My mission in writing this article is to call to the attention of all Biafranists (those who are campaigning for the freedom of Biafra from Nigeria) to the need to package and sell the Biafran message to the world through appropriate mediums. It does not matter the profession to which anyone of us belongs, I still think that each person can contribute positively to this endearing collective effort to help free the Igbo from Nigeria. I believe that these bits and pieces of contributions, if taken to heart and actually made use of, can help the Igbo to succeed in their quest for freedom and survival. In this piece we are going to talk about the use of positive propaganda in the Biafran freedom effort. We qualify the word “propaganda” with “positive” in the sense that the justness of the Biafran cause is self-evident and does not need any kind of embellishment to sell it to the world.
As will be explained in the later part of this article, part of the above heading in quotes is borrowed from the formula used by the people (our predecessors) who struggled to free the old Biafra from the clutches of the genocidal state of Nigeria. In spite of the many odds which were thrown against them, we all agree that they did a good job in fighting to liberate our people from the shackles of bondage in which they are in Nigeria. Therefore, in the present effort, we are only starting from where they stopped. As a word of caution, we repeat that “propaganda,” at least as used in this context, does not connote any negativity.
As the campaign for freedom rages on, it will not hurt if the present campaigners should borrow ideas from the pioneers. In my opinion, by so doing, it’s like borrowing ideas from experience and if we are faithful and honest, I don’t think we will go off the mark by a wide margin. As will be remembered, the Biafrans of old had among others a very effective “Directorate of Propaganda” where notable figures like Cyprian Ekwensi, Okon Okon Ndem and others performed creditably well. Biafra’s Directorate of Propaganda coordinated and oversaw the dissemination of information throughout the genocidal war period. Following closely the lessons of history is important especially in a matter such as we are engaged in.
In order to learn from history, I will suggest that we try to use more often the rearview mirror and compare notes with the works of those who had been in this business before us. The importance of references to history in the struggle cannot be over emphasized. While depending on the lessons of history by glancing often at the rearview mirror, we must not overlook the fact that all successful drivers are only those who take seriously the dangers of their blind spots. So, apart from using the rearview mirror, experience has shown that you will never become a good driver without taking time to look sideways and listen to cautionary advices from fellow travelers who may have some vantage views of the road you are on. The best way to deal with blind spots is to listen and act first and ask questions later. If you thought that you saw something at the corner of your eye, then you must have seen something, take precautionary action. What this means is that absolute caution is important. And one of the first rules of caution in this business is to listen often to the opinions of others.
To truly get our jobs done right today as the pioneers did, we must set out our goals and clearly define them. That is what the people who worked in the various “directorates” of the old Biafra did. By taking time to assess the events and accomplishments of the pioneers, I have come to the conclusion, and many of us will agree with me on this; that of all the Biafran directorates, the propaganda outfit was one of the most successful. The reason for their success was simple. They worked out of a template; they had a “guideline.” No one was a law unto their selves. Everyone’s effort was subject to the scrutiny and assessment of another. Then again, they spoke in the language that appealed to all decent and informed listeners as well as to the regular Ngbeke and Ngbafor on the streets of Enugu, London, New York and Paris. Yes, they spoke in the language of the world. They delivered their urgent and important message to the world, still tempered with respect and journalistic excellence and decorum.
I want to remind us that talking about the success of those pioneers is not based on the judgement or assessment of only those of other Biafrans; no, they were successful mostly because they produced materials and information that met both the internal and international audiences’ standards. They told the truth, pursued excellence and as well as being in earnest, they were sincere and honest.
Why did they and of course we today have to cater to both internal and external audiences? Well, the answer as we may imagine is obvious. It is because whatever message that must be passed on should make sense as well as palatable (consumable) to audiences that are total strangers to our experience and message and to those who know all there is to know about them. Whatever part we are playing at this time in this Biafran liberation effort, the overall goal should be that we are ultimately able to present a comprehensive and convincing message that is honest, sincere, reliable as well as believable. It is only after we have succeeded at this task can we truly consider to have done our job. I believe that those qualities are mostly what will get a stranger listening, to get interested, listen more and understand better our plight and become sympathetic and maybe lift a finger or more to speak and act in our favor.
Producing only messages that are parochial and appeal to a narrow segment of the general audience will only work to defeat the overall goal. It is important that we should work to capture the attention of the international community through the way we present our message. Why we should be careful and court the sympathy of the international audience can be illustrated like this; when a person is sick, very often it is only right that he or she needs to go out to seek for solution. Remaining inside the house and shouting one’s throat hoarse to listeners who are already familiar with their case and may not have all the answers does not always bring healing.
