“And the Ibos [Igbo] have started again about the Biafra. You know what? I am ready to go to the next war if there’s going to be a balkanization of this country.” (Nigerian Tribune February 27, 2016.) That is how Alabi Isama is quoted as his response to a journalist’s question on the current Igbo quest for secession from Nigeria. Isama was a Nigerian army officer who served during the Biafran War. He fought on the Nigerian side. It is even reported that he recently wrote a book about the war.
The current Balkan states are those European states within the Balkan region that emerged in the twilight days of the Ottoman Empire. They were larger union states that broke up into smaller units or countries at the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Some of them had existed in unpleasant unions for centuries. But during the balkanization era they all broke up. The break ups happened despite the resistance of many battle hardened generals who had seen real battles against armies that were equally well-armed during the imperial days when men built empires and annexed vassal states by the force of arms. Some of these Balkan army generals were career military men – from their teenage years till old age, they fought wars. Still, they were unable to prevent or stop the balkanization of the Balkan states when the time came.
Alabi Isama and others like him only saw action for a brief period of less than three years during the Biafra War years. And it was against an army that lacked arms while Isama’s side was armed to the teeth. In another place Isama himself admitted that his advises were hardly ever heeded by his fellow officers during the Biafran War. This means that he was not reckoned with by his fellow Nigerian army officers. So, does he now believe that should there be another war that anyone will listen to what he had to say? Isama says that he is a retired Nigerian army officer who fought in the Biafra War on the Nigerian side and yet at 76 he does not draw pension from the army. Did he retire honorably from the army or was he dismissed?
When comparing the current Boko Haram Islamic insurgency, Isama claimed to have finished off the Maitasine Islamic terrorism of 1976 in 15 days. But in the process Isama betrayed how behind the time in current affairs that he is. When he went ahead to repeat the well-rehearsed deceptive line about the killing of Yusuf the leader of Boko Haram as the reason for its winning streaks against the Nigerian state. If he were following events correctly he would have been sincere enough to admit that the Maitasine group had mostly bows, arrows and machetes and yet it took the combined forces of the army and police 15 days to defeat them as he claimed. On the contrary, Boko Haram is a different ball game. They are well-armed with steady inflow of Sunni Islamic up-to-date arms from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other places. What is even more important is that the entire rank and file of the present Nigerian army and all government functionaries are infiltrated by Boko Haram. So in the current Nigeria, how does Isama expect that Boko Haram will fight against Boko Haram and win over Boko Haram?
The Ottoman Empire failed largely because as Muslims dominated empire it started toying with the oppressive Islamic political system of government and ideology. The empire’s fall was rapid and its leaders started looking for escape goats. The three Pasha brothers turned inwards to find the “enemies” of the empire. The Christians within the empire were it. They became the easy targets. The Christians were accused of being responsible for everything that was wrong with the empire. The Muslim leaders agreed that the solution to all the empire’s problem was the extermination of all the Christians. The Assyrian Christians, the Greek Orthodox Christians and the Armenian Christians, all came under attack. These Christians were summarily executed, looted, burnt alive, crucified on crosses and others were marched into the desert where they perished from diseases and starvation. In the end, just the Armenian Christians alone lost over 1.5 million of their population to the Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Christians. (The present Turkey is the successor state of the Ottoman Empire.) The empire cleaned itself of its Christian population.
The Armenian Genocide took place in 1915, around the time of the First World War. The Ottoman Empire, in the heat of hatred and intolerance, became a genocidal empire and did not survive to witness WWII. The Balkan part of the empire were balkanized before the start of WWII. All the balkanizable states were balkanized before the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. We may not have the time to go into details here, but the natural end for all genocidal states is balkanization.
I do not know what kind of war that Isama plans to fight when he threatened that he would go to war if need be to prevent the balkanization of the Nigerian union. Unfortunately, he failed to take into account the fact that the world of 2016 is very different from the world of 1967. The present agitation for Igbo or Biafra’s independence from Nigeria is through peaceful means. There may not be any need to go to war this time for Igbo people to free themselves from Nigeria. We hope to God that there should be no need for any war to do this. But should we have to fight again, since Igbo freedom from Nigeria is non-negotiable, then we need to remind people like Isama that the general and specific rule of engagement will be far different from what it was during the 1967 to 1970 war. Should the Igbo have to fight another war to free itself from Nigeria, Isama will need to be reminded that the British and the Russian governments of today will not make their war arsenals exclusively available for Nigeria’s use as it was the case the last time. Isama may need to be reminded that much of the resources needed to negotiate for the arms for the battles are within the Igbo territory and the investors will rather negotiate with the owners this time around.
Starting from end of May 1966, the Nigerian state and its citizens embarked on the pogrom of the Igbo throughout the country. By May 30, 1967 when Biafrans declared a unilateral independence from Nigeria, the country of Nigeria had successfully cleansed itself of its Igbo population. More than 100,000 Igbo and other Biafrans had been killed in the ethnic/religious cleansing that lasted about one whole year. After Biafra’s independence, by early July the same year, Nigeria declared war against the young republic and invaded Biafra’s territory on the 6th of July. Starting from July of 1967 till January, 1970 the Nigerian state engaged in what clearly became a genocidal campaign – to completely exterminate the Igbo from the face of the Earth. By 1970, more than 3 million Igbo and other Biafrans – about one quarter of the population perished through Nigeria’s genocidal program of starvation, indiscriminate bombing, strafing, mortar shelling, etc.
With the attempted total extermination and the successful partial extermination of the Igbo for who they are and not for any crime they committed, the Islamic Nigerian state became a genocidal state. And the natural end of every genocidal state is nigerianization or the partitioning of the country. Just as the Balkans lent their name for balkanization to stand for dividing up of incongruent and dysfunctional states in Europe so will Nigeria become the byword for the partitioning of the incongruent and dysfunctional colonial Berlin states in Africa south of the Sahara. In the end, there is nothing that Isama and others like him can do about it.
Written by Maazi Osita Ebiem.