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To the Editors of the Summer News
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. U Thant, is reported to have said, in connection with Vietnam, that in war, the first casuality is truth. The Nigerian civil war is today another painful reminder of this phenomenon. Claims of a special Ibo Jewishness and Catholic Christianity vis a vis other Nigerian groups, and counter-claims of an Ibo plot to dominate others, have cluttered the scene.
However, it is the former view that dominates the press. Instant international theoreticians of ethnic profiles see in the Ibo a harmonious fusion of the judaic and christian traditions. If indeed this were a relevent category for the discussion of the Nigerian civil war, it would truly represent a tremendous cultural achievement for an African society, in view of the bloody antagonisms which have characterized these two traditions for much of Western history. Unfortunately, the category is irrelevent. Concocted as it was out of political expediency, this image now makes it difficult for the foreign observer to retrieve the objective sequence of events which led to the civil war.
In spite of this difficulty some current distortions have to be exposed because of their immediate implications for the lives of many innocent people. The Harvard Summer News has in its coverage of the crisis, not been free of these distortions.
In one of his contributions, your reporter wrote, inter alia, that Biafrans are being "starved out by the Nigerians". Having embraced the theme of Ibo jewishness, Biafra sympathizers complete the plot by assigning to Nigerians the role of the monster Hitler. Such baseless attribution of sadism to Nigerians can come only from a dangerously naive mind or a totally malicious one.
No African can be happy at the press reports of mounting starvation in secessionist Biafra. The fact of secession and the consequent human casualities represent a permanent tragedy for Africa. Newspaper advertisements carrying hungry African babies whose survival depends largely on the outcome of a march-of-dimes-type crusade are a humiliating reminder of Fanon's sad conclusion that black people of our generation are indeed the wretched of the earth. Our fellow Africans who, for various reasons now identify with secessionist Biafra, feel this deep sense of shame also.
Your reporter's assertion also does not accord with the facts concerning the obstacles to the current "food for Biafra" projects. The Vatican, the International Red Cross, the London Times, the New York Times (to mention only a few) have consistently stated that if the relief efforts are to have any impact on Biafran starvation, food must be transported by land from the rest of Nigeria, because of the inadequacy of airport facilities in what remains of Biafra. The Nigerian Government would surely be responsible for Biafran starvation if she refused to permit the transportation of the badly needed food. Fortunately this is not the case. The same international agencies have affirmed the readiness of the Nigerian Government to open up land corridors to allow the food to reach Biafra. These same international agencies further state that the major obstacle at the moment is the refusal of Biafran authorities to accept this offer on the morally dubious ground that Biafra's political illegitimacy would be thus compounded.
In short, what is happening, according to a recent editorial in the London Times, is that the Biafran regime is playing politics with the lives of innocent children. They seem to be more interested in the potential political capital which our natural sympathies for suffering children may produce, rather than in the lives of the children themselves.
Thus the primary responsibility for the present mass starvation in Biafra rests with the secessionist leaders. They cannot be meaningfully excused from any ethical exercise we may engage in on the Nigerian war. At the very least Biafran leaders are guilty of gross deceit. Only a few months ago they were proudly announcing to the world that the Biafran economy was running efficiently in spite of the war. At the time, these leaders considered it politically expedient to "prove" the viability of secessionist Biafra outside of a Nigerian federation. Nigerian reports of mass hunger were rejected out of hand, by pro-Biafrans, as propaganda attempts to lower the morale of those trapped in the secessionist kingdom. Now, however, the sordid truth of colossal human suffering is out. Biafra is not a viable dream without the oil rich territories of five million minorities coerced into the new citizenship.
Of course, serious students of African politics do not find this callous concealment of the truth surprising. They know that the majority of the Biafran leaders currently parading the world as tribal heroes with synthetic slogans of autochthonous virtues are the same politicians who, in concert with other members of the old Nigerian political class, ruthlessly exploited the Nigerian masses without regard to ethnicity only a few years ago. These tribal patriarchs of today were the nationally convicted rogues of yesterday. When the Nigerian masses were revolting against their exploitation in pre-coup Nigeria, the foreign minister, an Ibo, was busy singing the glories of Nigeria at the U.N. The Head of State who supervised the political corruption of pre-coup Nigeria is now a Biafran ambassador at large. It is significant that it is only in Biafra that these corrupt politicians have not been permanently thrown out of office.
These men cheated the Nigerian masses before in the name of free enterprise and unregulated accumulation of private wealth. Today, as they play the cocktail circuit at the seats of political reaction in Portugal, Spain and South Africa, they are once again concealing their particularistic class interests behind the tribal mask. It is not they who are dying; it is not they who are starving; it is their captive Biafran subjects.
Therefore, if our concern for the starving children is to go beyond mere liberal reflexes, we must have the courage to denounce the the political brigandage of the secessionist elite. If our liberalism is to have a sure ethical footing in the Nigerian crisis, we must not allow our enthusiasm to spill over into a justification of secession.
Only pseudo liberals and enemies of Africa can seriously advocate organized trips into Biafra with the avowed purpose of forcing American intervention in favour of secession. For quite apart from the risk of creating another Vietnam, such action can only condemn Africa to permanent underdevelopment. An Africa based on tribal units has no chance. Only our enemies can knowingly encourage African fragmentation while they themselves enjoy the fruits of unity in their own countries. Omafume Onoge Teaching Fellow Social Relations Dept.
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