If Biafra Had Won the War

Source: pointblanknews.com

January 2014 marked the 44th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil

war, and the end of the short lived Republic of Biafra. Biafra did not

live long enough to see its third birthday.
Although the war ended 44 years ago, wounds from it still fester. Many

eastern Nigerians still wonder and ask what would have happened had Biafra

succeeded. What if the federal government had agreed to “let Biafra go?”

Or if Biafra had hung on long enough for a United Nations resolution

calling for the establishment of a new independent state in eastern

Ostensibly, Biafra had the ingredients to succeed and become a successful

nation. It had an educated and skilled workforce, a charismatic head of

state, a citizenry with a messianic zeal for their country to succeed,

natural resources, a coastline, and perhaps most crucially of all –

billions of dollars worth of crude oil flowing underneath its soil.

With oil wealth and a vibrant citizenry, Biafra could have become Africa's

first world superpower. With citizens of the caliber of Nnamdi Azikiwe,

Sir Louis Mbafeno, Matthew Mbu, Chike Obi, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, Christopher

Okigbo, and Michael Okpara, it had men of foresight, intellect, and vision

to rival any nation in Africa. Academics, civil servants, diplomats,

doctors, judges, mathematicians, professors, scientists, soldiers…Biafra

had them all. When Biafra seceded, it took not only a portion of Nigerian

territory with it, but also a massive part of Nigeria's brainpower, army

officers corps, and wealth.
The remarkable ingenuity of Biafra's engineers during the war proved the

old adage that “necessity is the mother of all invention”. Had the

short-term technical ingenuity which led Biafra to refine fuel,

manufacture everything from armoured vehicles to soap, and land mines

encased in milk churns, been allowed to continue long term; it may have

led to an industrial and technological revolution in west Africa. A

country full of people that could create, invent, lead, teach, think, and

fight. Surely nothing could stop such a country. The sky was the limit for

a country blessed with so much talent, motivation, and patriotic intensity

to succeed. Biafra could have been Africa's answer to Israel; the little

country that punches above its weight and refuses to give in.

However as well as emulating Israel's benefits, Biafra may also have

mimicked Israel's problems. Igbos are often called “The Jews of Africa”.

The title is not fanciful. Had Biafra succeeded, it would have had similar

demographic and geographic challenges to the world's only Jewish state. It

would have been surrounded by hostile nations, while simultaneously facing

an armed insurrection within its borders by its own citizens.

Biafra faced many challenges within; including a Game of Thrones style

cocktail of conspiracies, internal rivalries, politics, and in-fighting.

Not all eastern Nigerians approved of secession. The Efiks, Annangs,

Ibibios, and Ijaws within Biafra were not enthusiastic about swapping a

Nigerian passport under a Hausa-Fulani led government, with a Biafran

passport where they would be led by an Igbo government. How would the

ethnic groups on Biafra's southern coast react to being minority citizens

of a country where most of the wealth is obtained from their land, but

where they did not have economic and political leadership? Probably in

the way they reacted when the same circumstances arose in Nigeria; MEND,

Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force et al. The armed campaign of

kidnapping and violence which Niger Delta militants waged against the

Nigerian federal government would instead have been waged within Biafra's

borders – against the Biafran government. Isaac Idaka Boro's short-lived

Niger Delta Peoples Republic (and the fact that Boro fought for the

Nigerian federal army against Biafra) was a demonstration that Niger Delta

militants would have turned their guns on Biafra before long.

How would Biafra have related to its neighbours? To its northern border

would have been one or two landlocked northern republics awash with

trained combatant soldiers and guns. These landlocked countries would need

would need deals with Biafra to gain access to the sea. If Biafra refused

or negotiations got difficult, their demands for access to the sea may

have turned violent. Would these northern republics quietly tolerate the

noisy, rich, and successful little nation to their south without envy or

rivalry? Unlikely.
To Biafra's western border would have been a diverse country of Edos,

Esans, Isokos, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ika-Igbos and others (modern day Delta

and Edo States). Would Biafra have closed its borders to its Igbo brothers

living in the state next door? Two options were open to Biafra. It could

have encouraged the Igbos living to its west to migrate to Biafra by

granting them automatic Biafran citizenship under an Israel style “law of

return”. That of course would have presented its own problems by inferring

that Biafra was an Igbo ethnic theocracy. It would also have fuelled fears

among non-Igbo Biafrans that Biafra was an Igbo project.

