As the soulful classic of the Biafra National Anthem filtered through the transistor radio, its charming uplifting serenade pierced through my heart. I stood at attention in total affirmation of the Biafran creed, ready to die in defence of my nation without a doubt. Then Ojukwu’s inspiring deep voice boomed out with a deep sadness. “My people, I have to travel in search of peace…” Even as young as I was, I knew the game was over. My mum rushed through the door wailing, hands outstretched. “My children, my children, we will all die…” We all expected total annihilation at the end of the war and that was why we fought so hard and so long.
The death of the dream of Africa’s Israel had come…
Ojukwu had to go. He just had to go, so we would lay down our arms and prepare for the great massacre we had all been fighting a raging war to prevent. He had to go because if he stayed we would not stop fighting. We would not stop fighting, not because of ourselves, but because of him, to defend him, to protect him, who had defended and protected us. We were expendable. We were used to death.
Many died everyday from hunger and disease at the nearby refugee camp and were buried in trenches, but we did not mind our death. It was our sacrifice for our motherland. But his death? That we could not bear. His death would excavate from us our very spirit and banish us to damnation. His capture will spell to us our final humiliation. We were crushed but we were not defeated. Our spirits were high, still ready to fight on with bare hands and bare bodies and bare souls, to fight till each man was mowed down like the martyrs of Masada, the Jews, our brethren. We were ready to die, but we were not ready for him to die. He had to go.
And we faced the death of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
None could tell him. None could say the unspeakable word … Cowards die many times before their death, but the brave die but once. Death had no fear for us but the unspeakable word was impossible to speak, and left us with a dread so great we wilted at the very thought of it. Spartans never SURRENDER – that’s it, the unspeakable word. We would not surrender, we did not surrender. We were Spartans, we never surrender! We were Greeks, the only democratic island surrounded by a sea of Monarchical slave owners and empire builders.
We were children of the most high, we were building Israel, and like our brethren, the Jews, we would triumph over impossible odds and build our land of milk and honey, on the ruins of the land of the rising sun. Like a phoenix, we shall rise from our flames and ashes and pierce the noon day sky. But in all manners of men, when the unspeakable is also the undoable, we devise ways to comfort ourselves, to let the unspeakable speak without being spoken and the undoable do without being done. So we devise ways to make illogic, logical and the crooked straight.
And so died the dream of Africa’s Israel…
They devised a means. Ojukwu had to go to a conference to find peace. He had to leave so we could lay down our arms, and die in a last wave of genocide. The end was nigh. Ojukwu boarded a constellation and disappeared into the night Sky. Our hero was gone. We heaved a collective sigh of relief and got ready to die in peace. But they did not kill us and let us go in a blaze of glory. Britain, their sponsor made sure of that.
They did something worse, they humiliated us. They raped our women, they whipped us at will, they commanded us at their pleasure and they mocked our manhood. Yet, when we agreed to lay down our arms, we did not surrender. We were war weary, they were war weary but we did not surrender. They were tired of killing us and dying on our land. We were tired of killing them on our land. It is on record that far more Federal troops were mown down by Biafran soldiers. Nigerians troops were tired of dying in the killing fields of Biafra. They were tired of dying for an unjust cause they knew was unjust. Conscripting more young men in Nigeria to die in Biafra was becoming too difficult. We were on our land, defending our lives. They were on our land hungry for Oil, the black gold that oozed from the land of the Ijaws, the Ogoni and the Ikwere Igbos. Three million of us, mostly women and children were already dead from the blockade, but more were willing to die.
And so we died with the dream of Africa’s Israel…
The war just ended by unspoken mutual consent. There were really no victors and no vanquished. It was getting near Christmas and the Nigerians delivered Christmas presents of food and other things to the Biafrans. There was a lull in the fighting for Christmas of 1969 – a kind of unspoken ceasefire. They stopped firing at each other.
It was Achuzie and Akinrinade that brokered the end of the war. Achuzie was virtually in charge of the entire Biafra operations and had captured a huge contingent of Nigerian troops. Achuzie was a Midwest Igbo from present day Delta State. He fought with our Kith and Kin for the dream of Biafra. There was still a lot of fight left in Biafrans, but after Ojukwu left, some of the Biafran leaders met Achuzie and pleaded for the end of the war on humanitarian grounds to save more children from dying. They no longer believed that the Biafra dream was worth the death of millions of innocent children. Achuzie met with Akinrinade, and they all agreed no one was winning and that they should bring the madness to an end.
