Biafra in the Mid-West: A Missing History?

MW Nigeria

If one asks the everyday person from Edo or Delta States, which make up the now-defunct Mid-West region or Bendel State, or anyone from the rest of Nigeria who Albert Okonkwo was, probably much less than 1% would know the answer. Many would ask why they should know who Albert Okonkwo was in the first place. But why not?

Major Albert Nwazu Okonkwo, a Biafran military officer and medical doctor, was a former Governor [Military Adminitrator] of Mid-West Region, Nigeria during the Civil War i.e. when the Biafran army successfully though temporarily annexed that region after crossing the Niger and capturing Benin-City. Okonkwo was Governor for 67 days (August 17, 1967 – October 20, 1967) taking over the Government House in Benin-City. There some Nigerian Governors who have served for less time than Okonkwo did but his history simply cannot be found in the “regular” history of Nigeria. Andy Uba, former Governor of Anambra State, holds the Guinness World record for being the shortest-serving governor in world history, 16 days, but it is a part of mainstream Nigerian history.

While much that has been reported about this brief tenure appears apocryphal, one interesting fact about the reign of Okonkwo as governor was it gives some insight into a subtle part of the strategy the Biafran High Command adopted to incorporate non-Igbos into the realisation of the Republic of Biafra. “Ethnic cleansing” and “forceful subjugation” are widely reputed to be the strategy by which the Biafran High Command was going to dominate non-Igbo Easterners and Mid-Westerners. Such a claim has currency because of the incomplete history of the annexation of the Mid-West. Did the Biafran High Command ever make plans to “cleanse” the ethnic groups of what now constitutes the Mid-West peoples? It is a rational question. Besides suppositional or unverified evidence, there is no proof that such an action was ever planned or undertaken even though there was much resistance from the aforementioned groups towards the Biafran army. War is a very terrible thing and has its costs which are usually even more terrible and enduring. One cannot make excuses for war and its consequences. Yet, rumours and talk of violent secession or the unlikely belief in “peaceful secession” seems to have captured the nation today.

The paramount goal of Albert Okonkwo was to “persuade” (with the help of the barrel of a gun) the people of the Mid-West to declare their own Republic as the Eastern region had done and the Western region had promised to do but never did. The Biafrans knew the Mid-West had the wherewithal to stand alone as a nation. The autonomous independent “Republic of the Mid-West” or “Republic of Benin” according to mainstream history was declared by Okonkwo on October 19, 1967; a day before Col Murtala Mohammed regained control of the region with a decisive military victory. There is at least one credible source that the independent Republic of Mid-West was declared by Okonkwo on behalf of the Biafran High command as early as August 1967. The Biafrans knew the South-South was not part of them and resorted to persuasion.

Many might argue that this declaration was a devious stratagem by the Biafran High Command to first befriend the Mid-West region in its attainment of its own independent republic from Nigeria back then assuming the secession war had succeeded and later conquer and integrate it into Biafra. Others can refute such arguments on the premises that the Mid-West was highly strategic to Nigeria especially in economic terms and if it got its independence, Nigeria would be less of a threat to Biafra. Some might even argue that Major Okonkwo and his governorship is not important enough to be remembered. Today such arguments continue without missing pieces of history. It is unfortunate that the current state of affairs in Nigeria laden with multiple insurgencies and resistances that have the potential of ripping the nation asunder actually encourages such thinking for the worse. However, was the Republic of Mid-west a fluke, a one-off or a future possibility many secretly look forward to? It may not be too easy to envision what the independent Republic of Mid-west would have been if it existed today. Taboo topic?

Nevertheless, Biafra in the Mid-west is an interesting missing piece of Nigerian history like others that may perhaps create some useful new perspective on the current state of ethnic relations within Nigeria. It is a possibility worth exploring. The seeds of the future are often found in events of the past. At least, we should learn from our mistakes not repeat them.

Persuasion without the barrel of a gun to shoot from is what Nigeria needs if only it will listen.


Grimot Nane

Fraternities Are Viruses in Nigeria – The Claims

UCGF Photo

There are in existence many “university campus grown fraternities” (UCGFs) in Nigeria today, some old and some new, but they all claim to be the “saviours” of the Nigerian society. Their claims for existence and continuity are noble but utterly false. These fraternities now have websites if visited, present the public with their uninspiring PR. It showcases their equivalents of the Ten Commandments; their prescriptions for a just, moral or egalitarian society; their apocryphal histories; their charities and do-gooding; their claims to elitism and their critiques of the government. Non-believers are not convinced.

