The story of great men and women are filled with anecdotes. Whether they are true or false, they show peoples admiration of these heroes and heroines of history. For me and many like me Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was one such hero about whom many anecdotes and hagada were created. He was said to have been invited to a function in the South-South region of Nigeria where the exploitation of the people of the region was being discussed. When Emeka was called to make a contribution, he was said to have taken the podium and said “Good morning, Good morning, and Good morning,” and sat down. Like the biblical experience of Jesus taking the scroll and read from the prophet Isaiah that the spirit of the lord is upon him (Lk. 4). That day, according to the holy writ, all eyes were on him expecting to hear what more he had to say. To their disappointment he only told them that the things they heard read were being fulfilled as they listened. My postulation here is that with the Boko Haram onslaught the sentiments that created the Ahiara declaration is being replayed and if we do not take the necessary precaution we may someday hear another good morning or its equivalent.
Should you still be wondering of the sense implied in the good mornings so mentioned, it will be beneficial to understand that the Igbos say that when one awakens it is his morning (mgbe onye ji put aura bu ututu ya). By saying good morning it was as if Emeka was acknowledging that the South-South people are waking up to what is happening to them in the Nigerian state and so deserve to be told good morning. However, the greeting understood in the Nigerian sensibility is like saying welcome to an old/new dawn; welcome that your eyes are now open to what he woke up to many years ago in the Biafran struggle but was frustrated by an unhealthy collusion of the region’s elite with the Nigerian state. Then they were tapped to wake up but they preferred sleeping on the elusive comfort provided by the force at the center. For Emeka, the waking up of the people of the region to the spirit of the struggle now is worth saying good morning to.
The Boko Haram menace is a case calling us all to wake up but it appeared many have chosen to remain asleep. By so doing we stand at the risk of being told good morning someday when some other things unravel. May be the someday need not be thought about because the good morning is already here sieving through the Ahiara declaration by Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. On June 1, 1969 at Ahiara, the leader of the Biafran revolution, Emeka Ojukwu, gave the (in)famous Ahiara Declaration. The declaration was a theoretical framework of the revolution; the why of the struggle, the pain of the struggle, the expectations during the struggle, and the hope the struggle holds. This literary piece of work according to Chinua Achebe in his last work There was a Country (Penguin Books, 2013), was the collective will of the people articulated by the National Guidance Committee that Emeka set up during the struggle. In speaking about why the pains of the struggle seemed not to have drawn the needed international attention, Emeka enumerated that the war against Biafra was guided by racism (because it was about blacks), Arab Muslim expansionism, and white economic imperialism. A rendition of these from the Ahiara declaration reads as follows, “Our struggle has far reaching significance. It is the latest recrudescence in our time of the age-old struggle of the black man for his full status as man. “We are the latest victims of a wicked collusion between the three traditional scourges of the black man—racism, Arab Muslim expansionism, and White economic imperialism.” Reading these lines is the springboard for this reflection and permits me to do the connections as I see them.
First Contention: Racism
Listening to most Western press and commentators the conclusion was that the Boko Haram scourge is as a result of corrupt leadership, poverty, and joblessness. In a way it is like saying, it is what corrupt leadership has brought on the people therefore, they should deal with it themselves. Without downplaying the crime of corruption and all the evil that come with it, questions like this beg for some answers, “Are the struggles in the Ukraine and the Middle East results of corrupt leadership, poverty, and joblessness. May be they are but the coverage of those conflicts have never said a thing about corruption and its aftermath. They have been portrayed as humans attacking other humans which should stop or be stopped by powers with more superior forces. Ahiara declaration spoke of this pattern of argument as racism.
Though there has been some attention now since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, but the initial international anger continues to recede by the day. Equally the rhetoric from the political and cultural configurations in the country is not helping. The opposition parties point to the incident as evidence of the incompetence and the ineptitude of the government in power. According to them, the frightening and growing menace of Boko Haram means that the government of the day has lost the legitimacy to govern since they have failed to guarantee the peace and security of the citizens. As much as it belongs to the government of the day to protect her citizens from the kinds of terror unleashed by groups like Boko Haram, it is evident that there is a palpable reluctance in majority of the political actors from the opposition to call the Boko Haram evil by its name. Boko Haram is a terror franchise determined to claim a religio-political victory. This reluctance stokes the flame of terror because it disheartens the citizenry and emboldens the actors on this war theatre.
Seeing it as a political attack, the ruling party tends to paint the opposition as in cahoots with the insurgents as a way of easing themselves into power. Lastly, those culturally sympathetic to the president see everything as a farce and stage-managed to discredit their champion. In all these, what will you want the international community to conclude? Let them fight it out there even at the expense of killing themselves and wasting resources that could have facilitated the people’s development. Emeka called it racism and it will be another good morning when people wake up to that consciousness.
Second Contention: Arab-Muslim Expansionism
The second index for the determined effort to crush Biafra according to the Ahiara Declaration is that of Arab Muslim expansionism. Have the people woken up to this in the Boko Haram insurgency? I don’t know, but some of the operation of the group queries the suggestion that the group was born by corruption and joblessness. Was it that people have no jobs that they attacked harmless worshippers on Christmas day? That they attacked churches and seminaries? Was it for lack of jobs that they attacked simple citizens struggling to find their daily bread at the Nyanya streets? What corrupt charges can necessitate the abduction of innocent school girls who are in the school to make a better tomorrow for themselves and their families?
More still, what are the terrorists asking in the exchange for the girls? They say “Bring back our army.” They were not asking for money, jobs, or a share in the national cake but their jihadists. Moreover, what job does a suicide bomber get after blowing oneself up?
