By Basil Okoh
President Buhari is mad with the agitators for Biafra in Igboland and wants to conquer them again. He is so angry that the Southeast has not learnt their lessons from “his” 30 months field operations in the 1967-70 Civil War. He hurled at the Igbo what the Roman General told the stubborn Princes of Germania: “when you’re beaten, stay down”. But Germania refused to stay down and the Igbo have also refused to stay beaten.
But does Nigeria really have the wherewithal to make the Igbo stay down? Can Nigeria fight two wars at the same time, Boko Haram and a second Biafra war? The balance of forces between Nigeria and Igboland, has it remained the same as in1967?
Not to force the issues and definitely not to prejudge future outcomes, Nigeria’s success in the Civil war last time, after thirty bloody months of heavy and unremitting casualties on its side, was not attributable to the fire power of its army and definitely not on any redeeming quality of its government.
It was more the winning diplomatic efforts of Yakubu Gowon, Okoi Arikpo, Obafemi Awolowo and their success in galvanizing world opinion and military support for Nigeria. Awolowo’s stable husbandry of the war economy, particularly of the emerging petroleum economy, was the steady hand that guided Nigeria to success.
Russia supplied all the tanks and the planes for the war. Egypt sent it’s pilots to fly the planes on bombing raids into Biafra while Britain supplied the other big guns, sold the oil while helping to mobilize favorable American public opinion.
And there is the important detail of the oil wells in the Niger Delta which shell D’Arcy had corralled at the time and which it was believed, Ojukwu and his Igbo people being as greedy as the British, would be too hard to play.
The British had to settle for and take the side of the Fulani and the Yoruba since the strategic calculation for profit was crucial and they wanted the oil so badly. The arrangement also meant that they didn’t have to deal directly with the troublesome owners of the oil in the Niger Delta Creeks. The coalition of the Hausa/Fulani would do that as a continuation of indirect rule which they had mastered. The Niger Delta minorities were like angry flies, they swarm all over you. So the money and the big guns went to Federal forces and Nigeria won.
Can Nigeria this time be able to mobilize that critical support from the big powers of the world and build an army with the technical competence to beat down the Igbo of today? A look at present realities do not suggest so.
IN THE RED NIGERIAN CORNER:
1. Nigeria or the Hausa/Fulani can no longer build the national and international coalition that helped it rally world opinion and material support to win the war. Britain, Russia, USA, Egypt and all of Arabia were on the Nigerian corner. The Count von Rosen flew his little aircraft and along with France rooted for Biafra. Yakubu Gowon had the youthful attraction, the convincing Christianity, the gift of speech and the conciliatory spirit that rallied the world and Nigerian communities to support the war effort. Remember when Yakubu Gowon wedded famously and noisily at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos? It made the narrative of Muslims persecuting Igbo Christians unbelievable.
2. The Yoruba, who were crucial in winning the war for Nigeria will not support the war this time. They themselves are now victims of Fulani oppression and in spite of what they say publicly, are looking for non-fighting options to leave Nigeria.
3. Benjamin Adekunle, the Yoruba war commander’s audacious moves overawed and captured Bonny, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Owerri and he undoubtedly unleashed the mortal blows that won the war for Nigeria. That feat can no longer be repeated. Definitely not by the Nigerian Army in its present strengths. How about the steady command dexterity of General J.J. Oluleye of the 2nd Division in holding on to the oil drilling installations in the creeks which assured Nigeria of the inflow of petrodollars to prosecute the war?
4. Obafemi Awolowo’s management of the war finances and the wartime economy of Nigeria cannot also be replicated. The Nigerian economy today is in shambles and no one seems to have any idea how to avoid a second debt peonage even without a war. Awolowo’s skillful management of the wartime economy without accumulating debt will be a tall order for any Nigerian economic manager today. The Yoruba won the war for Nigeria and without Yoruba support, the Hausa Fulani should not even contemplate going to war with anybody.
5. It may sound unbelievable but Nigerian military had a greater fire power in 1967 than it has now, half a century later in 2021. Desertion is high. Morale is low. Casualty rates in every operation are impossibly high. Soldiers are shooting at their commanders. Muslim soldiers are shooting at Christian comrades.
T72 Tanks are being captured by the enemy as every battle is sold before the fighting starts. Armories are being raided and plundered by enemy forces. Battle hardware and vehicles are being abandoned in disorderly withdrawals. Fighter planes and choppers are falling from the sky like hailstones. Operational budgets are five times the world average. The problems of the Nigerian Army are legion and the forces can no longer fight cohesively or sustain a war against an organized army.
