In what appears to be his first formal reaction to the unfolding armed insurgency against the Nigerian state by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB] separatist group, President Muhammadu Buhari had this to say; ‘’many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war’’. As though to remind these ‘’young’’ and ‘’misbehaving’’ separatist agitators of his exploits during the 30 month long Nigeria/Biafra civil, President Buhari, who was a Brigade Major in the 1st Division of the Nigerian army under the commander of General Muhammadu Shuwa, boasted thus, ‘’ those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand’’.
President Buhari’s threat of treating Biafra separatist agitators in the language they understand evoked the horrific memories of the civil war, which is characterised by the starvation, death o and physical destruction. Unfortunately, the federal military government of Nigeria under the leadership of General Yakubu Gowon, launched an operation to crush the Biafra rebellion between 1967 and 1970, recorded a collateral damage of mass starvation and over 3 million civilian deaths, including women, children and the aged. The Biafra territory, an area approximating the predominantly Igbo speaking South East geo-political zone in present day Nigeria was completely devastated by heavy air and artillery bombardment by the Nigerian security forces. It is against this background that President Buhari’s statement was widely condemned as a threat against citizens of his own country and when he took the same message of threat to twitter, it attracted wider condemnation and subsequent sanction from the tech company, citing violation of its rules.
Amidst widespread condemnation, the angry reaction of the Buhari administration to the action taken by twitter against his offensive tweets by banishing the messaging application from the Nigerian cyberspace is a clear and dangerous indication that President Buhari did not learn any lessons from Nigeria’s civil war history; a history he was part of. And because of the many lessons unlearned from Nigeria’s civil war history, President Buhari clearly misunderstood the condemnation of his statement as a support for IPOB insurgency and misinterpreted the deleting of his tweets from the messaging application as twitters as a deliberate act of aiding forces of destabilization of his government. Beyond his misunderstanding and misrepresentations of the issues arising from his threat of sorrow, tears and blood lays a deep seated anti-Igbo sentiment by President Buhari; a sentiment that has been demonstrated through the appointments, programmes and policies of his administration since his election in 2015.
Not even during the civil war did Nigeria’s war time commander in chief, General Gowon make such incendiary statement to the people of the rebel republic of Biafra. With the deep understanding that a common feature of injustice, inequity, exclusion and marginalisation underlined the events leading up to the unfortunate 30 month civil war, General Gowon prosecuted the war with caution and his tone throughout the period was conciliatory just as his military government was open to dialogue as well as negotiation. In his own words; ‘’we fought the war with great caution, not in anger or hatred, but always in the hope that common sense would prevail. Many times we sought a negotiated settlement, not out of weakness, but in order to minimize the problems of reintegration, reconciliation , and reconstruction’’.
To bring the war to a conclusive end, General Gowon was ready to make concessions to the rebel republic of Biafra and address their concern about injustice but only within the framework of one and united Nigeria. General Gowon never gloated about the superiority of his better armed and funded Nigerian army and their exploits in Biafra territories but was always calling for peace, unity and reconciliation with a firm promise for a better Nigeria for all Nigerians including Igbo people. Again, General said; ‘’the Igbos, when they are returned to the fold, must be given their rightful place and as a people who have been misguided and misled by their leader, the rest of us have a duty to bind their wounds and give them our right hand of fellowship’’.
And when the war eventually ended in 1970 with the unconditional surrender of Biafra war commanders, General Gowon famously declared the outcome of the Nigeria/Biafra civil war as one without a victor or a vanquished. Therefore, President Buhari’s statement reminding the Igbo people of their defeat and conquest by the victorious Nigerian army during the civil war is a direct repudiation of General Gowon’s ‘’no victor no vanquished’’ declaration, which paved the way for national healing, reconciliation and unity in a post war Nigeria. In declaring ‘’no victor and no vanquished’’ General Gowon was pragmatic enough to know the cause of the war was injustice and what ended it was not his aerial and artillery bombardment but his firm assurances to Nigeria’s Igbo people of justice in a united Nigeria.
President Buhari’s sectionalism has polarised Nigeria along ethno-geographic and religious fault lines and left the country more divided today than it was in the years preceding the civil war. For a man who equates partisan support for his political aspiration and loyalty to his personae to patriotism to the Nigerian state, President Buhari clearly holds a grudge against the Igbo people of Nigeria for voting against him in his four attempts to get elected to the highest office in the land. And neither twitter nor those condemning President Buhari’s condemnable statement are responsible for the renewed Biafra secessionist agitation half a century after the end of the civil war in 1970. Instead, President Buhari’s 97% and 5% political miscalculation, which has seen him elevate sectionalism to a near state policy and consequent marginalisation of the Igbo people of Nigeria is directly responsible for the resurrection of the spirit, body and soul of Biafra in the form of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, 51 years after. Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB are side effects of President Buhari’s 97% and 5% political experimentation gone wrong.
In addition to the heightened marginalisation of Ndigbo in Buhari’s Nigeria to the extent of their exclusion from the kitchen cabinet of the president and top leadership of any of the country’s security agencies, President Buhari’s elevation of sectionalism to a near state policy has severely undermined his responsibilities of securing lives and properties of Nigerians in the raging cattle war in Nigeria. The failure of President Buhari to effectively contain the violent activities of killer herdsmen, which has left many communities ravaged and pillaged and bring the perpetrators to justice has increasingly diminished the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, leaving Nigerians no choice but to resort to self-help. It is this acute failure of leadership on the part of President Buhari that Nnamdi Kanu exploited to form his Eastern Security Network [ESN], ostensibly to protect Ndigbo from the terror of killer herdsmen. It is also this same ESN that is suspected of hiding behind the guise of defending Ndigbo to carry out an insurgency against a government of Nigeria that the people of south east Nigeria feel alienated from because of heightened marginalisation.
Haven’t learnt nothing from history, President Buhari has failed to realise that the level of injustice, inequity, marginalisation and exclusion that triggered a chain of reactions, which resulted into a coup in January 1966, counter coup in July of the same year, pogroms against Igbo living in northern Nigeria and finally a civil war in 1967, is much higher under his administration. And rather than address these issues that are posing an existential threat to the Nigerian nation, President Buhari’s strategy seems to be a re-enactment of the 1967-1970 civil war episode. However, what President Buhari may not realise is that unlike 1967, when the rest of Nigeria united to wage a war of re-unification against the rebel Biafra republic, there is no such a united Nigeria in 2021 to fight a second Biafra war, where he will have the opportunity to treat Igbo people in the ‘’language they understand’’.