The Federal troops and the Biafrans were already mixing freely, practically refusing to fight. Obasanjo then waded in and persuaded Phillip Effiong to travel to Dodan Barracks and end the war. Pictures were taking. There was really no victor nor vanquished. Gowon said the truth. But when we laid down our arms, Nigerian propaganda took over and what was a mutual consent to end an unnecessary carnage was declared as victory and the Igbos were silenced.
When they finally declared the war over, and that we had to return to Nigeria, we were relieved but aggrieved, because it smelt like surrender to us. We wanted the war to go on, we wanted the Biafran dream to live, so the young men buried their arms and ammunition in the ground, waiting for when the war would resume. But the war was truly over, peace broke out like a rash. Obasanjo rode into the centre of town unopposed, and was later to claim he won the war. What a deception!
And so they claimed victory over the dream of Africa’s Israel…
Phillip Effiong from the present day Akwa-Ibom was the second in command. They went to Dodan Barracks on January 15th 1970. They made sure that it was the same day that Nzeogwu and his cohorts first pulled the trigger that snuffed out the life of the Sarduana. To them Sarduana was the hero, a statesman, a father. To us he was a vandal, a tribal bigot who wanted our people killed and driven from Northern Nigeria.
They were not grateful we were their teachers and civil servants, but saw us as impostors, vermin and infidel that needed to be driven from their land in blood. They could have planned their Northernisation policy and still said thank you to us for all we did for them, but no, we gave our best but they planned our death. As they planned a Jihad for 17th January 1966, Nzeogwu and his fellow coupists struck on January 15th 1966, to stop a corrupt and hideously tribalistic government, already killing thousands and planning to kill more in the name of Jihad and northern domination.
And so began, the birth of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
The counter coup came swiftly and hideously. They did not blame Nzeogwu and his fellow, Hausa, Yoruba, and other tribes that attacked the Sarduana that night. They singled out the Igbo and blamed the entire Igbo nation for the actions of the coup plotters. We did not know who Nzeogwu was. He did not ask our permission for his hideous act. But they blamed us and descended on us. They wiped out 300 Senior Igbo Officers but that was not enough vengeance. They and the demons that drive them had to drink more blood. The vandals descended on the Igbo population and within a month wiped out 30,000 of us.
The people they called Igbo was not just Igbo, they were those that came from Eastern Nigeria – the Ijaws, the Efiks, the Ogonis, the Ibibios – we were all called Igbos and buried in an orgy of slaughter. As they slaughtered we realised that what Nzeogwu said was true. That he struck to pre-empt a Jihad and that the Jihad was unfolding before us in a mass murder that makes today’s Boko Haram seem like kindergaten. Where Boko Haram killed 20,000 in 5 years and Nigeria is reeling from its effects, the vandals of 1966 slaughtered 30,000 in one month. Nzeogwu became a prophet, a prescient uncommon seer. Nzeogwu became our hero, greater in praise and love than even Ojukwu.
And so we defended the dream of Africa’s Israel…
We all ran home to our father’s land and Ojukwu drew an imaginary line in the sand saying, if you can reach our line of NO Return, we will protect you. We thought we were safe in our land then sought to leave the people that massacred us. But to our greatest surprise they did not want us to go. On the one hand they hated and killed us and droves us away. On the other hand they held us back and said we could not leave them.
Till today we remain confused with people that hate us and mock us and abuse us and yet are awed by our achievements and refuse to let us go. The first bullets of the Civil War was shot on the 6th July 1967, by 5am at Gakem. We had no weapons. We began the war fighting with machetes and dane guns. Abriba Warriors, wielding machetes, chanted war songs to their deaths in the rat-tat-tat of blazing machine guns. Nzeogwu was gunned down at the Nsukka Sector in the early morning of the war, playing warrior in a battle tank; Christopher Okigbo, our greatest poet followed – as the dreamers died, the dream was born. The dream lit a fire. The fire burned our bellies, sparked our burning imagination and ignited our indomitable will.
