By OBINNA EZUGWU
A Tiv leader of thought and convener, Conference for Democratic Change, Professor Yima Sen, has said anyone who wants to start another war in the country in the hope that Tiv people will help to fight is wasting his time, as according to him, his people will not be used to fight another war.
Prof Sen who spoke in Lagos on Monday at an event organised by Nzuko Umunna, an Igbo sociocultural group and other rights groups to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the Biafra war, said the war was regrettable, and called on all Nigerians to work towards evolving a workable federation.
“I never knew that as a 16-year-old young man at the beginning of the civil war, that I would come to a gathering like this, 50 years later, to discuss the civil war,” he noted.
“Whoever went and created that problem for Nigerian that time, please next time you do it, go to Cameroon and find your fighters because Tiv people are not going to provide any fighters for anybody again.
“60 percent of the fighting forces in Biafra were Tiv, where I come from. Why did you drag us into that unreasonable war? Do you know that almost every Tiv family lost someone in that war? The question is, for what?”
Sen who was one of the panelists at the event, argued it would be in the interest of everyone that Nigeria is made to work.
“I’m a nationalist. My father was a member of parliament, those people that were removed in 1966 by the coup that some people say precipitated the civil war. My family suffered from it. My father as a member of parliament was a big man and I was a big man’s child.
“But he was reduced to nothing. And which party did he belong to? The United Middle Belt Congress. The political historians here know what the party stood for. It stood for the restructuring of Nigeria.
“I’m here speaking as an intellectual. I know what is happening in the 19 Northern states. And I have very good memories. When I saw Professor George Obiozor, I was very excited. We were in the Shagari government together. And we were very serious about building a Nigerian nation after that civil war. We were not joking.
“We are here today because we want to end this Biafra war. If it never ended, we must end it. If the Rwandans can learn the lesson from their experience, why can’t we?”
Tagged Never Again Conference 2020, the conference which witnessed speeches from various Nigerian leaders, including Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; Yoruba Leader, Professor Banji Akintoye; former chairman of Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Professor Anya O. Anya; former presidential candidate, Professor Pat Utomi; Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe; Onyeka Onwenu, among others, was organised to discuss the way forward for Nigeria, especially at this critical stage in the country’s journey to nationhood.
Delivering his keynote address, Professor Soyinka argued that it was out of place for anyone to say that the unity of the country was not negotiable.
He insisted, citing the examples of Scotland, the USSR, Ethiopia, Sudan, among others, that Nigerians must continue to negotiate the unity of the country if it must move forward.
Earlier in his address, co-chair of the occasion, Prof Akintoye noted that Nigeria is a country made up of many nations, and according to him, unless there is a return to the fundamentals where these nations are recognized and given their due, the quest for nation building will continue to be an exercise in futility.
In his own remarks, Senator Abaribe noted that war is a bad experience which affects everyone, warning that those who appear not to have learnt anything from the last war should be mindful of the way they handle the country.
Abaribe also paid tribute to Senator Shehu Sani, former Kaduna Central senator who currently in detention.
“We thank God for this gathering. On behalf of my good friend, who was supposed to be here, Shehu Sani, but is being held for allegedly collecting money for a case that is not in the Supreme Court and he is supposed to have collected money on behalf of the Chief Justice of the Federation,” Abaribe said.
“Let me say that just like, Pat Utomi had said, I was twelve years and had just entered secondary school when my relative, a 15-year-old boy, who was living with us, was conscripted into the army.
“We went into the bush and as we came out, he was conscripted into the the army. His name was Okerenta, his father’s name was Okere, so they called him Okerenta.
“The last time I saw him, he was marching along with some other people who were also conscripted and the next thing we heard was that all of them were taken to Ikrita and they died,” he recalled.
“A lot of people don’t know that war affects everybody. It affects us, so that’s why I came to listen and see what I can do when I get back to the Red Chamber. So that when those who sit down there and think that they can tell everybody what they ought to do, I can remind them that war can destroy everything you have.”
