Letters to the Editor on the Biafran Question
These are excerpts from letters that appeared in USAfrica, an internet newspaper on African affairs and relations between Africa and the United States. [ www.usafricaonline.com ] Many of the correspondents and readers live outside of Nigeria. The statements below are extracted from these letters; for the full texts of these letters, see http://www.usafricaonline.com/Apology.html
Questions on the readings:
What does "history" mean to the writers of these letters?
What actors (individuals or groups) in the Biafran conflict are mentioned in these exchanges?
What acts need (or do not need) apologies?
What current (late 1990s) concerns do the authors address?
Questions for collaboration:
Based on this reading, what issues do you need to know more about in order to understand Biafra? Make a list to share with others. They will have some answers now or in the future.
Igbos do not need any more apologies
by Ojay M. Grace, Special & Exclusive to USAfrica The Newspaper www.usafricaonline.com
If I hear one more Igbo person ask for apology from the Yorubas for any aspect of the Nigerian civil war, I will throw up. Enough already. No apologies are needed from the Yorubas or anyone to the Igbos. The Igbos need leaders who negotiate the future while remembering the past, not leaders who show lack of ability to face the future because their potential allies do not understand the plight of the Igbos. It is not the duty of Yoruba leaders as Yoruba leaders to worry about the plight of the Igbos. . . .
From listening to the people who ask for apology, I have concluded that they tend to see apology as simply an acknowledgment of fault. I, as an Igbo person, do not want an apology from anyone regarding the Nigerian-Biafra war. I believe that no apology is needed and none should be requested because the people who fought to keep Nigeria one still believe in the principle of keeping Nigeria as one indivisible entity. Should they apologize for fighting to keep the principle they believed and still believe in?
No Eastern Nigerian who believed in the East going its way, should apologize for that belief either. I think that their belief was rooted on solid grounds: if the people you are forming a nation with treat you in a manner that calls to question your continued existence and survival within that community, it makes sense for you to leave and join another community or form your own. . . .
In 1966, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was the military governor of Eastern Nigeria. During that period, innocent people from the East were being massacred in some parts of Nigeria. After fruitless pleas from Ojukwu and others that the Easterners be protected, Ojukwu, with the urging of lots of people in the East, concluded that the Igbos were not wanted in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ojukwu and his fellow eastern leaders declared the Republic of Biafra. The Northerners, with the support of the Mid-West and the West, opposed the move. A war ensued. The Easterners, led by Ojukwu, lost.
It is important to note that the Nigerian civil war was fought out of necessity, not out of any burning desire by the Easterners to break away from Nigeria. . . .
Igbo leaders used everything within their means to win the war and so did the other side. I do not know of a Yoruba person who believes that they were responsible for causing the civil war. [Of course, there was a political crisis in the West that caused the military takeover by coup, which resulted in the killing of the civilian leaders of the First Republic except those from the East, who escaped. Because the leader of the coup plotters was an Igbo from the Mid- West, the Northerners retaliated against Igbos by killing them.] Therefore, there is no need for the Yorubas to regret fighting for a united Nigeria they believed and still believe in.
It is a general consensus within the Igbo community that the Yorubas cannot be trusted because they did not break away from Nigeria when the Igbos did, even though their leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had said that the Yorubas would break away if the Igbos did. It is my contention that the memories of the two million souls from the East who died as a result of the war, and the "kwashiokor" babies who were sent for safety to the Republic of Gabon and other countries, are being denigrated if we imply that the principle of preserving the life and safety of Easterners was only worth it if the Yorubas, who were neither persecuted nor massacred, broke away from Nigeria and formed their own country. . . .
Ojay Grace, a Houston-based attorney, is a contributing editor of USAfricaonline.com.
Why we demand apology for killing of Biafrans
by Michael Okwukogu Orji, Special & Exclusive to USAfrica Media Networks
History is usually written as documentation of objective fact to enable those uninvolved to learn the outcome of events. Most times the principal actors are not the ones that document these facts. But when one is fortunate enough both to participate and be alive to read, analyze and discuss the true facts of that history, undoubtedly one is in a much better position to give fair judgement.
This was indeed the position that the former Head of State of Nigeria General Yakubu Gowon was in in Abakiliki when he apologized to the Igbos for wrongly waging the civil war against them and other Nigerians of the Eastern region. What I found discomforting was the lateness and lack of effective overtures from General Gowon.
It is rather disturbing to hear Mr. Ojay Grace excuse Gowon for waging war against the Igbos and to accept his lukewarm apology, and turn around and criticize the Igbo people for standing up and straight for their rights. I am most concerned with Mr. Grace for his lack of sensitivity to the plight of the Igbos during and after the civil war, 1967-1970.
For fact, the Igbos lost over one million people, and I want to remind him again that I lost three family members including my own father.
I bear the physical and emotional scars of the Nigerian civil war, and it's very painful. I do not know Mr. Grace’s but I know that Yorubas have experienced nothing in modern Nigerian history to be compared to the suffering of the Igbos, Ibiobios, Annangs and other Easterners. . . .
Apology to a people wronged can offer consolation and make amends in differing degrees, as it has done for the Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Today, there are still some countries and institutions offering apologies and restitution to the Jews for their wrongs during World War II.
What is so wrong for the Igbos to hold those that caused them pain responsible for their action? Ojay should know.
Orji is Special Projects Manager for USAfrica Media Networks.
Apology is vital but trust is the issue
by Ken Okorie, Special & Exclusive to USAfrica The Newspaper USAfricaonline.com
. . . . No one doubts that Yoruba and others who fought on the Nigerian side in the Biafran war believed in their cause. But that does not mean they were right. Recall that Germany's Adolf Hitler believed strongly in his cause, but he was wrong. The architects of apartheid in South Africa believed in the supremacy of whites, but they too were wrong. Both sides in the Nigeria-Biafra conflict could not be right, and serious wrong was done, a fact since acknowledged by no other than then Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces (at the time, and for 8 years Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon. . . .
Biafra did not lose the war because Nigerian forces fought better, but because we fought a combined Anglo-Soviet equipped, Egyptian-assisted force, and a near universal acquiescence to the starvation of our people. Therefore, anyone ascribing Biafra's collapse to some untold gallantry (personal or collective) by Yoruba colonels, hausa or Fulani soldiers either fought a different war or wallow in a delusion of serious kind.
Today, a war crimes tribunal sits over Bosnian commanders although the same did not on the crimes against the Biafrans. The reason is the unusual backing Nigeria received in that exercise from Britain and Russia whose advisors might have been directly implicated in the cold-war setting. That unholy alliance has never been replicated anywhere. . . .
I am most surprised at Mr. Grace's stance on history, even after acknowledging its importance in human life. The most important thing about history is that it be kept pure and undistorted. One reason is to ensure that Nigerians, including those he identifies as current Igbo leaders in the US who were not decision makers at the critical points in time (1966-?), are not left vulnerable, misinformed or misled. Steven Spielberg may not have been present when Jews were massacred in Hitler's death camps, but relied on credible historical facts to propagate the story. . . .
The North controls power not by virtue of superior intellect or ability, but by default as beneficiary of the gap existing between the Yoruba and the Igbo. Thus, Yoruba and Igbo need this accommodation for their respective good, not as a favor to the other. The day that accommodation is found, Nigeria's music will sound a different and more pleasant note.
Okorie, attorney at law and member of the editorial board of USAfrica Media Networks, serves as Secretary-general, World Igbo Congress.