To help us in packaging an acceptable message for the international community we need to always remember that as the theme of our message: Igbo Genocide, though very painful is not unique. Other people in other places and at other times have also suffered like us. Always remembering this will help us to stay both humble as well as sympathetic with other people’s stories and whatever else they are going through. Exhibiting this empathetic attitude should not stop with appreciating the pain or concerns of others of similar experiences; we must not be oblivious of the complaints and concerns of our detractors or persecutors. We must find ways to engage even our worst enemy in constructive diplomatic dialogs at all times. The feelings of all humanity are the same, whether they are in the rank of the perpetrators of the genocide or are the victims of the crime.
Therefore, even when we find ourselves at the receiving end of genocidal injustices as it is, we are still required to look at our pain and those who are responsible through the glass of a common humanity. In the middle of man’s worst inhuman acts against the Igbo we cannot afford to lose faith in humanity. By resorting to insults and unconstructive criticisms of the enemy shows a sign of desperation. We cannot afford to despare, we must find ways to let others find their story in our own as we try to learn everything which we can from the others’ stories. Some of these others like the Armenians, the Jews, the South Sudanese and others have fought and won while others are still fighting and there are those who fought and lost. We can learn a lot from the experiences of these other people, if we tried hard enough.
What we are saying is that it runs counter to the overall aim of the struggle for Biafra’s freedom to continue producing desperate and angry messages that shock and assault what most people consider the standard sense of decency. Continuing along this path will not sustain for long the patronage and sympathy of our audience. And when we talk of the people or the audience here, who we have in mind are those whose opinions and decisions matter in situations like ours – opinion molders and decision makers across the world.
Every person who is familiar with the Biafran story will agree with me that it is possible to maintain an objective position while making the strongest case for justice in regards to Biafrans’ pains. While presenting the Biafran case in the strongest of terms, we can still respect the feelings of other people, listen genuinely to any counter argument and still not compromise the message. Listening to the opinions of other people does not diminish our points or positions. That we defend our points in a civil manner against those of others does not mean their points will automatically win over our own. Only superior arguments win always in the end of the day.
At this point let me remind us of the initial point we made at the beginning of this discussion about goal setting. Setting appropriate goals will help us to determine the methods we plan to use in achieving them. I hope that most Biafranists will agree that the number one goal which of course happens to encompass all others is the attainment of freedom for us, for our people and for our fatherland. As much as we all agree that this goal is right and noble yet from experience we also know that because a case is right does not automatically make it easy to accomplish.
Yet, achieving freedom from Nigeria may be the easy part of the game. But freedom is not going to be enough by itself. Perhaps what is even more important is how to deal with the freedom when it is achieved. In thinking about this we can only take one cursory look at what is happening today in South Sudan and appreciate the importance of pursuing peace and harmony along with freedom. The current situation in South Sudan where there is a seemingly interminable and unmanageable power struggle among the ranks of the leaders should be scarier to us than any other anticipated problems once we attain freedom from Nigeria. Thinking of this booby trap of winning often should be able to make us sober and help us to work harder at becoming more mature and civil in our dealings with fellow Biafranists by cultivating the spirit of give and take. We should for this reason discard and discourage the tendency of any one person trying to display an attitude of “I know it all” and crass insubordination. This is often mistakenly referred to as the practical display of the concept of Igbo enweze. On the contrary, it is pure distortion of an otherwise wholesome concept and an unforgivable bent to cause mischief.
If we must invoke the true concept of Igbo enweze, we have to come to terms with the fact that the concept does not recognize insubordination and the tendency to display unwholesome obstinacy based on unreason and simply to create an unruly, chaotic and primitive-state-of-nature atmosphere around all contested subjects and issues. The concept of Igbo enweze is firmly grounded in the fact of equality of all men, women and peoples everywhere. So, the true spirit of Igbo enweze makes every true Igbo person to take seriously the equality of all individuals and peoples within the Igbo society and across all societies. The Igbo while recognizing this principle of equality as a vital fundamental structure of all functional societies, work hard to preserve the structures of constituted authorities and respect the role of individual leaders who have merited their positions. Usually the Igbo owe their undivided allegiance and trust to these individuals and institutions of sterling repute and accomplishment.
The Igbo despite being entrenched in the practice of eschewing the role of an eze (king) over their dominion still accept the fact that there will always be a head over a body. (The Igbo respects constituted authorities.) The Igbo while according the head and the body their places, recognizes that the relationship between the two has always been that of symbioses – the head cannot exist without the body and vice versa. Please note that Igbo enweze contrasts very drastically with the system of unquestioning feudal worshipfulness which is practiced by most other peoples with whom the Igbo presently share the Nigerian citizenship. This fundamental difference has contributed immensely in the prevailing irreconcilable divides between the others and the Igbo in Nigeria.
