The Ghost of Biafra

By Rebecca Tickle

Where has the teaching of the Biafra issue in schools gone to?

And how could the Nigerian political elite seriously think that the history of Biafra would simply die with it disappearing from Nigerian school programmes? 

Is not one of the main aims of teaching history to avoid the repetition of mistakes by the new generations?

Denial of problems and reprisal against a people and its historical identity cannot be a greater mistake. Repression of the revival of Biafran patriotism and of deeply rooted sentiments of injustice is even worse.

Paul Biya of Cameroon, the next door neighbour, has been following the same footsteps with the "anglophone problem" in the unilaterally named land of Ambazonia. Protests and strikes requesting the retrieval of federalism that had been withdrawn in 1972, or separation have progressively led to brutal repression. If Biya, who has been in power since 1982, fails to handle this issue with some kind of concession efforts, Cameroon could get to the brink of partition. 

At stake in both cases is the power over huge oil reserves - Bakassi Peninsula for Cameroon and Niger Delta for Nigeria -, major foreign interests and well-known embezzlement of national assets by the centralised Government selfish elite, which would simply fall into different hands in the event of partition.

In the case of the Biafra issue, the price Nigeria would pay might be as high as its disintegration if Federal Government fails to recognize the urgent necessity to have a serious talk about what it has never really wanted to talk about: The issue of partial emancipation through the exercise of true federalism.

The same kind of price might also be paid by Biya, whose repression has repeatedly been the only language used, just like in the rest of the country.

So "if you think education is expensive, try ignorance" said Chinua Achebe, about the fact that nothing about the Biafra war, where over a million Nigerians died, has been taught in Nigerian schools since then. Although oral transmission has managed to avoid absolute cluelessness.

Achebe maintains that "ignorance is a very damaging disease. Our boys and girls need to know what actually happened. 'Why did my father go to war?' Someone in the north will ask: 'Why did we go to fight them?"

Identity, not only of Biafra people, but of all Nigerians is what is basically at stake. Any Nigerian today can potentially be frustrated by the fact that he has not been given the chance to make his own mind up about the political responsibilities of such a bloodbath.

The Biafrans "were not [entirely innocent], but the unleashing of such venom [war], such devastation on them as a people, was sufficient to justify their decision not to be part of the nation" says Wole Soyinka. 

He adds that "if you do not confront your past, you are going to mess up your future."

There is a big lesson Nigeria has the opportunity to learn from all this today. The recognition of national diversity and true federalism through decentralisation is the only way out for the integration of all Nigerians within the same entity.

But if Federal Government insists in wanting to maintain a highly centralised system allowing it to keep control over national ressources, and refuses the value of diversity and of opportune sharing of power, then Nigeria may well fall appart in the coming years. 

The Biafra issue, if mishandled, could well be the best demonstration that no ghost disappears without leaving deep traces.