NEWSOPINION

BIAFRA: A BYWORD FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE

Culled from my biography of Ojukwu entitled “Ojukwu: The Last Patriot”

By Val Obinenyem

The Republic of Biafra was proclaimed on May 30th, 1967. It was consequent upon the failure of Lt. Colonel Gowon to implement the Aburi agreements. With this, and the attendant threats of extermination from a section of the country, Ojukwu worked fervently for peace; yet he prepared for war. He gathered Biafrans, both military and civilians, to help him in administration and legislation. Igbos answered with one voice and rallied round him like antibodies gathering to attack an infection.

Igbo is one of the most distinctive and important of all African tribes. They are probably the healthiest and strongest and most exuberant people in Nigeria. They show great physical stamina, magnificent courage in the bearing of hardship and pain, an adaptability that enables them to prosper in almost every zone. Sometimes they are called “The Jews of Africa.” Igbos are individualistic, but know how to organize. They are peace-loving and hospitable by nature. They take the war part when freedom and justice are threatened.

In Igboland, every able-bodied male is a warrior. They are competitive beings, who stimulate one another through healthy rivalry. They have no other government than that of each family by its head. In the event of strife (as in the civil war), they choose their bravest warrior to lead them, and obey him strictly. But once the conflict ends, they literally send him about his business.

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In Igboland salutation is cordial but simple. There is no bowing, genuflection or prostration, for that seems to the proud citizens a vestige of monarchy. The ability of the Igbos to recover from misfortune is one of the impressive wonders of history, part of that heroic resilience which men in general have shown after the catastrophies of life. Besides, Igbos are superbly intelligent and capable of innovative thoughts and endowed with imaginative and aesthetic sense.

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With these mixed qualities, admirable and frightening, a genius would find it most difficult to lead them. Ojukwu knows Igbo psychology and, consequently, persuaded and showed them what was to be done. Sometimes, he urged and pressed them forward and made them submit to what was to their advantage. He was tenacious of purpose and served Ndigbo with devotion, with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength. He committed himself to the most advanced measures of the war, and seemed never to have betrayed any of its vital principles.

Ojukwu’s every move in Nigeria/Biafra war won him a lot of admiration from both friends and foes. The mere fact that for the first time, a Nigerian was singularly able to hold back Nigeria, the giant of Africa, for three years in a conventional warfare without being captured was astounding. Anthony Obi captures it thus: “The headlong assault of one man against the giant has captured the sensation of the people. It was among the most heroic deeds in Nigerian history.”39 This seemed enough to make him a hero and justified his military attributes more than what we have today as military men. One remarkable fact about him is that he projects a soldier in everything he does, in his movement, his speeches and even in his jokes.

In the absence of the much-needed weapons, he made his inspirational speeches his chief strategy. No other crusader in Nigeria has equalled him in clarity or force or style, in directness and pungency of phrases, in serious­ – sometimes hilarious – similes, in a vocabulary rooted in the speech of the people, and congenial to struggling minds.

Morale, he knew, wins half of the war. His long beard, half bald, facial movement that quickly reflected, if he wished, each turn o…

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