It is with great pleasure and a sense of awesome humility that I come before this history making gathering to air my views on a subject that resides at the very heart of this great nation.
The Ahiara Declaration as an event stands alone as a thing that if remembered, pondered about and ruminated upon by Nigerians, could revolutionize our thoughts towards Nigerian nationhood for the better. The pity is that till now, it has not received the attention required by the events and vision that birthed it.
The Ahiara Declaration was brought by events set in a particular time frame of Nigeria’s political, economic, social and developmental history. Some of the players were mediocre in thought and actions, some banal, some irrational and destructive, some deceitful and unpatriotic and some – the Ahiara Declarants, visionary, focused and bold.
The events that brought about the circumstances that incubated the Ahiara Declaration, ironically is best captured and echoed by Major General Philip Effiong at the demise of the Biafran Nation – the very object of the Declaration in his surrender statement delivered on January 12, 1970 as follows:…..Throughout history, injured people have had to resort to arms in their self-defence where peaceful negotiations fail. We are no exception. We took up arms because of the sense of insecurity generated in our people by the events of 1966. We have fought in defense of that cause.”
The major players that developed the Ahiara Declaration as a principle embodied in a document were drawn into their roles by events. President Ojukwu read the Declaration on 1st June, 1969.
The declaration took a vehement stand against the corruption that existed in Nigeria and were linked to the events that brought the creation of Biafra. It also cried out against the same corruption taking a hold in Biafra. Imperialism on the part of the western world was also decried, the solution being true patriotism among Biafrans. The declaration noted strongly that Biafrans were victims of racism, Arab/Muslim expansionism with a view towards hegemony and western economic imperialism. This was the spirit of the Declaration.
The Ahiara Declaration was born of terrible events in our history. The aim of the Declaration was to provide tenets whereby the nation of Biafra would exist in strength and security. Be it far from me to think of suggesting secession, no, but I do suggest that we learn from the events and circumstances that led to the secession of Biafra and the aftermath.
The conditions, which existed in 1966 – 1969 as identified in the Declaration still exist today. Corruption has increased to the extent that it has become institutionalized in our system and accorded accolades. Racism has been given a new meaning in our country. Now, not only do we have to contend with racial forces from without but the ones we generate amongst ourselves. A person cannot do anything in Nigeria today without presenting a certificate of origin indicating a person’s village, even to his family hamlet. Indeed a married woman cannot have a certificate of origin from her husband’s state, local government area or village. Are we really one Nigeria? How can we battle the ills of external racism when we discriminate even against our spouses? Despite being vehemently lamented against, racial segregation remains firmly entrenched in our polity.
Had we paid attention to the spirit of the Ahiara Declaration, we would have had an insight into the visionary thoughts of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumgwu-Ojukwu and his contemporaries who so many years ago foresaw in Arab/Muslim expansionism tendencies the Boko Harams of today killing our people in their places of worship – the very bosom of life decimated. Secession was the clarion call for the day. On 30th May, 1967 Colonel Ojukwu announced the creation of the state of Biafra.
Contrary to what a particular trend of thought advocates, Biafra was not an Igbo endeavour. Those of us who were close to the helm of its affairs and not of Igbo origin seem to be more acutely aware of this fact. A review of some of the then Lt. Col. Ojukwu’s top administrative staff should throw some light on the across the board (of Eastern Nigeria) nature of the Biafran administration. These men led by Colonel Ojukwu along with their Igbo counterparts were the creators of the Ahiara Declaration, they include Maj. Gen. Philip Effiong, A. Ekukinam Bassey, Eyo Ita, O. U. Ikpa, Mathew T. Mbu, Ignatius Kogbara, Okokon Ndem, Ntienyong U. Akpan, Chief A. E Udofia and many others.
Lt. Col. Ojukwu did not just embark on secession without trying dialogue and diplomatic alternatives that could ensure peaceful co-existence with the rest of Nigeria. The Aburi accord reached after a meeting mediated by President Afrifah of Ghana in Aburi, Ghana on 4th and 5th January, 1967 was the hope to avoid hostilities. The federal side reneged on agreements reached at the meeting. This duplicity on the federal side did much to heighten the insecurity of the Easterners.
It can be strongly argued that the feeling of insecurity amongst the Easterners of the time led to the secession and consequent outbreak of war. The mode of prosecution of the war by the federal side contributed further to a heightened sense of insecurity. The most potent weapon used was that of economic blockade. This weapon targeted the masses and caused starvation in the general populace, the most vulnerable being children, the old and women. More people succumbed to this weapon than to bullets. Complimenting this tactic was the constant shooting down of aid and relief aircraft by the federal side. The Biafran side truly (and with good reason) believed the war was genocidal.
The war well underway, the Biafran President (now) General Odumegwu Ojukwu still quite young but with the vision of a sage commissioned the National Guidance Committee of Biafra to reminisce on pre-Biafran circumstances and the aftermath to that point in time and to come up with the principles of the Biafran Revolution, (now known as people whose actions at the time resulted from their own particular interaction, with the political, economic and social tensions of the time. They were not the prime movers nor kick starters but rather people who found themselves thrown into unspeakable volatile crises with no precedents or a way out. The crises referred to here embody the unstable political status of Nigeria in the 1960s, the riots in the west during that period, prosecution and conviction of top-notch politicians. In these trying times, corruption was rife, there were different strokes for different folks depending on tribal origins. There was general dissatisfaction among the populace. All this fuelled the unfortunate coup de’etat of January, 1966.
At the time these events were taking place the Oxford-educated young army officer, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, had his command in Kano in Northern Nigeria. Unknown to him, in performing his duty flawlessly, and without any political guide, he was paving the way for the Ahiara Declaration. The young Colonel went against what was first perceived as a popular and corrective coup to work within the ambits of constituted authority. He followed the proper chain of command and hierarchical loyalty resulting in the foiling of the January 1966 coup efforts in Northern Nigeria. It was also pertinent to note that the purely duty oriented actions of general Aguiyi Ironsi foiled the coup efforts in Lagos.
It was against the backdrop of these events that the pointless and desperately cruel pogroms were carried out against the people of Eastern Nigeria. Thousands died amidst a tacit lack of security measures by the law enforcement agencies.
With the way events played out, it is easy for one to see why the people of the East were ready to secede. They had no choice. Reason did not seem to be playing a part in events as they unfolded. Everything was all about people being Easterners, Northerners or Westerners. Suspicion was palpable. There were incessant killings reported daily and the only basis was tribe. As events lost all condour and got increasingly out of hand, the same man who had dutifully foiled the coup which was one of the catalysts of these events called through proper official channels for an end to be put to the carnage. At this time, Lt. Col. Ojukwu was Military Administrator of Eastern Nigeria. His call at best received lukewarm response. He was forced to go through the agony of a leader watching his people die.
We are all witnesses to the exploitation of our resources and the destruction of our environment. The situation has spawned terrorists out of young men who would otherwise have been useful to the society.
We are victims of the same cancers that birthed the Ahiara Declaration. This is so because we did not pay attention to its lessons. We neglected its message and swept it under the carpet. It is my hope that having revived its spirit, it has come to live amongst us.
Josephine, widow of late Gen. Effiong, Ojukwu’s deputy in Biafra, presented this paper during one of the ceremonies in honour of the late Ikemba in Ahiara, Imo State.
Source: Sun, 2nd March 2012.