This day 47 years ago, General Yakubu Gowon received the formal instruments of surrender from General Philip Effiong in an elaborate ceremony at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. That marked the end of hostilities between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the breakaway Republic of Biafra.
Hostilities ended on January 12, 1970 when the Nigerian third marine Commando mivision (3MCD) overran the Orlu- Owerri axis at a time Biafran leader, General Emeka Ojukwu decided to embark on a trip to Cote d’Ivoire in search of peace. Many knew it was a move that signalled the beginning of his life in exile. Effiong was the next in command and it was his lot to risk death with such men of honour as Justice Luis Mbanefo, Professor Eni Njoku and Brigadier Patrick Amadi.
They first met with Col. Olusegun Obasanjo, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 3MCD before flying to Lagos to declare the end of Biafra.
After almost three years of crisis, Gowon made his famous declaration of “No Victor, No vanquished”. He described it as a war of brothers since no medals were awarded to any officer or men. The general showed bias intention of carrying on as a true leader when he flashed a policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, the three Rs.
The idea was to bring back the former Biafrans back to the Nigerian family as quickly as possible. The policy was only effective on paper.
The impoverished Biafrans were further pauperised by the obnoxious policies of the Gowon administration. For instance, for all the money a former Biafran had, million pounds or a penny, he got a paltry sum of 20 pounds from the Federal Government. Many Nigerians did not see the evil in that decision which was the first sign that to survive the peace was going to be as difficult as surviving the war. There was also the issue of Abandoned Property.
This affected houses owned by the Igbo in Port Harcourt which was part of the Eastern Region in the First Republic but had become the capital of Rivers State, one of the 12 created by Gowon in 1967. The Draconian Law implied that those houses were to be forfeited by the owners. It is instructive that this only happened in Port Harcourt. It did not affect properties in today’s South-West or the North.
Many factors led to the war. The major reason was that the British,in creating Nigeria did not have the interest of the various peoples at heart. Colonisation was based on protecting British aspirations first. The colonies were therefore used to further enrich the a British empire and subjugate the conquered territories. The British therefore created crisis through a divide and rule style of administration.
The legion ethnic nationalities in Nigeria were played against themselves while London benefited hugely from the deceit. When the rest of the country wanted Independence in the second half of the 1950s, the North was not ready. And when self government eventually came in 1960, the cracks were there.
It began widely in the West as the Yoruba believed the North had annexed their region politically. Then came a military coup in January 1966 which further polarised the country. Erroneously regarded as an Igbo coup, the aim was to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba, from prison and instal him as Prime Minister.
Prominent politicians and military officers, majorly from the North and West were killed. A counter coup followed in July 1966 and its main objective was to kill the Igbo. It snowballed into a pogrom which the world sadly turned a blind eye to. War was therefore inevitable.
The Eastern Region led by Ojukwu and the rest of the nation met in Aburi, Ghana in search of a solution. An agreement was reached by Ojukwu and Gowon. When both delegations returned, Nigeria reneged on the accord
. Today, those factors that led to crisis are here again with us. The country is divided along ethnic lines. There is bloodletting on a daily basis either through the activities of Boko Haram or the brigandage of Fulani herdsmen. There is tension in the Niger Delta. And above all, there are echoes of Biafra in the same old Eastern Region.
President Muhammadu Buhari was a combatant during the war. Gowon and Obasanjo are still alive. Ojukwu, Effiong and Amadi are gone. The trio of Gowon, Obasanjo and Buhari in all sincerity know the state of the country today. They also know what to do to let peace prevail. That people are still shouting Biafra in 2017 is a sign that all is not well with Nigeria.