By Rudolf Okonkwo and Chido Onumah *
Dear Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Jideofor Onyeama,
We chose to write you instead of President Muhammadu Buhari because it is apparent from the president’s two most recent media outings that his cognitive impairment has greatly deteriorated, even though that is no justification for his murderous and genocidal rhetoric. From his utterances, the gap between things his innermost mind conjures and what his mouth utters has been completely erased. We also chose to write you because you are the most senior Biafran in Buhari’s government. We know that in your world, Biafra is the worst tag that anyone could put on you. Unfortunately, the people you work with, in and around Aso Rock, see you as a Biafran. You can keep running away from it, but in the deepest corners of their eyes, Biafra is like a shell on you. And like a snail, you cannot cast it off.
Over the last six years, we are aware of your hard work on the international stage to rescue this government’s reputation. As this government squandered both at home and abroad the enormous goodwill it received in 2015, you have worked hard to reassure the international community that the wheel of the Nigerian vessel had not come off and would not come off. Based on recent events, you do not need a soothsayer or us to tell you that the wheels came off a long time ago. What the international community was telling you in private weeks ago, they have made a tiny bit of it public following the debacle that is Buhari’s reaction to Twitter’s sanction of his genocidal tweet against the people of the South-East.
Clearly, the government that you champion abroad is set to re-enact at home another genocide against the people of South-East Nigeria which had its opening act during the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970. We think we should have you and the international community on notice. Even your late father, the great Justice Charles Dadi Umeha Onyeama, who was a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, would have told you that in this unfolding moral crisis, you are not just going to be an accomplice in the killing of your own people, already in progress in several parts of South-East Nigeria, you are going to be remembered by history as a man who played a supervisory role in the senseless carnage.
As the blood of young men and women who knew nothing about the activities of a few Biafran activists seep into the red soils where your forefathers are buried, President Buhari would send you abroad to crisscross the world and lie for him. You would be lying that there were no killings of innocent young men and women in the South-East by security agencies. Your talking point would be that the security agencies were quelling the violence perpetrated by Biafran activists. You probably can sell it to the world, but you cannot sell it to your conscience or to the memories of your forefathers who have sacrificed enough for Nigeria.
At this juncture, maybe we should peep through the course of the Nigerian Civil War, a repeat of the genocidal memory of which your boss, Muhammadu Buhari, now threatens the Igbo population of Southeastern Nigeria with. A retrospective view of that war crime should point you to the frightening possibilities of poetic justice for the soul-destroying lying mission you are about to be sent abroad to whitewash. As the world reacted with anger to the massacre of able-bodied Asaba men and boys in October 1967 while their wives, mothers, and sisters, were forced to dance for the sadistic pleasure of trigger-happy soldiers who carried out the slaughter, General Yakubu Gowon, then head of Nigeria’s military junta, sent his spin doctors abroad for a lying offensive.
Among the propaganda team sent abroad was Philip Asiodu, an Asaba indigene and a Permanent Secretary in the Gowon regime. Asiodu was reported to have told a press conference in Germany that reconciliation was the irrefutable goal of the Gowon administration. He was quoted as saying inter alia, “there is no question of massacring Ibos in the captured areas.’’ At the time of the morally reprehensible propaganda mission, Asiodu had no idea that his younger brother, Sydney Asiodu, an Olympic athlete, was one of the victims of anti-Igbo massacre he had finished lying to an international audience did not happen. On his return to Nigeria, instead of savoring the satisfaction of a successful lying mission, he was faced with the mourning of his younger brother, killed by the agents of the same government he had gone abroad to lie for.
As we write this, you are aware that the hordes of Nigerian security agents shipped to the South-East are taking their cue from President Muhammadu Buhari’s often-expressed odium for the people of that region. They are reading the president’s body language that calls for maximum force “in the language they understand.” Knowing the history of Nigeria’s military in Asaba during the Civil War, and later in Odi, Bayelsa State, in 1999, Zaki-Biam in Benue State, in 2001, and in Zaria, Kaduna State, in 2015, where they massacred civilians in their hundreds, and carried out a litany of human rights abuses, nobody would be surprised at the news of young people being massacred after enduring torture in the hands of security agents in the South-East.
No matter how you disguise it, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other reputable world bodies have unimpeachable documentations of ugly patterns of abuses anywhere the Nigerian military went for any form of intervention. It is why successive American governments have refused to sell arms to Nigeria out of fear that the government would use it against its people. In a brazen show of indifference to what the world thinks, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Usman Alkali Baba, recently ordered his officers to ignore any demand to respect human rights in their operations, thus setting the stage for what is shaping up to be an all-out genocide in the South-East.
With you an earshot away, President Buhari vowed to reenact in the South-East the kind of carnage he and Nigerian soldiers carried out during the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra War. He mockingly invoked the obnoxious theory of “starvation as a weapon of war” that killed hundreds of thousands of women and children when he reminded the South-East people that they were “a dot in a circle.’’ As if that was not enough, he aroused the painful “abandoned property” saga when he reminded them that they had houses and businesses around the country and officially pronounced every Igbo man and woman a Biafran. The president went into the darkest chambers of his heart to spew hatred, all because a group of youths fed up with the state-sanctioned dehumanization of Southeasterners rose to demand justice.