No names are named, neither of fraternities nor of individuals in public office only because it is unnecessary. If Nigeria is to be one day taken over by UCGFs, we must expect that Nigeria will be worse off in the governance arena than it is today. Still, no leader or administrator or group of concerned Nigerians will do anything about such. Why should they?

Claims and their making, are an essential tool used by UCGFs to justify their existence to themselves and the public. The repetition of their claims about themselves as freedom fighters, reformers of society, membership of their noble organisation, having humanitarian intentions, being utterly honest and disciplined are constant. Such claims are lies and delusions that lack even imaginary evidence, but their repetition makes them constant thoughts in the minds of members.

Another interesting claim of UCGFs is its unique and momentous birthing. The founders of these UCGS were a few young undergraduates or postgraduate students and sometimes academics. The founding members were as a rule immortalised by qualifying their numbers with superlative qualifiers. The Three Musketeers (from a 19th-century adventure story). The Fantastic Four (from an American children’s comic book). The Famous Five (from a British children’s novel);. Six of Best (from Battle, a British war comic). The Magnificent Seven (from a classic Hollywood Western); and the Great Eight (Mao’s team of revolutionaries). Each of these attributes would be backed up by a fictitious yarn designed to instruct the memory of the founders.

Then there are the claims of their ideals. The ideals are supposed to govern their behaviour, conduct or approach to life. In practice, any ardent practitioner of such ideals soon gets into trouble. The unspoken I deal firmly enforced is “do not practise these Ideals too seriously, why die before your time?” The antinomy is so visible. The ideals thus are reduced to being introduced as recruitment /condition tools and for public relations purposes. Rookies have a choice; ignore the ideals and follow the leader or clique or be a purist and suffer constant humiliation. It is not much of a choice—many leave.

UCGFs have derogatory names for non-members which is evidence of their self-ascription of elitism or superiority. Let us say such a name is “ogre”. Abert Einstein, Chinua Achebe, Malcolm X, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama would be and take a belittling as thinking like ogres. Thinking like an ogre is an inferior thought. Chimamanda Adichie, Indira Gandhi, Shoshana Zuboff and Lise Meitner would be ogresses. One can see how simple names can foster groupthink and a sense of superiority among UCGF members. “They versus Us” is a prevalent paralogism of theirs.

If a Murtala Mohammed-like head of state were in power today, he would ban UCGFs, members and other secret society members from holding public office unless perhaps they have renounced by legal procedure their membership. However, Murtala Mohammed got assassinated almost forty years ago. Even President Muhammadu Buhari does not have UCGFs on his radar in his anti-corruption mission.

Many UCGFs brazenly claim they have “brothers” who are governors, senators, ministers, commissioners, professors, vice-chancellors, ambassadors, generals, clergymen, corporate executives and so on in their ranks. The public should ask who heads these fraternities and if they and these public officials they boast about are exemplary or not? Are they not working narrowly for the interests of their bosses and founders? The truth is many of the people they boast are their members dissociated from them decades ago.

A casual scan of these UCGF groomed public officials in office would unmistakably unveil they are no less disposed to corruption or malfeasance and no less greedy or mediocre than the non-fraternity public officials. From local government to the federal level, these guys with few exceptions demonstrate a sheer proclivity for corrupt practices. And collectively they are now part of distributive special interest groups.

Such ‘doublespeak‘ by UCGFs about their mission and the honour list of their members enjoys much tolerance in Nigeria. Even when matched against the realities of their routine practices because it is a society where “nobody cares”. Well, Unless their source of income is interrupted or taken away.

UCGF members actively expect nepotism and favouritism to bring them assistance and opportunity when their “brother” assumes public office. Incorruptible fraternity members who get into office soon experience ostracism by their “brothers”. The arguments tendered to reduce them as being selfish, unhelpful, foolish, overzealous in their job and not being a genuine member. The corrupt fraternity member who splurges on his “brothers” is their favoured and blessed hero, and such heroes abound. Such behaviour nullifies the shoddy self-tributes they have on their websites.

No one can honestly say they did not see the UCFGs coming. Their claims might be more persuasive than many expect. Claims have gotten them this far why can they not update their and achieve their goals. They are already here, but like initial viral infections, they take time to multiply and take over the host. Since when have viruses been the saviours of the hosts they colonise?

Claims, claims, claims! Some are listening. Are you?


Grimot Nane