May 30, also referred to as the heroes’ day is very significant to the people of the Eastern region of Nigeria which comprises the present South East region, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom and Cross Rivers states. It was the day the Republic of Biafra was proclaimed. Following the resolution of May 27, 1967, by Chiefs, Elders, and Representatives of Eastern Nigeria, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, proclaimed the Republic of Biafra – named after the Bight of Biafra, the eastern part of the Gulf of Guinea.
In his proclamation speech, Ojukwu said, “Conscious of the supreme authority of Almighty God over all mankind, of your duty to yourselves and posterity; aware that you can no longer be protected in your lives and in your property by any Government based outside Eastern Nigeria; believing that you are born free and have certain inalienable rights which can best be preserved by yourselves, unwilling to be unfree partners in any association of a political or economic nature…”. It was a proclamation for freedom. Freedom to protect life and property and resources.
The search for freedom began with the coup initiated by the revolutionary soldiers who in January 15, 1966, as Adewale Ademoyega – one of the coup planners wrote in his book “Why We Struck: The Story of The First Nigeria Coup” was to change the economic order and system of government, “by breaking down the country into smaller units or states…the four regions were to die instantly to emerge fourteen states…” and, “to put an end to the ever widening gap between the labourers and the master-landowners…” It was also the enthronement of a social order that will “guide the nation along the path of pure democratic socialism” where “all professionals would work collectively for the community, sharing a common ideology and objective.”
In Emefiena Ezeani’s “In Biafra Africa Died: The Diplomatic Plot”, he reported that Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu said, “the aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife.” Max Siollum, quoting Nzeogwu pointed out that the northern soldiers accompanying him, “had the chance to drop out. More than that, they had been issued with bullets but I was unarmed. If they disagreed they could have shot me…”As Alexander Madiebo noted, it was efforts by Igbo officers that foiled the coup. There was no indication by the principal coup planners, though there were more Igbo officers in the group, that the coup was planned for the benefit of Igbo people. In fact, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s former secretary, Odia Ofeimum spoke to The Guardian newspaper in 2007 on the 20th anniversary of the death of Awolowo referenced by Emefiena, he said, “people were told that it was an Igbo coup but that is not correct…our leaders have not been bold enough to tell us the truth.” Odia stated that “the plan of the coup makers was to release Awolowo from jail and make him their own leader.” But about 30,000 people of the Eastern Region, the majority were Igbo people, paid the price and about two million rendered refugees during the counter coup which preceded the declaration and proclamation of the new state of Biafra.
Efforts for peace and dialogue failed. The Aburi Accord, which was the last opportunity to attain peace, failed. Frederick Forsyth reported that, “Gowon, returning home, was flatly contradicted by the colonels, who tore up his terms and reneged on the lot.” and that, “London, ignoring all evidence that it was Lagos that reneged on the deal, denounced the secession, made no attempt to mediate and declared total support for Nigeria.” Nigeria under Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon declared a ‘police action’ on Biafra which resulted in a 30-month war. Records put the number of deaths between one million to three million Easterners which majority are the Igbo people. There was a food blockade that exacerbated the death toll which included women and children mostly struck by the disease; Kwashiorkor.
I do not intend to give a full account of the war but to put into context as to how the Igbo people were falsely targeted and why we will celebrate that those who died, paid a great price for the living, today.
Why we celebrate
May 30 hold much significance. It has become a day that culminates in the suffering and deaths, bravery and commitment, freedom and justice, technology advancement and a government for the people even in the face of bombardments from superior powers assisting Nigeria. It is a day that signifies the intent of genocide against the Igbo; the first black-on-black genocide. It is a day to remember the abandonment by the British government who failed to send help to the Igbo people who were the victims of the war, which instead assisted Nigeria with weapons and intelligence. It is a day to celebrate those who sent help and the heroes who brought the attention of the world to the genocide. It is a day we remember those who donated items and volunteers who despite the war came to the assistance of the Igbo people. It is a day we recognize the countries that recognized the new country and established diplomatic ties with it. It is a day to reflect on the injustice meted on the Igbo people; injustice which has become systemic. And it is a day to celebrate Igbo heroism.
They are our heroes. Within the period of war, these heroes we celebrate today maintained a great level of patriotism that has not been seen even in Nigeria. It was a collection of ideas and skills towards making sure that the new country was standing on a solid foundation.
It was within the war that the greatest technology in Africa was birthed. Igbo scientists developed ‘Ogbunigwe’ which helped a great deal in the war, refined their gas and created Uli airport through which arms and food relief were supplied and operated it in such a manner that has not been seen. It continues to be a wonder!
So, today, we will not mourn but to reflect on the feats of our people and shudder in amazement! If the Republic of Biafra was allowed, what could it have become? Could we have succeeded or could we have failed? But by the commitment of our people towards a common goal, Biafra could have excelled. This is why we celebrate! And we owe our heroes to be law abiding and commit to a common goal and be patriotic to ourselves. If they were ultra-individualistic, like witnessed today, we may not have anything to celebrate.
The governors and leaders of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo should initiate lectures and celebrations where the Igbo people would learn of the heroism of their people. It calls for the establishment of an Institute whose mandate should be to study, protect, preserve and teach the younger generation about the significance of May 30 in the lives of the Igbo people.
It’s only fair to share!… Subscribe on Telegram