While we condemn the mindless violence that has gone on under any guise in the South-East in the last few months, we must note that it is the lack of leadership of your principal and his blatantly bigoted response that has sustained the violence. In our view, as far as President Buhari is concerned, the Nigeria-Biafra War has not ended. You can then understand why for many young people who did not witness the war, to use President Buhari’s choice words, the cheque of “No victor, no vanquished” issued at the end of the war in January 1970 was indeed a dud cheque.
Since your principal has no sense of history, we need to remind you that Nigeria was built on and has been sustained through injustice. Well before the civil war of 1967-70, there was the Tiv crisis of 1960 and 1964 which has lingered up until today in different forms. More than a year before the civil started in 1967, Isaac Adaka Boro, a minority rights activist, was crying for justice for his people in the Niger Delta, where Nigeria’s oil wealth comes from, the same people President Buhari pandered to in his Arise TV interview when he reminded Biafrans, your people, that the Niger Delta youths and elders had assured him there would be no access to the sea.
Fifty-four years before the #EndSARS movement, which President Buhari said was aimed at removing him for office, on February 23, 1966, out of frustration with Nigeria, Adaka Boro, at the age of 28, declared the Niger Delta Republic, an independent state for Ijaw people suffering environmental degradation of their land and plunder of their oil resources. Brazenly, President Buhari, who was sworn in as president of Nigeria, finds it convenient to share these resources with his kinsmen in Niger Republic. The Twelve-Day Revolution, as Adaka Boro described his exploits, happened before a series of pogroms in 1966/67 against the people of the old Eastern Region, Igbos and non-Igbos, which ultimately led to the declaration of the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
The poor leadership and discriminatory policies of the Buhari administration are today fueling the clarion call for secession across Nigeria, including prominently, in the South-West. Clearly, the people of the South-East were not the first group to demand a country of their own due to the failure of the Nigerian state to protect them and give them a fair shake in the country. Nor are they the only group making such a demand in present day Nigeria. But somehow, it is the people of the South-East who receive Buhari’s bitterest venom each time some elements in the region, fed up with injustice, resort to self-help.
Dear honourable minister, in 1990, while you were at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Major Gideon Okar, a Nigerian military officer, staged a coup in which he excised Buhari’s home state of Katsina and other states in the North from Nigeria. It is this same part of the North that initiated Sharia Law in 2000, in defiance of the constitution. And it is the aftermath of the Sharia Law that led to the emergence of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2002. In 2009, following the extra-judicial killing of Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf, a more militant leader named Abubakar Shekau emerged.
The Shekau insurgency has lasted over twelve years, killed more than 30,000 Nigerians—Muslims, Christians, men, women, children—as well as international aid workers, in dastardly acts of terror, and attracted well-financed international terrorist organisations like ISIS and Al Qaeda into West Africa. At various times, Boko Haram took control of sections of the North-East, declared a caliphate, mounted their flags as a separate nation and were collecting taxes from Nigerians within their “territory.” They posted videos of gruesome execution of their victims, including Nigerian military officers. On at least two occasions, they had attempted to assassinate Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State. We did not witness the kind of genocidal fury and righteous indignation that propel President Buhari’s scorched-earth response when it comes to the people of the South-East. Daily, across the nook and cranny of Nigeria, we witness calls for secession in different forms, including expulsion orders, without as much as a whimper from the man you serve so diligently, except, of course, the call comes from Biafrans.
If President Buhari can talk glibly in public about what he plans for Biafrans, imagine what he says during security council meetings or when he is with his kitchen cabinet! Of course, we feel it. From Mr. Danladi Umar’s “Biafran boys” incident, to the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, comparing open grazing to selling of spare parts—a position Buhari has vowed not to contradict—to the shoot on sight order given to security operatives in the South-East, everyone that matters in the Buhari regime is reading the president’s mind and body language correctly.
All right-thinking men and women in the South-East condemn the killing of security agents and innocent citizens and the destruction of the country’s vital infrastructure in the region. The way out would have been a measured government response to arrest the ugly development, but not when you have as president, whose allegiance is more to his cousins in other countries than fellow Nigerians who do not share his ethnicity. You would agree, Sir, that whatever excesses Biafran activists exhibit pale in comparison to the activities of well-armed, long-established northern-based groups, most of whom are from the president’s ethnic stock. And this is not to compare whose terrorism is more vicious, but the carnage these extreme groups—be they herders or those who want to propitiate heaven—have visited upon Nigeria through kidnappings, wanton destructions, and surgical hit on the little threads that keep Nigeria one, has placed them among the top terrorist groups in the world and thereby placed Nigeria on the top of every list of failed nations around the globe. Somehow, these abysmal records do not keep President Buhari up at night. From what we see, what wakes him up from his slumber is any mention of Biafra.
