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Of Victor and Vanquished, Biafra Fifty Years After

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January 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian Civil War and the official end of the short-lived Republic of Biafra. It is unlikely there will be any national event to mark the occasion other than the annual Remembrance Day ritual which has become nothing but a cash cow for those involved in organising the ceremony. But the civil war was not only a defining moment for Nigeria, it has also continued to define the country. As Prof. Yakubu Ochefu notes in the introduction to the 2013 book, Nigeria is Negotiable, “The corporate existence of the country has been tested twice. It was formally broken once (1967-70) and pronounced broken once (April 1990). It took a horrible civil war to restore the entity when it was broken and an equally brutal attempted coup when it was pronounced.”

Fifty years after the end of the civil war, what lessons have we learnt as a nation? It appears not much. At the end of the war in January 1970, when the remnants of the Biafra high command signed the article of surrender, the victors, the “Federal forces” under the headship of General Yakubu Gowon, proclaimed, “No victor, No vanquished.” Unfortunately, 50 years after, it has become evident that the cheque of “No victor, No vanquished” issued in 1970 is not cashable. The debate is still raging whether the war was necessary and if the region that became known as Biafra had a moral right to secede.

Answers vary depending on who is responding. But one thing is certain. That war was preventable if only the government of the day led by Gowon was intent on presiding over a country built on justice and equity. Here is Gowon—quoted in The Man Died, the prison notes of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka —not only appeasing the génocidaires but proclaiming a divine right to rule —a right that has become the refrain of the relics of the born-to-rule ideologues: “Fellow Northerners, Today, I want to direct this appeal specifically to you all…You all know that since the end of July, God, in his power, has entrusted the responsibility of this great country of ours, Nigeria, to the hands of another Northerner…Since January this year, when some soldiers put our country into confusion by killing our leaders, both political and military, the country has not recovered fully from that confusion. The sadness caused in people’s minds by the January event has led to troubles by civilians in the North in May, causing loss of lives. I receive complaints daily that up to now, Easterners living in the North are being killed and molested, their property looted. I am very unhappy about this. We would put a stop to these. It appears that it is going beyond reason to the point of recklessness and irresponsibility…” That was Gowon as head of state in October 1966, nine months before the civil war began in July 1967.

Fifty years after, those who still live with the victors’ mentality that because a people were “defeated” in a civil war, they should perpetually stay under have remained in control of the country. Looking back, it appears the vanquished have not paid the full price —whatever that is— for daring to test the supposedly divinely ordained and non-negotiable corporate existence of the country. A little example will suffice. On Sunday, September 29, 2019, I arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, “We Are All Biafrans,” the title of my book first published in May 2016, later updated, and republished in November 2018. I was arrested by officers of the State Security Service and detained for more than six hours, first at their office at the airport and later at their headquarters in the Aso Drive area of Abuja. The first question I was asked at the airport was, “You are a Biafran, how come you have a Nigerian passport?” I am not aware there is a sovereign nation called Biafra and I made that known to my interrogators

That question was not altogether surprising but coming from what is supposed to be the nation’s elite intelligence agency, it struck me that we were in a deeper mess than I had imagined. We can play the ostrich as much as we want, but the truth is that the division that precipitated and characterised the civil war looms large. We will be deluding ourselves to think for once that the civil war is over. Everywhere you turn in Nigeria, the angst, fear and loathing that were the hallmark of the civil war impose themselves. Fifty years after the end of the civil war, we have expanded the scope of the vanquished. Our country is as divided, if not more divided, as it was at the beginning of the war in 1967.

