Biafra must be conquered: Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Command

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This entry is part 5 of 12 in the series Reviews season two

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy writes that even though he has issues with the objectivity of Olusegun Obasanjo’s views on Biafra in My Command, the army commander still wrote a beautiful story that has left an enduring signature in the chronicles of Nigeria’s history

A lot has been said about Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Command. I seem to remember that the book does not find favour with writers like Festus Iyayi and Ademola Ademoyega who also have their own accounts of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War of 1967-1970.

I have heard a lot about this book and waited patiently to read it and the story has not left me disappointed.

Obasanjo wrote a good book but downplayed the truth!

Obasanjo could not clearly elucidate the issues that led to the war, he was not objective and it was clear on whose side he was. He was on the side he fought for. He only wishes to justify his conquest.

Obasanjo sees nothing wrong with forcing a people to remain in an unwanted union. To him, there could be no other cause of the Civil War than Odimegwu Ojukwu’s inordinate ambition to rule a nation. Ojukwu was to Obasanjo, the bad guy who was misleading several others. Remove him and all others would mellow.

That is Obasanjo’s philosophy and a philosophy promoted by Gowon and his cronies, as well as the British.

While I cannot deny that Ojukwu was quite an ambitious fellow, I cannot also say that Gowon lacked such fiery ambition in him also.

I would have dismissed the fact that one man could blindfold many others and make them pick arms against their neighbours as Obasanjo would have us believe, but I have seen much the same trend in recent times when some Biafran protesters inspired by their hero took to the streets to start up a protest and unfortunately, there are alleged cases of many being manhandled and massacred by the Nigerian army.

So I admit, people can be gullible sometimes and they can fight blindly too! But why was there no graphic description of the unjust killings of the Igbos in the north? Why did Obasanjo not tell us of how those who barely escaped with their lives were forced to flee the north during the attack preceding the civil war? Did Obasanjo say that some Igbo elites were kidnapped from their homes in places such as Lagos by the Nigerian army? Or that those who managed to escape had no choice than to return to their homeland Biafra? At least if Nigeria rejected them, Biafra did not.

I find it ridiculous that Obasanjo would consciously deny and dismiss the fact that starvation was one of the tools used to fight the Biafrans; he calls it mere propaganda on the Biafran side. Obasanjo should say if those images of young children with bloated stomachs are false or were taken in Mars?

Certainly, it is obvious that there is that thing with objectivity when a writer writes a story he is actively involved in!

The war was not just about Ojukwu and Gowon, it was a war of self determination. It was a war to assert the dignity of a race and its rejection of unjust and unlawful treatment in the hands of another race.

It was a war promoted by various external forces who felt they had a stake in deciding what the country should look like.

I agree that in war, one often has to fight dirty and all methods to conquer the enemy is assumed to be just by the conqueror, after all, we do say that all is fair in war and love! But I challenge Obasanjo to be objective. Spill the beans and tell us as it is.

Tell us Biafra cannot go because the land is rich in mineral resources and many of our Western friends have vested interests in that land, they cannot see their interests being protected in a sovereign state run by an Igbo educated Ojukwu. I would believe this than when you come to tell me that your story is that of:

how the arrogant and conceited Ojukwu, who wanted to rule an independent nation at all costs, deceived the people he claimed to love and left them in the lurch at their desperate hour of need, and fled ‘Biafra’ under the guise of seeking peace (xix-xx)

There is simply more to the picture the writer shows, more than he cares to tell.

I choose not to judge the deeds of the past using today’s standards so whatever is done is done but I cannot agree with the way Obasanjo has presented the story.

Obasanjo told the story of a conquest. It was a story of how he (Obasanjo) won the war for Nigeria, how he dealt terribly with the enemy and forced them to surrender. Such gallantry I admire but did Obasanjo achieve this feat alone?

Certainly not, Obasanjo is quick to point out what his predecessor on the battlefield were not doing correctly and how he was able to set things right with his fine generalship that even the enemies were amazed at his ability to upturn the situation in favour of Nigeria.

True, Obasanjo’s impact in bringing the war to an end could not be underscored (and should never be) but Obasanjo came to commandeer the army at a time when the Biafrans had almost been beaten black and blue and were dying of hunger and starvation, hence his glory at the end of it all was an easy one.

If Obasanjo had handled the mantle of leadership at the war’s beginning as the other commanders, I am sure he would not have such a sweet tale to tell. Obasanjo’s nut had been broken for him by a benevolent spirit, no doubt, but he need not underscore the effort of others to make himself the consistent northern star among an array of stars.

That Obasanjo sets out to tell the story of a conquest standing in the position of the conqueror is not in doubt for even his language shows it. He refers to the Biafrans as REBELS and not as “Igbos” or “Biafrans”.

Looking at the story structure, the story began (for me) in the twelfth chapter when Obasanjo took over as commander of the 3 Marine Commando. All those details before the first chapter were a little boring and must have been added facts by the editor.

Yes, speaking of an editor, I quite agree with Ken Saro Wiwa who suspects that the book could not have been so well written without good editorial assistance. Kudos to whoever helped our Baba with his autobiography, he or she did a good job and I suspect the person is a Caucasian judging by the tone of the initial chapters.

The northern elite must have been proud of Obasanjo for writing a good book! No wonder they were firmly in support of his presidential ambition.

Ojukwu did not help matters in his own book, Because I am Involved, because he did not delve too deep into the civil war events but instead wanted to play the role of a peace maker (I suspect he only used the book to propel his political ambition and let those who felt insecure by his holding any political power know that Ojukwu now believes in a one Nigeria under democracy).

Even though, as Soyinka asserted in his memoir, The Man Died, that Gowon may have stated that the war ended in a state of “No victor, no vanquished,” we know who the victor is and we know the vanquished. It is obvious that the Biafrans were the conquered race and this speech by Gowon could not be found in Obasanjo’s book because he only wanted to tell a tale of a conquest, not some no victor, no vanquished nonsense theory that Gowon was propagating haha!

All the same, Obasanjo wrote a beautiful story even though I have issues with the objectivity of the work.

Nonetheless, I must commend General Olusegun Obasanjo for bringing the war to an end by displaying fine skills of soldiership and great traits of an army commander that can so inspire much respect from his subordinates and catapult fear and admiration into the mind of the enemy. Obasanjo has left a permanent signature on Nigerian history and we cannot but respect him for that, at least.

© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Hook up with Eazy’s reviews on Memorila every Saturdays!

Series Navigation<< Writing through the eye of the West: Chika Unigwe’s Night DancerWomen’s commitment to the common struggle in the Niger Delta region: A review of May Ifeoma Nwoye’s Oil Cemetery >>
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