SYMPOSIUM: BIAFRA: 50 Years After: Let’s Revisit Issues That Caused The Civil War

Protesters march from the former Soviet Union's Embassy in London to the office of the Prime Minister on Downing Street. They argued that the Soviet Union and Britain supported Nigeria's war on Biafra and arms trafficking to the Nigerian federal troops. Labor Party politician Michael Barnes also spoke at a meeting organized by the Biafran Committee in London. Image: R. Dumont/Daily Express/Getty


— 50 years after the Nigerian Civil War, former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd); Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; Professor Anya O. Anya, Professor Pat Utomi and Professor Banji Akintoye, yesterday, warned that another war was imminent if the current political, social, and economic challenges plaguing the country were not addressed.

They were, however, unanimous that Nigeria must avert another Civil War.

Also, notable Igbo elders, leaders and traditional rulers gathered at the MUSON Centre in Lagos to discuss the way forward, 50 years after the Nigerian civil war.

The 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War, tagged Never Again, was organized by the Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos in collaboration with civil society organisations. 

 We must revisit the issues — Gowon

 Gowon, though absent at the event, spoke via a recorded video. 

The former military Head of State said the Civil War remains a reference point in the country’s political odyssey, adding that as a way of moving forward, there exists the need to revisit the challenges bedeviling the country. 

His words: “Let me say again, that although the Nigerian Civil War ended in January 1970, yet it has continued to be a veritable reference point in our nation’s political discourse for the past 50 years. It was indeed a welcome way. It ended at the time for it had posed the greatest threat to the territorial integrity and unity of Nigeria, our promising multi-ethnic federation.

“The Civil War left an indelible impression and desire in me to hold dearest, the unity and indivisibility of a democratic Nigeria in line with my response to a question by many passengers on an MV Aureol West African Sea Passage, Liverpool to Lagos in December/January 1965/66, who asked “Can there be a coup in Nigeria? My response during the trip was that it was impossible because we are ‘a political Army’ trained to be loyal to the government of the day, to defend the unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria, from both internal and external attacks until we got to Ghana on January 12, 1966, when as a result of a reported threat near Nigeria, I had to change my stance and said philosophically “nothing is impossible in this world, but if such a thing happens in Nigeria, I hope the few loyal of us will check, deal with it and return the status quo.” And that was what happened, 36 hours after my arrival in Lagos on January 15, 1966. 

 We must avert another war

 “In conclusion, I sincerely, believe that this speech at the end of the civil war is still relevant today and on this occasion. I, therefore, urge us to always refer to this speech as a reference point for entrenching national reconciliation, peace and unity of the country. 

“We must do all in our power as responsible leaders and citizens of this great country and nation to create enabling platforms to dialogue and proffer ideas on how we can live together in peace and harmony for the good of all Nigerians and the black race as a whole, thus ensuring political and economic security and development of the country. I urge all Nigerians to ensure that we avert another civil war in Nigeria. 

“Our commitment to Nigeria must be total and patriotic. To me, our Nigeria of today of over 500 ethnic groups of diverse socio-cultural and religious colorations and spread across 774 local government areas and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, is worthy of your support and defence.” 

 We can’t survive another war — Soyinka In his speech,

 Professor Soyinka said: “We have been made to understand that no nation has ever survived any two Civil Wars.” 

Recalling how Tanzania recognized Biafra as a nation, he frowned at the casualties recorded during the Civil War. 

He said: “Let me remind you that Tanzania was one of the nations that recognized the breakaway republic of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. 

“And so, finding myself in that setting among products of this special historic formation, pre and immediate colonial African order, it was an opportunity to interrogate what could be considered a physiological or ideological extract from that human event that consumed, in its estimation, two million lives within two years.” 

He also restated that the unity of Nigeria was non-negotiable. 

He said: “My extract from the Civil War remains what it always was and that is a simple, self interrogatory: Are we being heard with the clarity and the excuseless that does not task the brain? The sovereignty of this nation is non-negotiable.” 

 Nigerians must eschew violence — Anya 

Professor Anya, who was chairman of the occasion, noted that violence cannot provide the solution to the problems facing the nation. 

He called on Nigerians to learn from the mistakes of the past, adding that losing a war was not necessarily a badge of failure. 

Anya said: “Nigeria’s situation is not unique. Other countries have gone through the same. We, as a country, must learn from other countries that have survived the horror of war. 

“Germany fought a war and lost, the same as Japan. But 30 years after, Germany became one of the best economies in the world, the same and Japan, until the advent of China. Losing a war does not make you a failure. 

“We as a country must eschew violence, as it will not provide the answer to our current situation. There is a saying which goes like this: “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” This is a new year and a new opportunity for Nigeria to make things right once again.” 

 War is horrible — Utomi 

While highlighting the collapse of culture as one of the major problems of the country, Professor Utomi called for urgent attention and a joint effort to fix the problem. 