Today, the chickens of impunity and injustice have come home to roost. Yesterday’s men who supervised this tragedy in its infancy are today looking for an easy way out. In 1996, exactly three decades after he became head of state, Yakubu Gowon, with the permission of then murderous dictator, Sani Abacha, set up “Nigeria Prays” “to put an end to the various problems plaguing Nigeria.” I am not averse to prayers, but we cannot pray our way out of the current mess whose origin goes back to more than five decades. In what looked like a bitter homecoming, the other retired general, the billionaire businessman, General Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), who was front and centre in Ibadan in July 1966 when Nigeria’s second coup took place, was in the ancient city again in December 2019. This time, in a sombre mood, he told a bewildered audience: “If I tell you what I know that is happening in Nigeria today, you will no longer sleep.” This is catharsis which ought to be a mea culpacame on the heels of his earlier statement describing the Nigerian Army as an army of occupation. All I can say is, speak, general, speak! Say what you know. The country needs to reconcile its past with the present.

As part of the healing, on Monday, January 13, there will be a “Never Again” conference in Lagos to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the civil war. Organised by Nzuko Umunna, a pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, comprising Igbo professionals both at home and in the Diaspora and Ndigbo Lagos in collaboration with civil society organisations, the aim of the conference is to address the “seeming lack of political will towards a robust and focused interrogation of the civil war, its causes, and hard lessons.”

The January 13 conference is aptly named “Never Again.” It is going to be a tall order because remembrance entails an appreciation of history, that is, where it exists. Today, there is no official history of the Nigerian Civil War, not even from the “victors.” Last year, I attended the public presentation of the book, Elections in Nigeria: The Long Road to Democracy, by Prof Shehu Abdullahi Y. Shehu. Both retired generals, Olusegun Obasanjo, a civil war commander, and Yakubu Gowon were at the event. Obasanjo joked about how his boss, Gowon, set up a high-powered committee at the end of the civil war in 1970 to write the history of the war. By the time Gowon was overthrown by Murtala Muhammed and his cohorts, which incidentally included the selfsame Obasanjo, on July 29, 1975, not a single line had been written. The audience erupted in laughter. That is the tragedy of Nigeria!

Nigeria can still redeem itself. It has been 50 years since we proclaimed, “No Victor, No Vanquished.” It is time to truly end the war; and it is not just the war against Biafra, as Soyinka noted, but that against the millions of duped and dispossessed citizens. That is the only way we can avert another war!

Chido Onumah is the author of the book “We Are All Biafrans”

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Opinion

Alex Asigbo @50

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I have seemingly surmounted what looks like a writing block or a set of them as I write this piece. Perhaps, I will not intuit such a situation to the case of writing blocks as such can only be said to occur when you have nothing to write about, and unlike the Christian song which says “ What shall I say unto the Lord?” , for Professor Alex Asigbo it should be what shall I not say? Here’s to a man of many parts, a colorful persona and first class academic.

At 50, the youngest professor in the field of Theatre Arts would naturally appear to be a fulfilled man, after all we are in a country were life expectancy is still hobbling within the range of 45-47 years of age, he is 50 and at the near summit of his career as an academic; life has being fair to him, no doubt. However, to those who know him, he is not a fulfilled man in that sense, and why should he be? 

Alex Chinwuba Asigbo is rolled up in one person a social crusader, a raging phenomenon and a trailbrazer of no mean repute, but that is not all, like Claude Eke ( Jegede Shokoya) of the hilarious sitcom, “The New Masquerade “  who in praise of himself described one set of his normal use of panegyrics as stanza one! Asigbo is entitled to stanza one, two , three and four if not five stanzas, the only difference is that unlike Jegede, he

Is not the one heaping the praises on himself. 

From the look of it, it is obvious that Professor Asigbo was born without a silver spoon, and if comets did blaze that day, the 12th of November, 1969 to announce his birth, the people of Oroma Etiti did not see it. He was to have his primary education at Hope Rising Primary School, Oroma Etiti Anambra between 1975 and 1980, where he achieved the feat of being the first Oroma Etiti man to complete the primary form of education. He had his stint with secondary school education at Anam High School, Oroma Etiti Anam between 1981 and 1986 before proceeding to the University of Port Harcourt. At the University of Port Harcourt, Asigbo distinguished himself bagging a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Second Class Honours, Upper Division) in Theatre Arts with specialization in playwriting in 1994. An assiduous scholar, Asigbo quickly added a Master of Arts Degree in Theatre Arts and subsequently capped his degrees with a PhD in Performance Studies, both from the University of Ibadan.