As the sense of Nigeria’s failure and unjust structure spreads, some people in the South-West have also joined the demand for an independent nation of their own. Despite their vigorous pursuit of Oodua nation, they have not received the same kind of vituperation from Buhari. The president has not spoken about the activists in the South-West as representatives of all the people of the region. He has not made them the scapegoat for his colossal failures the way he takes delight in making the people of the South-East. Why is that, Mr. Onyeama?
Allies of the government that you serve now demand that Igbo people daily profess their loyalty to Nigeria before they receive basic citizenship rights. Igbo people who live in Northern parts of Nigeria are daily inundated by pronouncements of one Northern group or another, who have warned that the lives and property of Igbo people are fair game in the ongoing crisis. They have an ally in your boss, President Buhari. These groups openly send signals that they have been holding their youths from unleashing a Rwanda-style genocide against the Igbo in their region. The government you serve, and its accomplices, have declared all Igbo men and women guilty by association. They even had the audacity to announce that they had foreclosed the possibility of any Igbo person becoming president of Nigeria until all Igbo people go on their knees and make a public denunciation of the advocates for Biafra. The president you serve obediently recently amplified these absurd demands.
Let us jog your memory, Mr. Onyeama. At the outset of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, your principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was then leader of the opposition, defended the group against what he tagged their “extra-judicial killings by Nigeria’s security forces,” the same forces he is now deploying to the South-East with orders to “treat them in language they understand.” At one point, Boko Haram terrorists picked him as the man to negotiate for them with the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan. None of these caused anyone or a group to demand his disqualification from contesting for the presidency in 2015. At no point did any part of Nigeria label every northerner a Boko Haram member or demand that the North be excluded from Nigeria’s leadership until they crushed the Boko Haram insurgency.
Today, President Buhari and his allies are blackmailing Ndigbo and generalizing on their character based on the activities of Biafran activists. Mr. Onyeama, think for a moment what would be of you and your career if Biafran activists announce today that you would be the man to negotiate for them with the federal government. Think of it. Would that earn you the presidency of Nigeria in 2023?
For the avoidance of doubt, Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, is a product of Buhari’s incompetence. Buhari’s paranoiac frenzy about anything Biafra turned what was Nnamdi Kanu’s agitation for justice and fairness into what it is today. The president, in effect, made Nnamdi Kanu a hero by locking him up and disobeying court orders to free him. Buhari should therefore not be surprised at the formidable opponent he has created as a result. Buhari’s mismanagement of a complex and diverse country mixed with blatant nepotism is Nnamdi Kanu’s fuel. If Buhari has any desire to deescalate the tension he created, he has a slew of options on his table. But as we have seen, again and again, Buhari must exhaust all bad options before he chooses a good one staring him in the face.
We know that as a minister, you have not been working with other leaders of the South-East to address matters pertaining to the region. You have been so afraid of annoying Buhari and his clique or making them question your loyalty that you have relinquished leadership and auctioned off the leverage you should have had in the South-East. Before you, the task is to go back to the South-East, not as a man with his tails between his legs, but as the most senior Biafran in Buhari’s government. Go and engage your people in an honest conversation. If you do it well, working together, you can come up with the proverbial right channel to direct the grievances of your people to the government that you serve.
Dear honorable minister, the alternative is what we are witnessing now. In the South-East, the hawks are in, picking up the chicks one after another. The hen is crying out not for the monster that is killing its chicks to let go but for the world to hear its voice. Your forefathers used to say that we must chase away the hawks before we caution the hen. On your part, as the minister of external affairs, you will soon be sent abroad to walk up podiums around the world to commit the most abominable act against God and man—justify the shedding of innocent blood. You either uphold the ofor of your forefathers, as your middle name commands, or you soil it on the altar of loyalty to the president of a crumbling edifice. The choice is yours. Time is running out!
Dear honorable minister, if you ever have the chance of talking with President Buhari, tell him that Biafra is not the problem of Nigeria. Nigeria is not the first or only country to fight a civil war. Let him know that Nigeria is collapsing under the weight of injustice in the East, West, North and South. In a sentence, we are all Biafrans! Rather than being fixated on a ‘‘dot in a circle,’’ let him know it is time to go back to the drawing board or sit at the table of nationhood and draw a genuine non-discriminatory circle that accommodates every group, no matter how small, on equal terms. This is the irreducible expectation in a country that prides itself on being a federal republic.
We will end this letter by paraphrasing Edwin Madunagu’s admonition to the Nigerian Left in his latest essay, “Birthday greetings in lieu of responses.” He may well be speaking to you, the most senior Biafran in the Buhari regime: “Wherever you are today, use all your intellect, use whatever levers you have, as individuals and as groups, to prevent Nigeria fully enacting a second edition of the (1966-1970) tragedy.”
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo and Chido Onumah
- The UN Secretary General
- The US President through the American Embassy in Nigeria
- The Canadian Prime Minister through the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria
- The British Prime Minister through the British High Commission in Nigeria
- The French President through the French Embassy in Nigeria
- President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi, Chairperson of the African Union
- President Nana Akufo-Addo, ECOWAS Chairman
- Head of Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria and ECOWAS
- Amnesty International