Also speaking, foremost musician, actress and journalist, Onwenu said Igbo people will make no apologies for going to war with Nigeria, as according to her, the Biafra was a war brought on them and they had to fight in self defence.
Onwenu who was also one of the panelists, recalled how her widowed mother’s property was seized in Port Harcourt, Rivers State after the war in the name of abandoned property, and when she tried to reclaim it, she was beaten to coma by people she had helped train in schools.
“This is a subject matter that is very close to our hearts. It’s very personal to very many of us, very sensitive matter; very painful matter indeed. And yes, some of us have lived with some bitterness. And we make no apologies about that. We were a people in war, led into war, not by our own wishes or design, but in self defence. No apologies Nigeria, no apologies to the world,” she said.
“But here we are. I was born and raised in Port Harcourt. My father, Dike Onwenu was the first Arondizuogu man in the federal house, and he was representing Port Harcourt constituency. He was the principal of Enitonna High School. He was a brilliant man. But he died too early. I’m from Abia State since I’m an Aro daughter. I’m from Imo State, Arondizuogu and I’m also from Anambra where my mother comes from. I can go there and live and nobody can stop me. I’m also from Lagos State. I married a Yoruba man. I have two Yoruba children.”
Onwenu noted that she fought the Biafra war and recalled many children and aged people dying in her care. She regretted that the war has not yet ended, and warned those still fighting the Igbo to be careful.
“I fought the war as a young girl between 14 and 17 years, and I lost many relatives. I carried babies who died in my arms. I treated old people who took days to die. People were dying of hunger, even our soldiers were dying out of hunger. But thank God we survived.
“When my father died at 40, he was a politician and also a principal. But he didn’t have much money. In those days, you had to keep your day job, even if you were a member of the House of Representatives. Yes, my mother, an Anambra woman, was a trader. She was richer than my dad, so my dad would borrow money from her to buy land and he never paid back. You know how it is with husband and wife.
“At the end of the war, I couldn’t go back to Port Harcourt. My home was abandoned property. Those of you who come from Port Harcourt know the story. The home that a widow, my father had only laid the foundation when he died in an accident; the building that a widow built was seized as an abandoned property.
“And living just adjacent to us on Hospital Road were the Ikokus. In fact, I thought we were related because every family in Port Harcourt was together. You didn’t care were anyone came from or who they were, whether you were from Port Harcourt or not. Every parent had the right to reprimand a child he/she saw misbehaving. Port Harcourt was a beautiful town, but we couldn’t get back to it.
“So, for me, the civil war never ended, it is still going on. My poor mother went back to Port Harcourt to claim her property and she was beaten into a coma by people whom she had helped all her life; people she had helped to send to school, because she is an Igbo woman and now Port Harcourt belonged to another group of people.
“They forgot the sacrifices that the Igbo made. It is still going on, no apologies have ever been made about that. The road that is now referred to as Harold Wilson Road used to be Dike Onwenu Road. That’s on account of the sacrifices that the Onwenus, the Ikokus, and the rest, made in building up Port Harcourt.
“Here I am. I travelled outside, thanks to my sister who was at Harvard at the time. But we all came back to develop Nigeria. I have tried with the little talent that God has given me, to use it to the betterment of my society and my country. But if I were a Yoruba or a Hausa woman, I would probably have had more patronage, more help and more support than I have got by my self-help effort to raise this country up.
“But I’m not asking anybody for anything. I put myself through school, my widowed mother did her best. I was working two jobs in America to put myself through school. I didn’t want to take the Nigerian scholarship because they were giving it to everybody, those who deserved it and those who didn’t. And many of them were not even in school.
“I’m angry at Nigeria, I’m angry at this government which seems to be letting us down. I’m angry at us as a people, I’m angry at my people, Ndigbo. Because he who is rejected doesn’t reject himself. Stop complaining and do it yourself. We have always been able to do that. How did we build Imo Airport?” She queried.
“Nobody built for us. We spent many years raising money. I was travelling all over the country to do free concerts to raise money for Imo Airport. That’s who we have been. And I remember that in those days, if the Igbo State Union decides, that’s it, everybody follows the line and gets it done.”