The other option would have been to enlarge Biafra's territory by

extending its borders westward into Igbo speaking areas west of the River

Niger such as Asaba. Non-Igbos living in such areas were unlikely to

accept such territorial encroachment peacefully. Any Biafran attempt to

annex territory west of the Niger would have been violently resisted. Even

if successful, Biafran soldiers would have been viewed as an army of

occupation in the manner of British soldiers in Northern Ireland and

Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Nigeria's existence today owes much to the “No Victor, No Vanquished”

policy of Nigeria's leader General Gowon after the war. Had Gowon not

declared a blanket amnesty for all combatants and reintegrated some

Biafran soldiers back into the Nigerian army, there would likely have been

a Biafran resistance army in existence for several decades. Conversely,

had Biafra won the war; the bitterness caused by the 1966 pogroms and

slaughter of Igbos would have made it impossible to treat defeated

Nigerians leniently. Biafran officer Colonel Ben Gbulie admitted that

Gowon would not have lived to tell the tale of a Biafran victory. Gbulie

said “Probably if we had won the war, we would have shot him.” Biafran

'pound of flesh' reprisals against those who so badly wounded it in 1966

would have led to a decades long tit-fot-tat war to rival the Israelis and

Biafra's army would have been kept very busy. It would simultaneously have

to defend itself from two potentially hostile northern republics (one of

which was likely to be Islamic), fight resentful neighbours to its west

and/or maintain an occupying army outside its borders to its west, and

simultaneously try to suppress an armed rebellion within its borders by

Niger Delta militants. The military strain may have compelled Biafra to

introduce compulsory military service for all adults, and would require it

to spend a sizeable chunk of its budget on defence and military

Biafra's leader Ojukwu was every inch the revolutionary leader:

charismatic, iconic, and intelligent. He even wore the revolutionary's

trademark green fatigues and intense beard. He was almost Fidel

Castro-esque or Yassir Arafat-esque in that regard. However would Ojukwu's

strong leadership have been able to resist a slide into a personality cult

or tyranny?
For all his articulation and intelligence, Ojukwu was no democrat. He

himself admitted that leaders do not voluntary surrender power. Instead

power must be wrestled from their hands. The execution of Alale, Banjo,

and Ifeajuna demonstrated that Ojukwu was not safe from his own people,

and the lengths he would go to in order to remain in power. He also fired,

then arrested and detained, his army commander Brigadier Hilary Njoku (who

had disagreed with him and questioned the wisdom if fighting a war against

an army with vast superiority in manpower and weaponry).

Biafra had several officers who were senior to, or had equal seniority

with, Ojukwu in the pre-war Nigerian army. Many of these officers did not

enjoy Ojukwu's arrogance or having to serve under a junior officer. Ojukwu

would eventually have faced a coup or assassination. Even if he somehow

managed to faced down coups or escape the assassin's bullet, it would have

come at a price. Biafra's paranoid “Sabo” mentality would have led him to

establish a KGB or Orwellian-like secret police to keep continual watch on

his population and potential enemies within. Biafra would not have been an

oasis of freedom.
The defection of Ijaw air force officer George Kurubo demonstrated that

some non-Igbo ethnic groups did not have their hearts entirely in Biafra.

Several other non-Igbo officers were also likely to defect. The suspicion

with which Igbos regarded their ethnic neighbours such as the Efik,

Ibibio, and Ogoni was likely to have led to racial profiling of these

ethnic groups by Biafran intelligence services (further increasing their

hostility to the Igbo leadership).
Biafra was not immune from corruption either. If some Biafrans could sell

weapons to an enemy that was resolutely determined to bomb them into the

stone age, and which continually bombed women and starving children in

hospitals and markets, could embezzle funds meant for the welfare of

Biafran troops and the purchase of weapons, imagine what heights

corruption could have reached in peacetime in a country awash with oil

Biafra may have been Nigeria in a microcosm.
Max Siollun