I do not know how the great Ikemba of Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu filtered into my mind this morning. Perhaps, it was the angry reflections of the callous killings by the Boko Haram insurgents that took my mind to the gory memory of Biafra and then to Ojukwu. I began to wonder how a 33 years old graduate of Oxford, born with a silver spoon, had the courage to take such a bold position of Biafra at such inconvenient hour. I also reflected that I could have been one of the kwashiorkor-infested kids of Biafra.
But, this morning, it was not the memories of Ojukwu’s gallantry in battle that amazed me. I was rather excited about the transitions he made in his ideas about Biafra and Nigeria as a nation. In his dramatic lifetime Ojukwu had the opportunity of re-examining his life and left for Nigeria a new national ethos – the Biafra of the mind. Shortly before he died, Ojukwu made a very fundamental transition in his belief in Biafra. He moved from Biafra as a geographical and territorial construct to the Biafra of the mind. The concept of Biafra of the mind will continue to live as a legacy and as a burden for mankind till the end of time.
Biafra as was declared by Ojukwu in 1967 was a state with a territory running through the east of the Niger in what was known as the Eastern Region of Nigeria. The existence of this republic ended in 1970 when the beleaguered state surrendered after a three-year bloody war. Indeed, Ojukwu’s declaration of the new Biafra is a deep philosophical and ideological proposal for a new world order. Ojukwu’s Biafra of the mind is an ideal of justice, a metaphor for man’s irrepressible persuasion to stand up against inhumanity and injustice by man to man. It transcends geographical boundaries and ethnic identities. It is no more the struggle of the Igbo for self-determination in the face of organized genocide. It is no more about the 30 months bloody civil war that left in its trail the devastation and despoliation of the Igbo heartland. It is a clarion call for the evolution of “a nation”.
By the Biafra of the mind, Ojukwu left behind not only for Nigeria but for the world a great burden. The challenge is for Nigeria nay the world to replace the Biafra of bricks and mortar with the ideal of justice, with the emerging state called “the nation”. A nation lives in the mind. It cannot be legislated into existence but built through a conscious effort. It is not also defined by a geographical space. It is the new emerging community of commonality. Ojukwu’s Biafra of the mind is about the new nation where a group of different people feel a strong sense of common heritage and pursue a common destiny while upholding the principle of egalitarianism and justice for all. It is a world where we shall all be united by our common humanity.
Nigeria has a great challenge to break all the walls and barriers of the old Biafra and replace it with the new Biafra of the mind. The senseless killings by the Boko Haram terrorists is a sad reminiscent of the old Biafra. So long as anyone is discriminated against on the basis of his ethnic identity in the workplace or in any other group in Nigeria or elsewhere, the old Biafra continues to live. Nigeria must strive to break off from all barriers that give rise to violence.
Ojukwu’s Biafra of the mind is also not only about the ideal of justice but also about the inherent nature of man to rise up, at the nick of time and at a very precarious moment, against the forces of oppression and injustice. In the Ahiara Declaration, the principle of the Biafran revolution, Ojukwu goes back in time to recall the historic journey of man for self-determination. ” It was good for the Greeks in 1822, for the Belgians in 1830, and for the Central and Eastern Europeans and the Irish at the end of the First World War,” he declares. The message here is that a system of injustice remains self-destructive and humanity will always desire and fight for a change.
The issues that gave rise to the Niger Delta uprising which culminated into a full-scale arm-struggle are reminiscent of the Biafra of brick and mortar. The June 12 debacle that gave rise to the disturbances of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the west a decade ago fall within the genealogy of the old Biafra. The suppressed anger and frustration of the people over the long-drawn autocracy in the Arab world that needed the courage of the Algerian fruit seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, to explode bore the same traces of the old Biafra. In Nigeria, the conspiracy of the political class that has resulted in the failure of leadership and the suffering of the masses is a contamination of the Biafra of brick and mortar. In a nutshell, any act of injustice or inhumanity represents the cankerworm which is encapsulated in the entire construct of Biafra while the Biafra of the mind is the essential ideal to which humanity must commit itself.
The Biafra of the mind must be the new aspiration. It must be the new mandate for leadership through the three tiers of power in a democracy. In our long anthropological movement, society has emerged from pre-historic era or stone age through many interregnums to civilization and then to sovereign states and countries. The next journey of humanity is the evolution of the “nation” or the Biafra of the mind where there will be unity in diversity, where all races, minorities and people shall be nothing but citizens with equal rights and privileges. This is the dream of the great Ikemba.
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