The Igbo man have been the barometer for measuring where to situate your business. There is this saying that if you travel anywhere and you do not see an Igbo man there, run, the people of that place must be really bad. Deep inside the coldest parts of Europe all the way to the deepest sides of South Africa, you will find the Igbo man doing business, plying his trade, and this did not start today. Olaudah Equaino was an Igbo slave and he became the first slave to address the congress in England towards the abolition of the slave trade. He wrote his autobiography, far back in Seventeen ninety - something - The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Gustavus Vassa, The African. I read the book, and I have a printed copy (You can get it on-line). Never read a book so beautiful. It stirred my Igbo pride.
He was the first to compare the Igbo Way of life to the Jewish way of life. The proposition that Igbo people are from Jew was derived from the evidence he prescribed in his book of the similarities of their two ways of life. He relayed man's inhumanity to his fellow man, in the most vivid way, and also displayed the joy of finding Jesus and how Jesus can change a man's life regardless of race, colour, social background and location. When I finished the book, I realized where the ilks of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie came from, from a great scion of intelligentsia that changed their world in the most subtle manner, and with the most likely or unlikely instrument - their pen.
I can't start writing of all the great Igbo men of yore and the present, The King Jaja of Opobo (The first Oil magnate in the Bight of Biafra (also called Bight of Bonny), the easternmost section of the Gulf of Guinea), the king that held the white invaders who had come to take "their" possessions by force, after the Berlin Conference on Africa, to standstill, The Great Zik of Africa, and fast forward to Chiwetel Ejiofor, actor, screen writer, Emmy Award Winner. I am not even going to talk about the prowess of the Igbo man in business. But I must write of the courage of the Igbo Man to fight for his place and his right, afterall the Igboman believes that "eji ro ntigbu a ghalu ogu" (You don't refuse to fight, because you may be beaten).
The Igboman and other Easterners refused the tyranny of time after the first Nigerian coup of Jan 1966 and said in our today's parlance "enough is enough" of all the killings in the North. Ojukwu told Gowon, "We must form a confederacy" - whatever a confederacy meant to them both "Or we look for an alternative", after Gowon reneged, Ojukwu declared to him, on behalf of all the easterners, "On Aburi We stand". Ojukwu bravely chose the highway of BIAFRA (named after the Bight of Biafra) for the Igbo people and their nearest neighbours from across the Niger rather than the wanton killing and proposed annihilation that became the order of those days in the North and South of Nigeria. Gowon declared police action, the Nigeria Army shot the first gun in Nsukka, and the conflict, which we came to refer to as the Civil War began and the rest became history.
For 3 years the Easterners fought gallantly, the men fought, the women fought. They built Ogbunigwe (their indigenous bomb), created the war time propaganda machine, wrote the Ahiara Declarations, and held on inspite of the great trauma and death that characterized that time. They believed that a man who had been rejected by others does not reject himself. There is virtually no Igbo person today whose relations did not have a taste of the war. It was as if time stood still to reckon this time of great distress. Most Easterners cannot tell a complete story without making reference to the war. They will say things like "My parent met in Ibadan immediately after the war", "my wife's uncle got married during the war", "my aunt had a baby just after they evacuated Onitsha when the war started", "I was born after the war", "my uncle lived in the north before the war". everything either happened before the war, during the war or after the war! A common Igbo parlance developed along side "Agha ajoka" meaning "War is very bad". Any average Igbo man with the slightest recollection of history will flee at the rumour of any war.
My friends from the South of Nigeria today cannot come close to fathoming our "fixation" to the war. They say, "don't talk about the war", they question why we are so fixated on the war. They call people who write about the war war mongers, they censor any movie about the war and quickly try to wave off any discussion that revolves around the war. They think, "if you don't talk about the war, the memory will fade and we can all forget about it". I do not blame them, they only heard stories of the war from Frederick Forsythe and the British media, they did not lose fathers, mothers, close relatives, their lives were not upset, their wealth did not disappear, they did not wake with a limb gone because of bomb, they did not hear of the uncle that joined Ojukwu's commando and died at the river Niger. They never heard sounds of shellings that sounded stranger than fiction, they did not have uncles that wrote propaganda, managed airstrips, cooked stock fish that took days of soaking in water to soften, drank egg yolk to give them enough protein to cure them from kwashiokor, became refugees and finally could not thank God enough the day they heard the great news "The War Is Over, everybody go home".
