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An Eastern Reunion

By Obi Nwakanma, opinion piece, in Vanguard Daily, 1 April 2001

Lagos—One of the important developments, in my reckoning, of the last ten years is the clarification of certain historical untruths about the Nigerian state; by certain irreconcilable events in our polity.

Modern Nigeria has thrived on great falsehood. These untruths were carry-overs, from the last war when a massive propaganda machinery was deployed by both sides of the Nigerian conflict, to win popular support. As an instrument of war, propaganda is effective if only to engage and rearrange our sentiments. But it does seem that the principles that constructed Nigeria's propaganda strategy from 1967 to 1970 were not reviewed in peace time. They were not reviewed because Nigeria went into a constant state of warfare. The federal army, the vandals - was in drunken elation. The soldiers were still in the battlefield, raping, killing and destroying the Nigerian state. The victims were Nigerians.

The war situation and its mentality was fuelled largely because, a clear, honest and just civil process did not go into the resolution of the conflict. The reconstruction process did not lift from the paper upon which it was conceived. The soldiers who negotiated the end of the war, still in their battle gears, saw not a proper state, but a vast prebendal booty: oil fields, money to be made in the heady years of petrodollar boom, huge defence contracts, cement armadas and such things that tempted and convinced them that any reorganization towards a sane society would limit their stake in the entire business. So, therefrom, not statesmen but buccaneers, emerged to direct the proper obituary of Nigeria B a country still writhing in pain from the effects of the three-year war, several years after the last shots rang.

The issue of reconstruction was obscured by the dilemma of choice between the rulers of Nigeria whose personal ambition for power and wealth had to be served: it was in this period that an array of bureaucrats and administrators converged like hawks around a burning fire, to design power in their own image. Among some of the instruments were public policy statements and laws which inscribed the perpetual enslavement of the Nigerian people. One of these, the Petroleum Act of 1969, anteceding the law creating the twelve states, disempowered the active units of the union. That law, was a deal-makers act, which virtually handed Nigeria's vast oil fields to friendly, multinational oil corporations.

Of course, later on, many of these men of power, who designed and pushed that process, found themselves on the boards of these international oil companies. (Many are still there, and are still pushing the decimation of Nigeria, with the deregulation bogey. But that is another story). Before too long, however, it became clear that the critical alliance that won the war, including their civilian collaborators, would have to invent a reason for keeping Nigeria one. That reason would simply obscure the true reasons why the war was fought in the first place. Most Nigerians were, in fact, not aware, that the Nigerian civil war was fought over these same oil fields, located mostly in Eastern Nigeria. Other factors were merely ancillary.

One ludicrous reason which the Federal Government, prosecuting the war on no other justifiable basis found, was its claim that it fought to free the Eastern minority peoples from the oppression and stranglehold of the majority Igbo ethnic group. This was its second most important mantra after the to keep Nigeria one fallacy. But the truth came out last week, from no other figure than the president and commander in chief of this flawed country, General Olusegun Obasanjo. On a visit to one of those scenes of war, now called Bayelsa State, General Obasanjo who also saw the final liquidation of Biafra as commander of the Third Marine Commando, reminded the people on the folly of their agitation for equity, and resource control.

Obasanjo warned them not to forget the last war and its causes: It was a war fought to deny the East of Nigeria the resources on its land. The collaboration of other parts of Nigeria would be understandable, seeing that by 1964, the Eastern region was already touted as the fastest growing economy in the world by secret research reports commissioned by the World Bank and by Harvard University in the United States.

The Eastern Nigerian Economic reconstruction plan (1954-1964) - the ten year plan - drawn by the visionary Zik, and the eminently brilliant Mbonu Ojike, the most acute economic mind of that generation of argonauts, and later fully implemented by the inimitable Michael Okpara, had placed the East on a development route, that by the 1960s all the talk of Igbo domination was merely a metaphor of the progress in the East.

But as it happened, group envy led to war. The irony is that Easterners of the minority ethnic groups, became collaborators in the liquidation of their own society. So thoroughly propagandized to hate and fear their Igbo neighbours, many have sold their birthrights - the resource under their feet - in a bid to achieving an imponderable form of phyrric victory . But it is gratifying, however, that a shift is taking place: the M. T Mbu group that is reconnecting the Eastern peoples to once more glimpse their common dilemma, is a proper challenge. All the new geographies invented to limit Eastern Nigerian capacity to reorganize and challenge the impoverishment of their landscape must be reviewed, by the people themselves.

It is only when ablutions are made, of past misdeed, and truths told, of how the people have been used against each other, that the real nature of the marginalization and destruction of Eastern Nigeria as both a political and economic unit will crystallize. As to the Mbu initiative, I say welcome to the Eastern re-union.