25th May witnessed a conference held to mark 50 years since Nigerian experienced the War for Biafra. The conference was tagged ‘Memory & Nation Building; Biafra: 50 years after’. If you know about Nigeria’s history you will agree that the event alone is an accomplishment. But that isn’t all, the event organizers astonishingly managed to get former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo to speak.
The Biafran War is not something a lot of Nigerians talk about outside abusive and divisive exchange of words, it is something the leaders never address, it is always absent from primary and secondary school classrooms and only sparsely included in a few lessons in history related courses in our tertiary institutions. All these have led many to assume several misconceptions about it. When the late Chinua Achebe wrote about his personal experiences during the war in his last book, there was a Country, the national conversation was more about his alleged bias and dislike for Obafemi Awolowo than it was about the war. So, organizing this event was a bold move in the right direction for Nigeria.
Acting President Yemi Osibanjo
During his speech, Acting President Osinbajo was in a reflective mood, he started with his experiences growing up during the war, telling the story of a childhood friend named Emeka that he never saw again. He went on to say that he was not telling people to let bygones be bygones nor to just forget the past but made a case for all Nigerians to come together. He said it was time for a new generation of Nigerians to take a different and more promising route than those before them. No one stands to benefit from divisiveness, he said, we will all be losers.
There was a point during Professor Osinbajo’s speech when he reaffirmed the rights of Nigerians to fully discuss and negotiate the terms of our unity. It is something Nigerian public officials have formed the habit of not doing, the subject has been treated with so much disdain and contempt that people who even entertain the idea of Biafra are looked down upon and told to “go back to Biafra.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Obasanjo, who spoke on “Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation”, said, “After independence, Nigeria had 3 countries in one. The problems continue to haunt us as a country today. Unity had eluded us”. The former president said Nigeria has to differentiate between perception and reality, and efforts should be made to correct the difference. He said, “We must concentrate on building Nigeria, we must learn our history. There’s no substitute for us. “Nigeria must be treated like a love affair. We must massage Nigeria gently. “Nigeria must mean something for everyone.
A cross-section of guests at the event