Still on his academic footprints, Asigbo  has a number of feathers to his overcrowded  hat; this distinguished gentleman is also a Post Doctoral Fellow of the American Council for Learned Societies’ (FACLS) African Humanities Program (AHP) as well as the Nigerian Institute of Corporate Administration (FCAI); Fellow, Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists, (fsonta).

Rising through the ranks, Alex Asigbo was elected as Dean, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in October, 2012 and served in that capacity until Oct 2014, when he was appointed, Director, Centre for Arts, Culture and Humanities in which capacity he served until September, 2019. He served as Director, TETFUND, Implementation Committee between June, 2016 and September, 2019. He also served as Head, Department of Theatre and Film Studies from January 2017 to September, 2019. He was also the National Social Secretary, Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA) 2001 – 2006; National Secretary, SONTA 2006-2011; Financial Secretary, SONTA 2011 – 2013. Asigbo is also the National Public Relations Officer, Society of Non-Fiction Authors of Nigeria, (SONFAN). He is also a National Vice President of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), and was inducted into the SONTA Hall of Fame with a Life Time Achievement Award in 2011, (HSONTA). He was elected 9th President of SONTA in November, 2017 and after that has been returned twice as President due to his sterling achievements in that position. 

This quintessential professor is a Member of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Senate and Visiting Adjunct Professor to Imo State University, Owerri as well as Anambra State University, Igbariam Campus. Asigbo has also been on the NUC panel of Experts either as Chairman or member for the accreditation of Theatre and Arts programs in different Nigerian Universities among which are University of Benin, University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University, Bayero University, University of Abuja, University of Uyo, Adekunle Ajasin University, Federal University, Lafia, Lead City University, Igbinedion University, Ekiti State University, Bowen University, Delta State University, etc.. 

As an accomplished playwright, Asigbo has to his kitty a string of works which include his published plays such as Fate of an Orphan & Obidike: The Last Warrior (2000); Once Upon a School (2001); War of the Tin Gods (2002/2008), The Reign of Pascal Amusu (2008) among others. He also has a number of publications which include over forty journal articles in both National and International Journals. 

Between 2009 and 2010 he spent his Sabbatical leave at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi where he helped to set up the Department of Theatre and Cultural Studies.

Asides academics, Asigbo is fervent lover of the Nigerian nation and a detribalized Nigerian. This is not to say that he is not proudly Igbo, far from it, however he believes that the Nigerian nation has not being fair to the Igbo man nor the minorities that make up Nigeria and believes that the Igbo Nation can push for such a fair Nigeria by aligning with the minorities and championing their cause vis a vis theirs whilst maintains cordial relationships with the other major ethnic groups.

As he looks forth to another fifty years or more, it is my hope that we will see more of Professor Asigbo in the onerous task of shaping our society into one where his likes will be like Plato’s Philosopher King’s and our society a semi or near utopia!

 

