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By Farouk Martins Aresa
There is no other place Ndi-Igbo are loved or cherished more than in their own Country, from the South to North. Even just before secession of Biafra, which was one of the lowest points in Ndi-Igbo history, more people throughout their Country empathize with them. More youths in the schools were supporting Ojukwu until the war actually started. Unfortunately, many events did overshadow the story of bravery of men and women that took unusual risks on both sides.
These risks, in and outside Biafra enclave never gain enough traction or respect after the war. It has got to a point where all the stories we hear about are those that hate the Igbo and who the Igbo hate. These stories are packaged and re-told over and over again to create more animosity for future generation. There are so many out there, one would think Nigerians never loved one another throughout their history and only married casualties of war to express dominance.
Going back to the East and leaving your loved ones behind was a very difficult and emotional decision for interethnic couples and their children. This was why some Yoruba and Hausa had to follow their families back to the East. Unfortunately, only very few of those confidential families “secret” during the war (were told) dare tell; some are reluctant even today in the East. Those who did are not enough. More of these stories have to come out.
It was the same on the other side of Biafra, where people hid Igbo they loved and cherished from the Nigerian Army. As we later found out, some of the Army officers themselves had Igbo relatives in hiding or at home. Most of the boarding schools including those in the North kept their Igbo students away from sight in case some Nigerian Army might invade their schools.
It is not a story of “them say”. This writer was a student at Ondo Boys High School while fighting was raging some miles away at Ore. Actually about two of the dormitories were vacated for Nigeria Army and the wounded were treated at a hospital nearby. The brother of our Principal was an officer at the War Front. Anyone old enough knew Captain Iluyomade or late Canon Iluyomade that later became the Principal of International School, Ibadan.
Go, get him! Canon Iluyomade had Igbo students hiding in his school while his own brother was fighting Biafra Army at Ore. He was not the only principal that did that, all the schools in Ondo and all over Nigeria did. Most of the student knew that and none of them informed the Army. Whenever Nigerian soldiers challenged anyone on the street, crowd would gather prevailing on them that whoever it was, was our son. No soldier dared challenge any woman.
Indeed, this writer was challenged in his father’s car. There was no fear whatever, but disgust from a little boy for that soldier. He was drunk and unruly asking for his Yoruba mark. The point here is that most in the community loved and supported our Igbo brothers and sisters. Many of us did not want to separate from our Igbo relatives and they did not want to separate from us.
History must be told and lesson must be learned to prevent the same mistakes made in the past. So there are two sides to a story just as there is a third side to the same story from neutral or a disinterested party. Perpetrating atrocious stories from each side without balancing them with the factual story that we also loved and cherished one another is a disservice to these children.
Children that were not born during the Nigeria/Biara war are telling stories passed on by those that felt so bitter that they do not want to remember the days they loved and cherished their Nigerian brothers and sisters just as they were loved and cherished by the same Nigerians. What these children fail to realize is that stories of conquered and conqueror, victims and oppressors, hosts and guests, disenfranchised and perpetrators, oppressed and oppressors vary.
Ndi-Igbo still boils thinking about their dead and wounded common people just as Hausa think about their dead and wounded leaders. Both have learned never to cross one another’s path again. Sandwiched between them are the Yoruba and minorities that also lost their leaders and common people. However, the reactions of the three main ethnic groups and the minorities are not given due respect, demonizing even benefactors, in the different stories they passed on.
Some people have made careers out of Igbo/Yoruba/Hausa hatred. None of them has been able to justify why Hausa fight one another, why Yoruba fight one another or why Igbo fight one another. Please there is no intention here to trivialized or minimize the act of war brothers wage on one another. But this notion that Nigeria has existed for one hundred years and we have never loved one another must be put into proper perspective.
Ethnic and civil wars in Africa are not only Nigeria/Biafra problems in particular but an African problem in general. Some have justified and portrayed it as Africans without respect for human dignity or life, treating one another worse than slave masters from other continents. Whether we persecute within ethnicities or not, Ife/Modakeke or Aguleri/Umuleri wars are no different from Somali with the same culture and language or to South Sudan based on ethnic loyalty.
It is unfortunate that in Africa where we are our brothers’ keeper and it takes a whole village to raise a child, we are fragmented by unhealthy rapacious competition. Economic opportunism serving the least amount of people rather than the greatest number of people has overtaken our communities and generosity has been replaced by individual greed to convert as much as possible for personal harem and into families’ bounties.
Most African leaders have turned a town, village or family into different states and countries to rule. It does not end when one ethnic try to dominate or colonize another. This does not in any way justify so many wars in Africa spanning from competition between hosts and guests.
Opinion article written by Farouk Martins Aresa
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