sense of worth among the different ethnic groups of Nigeria. .

Despite the extensive bibliography on the Nigerian civil war and its aftermath, the Shadow of Biafra is a trailblazer. It broke new grounds and added new facts and details into an existing narrative. It made evident the author’s versatility, resourcefulness, far-reaching research skills and insightful political analysis. Overall, the book is a product of a brilliant mind, exhaustive research and a mellifluous pen. It is a must read. I recommend it to every literate Nigerian, but especially, public officials and policy makers, and students and aficionados of history, politics and current affairs.   

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