The interesting thing is that the men that participated in the war don't talk about it. They keep it in the deep recesses of their hearts and only tell pieces of it if you succeed at prying it out of them just so you can give them peace and leave them alone. They give short burst of the pains and also the "enjoyment", they sometimes tell tales of how they survived, or of how they used to live in the North or in Yoruba land before the evacuation began. They thoroughly felt the war, and were eternally satisfied, having had their fill of it. They want a life in one country where everyone lives in peace. They want to be able to live anywhere they choose in the new Nigeria without fear or discrimination. No one who truly remembers the war wants it again. They buried Biafra and all its paraphernalia never to raise it up again. If you don't believe, ask your uncles and let them tell you stories that will leave you crying all night. Even Ojukwu who was the hero or the villain, depending on which side of the coin you stood, buried it without a book about it. He moved on after seeing the extent of human suffering of that time, leaving the analysis to anyone who was interested in telling the story of who became villain or hero.
So when I hear people say they are MASSOB, and that they are agitating for the realization of Biafra, I laugh in vernacular, they don't know what they are talking about. They need to go and ask their fathers. The more they forment trouble, the more I think to myself, "these people either have amnesia, or someone told them Biafra's story from the other side of the bed". Apart from that, I doubt if they understood the ideals of the then anticipated Biafra, or the circumstances that led to the struggle in the first place. If no one told them, they could at least read. If all they read was just the Ahiara Declaration, the speech Ojukwu made at the 2nd anniversary of the civil war as they sailed the ship of the new Country, they would have seen that those men were not just some bunch of trouble makers and jobless youth who thought that by disturbing the peace of everyone else, they could get some respite of their own.
Formenting trouble everywhere and fighting over the pages of newspaper, to me, desecrates the blood of all those men and women from the then Biafra and Nigeria who fought or had to die for or against the course, so we all can have a better nation today. It desecrates the blood of the hundreds of thousands of children who died from malnutrition just because they were on one side of a struggle that they neither created nor knew anything about.
When they carry placards everywhere and gather other restive youths, they show that they did not know the history that led inadvertently to the crisis that befell our nation. That up until the coup led by Kaduna Nzeogwu, Easterners, Northerners and Southerners lived and worked together as one people, and in peace. Igbos lived and thrived in Yoruba land and Hausa land, and vice versa. That Ojukwu himself had a career that thrived in Kano where he managed the 5th Battalion of the Nigerian Army up until the coup, and he was one of the officer who held on to ensure the coup did not succeed as planned. That Nnamdi Azikiwe worked with Herbert Macauly ( a hero of Yoruba Origin), and then the likes Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and others too numerous to mention to work out the details of our independence.
They also obviously did not know that the thought of Biafra was an extreme alternative to the inability to find lasting peace to quell the grave disturbances that began in the north as an aftermath of coup d'etat. That the spirit of Biafra was to force a revolution against ineptitude, oppression, nepotism, poverty and lack of equal rights for all men, a problem that we all face today regardless of our ethnicity.
Instead of "Massobing", you need to start thinking of how to educate the teaming mass of Igbo youths, and how to build infrastructure and bring development to Igbo land. Instead of gathering a few youths and "massobing" against a non-existent enemy, you need to be massobing against poverty, against decadence in the government, against illiteracy and against maternal and infact mortality that occur everyday in Igbo land. You need to redirect your energies to better causes that impacts the lives of the Igbo man and improves his lot in this competitive world.
MASSOBians, please read history, and if you can't read, ask your fathers so they can tell you the story of the struggle and the history of the war, so that instead of desecrating the precious blood of the people before us shed to earn us the peace we now enjoy, we focus on making life better for all of us Nigerians regardless of our ethnicity or language, colour or background. We focus on making our nation a better place where there is peace and prosperity!