Igboeli Arinze is the Editor in Chief of thestandpointng.com

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Opinion

IPPIS : Understanding ASUU’s Fears

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By Igboeli Arinze Napoleon
        What looked like a small quarrel might soon blow up into a volcanic eruption between the Federal Government and the Academia. The lecturers this time are not demanding that the 2009 agreement be implemented, neither are the baying for blood over some allocation here or there, no! ASUU is simply rejecting the extension of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Informationg, IPPIS to them as a body. Like the name goes,IPPIS seeks to capture all persons working under the aegis of the Federal Government under a unified pay roll system. This will obviously eliminate the issue of ghost workers and the huge loss of government resources. It is a progressive policy or should I say initiative by the Federal Government, one worthy of commendation.
But the Nigerian academia have in turn opposed the initiative; such opposition benumbs one’s thinking initially, raising questions as to why would ASUU reject an initiative so noble as this? Is ASUU now a stumbling block to the progress of the nation? Should such a process and scheme not receive ASUU’s loving embrace and support?
Yet ASUU feels otherwise, and here are its reasons which I feel are germane enough to warrant such resistance.
First of all ASUU has the salient argument that they are not civil servants: this is indeed true as I recall whilst receiving my History of Education lectures from the late Reverend Father Dr. Onwueme, in the then revered lecture halls of the University of Benin, one concept that struck me was that of Academic freedom, which is simply the conviction that the freedom of inquiry by university lecturers is essential to the to the mission of the academia or university as well as the principles of academia, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment. Universities are run under governing councils and not the Federal Government per se, it is these councils that the lecturers are answerable to ,the essence of university autonomy. One, may agree with ASUU in this line, as ASUU enrolling itself into such a process would make it an extension of the civil service, this you will agree with me will not mean well for the nation’s academia, bad as it seems now, imagine where the academia comes under a unified payroll system?
Again, ASUU insists that the unified payments system would adversely affect the situation where universities like ours which are in dire need of the presence of visiting scholars from the far ends of the earth would be affected. How would these visiting scholars be captured by IPPIS, given the nation’s penchant for red tapism, would this not affect the exchange of ideas such a practice was meant to encourage? Come to think of it, why would a visiting lecturer from say Australia come to teach in say Awka and then first have to stop at Abuja to register with IPPIS?
Let’s look at our teaching hospitals, the medical doctors who work there as consultants receive a payment commensurate with their trainings as doctors, as what the university pays them cannot meet their basic salary requirements,so the time they spend in the teaching hospitals, treating patients and teaching medical students is paid for, ASUU is saying that IPPIS does not capture such, should it acquiesce to enrol with IPPIS then we would have a brain drain in our teaching hospitals, something we as a nation can not afford.
The issue of external examiners and external supervisors is still another touchy point, imagine all external examiners running to Abuja to get enrolled in IPPIS; can there be another expression of the word bedlam!
This is not to say that the Federal Government does not have a point or two; first there is the issue of massive corruption in the university system, cronyism at its best. Here lecturers hide under the visiting lecturer scheme to rip the the university system off, and you see a number of lecturers becoming visiting lecturers to more than three universities all at once, a situation one will agree is unethical. Then there is also the issue of Vice Chancellors and other top dogs in the university system hiring their kinsmen, girlfriends and family friends as lecturers even when such persons are not qualified.
To the two issues raised earlier, I think the Federal Government can deal with such by creating another platform that would serve the university system alone. A separate platform for such will check such excesses and still guarantee university autonomy. ASUU, it seems Is not against progressive ideas or ridding the system of corruption, nay, it simply is against lumping it with the civil service.
One must then implore the Buhari administration to see reason with ASUU and create a leeway that will essentially engage ASUU and still achieve the anti corruption objectives of this government. I am with ASUU on this one!
Igboeli Arinze is the Editor In Chief of thestandpointng.com
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Government of Nigeria Working To Curb Cyber Fraud- Garba Shehu

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Kunle  Ajobiewe, Lagos– Reeling  from the recent spate of arrest of Nigerians by the FBI for fraud related activities, the Presidency said on Sunday that it would work out a set of  executive orders as well as work with  the National Assembly to pass new laws  in order to curb online fraud involving Nigerians.

 

Recently, over 77 Nigerians living in the United States of America had been indicted by the Federal Bureau for Investigation, FBI of the United States of America. These arrests were preceded by the arrest of Obiwanne Okeke, aka Invictus Obi for allegedly stealing 11 million dollars via fraud.

 

This was made known to Nigerians by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu. Shehu disclosed this while appearing on Politics Today, a live television programme.