Utomi noted that if the Biafran war was fought today, Nigeria may not exist due to the self-determination recognition by the international community. 

He said: “War is a horrible experience. I have read about it, I have experienced it and I have watched it in the movies. We must address the issues that led to the Civil War. I can tell you that if the Biafran war is fought today, there will be no Nigeria because the international community now recognizes self-determination.” 

He urged the government to create an enabling environment to help businesses. 

He said: “Why does it matter to reflect on that experience and 50 years since? 

I think this initiative has value because war is horrible and anything that enables people to learn enough from its experience to make them seek not to repeat it, does humanity great favour. Allied to this is that managing the cessation of hostility will determine how people heal and whether it is easy to capitalize on old wounds. Some doubt that the nature of the peace treaty that ended World War I paved the way for Hitler to emerge and made a more terrible World War II happen. 

“War creates its psychosis and that can affect culture in a way that people may not become immediately aware of but this may affect fundamentally a peoples’ way. Why, for example, were Ndigbo typically considered modest, even stereotyped as stingy, before the war, and in the post-war era have become more voluble, extravagant and showy, with significant consequences for Emotional Intelligence? 

“Nigeria’s inability to have learned and institutionalized lessons from the civil war is perhaps one of the greatest cases of leadership failure in modern human history. Even that is a paradox. The end of the civil war was marked by some great leadership initiatives”. 

We must address the fundamentals — Akintoye 

Also speaking, eminent historian, Professor Banji Akintoye said there is a need for Nigerians to find a rational solution to problems affecting the country. 

He warned that the country is in a mood similar to the pre-Civil War mood, noting: “We, who are here assembled and the rest of our whole country owe a great debt of gratitude to our men and women who thought that Nigeria must celebrate this important day in our country’s history and who put the arrangements together to enable us to assemble here now. 

“This day, 50 years ago, we Nigerians saw the end of a bitter and sanguinary Civil War in which two sides of our country had been pitched against each other for fully 30 months. A war which had directly and indirectly taken the lives of millions of our citizens and had left the lives of more millions shattered. 

“I assess that we are assembled to mark this day for two important reasons. First, we have assembled in gratitude to God that our Civil War came to an end when it did and that it did not continue beyond that day to inflict more deaths and more wounds upon us citizens and peoples of Nigeria and upon our country as a corporate entity. 

“We elders, leaders, rulers and citizens of Nigeria are assembled here today before the world, and before the ruler of all peoples and nations, to assert that We the people of this country of Nigeria will Never Again manage the affairs of our country in such a way as to lead to war among us. 

“It is hugely providential that we are registering this resolve today before the world and before the Creator and Ruler of the World. I say providential because, as an elderly citizen of this country and as a citizen who was already a young university teacher in the time of our Civil War, I have good reasons to fear today that the character of the affairs of our country these days and the prevailing mood among us Nigerians, are chillingly similar to the character of the affairs of our country in the months leading to our Civil War. 

“The government of our country is being managed in ways that make it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. There seems to be an agenda being pursued to establish this minority in all positions of command in the executive, administrative, judicial and security services of our country. The voices of the majority register protests continually and are continually disrespected and ignored. “The state of the law is patently being subsumed to the needs of that agenda with seriously damaging effects on human rights. These situations are inevitably fostering among the peoples of the Middle Belt and South of our country, the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered peoples in Nigeria. 

“But in the spirit of today, in the spirit of Never Again plunging our country into Civil War, we can, and we must terminate all this descent towards horrific war. We can and we must speedily move our country into the state of law, the state of mutual respect among our hundreds of nations and the state of order and peace in our country.” 

Throwing his weight behind the restructuring of the country, Akintoye said: “To make restructuring produce a full and abiding good for our country, we must now for the first time, correct a serious mistake which we have been making from the beginning especially from the beginning of independent Nigeria. That mistake is that we have been ignoring the fundamental fact that underlies our country. The fundamental fact is that Nigeria is a country of many different nations, of nations that are in some respects radically different in their cultures, their political traditions, their perceptions of acceptable reality, their expectations, and their desires and goals. Ignoring these fundamentals, we have almost continuously let our country wobble and teeter on the brink of violent implosion and we have continually inflicted serious pains upon ourselves. We fought and ended a Civil War but we have never really moved measurably away from the brinks of the Civil War.”

Roll call 

Notable personalities present include Prof Wole Soyinka, Prof Anya O. Anya, Prof Pat Utomi, Prof. Adebanji Akintoye, Professor George Obiozor, Admiral Alison Madueke (retd), former Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank Plc, Mr. Alex Oti; Onyeka Onwenu, former Information Minister, Mr. Frank Nweke, Jnr; Eze Chukwuemeka-Eri, Senate Minority Whip, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe; Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Akin Osuntokun; Maj. Gen. Obi Umahi (retd) and Guy Ikokwu.