Biafra: A ‘victor’s’ side of the story

Biafra: A ‘victor’s’ side of the story
A review of Usman Faruk’s ‘The Victors and the Vanquished of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970: Triumph of Truth and Valour over Greed and Ambition’

Genre: Non-fiction (Historical)

Author: Usman Faruk
Publisher: Ahmadu Bello University Press
Pages: 334
Year of publication: 2011
Reviewer: Andrew Agbese

The title of this review draws heavily from the conclusion by the author in his 334 page narrative which can be glimpsed even from the book title, that the official verdict of the outcome of the Nigerian civil war, close to 50 years after the last bullet in the 30-month battle had been fired, has not gone down well with some of the key players.
General Yakubu Gowon as head of state, had, after receiving the instruments of surrender from the Biafran side, declared a ‘no victor no vanquished’ verdict which till date remains the official position of the Nigerian government on the outcome of the civil war.
But 46 years after Nigeria received the instrument of surrender, Faruk who can be described as one of the key actors in the counter-coup that led to the civil war not only disagrees with Gowon, using facts available to him, but relives other events overlooked in most civil war narratives. 
From the book title, ‘The Victors and The Vanquished of the Nigerian Civil War,’ it is clear that the author had set out to disagree, that the war ended on a stalemate.
The adlib, ‘Triumph of Truth and Valour over Greed and Ambition’ as contained in the book’s cover, equally betrays the fact that the author is not willing to place his cards on the table to allow the reader be the judge. It is clear that he had taken a position.
It is safe to conclude that most of the narratives about the Nigerian civil war have not gone down well with the author. This is not surprising as most of the accounts have been either from an eye or other secondary witnesses of the war.
Actors on the Nigerian side, who have been accused of so many atrocities, including genocide and using hunger as an instrument of warfare have for some curious reasons preferred to keep their accounts to themselves.
It is obvious that Faruk has decided to deviate from this posture, but the question is whether he is qualified to take up the topic or even if he is; if his experiences are reliable enough to offer new perspectives in the civil war chronicle. 
Here, a brief introduction of the author would suffice if only to situate the depth or otherwise of the facts presented to sustain what clearly goes against the grain of most of the works on the subject.
At the time the civil war broke out in 1967, Faruk was serving as the military governor of the then North Western State which comprised Niger and Sokoto provinces having been appointed by General Gowon a year earlier.
But before then, he served as a detective in what was then referred to as the ‘X’ squad in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), of the Nigeria Police Force which was later upgraded to the Department of State Security (DSS).
The ‘X’ squad he explained was mainly concerned about political crimes and his position as one of the six governors in Nigeria at that time, gave him access to all the security reports about the war.
These explain the slant of the narration which comes as largely expository, most times looking deeper into common place anecdotes to locate twists that give new perspectives into some of the issues.
The highly judgmental tone and the accompanying unapologetic deductions which are definite features employed by the author, may have to do with the nature of his assignment during the war which is purely military, but as a chronicle, the details are highly engaging. 
One cannot dismiss the fact that the author’s background, served to a large extent to shape not only his postulations, but to sustain his logic as he without pretending defends issues that affect him. 
Faruk, who is familiar with warfare, argues that the case of the Nigerian civil war cannot be different from any other war in which the defeated are clearly identified and made to observe certain rite for the records.
He says in page 275 that in accordance with international conventions that when a war is ended either through a truce or through surrender by one side, assets of the defeated are declared to the victors and maintained that that was not different with what happened then.
He said such ceremonies include the award of certificates and medals for gallantry and exceptional conduct during the period of hostilities.
The author made it clear, that he seeks to justify his quest for setting straight the records as he doubts if the Igbo of today are appreciative of what he calls the ‘gallant and magnanimous actions of General Gowon’ towards them.
To him, Biafra breached every term of agreement expected from a surrendering side, as he observed that its leaders failed to release prisoners captured during the war while he said Nigeria respected such conventions and broke the bars for those it captured during the war.
Again, he says ‘Biafrans’ did not return the weapons in their possessions saying they kept 75 percent of them as he tries to instigate further discourse by asking if it could be the weapons, hid for so many years, that could be giving the present day agitators for Biafra, the courage to confront the Nigerian state.
If these views can be held as controversial, his recount of what led to the Nigerian civil war starting from the first coup in 1966 to the counter-coup, the meeting at Aburi, Ghana and others are even fierier.
He sees the January 15, 1966 coup as planned and executed by the Igbo to wipe out leaders of certain ethnic groups in the country to pave way to what he called ‘Igbo domination.’
A glimpse of Page 68; “There shouldn’t be any doubt that the January 15th coup was an Igbo coup, an Igbo agenda to actualize the selfish objective of dominating the entire country.”
He argues that this is because apart from the fact that most of the coup planners were Igbo, they exempted political leaders of Igbo extraction and insists that after the coup the Igbo carried on with a sense of triumphalism.
There are other revelations regarding the coup where, relying on his background as a sleuth, the author tries to expose certain conspiracies. He says in this regard that Nwafor Orizu as President of the Senate deliberately delayed the process of forming a government when it was clear that the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa was dead and Nnamdi Azkiwe was out of the country so that it would be convenient for him to hand over to Aguiyi-Ironsi and punctured the perception that it was the ministers that invited Aguiyi-Ironsi to take over.
Certain revelations about the role of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other Yoruba leaders at the beginning of the civil war are also capable of giving a new perspective about why the war lingered and the later frenzy with which it was embraced by the Yoruba.
The revelations continue even outside the shores of Nigeria with his recount of the role played by other countries which served to fuel the fire of the civil war.
But there is no doubt that the authors apart from relying on historical facts and occurrences to ‘straighten the records,’ is also eager to defend the North and redefine its age-long ‘misconceptions.’
This he tries to achieve by bringing out the good qualities of the northerner which he sums up as courageous, bold, loyal and sincere while painting the South and southerners in less glorifying terms.
At the end, the author obliged the reader with his personal reflections of the events before, during and after the civil war and raises posers on why a contrary opinion cannot be true.
Whereas the book is high on conspiracies that shaped the war, it overlooked other equally significant occurrences that have outlived the civil war like the issue of the Asaba Massacre.
He, on the other hand remembers how the minorities in the South were treated by the Igbo whose leaders he said were put in detention, their properties seized and their lands confiscated. 
For those who have been distraught that narratives about the civil war have been skewed heavily on one side, the contribution of Faruk to the discourse comes as a relief. It certainly serves the two sides to a story perception, but whether it will be acceptable to all is what remains to be seen.

Source: Daily Trust


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