The fire was the dream of Africa’s Israel…
The fire fired our souls and burnt our spirits with the will to live and triumph. Without guns to defend ourselves we turned to propaganda to halt the enemy in its tracks. Oko Oko Ndem, the voice of Biafra, was from the present Akwa-Ibom State. Oko Oko Ndem will make mince meat of today’s Nnamdi Kanu, the mouse of Radio Biafra.
I call the veritable Nnamdi a mouse, for he is indeed a mouse besides the vitriol of Oko Oko Ndem, the Lion of Radio Biafra, for when he roared, the Federal soldiers quivered in their boots. Oko Oko Ndem’s venom was vicious. He poured out a vicious, vitriolic venom that will make even Nnamdi squirm in his pants. Zoo as a description of Nigeria is mild compared to the flamboyant descriptions of Oko Oko Ndem who left nothing to the imagination. He was so graphic.
His fire was the voice of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
Oko Oko Ndem taught us how to call the vandals, vandals. Nigerians swore to cut out the tongue of Oko Oko Ndem. Many a time this man saved Biafra from certain death by painting a picture saw horrible and revolting, the Federal troops would not dare to advance, and yet there would be no defence. Once we were running as refugees from Umuahia. For a whole night, as we were all massed and choked up before the Imo River bridge, there was not a single soldier anywhere, but the voice of Oko Oko Ndem kept them at bay.
He claimed Ojukwu had appeared with massive, gallant Biafran soldiers, who had volunteered from all over Biafra to come and defend Umuahia our latest Capital City. The Federal troops were only five miles away from the bridge. They could overtake us in an hour. Tracers went up in the night and lit up the sky. The Saracens Tanks supplied by Edward Heath, Prime Minister of Great Britain, barked in the night like demented jackals. Nothing was more hideous. It is a noise I will never forget till my dying day. They could have finished us that night but the voice of Oko Oko Ndem fought our war for us.
At the end of the war, it was rumoured that Oko Oko Ndem was caught and that tongue was cut off. I never heard of Oko Oko Ndem again. And today people from South South say they were never part of Biafra. They don’t know history. They only hear the Nigerian propaganda of history. I wonder what happened to Oko Oko Ndem. I shall forever be grateful to him.
His fire was the tongue of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
The Igbos were persecuted like the Jews of Israel, our cultural brethren. We share so much in common. The spirit of trade, the 7 year apprenticeship system, eighth day circumcision, a religious democracy superintended by the high priest of Nri as Israel was guided by the high priest in Jerusalem – we have so much in common that the symbol found at Nri became the symbol embossed on the Nigerian penny. It was a six-pointed star. The same as the Jewish Star of David.
There are many stories about this uncanny relationship. Equiano (probably Ekwuano), an Igbo boy was captured and enslaved but later bought his freedom and settled in England and wrote the book Equiano’s Travels. For the first time British people knew an African could be so intelligent. In the book he said he marvelled at the number of customs of the Igbos that were like the culture of ancient Israel.
My theory, based on all the literature I have read is as follows: There were the lost tribes of Israel when Babylon sacked Israel and again when Rome sacked Israel in 79 AD. To avoid persecution the Jews scattered allover the world. Some ran to Europe, others went to Asia and Africa. Many settled in North Africa which was Christian for a while. A group, the Lemba, ended up in South Africa. With the wave of the Islamic Almoravid invasions, the Jews were driven from North Africa and many settled in Timbuctoo and North West Africa.
Another wave of Fulani Jihads drove the Jews into the rain forests were Fulani horses could not go. Some settled in Igbo land, some in Dahomey, some in Yorubaland, some in Ghana. It seems a large contingent settled in Igboland, intermarried and influenced Igbo culture and traditions. The people of Nri, Aguleri and Umuleri have a tradition that they are the children of Eri, the son of Gad, one of the lost tribes of Israel.
This blood became the engine that fired the dream of Africa’s Israel…
The assimilation of the Jewish dream into the Biafran dream became a constant theme in Biafra. We were by the rivers of Babylon, in our land of milk and honey fleeing the Egypt of Nigeria. We sought the ingenuity of the Jews and manufactured our weapons, tapped and refined our crude oil and invented new ways of doing things. As Murtala Mohammed attempted to cross the River Niger to invade Biafra, we developed our shore batteries that blew their gunboats out of the water. As the Nigerian second division in their great self-confidence, rumbled down the road from Enugu to Onitsha, they met their waterloo at Abagana and all their tanks and trucks were destroyed. Murtala, the future Nigerian hero, the mass murderer of the Asaba genocide was recalled in shame from the war front.
