- Businesses shut in honour of fallen heroes
There was near-total compliance with the order to sit at home by two pro-Biafra campaigners, MASSOB and IPOB, in nine states of the south-east and south-south zones of Nigeria, on Wednesday, in commemoration of the 51st anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra by then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
The declaration by Ojukwu on May 30, 1967, led to a full-blown war on July 6 of that year between Biafra and other parts of Nigeria. But the declaration had been preceded by a coup on July 15, 1966, massacres of Igbo civilians in parts of the then Northern Region, and a revenge coup that claimed the life of Nigeria’s first military leader Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi and several military officers of Igbo extraction.
The first coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna was popular nationwide until the people of the Northern Region viewed it as an “Igbo coup” because it failed in the Eastern Region where Igbo politicians were spared.
Biafra has been in the hearts and minds of many Ndigbo, as they lost an estimated 3million people, most of them civilians who were slaughtered in their homes or on the roads but not on warfronts, between July 6, 1967, and January 15, 1970. There were many casualties on the Nigeria side too.
Observance of “Biafra Day” every May 30, according to the organisers of the “sit at home” protest, is “an honour to the gallant and eloquent soldiers of Biafra and civilians that bravely laid down their lives for the establishment of Republic of Biafra”.
Some state governors such as those of Ebonyi and Anambra issued threats in advance, but markets, shops and other businesses remained shut in most towns and cities in the south-east and south-south, while Ndigbo in the diaspora – in all continents of the world – also observed the remembrance.
Soldiers, policemen and other security agents were deployed in many cities, but they had little job to do, except in Abakaliki where they reportedly patrolled on helicopters and forced people from their homes to engage in economic activities.
In the past, the Nigerian authorities came down hard on IPOB and MASSOB protesters, shooting and killing many in the process. The federal government declared IPOB a terrorist organisation even though its struggle has been non-violent, a declaration it has not proclaimed on terrorists Boko Haram and armed cattle herders that have killed over 30, 000 and displaced over 3million over the past eight years. IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu was imprisoned for 18 months until May last year. His whereabouts have remained unknown since soldiers allegedly attacked his country-home in Umuahia and killed over a dozen people.
Success of the “sit at home” order made the Nigerian authorities take fright. Even some posts on the social media like Facebook were taken down, while e-rats countered posts by individuals expressing emotional tributes to their fallen heroes. Nevertheless, many from the former Biafran enclave posted pictures of starving children, displaced adults, distressed Biafran soldiers, pictures of fallen Biafran soldiers, different photos of Ojukwu making the declaration in 1967, the Biafran flag and other memorabiliia on media platforms.
Threats to Nigeria’s existence as a corporate entity have come from groups other than MASSOB and IPOB. There have been calls for a restructuring of the Nigerian state to redress claims of marginalisation by especially people from the former Biafran territory.
Most actors of the Nigeria—Biafra war are dead. Only a few including retired generals Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and TY Danjuma are still alive. Ojukwu died on November 26, 2011, at age 78.