By Osita Ebiem
Nigeria is going to the polls to elect a president in less than one week. Understandably, there is a high level of apprehension, hence President Obama’s intervention in calling for a fair and peaceful election. This fear has remained a permanent feature in Nigeria since the inception of the country fifty something years ago. The country has never been a united country. It is a forced marriage of incongruent peoples with irreconcilable cultural and religious differences. The fear of disintegration remains a permanent scepter that continues to pervade and dog every social fabric and all events of nationwide proportion. The truth is that one (united) Nigeria is a fluke while a divided Nigeria is more realistic.
In less than ten years after its independence from the British in October 1, 1960 Nigeria descended into a bloody war of genocide and ethnic cleansing of its Igbo population. The war was fought along ethnic/religious divide. It was known as Biafra-Nigeria war or Biafra War. Before the war began in 1967 there was a pogrom. The Nigerian government in the year preceding the war directly through its military, paramilitary establishments and a mobilized citizenry carried out the mass murder of a section of its citizens; the Igbo population and the other easterners. In this 1966 massacre more than 100,000 Igbo people and some other easterners were killed. They were killed simply for who they are and not for any crimes committed by them.
The massacre forced the people to embark on the quest for self-determination and independence since they had been driven out of every part of Nigeria back to their ancestral homeland. They determined that since they were no longer accepted in Nigeria and their safety was no longer guaranteed by the Nigerian government therefore they should be able to find safety and a home within their own place. So they seceded and declared their homeland, the former Eastern Region independent from Nigeria and called the new country Republic of Biafra. The ethnic people that made up the majority of the new country are the Igbo. And they were the people that the other Nigerians wanted to exterminate from the face of the Earth.
Unfortunately, Nigeria declared a war of aggression against Biafra after their secession. But it was actually something like swiping a fly with a sledge hammer because the Nigerian government was armed to the teeth and well supplied with weapons by the British government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson and the USSR. Biafrans were practically unarmed and only fought back because they were faced with imminent total annihilation.
Nigeria went into the war with a central slogan – “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” And this is the same slogan that President Obama borrowed to use in his address when he was urging Nigerians to conduct a fair and peaceful election. The President was misled by whoever that let him use that slogan. The slogan was born out of crisis, how can anyone call for peace while using a phrase that stinks of blood, hatred and destruction? The President may have meant well but he got it all wrong using the slogan. That phrase is a genocidal slogan that led to the unjust slaughter of more than 3 million Igbo people some fifty years ago.
“To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done” was used by the Nigerian state and its citizens to commit genocide against Igbo people and the other Biafrans. For every Igbo person alive today the sound of that phrase opens up an old festering wound and it’s very painful. Igbo people will demand for an apology from President Obama for hitting them at their weakest point. For President Obama to have used that slogan it shows that he is either insensitive about a people’s pain or that he was being plain ignorant of their pain. Whichever way, the impact is the same, President Obama pricked the Igbo wound and it is only right that the President of the United States of America should correct this mistake. The President must convince the Igbo and Biafrans that he does not support genocide or any other form of crime against humanity as was committed by Nigeria against Igbo people. That slogan reminds every Igbo person about the genocide and war crime they suffered through and it does not befit the use of by any world leader, and not the President of the United States of America.