 

Shehu described the situation as a double damage on every citizen of Nigeria but however stated that this did not mean that every Nigerian was a fraudster.

 

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FeaturesOpinion

Of Cabinet Appointments and Disappointments

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I received the ministerial list with mixed feelings, I however refused to comment until one was sure of which portfolios would be assigned to which minister. Wednesday, the 21st of August however ended that wait as finally Nigerians all over the world got to know which minister designate was assigned to what ministry. Let us note that much as I was impressed with the ministerial list as against the cacophonous cries by a number of poor potty trained characters that the list did not parade technocrats, as if the likes of Fashola, Onyema, Clement Agba ( The man who did wonders in the urban renewal plan of Edo State) amongst other were roadside mechanics and akpuo-obi’s. Watching the ministerial screening exercise alone wowed me, particularly for the candidates that were not allowed to take a bow and go, sadly these minister designates were not asked specific questions but were asked a broad range of questions based on where they had initially worked or based on what hints the members of the Senate had at that point. This is rather unfortunate and I think it is about time that we fix the situation that allows the President to assign ministerial portfolios as soon as the appointments are announced.

If I was impressed with the ministerial list and the screening exercise that followed, I must say that I am not impressed with the assigning of ministerial portfolios. For example, I did not expect to see a Chris Ngige return to the Ministry of Labour, a ministry where he was at logger heads with the leadership of the NIgerian Labour Congress, NLC over his refusal to appoint Chief Frank Kokori as the Chairman of the NSITF. Nigerians followed the back and forth arguments that greeted the refusal of Ngige to inaugurate the NSITF board; the standoff was so unhealthy that Labour had to picket the minister in his home at Asokoro. One would have expected that with the reappointment of Ngige to the cabinet, he should have been handed another ministry and a new face assigned to the Labour ministry in order to allow for whatever tensions that raged then simmer down.

Again, I must fault what looks much like a mismatch of appointments. What is an Uche Ogah, a major player in the Oil and Gas sector doing in mines and steel, what is a Keyamo doing in the Niger Delta Ministry when he has enough experience as a lawyer to pursue reforms in the judiciary and bring the body to speed with present global standard practices when it comes to dispensing with justice. Ogah too would have fared well in the oil and gas sector.

What is Sunday Dare doing in Youths and Sports, he would have fared better in the Ministry for information or communication, or why is Ambassador Miriam Kategu not in the Education Ministry replacing the dour and underperforming Adamu Adamu and giving our educational sector an area in which she has served as a career civil servant the much required filip? Is President Buhari choosing politics above policy in these appointments?

The answer would surely be no as a number of other appointments suggest otherwise, for example, I am happy with the stripping of power from Babatunde Fashola from his Super Minister status of Power, Works and Steel, this is not because he Fashola failed to perform, far from it, I think he did quite well, however these ministries under him were quite critical to the nation’s wellbeing thus warranting a split. I am also thrilled by Dr. Pantami’s appointment as the Minister for Communications, same with the return of Rotimi Amaechi to the Ministry of transport, same for Hadi Sirika. A Clement Agba is also wonderful music to the the cabinet as. Minister for Budget and National planning!

One character that would be much missed from the cabinet would be Chief Audu Ogbeh, the former Minister for Agriculture. Truth be told, Nigeria’s agricultural sector rose to towering heights from the dismal state the sector had found itself in the past. Credit for the much improved progress in the sector should be given to Ogbeh who became the face of the agricultural revolution, was he dropped owing to age or was he a victim of the evils of the political horse tradings that sometimes claims even the good in our political firmament, one may never really know.

Can this cabinet meet the challenges of the Nigerian people? Can this cabinet deliver the goods? Despite the numerous wins of this administration, Nigerians still seem to be yearning for more and one cannot blame them, President Buhari and his cabinet must be prepared to do more, and write their names in posterity’s good books. Their time starts now!

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