Officers who were recruited unfairly through quota into cadet schools and lived cushy lives afterwards, are now revealing their shameful worth in the Northeastern battlefields.
6. Any declaration of war against the Southeast will automatically divide the army and weaken it further. If the Southeast soldiers leave, the Niger Delta soldiers must also disband from the Nigeria army. Very likely, the Middle Belt soldiers will be unwilling to fight. There will be no motivation to fight to defend a hegemonic Fulani regime. Most dangerously, the Yoruba will be unwilling to defend a Government headed by Fulani. If the Yoruba refuse to fight to keep Nigeria, the knowledge needed to manage a war economy will be sorely missed.
7. Yoruba will be compelled to take over their land which provides the access to the sea and the ports for procurement of food and military hardware and this will be the death knell for any future Fulani Army.
8. If the Yoruba block Hausa/Fulani use of the seaports, if the Igbo Forces are also able to sabotage the long supply lines from the ports and or through the desert, the war will be over in a few months in favour of the Biafra Forces. If the war lasts longer than that, there will be mass starvation and humanitarian crisis far worse than Yemen, Somalia, Myanmar and South Sudan put together. The refugee crisis will disrupt life in the entire sub-Saharan Africa.
BLUE BIAFRA CORNER:
It will be foolish for anyone to think that the IPOB or Igbo have not devised a plan for the defence of their land.
9. In an intelligent and smart war scenario, the Igbo do not have to do much direct fighting, a few audacious moves in disruption of economic and energy installations will do mortal damage.
10. Emeka Ojukwu in 1967 made some strategic mistakes which will no longer be repeated. First, he allowed Bonny, Calabar and Port Harcourt and the entire southeastern coastal stretch to be subdued and captured by the 3rd Marine Commando Forces led by Benjamin Adekunle at the beginning of the war. That mistake changed the entire trajectory of Ojukwu’s plan for the war. Biafra effectively lost the war from that point, allowing the supply shortfalls and starvation that followed.
11. Second, Ojukwu and the Biafran forces fought a totally defensive war. (IPOB is making the same mistake of destroying infrastructure in it’s own land) The enemy never suffered major infrastructural damages throughout the thirty months of fighting. It is the reason why Buhari talks glibly now about war. He has not seen the consequence of war in his own backyard. The motivation to stop the war was never on the Nigerian side.
12. Third, Ojukwu killed his own trained and experienced officers, the executed majors, men who could have bested Nigerian commanders in any battlefield scenario. Afterwards, brave but largely unschooled commanders took charge of the Biafra army. The majors executed by Ojukwu as traitors were Agbam, Alale, Victor Adebukunola Banjo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Their contributions could have made a huge difference for Biafra success at the fronts.
13. In the actual battlefields of the Biafra war, for every Biafran soldier that fell, a minimum of twenty-five Nigerian troops were killed. The disparity in casualties were actually frightening and one of the reasons why Nigeria does not keep a record of war dead.
There were many Nigerian soldiers, particularly the first wave of soldiers into the war, who could not take cover or shoot straight. They were mowed down unceasingly by Biafran troops. The entire band of big black soldiers, hundreds of thousands of them, called “godogodo” were all entirely wiped out by Biafran forces before the dawn of 1969.
Biafrans, particularly the civilians, were killed more by air raids, starvation, greed of it’s merchants and mismanagement of war and its economy, than by the actual fighting in the battlefields. Thousands of infants died of “kwashiokor” a disease caused by sustained lack of sodium (salt) in their food.
Thousands were flown away to Gabon to be saved. At the end of the war more than two million bags of salt were recovered from crevices, caves, hidden rooms and all sorts of hiding places in Biafra, hoarded by merchants of unimaginable greed.
14. In spite of the boastfulness of Muhammadu Buhari, his people the Fulani and Hausa, did not show any remarkable presence in the war of 1967-1970. As an Egon, Nassarawa state Chief said, the Fulani look for trouble and wait for others to take the fight. “The Fulani can never engage in direct battle. They only attack sleeping isolated communities”.
The balance of forces are certainly not favorable to Fulani or Nigeria. But a dimwitted Government won’t know this and would carelessly throw their people into a war they believe they have won even without the resources for war and before it starts. There’s no evidence on the ground military or economic to suggest a Fulani capacity to wage war. Muhammadu Buhari must heed advise and listen to the pacifists. He must not bandy war when his people are rootless and depend on others to take their fights.
***Basil Okoh can be reached at email@example.com and @basilokoh on Social Media.