It is true that Boko Haram as we know it today is political thuggery gone wild. Their origin and marriage with the Borno state government administration seems to be swept under the carpet and how the extra-judicial killing of their leader opened the door for their seeking sponsorship elsewhere. Where did they get that support? I guess to say that they got it from forces of Arab Muslim expansionism. Some of the group’s ideologues think that the Islamic leaders in Nigeria have grown complacent and now in bed with the Nigerian statecraft that is not purely Islamic. It was for these that the group warned the Muslim leaders that they are part pf their target in the cleansing and expansionist war.
The same situation brought threat to others who dare not call the devilish spade by its name. In his recent documentary, America Imagine the World Without Her (July, 2014: Lionsgate Studios) the American conservative critique and commentator, Dinesh D’Souza, indicated that when the USA emerged as a world supper power, she changed the previous political world order characterized by growth through conquest to growth through the freedom of association. Although there are people who will contest this conclusion, nobody will deny that it will be a better world order if people can freely choose where to belong. Is it that Islam is unable to win the argument for the inalienable rights of peoples to pursue their own paths to spiritual happiness that they have adopted the age-long conquest mentality as seen in the Boko Haram push? Emeka saw this and responded to the call by his brethren to fight for the freedom to live in a polity where they would be convinced to choose rather than be coerced to embrace a particular way of life. Yes Biafra lost the battle for territorial self-determination but they held back the forces of Arab Muslim expansionism thereby winning the war of freedom. And with the fear that the logic of freedom, love, and learning is arousing a spring to change the status quo to grow by force, the instinct to survive hijacked the spring to further its expansionist thirst through another wave of conquest. How may this be true? Because the majority who have died in the spring have been Muslims who were perceived or accused as collaborators with forces, which in the long run may shrink the territory that the Arab Muslims are holding sway. When will people wake up to this realization? When will Emeka’s good morning he heard again?
Third Contention: White Economic Imperialism
The third premise is hinged on white economic imperialism. People can give different expressions of this in the Boko Haram conflict. For example where did the thought that it is a Western instigated conflict to actualize the forecast that Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015 come from? A balkanized Nigeria is not to the interest of Nigeria as it exists today but to the interest and glory of those fanning the embers of disintegration. These are the people selling the weapons of war and whose economies are buoyed with the purchase of more arms; those who will step in to grant loans or ask for concessions to rebuild places they supervised their destruction and by so doing gain a greater foothold in the future economies of the disintegrated people. It is not the man who abhors western education that manufactured the military hardware and it takes one who has benefited from western education to learn how to operate them, read the signals, and camouflage the dissemination of information using the channels developed by western education. This impression is supported by the comment of an Analyst as recorded by Dr. S. Okechukwu Mezu (Nigeria Ojukwu Azikiwe Biafra (2012). Baltimore, MD: Black Academy Press) who said, “You see we quit colonizing by force but we colonize by money.” Elaborating how the colonization by money works Mezu, went on to write, “Consequent on this, smiling from the comfort of their distant chair and manipulation, foreign economic and political potentates help sow in Africa the seeds of discord where there is relative peace, and the flames of civil war where there is a misunderstanding. Naturally, this facilitates the cheap exploitation of Africa’s natural resources. . .” (pp. 76—77). Therefore it is not only the pathological hate of western education; it is not only about expansionist Arabism; there is equally the aggressive western economic imperialism. All these put together and complicated by the fact that majority of Nigerians are still asleep to what Emeka woke up and saw decades ago; and for which he became the arrowhead of those who woke up with him but were crushed by forces that benefited from the sleeping giant, are the bane of Nigeria of which the Boko Haram is only an outgrowth.
Surely people can still be deceived that true to their name, it is Boko Haram (Western education is an aberration that needs to be eradicated) because of how they have come to attack schools and truncate people’s education. I don’t buy that. For me it is all about inciting a religious tension in order to actualize the agenda of the tri-forces that Emeka saw and fought against without success decades back. This ploy is intended to exploit the weaknesses of religion which appeals in the mind of many to the fanatical instincts. If not, why did the insurgents not attack the schools where majority of the population are Muslims or do you think that such schools do not exist? Religious wars touch on the faith sentiments of peoples which are seen from the prisms of a do or die thing. That is why some people see religion as opium and an irrational enterprise. Once this irrationality gets the upper hand you can only imagine the level of destruction that can come from it.
The abduction of the girls is a bait for the release of jihadists. The silence of the elite whose region is on fire is evil in intent, in orientation, in execution and definitely in the outcome. The monster which grew as political thuggery gone wild, can grow even madder to choke up the space for any rule of decency in the future. Learn from the Biafran enclave that had no armed robbery, for instance, before the civil war and what came to be after the war since all the weapons can never be mopped when hostilities end. The sleep today is creating the seed ground for an uncontrollable evil wind tomorrow.
I therefore applaud every structure in the government and peoples of Nigeria that have thread the path of sanity rather than embrace the insanity that plays into the hands of the three forces which Emeka saw as the enemy of the black man. On behalf of everything and anything we hold dear as a nation I plead that we should wake up now. The Igbos say, “Taa bu Gboo” (today is early enough). Most importantly we should all accept that these forms of brazen madness are alien to our African spirit. Ours is a communitarian cosmology where life is sacred, where the concept of live and let live is observed, and where the sense of taboo is part of the moral proposition. Let us all wake up to know when we are being used against ourselves. Now is the time and when we miss it tomorrow will be characterized by passion of unhinged lost opportunities which no fanaticism can recapture. And that tomorrow will be more painful if somebody tells us that day, “Good morning, good morning, good morning.”
Uju Okeahialam, PhD
(August 5, 2014)