Another reason why the period after freedom is very critical can easily be explained. When the people are still struggling to be free, their power base is dissipated and distributed among a wide range of stakeholders in the struggle. This is different from the condition that obtains at the post-struggle era. With freedom comes the concentration of power and authority in specific persons and institutions. Yes, it is the access to power and authority that make managing freedom harder than achieving it. For this reason, we must at this stage spend a considerable amount of time in planning ahead and practicing before time how to respect the rights and opinions of others without resorting to arbitrariness and the primitive abuse of power. In order to achieve this level of refinement in wielding power, we need to practice self-control and discipline. Leaders should always remember the fact that others are just as patriotic and may have as much talents as they do. The watchword is to always have in mind that no one person has a monopoly of patriotism.
In this vein, we must point out a nascent and very dangerous phenomenon which is becoming more apparent with every passing day. It is completely against everything which the Igbo stand for and can be nipped in the bud before it turns into an uncontrollable monster. Throughout history, the Igbo have always been wary of building any kind of cult personalities or institutions where self- or personality-promotion is valued above truth and the common good. It is expected that leaders must be humble in leadership while the people must exhibit unalloyed loyalty and creative support of those elected to be at leading positions. Such leaders are seen merely as representatives of the people and their institutions who serve only at the people’s behest. At every given time, the people are expected to be ready to point out respectfully to the leaders (their representatives) some observed dangers in their blind spots.
After freedom, the people and their representatives must be ready to function under the long established Igbo practice of symbiotic relationship between the elected and the electorate. In this sacred relationship, each recognizes the other’s existence as vital to their own being. While Biafrans are still faced with seemingly insurmountable task of liberating themselves from Nigeria’s oppression they should also concern themselves equally with the onerous task of assembling very quality materials for real state building. Such questions like what kind of state do we conceive? How do we plan to achieve a functional and progressive state that is different from the present dysfunctional and retrogressive Nigerian state? These and many other questions should occupy the mind of all those who are presently involved in the Biafran liberation struggle. In order to achieve such laudable and progressive state, it will take much effort on everybody’s part. For this reason, the best and the brightest of all Biafrans must get involved in the fight to free Biafra.
On the other hand, it will require that each of us must give up the current mad pursuit of self-promotion and projection of personal power (abilities) and interests to the detriment of the common pursuit. From start to finish each person must imbibe the spirit of teamwork and the fight for the collective interest. Unfortunately, even up till this moment some of us still think that to always disagree with the opinions of others and form as many splinter groups as possible is alright and even healthy. That is not true for many reasons but especially when we look at the present South Sudan example.
In closing, as promised earlier, I will like to give us an insight into how the old Biafran Directorate of Propaganda functioned. Perhaps taking a glimpse at the way that office worked will be helpful to the present crop of Biafranists. This insight is courtesy of Roy Doron, a neutral observer of the Biafran phenomenon. He said that: “Biafra propaganda was crafted so as to avoid portraying Biafra as another case of Africans needing a white savior. The Biafrans created an image of a modern state in the making, taking care to show only the most educated and eloquent speakers in interviews.” The people at the Directorate had a clearly defined objective. The aim was to put forth first their (Biafra’s) best foot forward at all times. Not mediocre or the second bests. Duties were distributed according to abilities and there was never a situation where one person was the gburu gburu (the everything.)
Still continuing Doron said; “Biafran propaganda machine was so well oiled and so efficiently managed that it acted like any modern marketing firm and was very adaptable to the changing military situation until almost the very end of the war. The Biafrans employed surveys, focus groups, and evaluations of their media in print and on the airwaves, to ensure that their message adhered to a set of goals that was modified every week and that these goals adhered to the “Guide lines for Effective Propaganda’ articulated at the beginning of the war that expressly set out the objectives of propaganda and how to correctly achieve them.” Given the current riotous situation, if these observations are not instructive for those involved in the Biafran liberation today, I don’t know what else would. In Doron we really have it well cut out for us and we may never need to ask for more.
To succeed both at home and abroad, the old Biafrans took great care to construct their argument and manage its implementation and were disciplined enough to follow a “guideline.” As a capper Doron summed up how Biafrans succeeded by saying that; “The message they constructed had to appeal to [the international community, as well as] the people at home, who on the one hand needed little convincing of the genocidal aims of the Nigerians.
Written by Mazi Osita Ebiem
Published by Yahgozie