It was not a typical Wednesday morning. It was cold and the sky was darkened from the heavy rainfall of the night before. I remember this vividly because I had grudgingly gotten out of bed, bumped my foot against the edge of the bed and desperately wished it was the weekend so I wouldn’t go to work. But it wasn’t!
I reluctantly got to the office and walked right into the middle of an argument. I wasn’t ready for work, neither was I ready to engage in any sentimental debate. I was going to head for my desk in the corner of the room, block out the noise and bury myself in work.
Digging for my headphones, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. “We may have a holiday next week!” Another holiday in June? I thought to myself. And just like that, the day got a little brighter.
My colleague continued, “The President just announced that Democracy Day will no longer be celebrated on the 29th of May, rather on the 12th of June, to mark the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history.” “Splendid!”, I remarked aloud, “we should also have a Biafra Day to remember the victims of Nigeria’s civil war.”
All eyes turned to stare at me and a colleague shouted, “No! Biafra was a sectional issue, not national.” I blinked. Sectional? The quote by George Orwell immediately came to mind: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
The Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War lasted for three years between 1967 and 1970. Although factual and unbiased accounts of the War do not really exist, it is widely acclaimed that the War was as a result of the imbalance in politics among the major ethnic groups as well as the injustice the Igbos faced across Nigeria. In 1945, 1953 and 1966, more than 30,000 Igbos were massacred in the North and to prevent further deaths, the Igbos fled to the East, to their respective States of Origin. But not before killing a few Northerners as well.
While the Federal Government refused to appease the Igbos who were hit the most by the ethnic unrests, they decided to divide the country into twelve states from the original four regions in May 1967. The former Eastern Region under Lt. Col. Ojukwu saw the act of the creation of states by decree “without consultation” as the last straw, and so, the call for an independent nation of Biafra began.
During the course of the War, about 3 million Biafrans died from hunger and starvation, while a million more died from the wounds of war. The strategic bombings of major towns, military installations and the Defense Industry in Nigeria also had a devastating effect on the Nigerian civilian population. And in the aftermath of the war, the relationship between the Igbos and Yorubas never remained the same.
So why shouldn’t there be a National Day to facilitate discussions and ventilation of grievances on the worst war in the history of Nigeria? In Rwanda, a war-torn country, thousands gather on the 4th of July to celebrate Liberation Day; a day when the genocide against the Tutsi minority ended; a day to celebrate their country; a day whose remembrance keeps the country united.
A National Civil War Day, or whatever name one desire, will do more good than harm for Nigeria. A National Civil War Day would not fuel the fires of secessionist agendas, rather it would be a good step towards accepting the existence of a War that has left distrust in its wake. Remembering, rather than ignoring the losses and death of the War, would mean that young Nigerians of Igbo descent, will be well informed as to the choices they make, rather than agitate mindlessly to the dictate of different neo-Biafrans as happened recently. It would also mean a national acceptance that the Igbos are indeed important to the growth and development of Nigeria.
Remembering those murdered for their ethnicity, whether through starvation or war wounds is not only about honouring them, their families and making sure the victims are never forgotten; it is also to fight those who deny such atrocities ever happened. What we need to remember is that these aren’t just numbers. Each number is a human being who suffered and lost their life.
But of course, a Biafra Day or National Civil War Day may never be observed if Nigerians do not demand one. The change of the Democracy Day from May 27th to June 12th didn’t happen because of the goodwill of political elites. To the contrary, the Westerners have for years celebrated this day as their own Democracy Day.
To get your rights, sometimes, is to fight for your rights! Let all Nigerians begin a campaign for a National Civil War Day to commemorate the trials and tribulations, we as a Nation, went through to remain together.2