The Biafrans invented the Ogbunigwe, the mass killing mine that mowed down Federal troops in huge numbers. More than anything else the Ogbunigwe prolonged the war because it terrified the Nigerians and made them reluctant to advance. We built our tanks and modified our aircraft. We researched, we created, we built.
This genius of necessity transformed the engine of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
But what encapsulated the Spirit of Biafra more than anything else was our patriotism and ideology. Ingredients sadly lacking in today’s Nigeria and which means that many Biafrans still hanker for the dream of Biafra. Ojukwu, Achebe, Ibiam, Zik, Okpara, Mbanefo were some of the high flying intellectuals that crafted the dream of Biafra. The Biafran ideology of communal capitalism was written into the Ahiara declaration that laid out the values and dreams of Biafra. Biafrans never surrender. Biafrans are their brothers keepers. Biafrans are patriotic. Biafrans never bow. We were Spartans, we were Greeks and true democrats, we were Jews.
At the end of the war, when we laid down our arms, we entered into a Nigeria that welcomed us with propaganda and deception as they still do today. Those that committed the crimes of genocide in Biafra, who raped our women, that opened the vaults of banks and stole millions became our hedonistic leaders. They became our only heroes, our role models. Their values became our values as many of them without proper education or even certificates became our Military Governors and Heads of States.
And they killed the Spirit of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
They had honed their insatiable taste for easy sex on the defenceless and hungry women of Biafra. And having left the theatre of War they carried their megalomania, their bloodlust, their orgy lust, back into Nigeria, and unleashed this ugliness upon Nigeria. They had no dreams, no ideals, no education, just an insatiable lust for power, blood and Oil. Their sexual hunger never left them. They invaded our universities with their craven tastes and spread their corruption and decadent tastes nationwide and turned our student girls into prostitutes. Military men will go to campuses and carry loads of girls for parties of debauchery. They still parade today as our ex-Governors, ex-Heads of State, Presidents and elder statesmen. Presidents who can hardly speak the English language are the inheritors of the oratorical flights of Nnamdi Azikiwe, the national inspiration of Herbert Macaulay and the efficient statescraftsmanship of Obafemi Awolowo. O! How have the mighty fallen and the daughters of Zion scattered in the streets of Ashkelon.
And so they buried the Spirit of the dream of Africa’s Israel…
Nigeria is the opposite of Biafra in every way. Corrupt, depraved, uncaring, resistant to creativity and enterprise, bigoted, tribalistic, dream killers. We suffered in Biafra but we suffered for an energising dream, to create the first truly independent African Nation. Ojukwu rejected all efforts to swap the Oil for help. We will drill it ourselves, refine it ourselves and market it ourselves. Our attitude to Oil went to all other things. We believed in ourselves and in our abilities and that is a gift from the killing fields of Biafra. That idealism was inspirational but it lost us the friendship of the great powers and for the first time, communist Russia and capitalist Britain, stood shoulder to shoulder against Biafra.
At the end of the war they exchanged all our currency for £20 per adult to start life. Ekene Dili Chukwu and his brothers from Nnewi went to their former business colleagues around the world and began their trade again. Jointly they made the decision to build their factories in Nnewi, and slowly but surely they transformed the indefatigable will of the Igbo.
As the old dream died, a new phoenix rose from its ashes to blaze a new trail, a new dream for the Igbo people. Today, Innoson is building vehicles and Igbos own factories in China and Europe.
But as they killed the dream of Africa’s Israel, they gave birth to the dream of Africa’s Taiwan.
That is why we want to go it alone. To leave Nigeria that celebrates genocides, calls mass murderers heroes and grants amnesty to wanton killers they call misguided brothers. That is why we want to go it alone, to avoid a Nigeria that kills trade for tribalism and imports Shoprite and Walmart to kill their home grown traders and call it development. That is why we want to go it alone, to allow our numerous Innosons to flourish without artificial socio-economic ceilings imposed on our creativity.
O! Pharoah, let my people go. Free us from your tribal shackles. Igbo-Israel wants to go home and build our dream of an African Taiwan.
Agha Egwu is a political analyst.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.