Bankong-Obi: Where was Buhari on July 6, 1967?

Bankong-Obi: Where was Buhari on July 6, 1967?

Friday, January 15, 2016 6:53 am


Ushara Hill in Gakem (now in Bekwarra LGA of Cross River State), where the first shot was fired

Ushara Hill in Gakem (now in Bekwarra LGA of Cross River State), where the first shot was fired

By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi

The ticking clock has a way of innocently harming past events by bundling them onto the mountainous heap of history. In climes like ours where very little attention is paid to the utilities of history, the havoc of this indifference towards past events can be grave, as it vanishes with crucial problem-solving aspects of history. It is Armed Forces Remembrance day again! Nigerians are celebrating with our gallant forces that have made us proud. Yet, it is an occasion to look at a lapse that has consistent passed under the national periscope without attention paid to it. This concerns scene/ locale where the Army, a crucial arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces did the most telling exploit internally besides their other sparkling achievements across the world.

It is forty-six years today since the Nigerian civil War ended in 1970. The civil war which resulted from a radical progression from events of January, 1966, started on July 6, 1967. Many people, including; soldiers, journalists, historians, academics, public intellectuals and commentators have written extensively on various perspectives about that war. This author has also lent his views on the war in a forthcoming book.

A cardinal part that of the Nigeria-Biafra War that bitterness has overshadowed is usefulness of that unfortunate incident which still shapes most of our socio-political life as a nation. Various groups and individuals have called for the acknowledgement of the acts of genocide that were committed against the people of the defunct Eastern Region. Some have also called for some forms of tributes dedicated to the victims of the rampant killings in parts of Nigeria. Many more have asked for an outright immortalisation of those who perished during that harrowing experience. Indeed, the national self-denial of the events of the 1960s, manipulative politicking, elite logorrhoea and other factors have combined to blur a clear manifestation of these agitations.

I have challenged Nigerian leaders and indeed others who have managed this country in various spheres to tell the world why Gakem (now in Bekwarra LGA of Cross river State), where the first shot was fired has remained a desolate town. Virtually all parts of the defunct Ogoja province still bear scars of the war that swept through the area. The trenches are filling up, the Elekpa Pond which the soldiers appropriated from the natives and other scars of war are still in Gakem, Obudu, Yala, Yakurr and other places in the former province. The implementation of the Reconstruction, rehabilitation and Reconciliation policy shortly didn’t get to Ogoja where the physical trouble began. No form of rehabilitation –physical or psychological has been extended to the area to help fixed the problems that the war created there.

The absence of a coherent articulation of the need to use past events as a platform for national cohesion may have been in bed with the rampant poor governance of the country. This in turn has limited progress and sometimes turned the potentially-rich nation from the God-given opportunities and circumstances-bequeathed wealth.

Nkrumah Bankong-Obi

Nkrumah Bankong-Obi

For practical purposes, it isn’t possible to immortalise victims of the Nigeria-Biafra conflict from just one nationality. Very many Nigerians were affected. Indeed, everyone from the eastern provinces was affected. Others from some parts of the country were affected in various degrees. It is also an anomaly not to recognise the effort of those who fought to keep the nation together – that is, if majority of us have agreed that the Nigeria is betterof as one country. Some people keep saying that only the Igbo suffered during the war. Such people should look again into the resources that history has offered us.

One key thrust of my book, The Forgotten Lunch Pad: Old Ogoja Province and the Untold Story of the Nigerian Civil War is to draw attention to the abandoned relics that dot the epicentres of that war. These relics are potential incoming spinning resources that self-imposed blindness, denial of our past and short-sightedness have prevented us from tapping into. I have challenged Nigerian leaders and indeed others who have managed this country in various spheres to tell the world why Gakem (now in Bekwarra LGA of Cross river State), where the first shot was fired has remained a desolate town. Virtually all parts of the defunct Ogoja province still bear scars of the war that swept through the area. The trenches are filling up, the Elekpa Pond which the soldiers appropriated from the natives and other scars of war are still in Gakem, Obudu, Yala, Yakurr and other places in the former province. The implementation of the Reconstruction, rehabilitation and Reconciliation policy shortly didn’t get to Ogoja where the physical trouble began. No form of rehabilitation –physical or psychological has been extended to the area to help fixed the problems that the war created there.

It is disheartening that nearly fifty years after the civil war ended, not even a brick has been laid in Gakem to symbolise the recognition of that unfortunate event. It is even more sobering when one thinks that the bacons demarcating northern from southern Nigeria are still interred in Gakem, Ogoja, Obudu and other peripheral areas of the present Cross river State. It is only intelligent to say that Gakem is the symbol of Nigeria’s unity. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not deemed it important to honour the memory of this historic town.

It is disheartening that nearly fifty years after the civil war ended, not even a brick has been laid in Gakem to symbolise the recognition of that unfortunate event. It is even more sobering when one thinks that the bacons demarcating northern from southern Nigeria are still interred in Gakem, Ogoja, Obudu and other peripheral areas of the present Cross river State. It is only intelligent to say that Gakem is the symbol of Nigeria’s unity. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not deemed it important to honour the memory of this historic town.

In finding a panacea to this injustice and historical hubris, my book draws instances from across the world to show how a black spot in a nation’s history can be converted to a tool of reconciliation and prevention of re-occurrence as well as income earning. Every year, the French, Germans, New Zealanders, Australians, Japanese, Russians, celebrate the exploits of their armed forces in battle- especially the First and Second World Wars. The venues of these anniversaries are usually the points where these conflicts started or the main theatres of strive. The Chinese honour the memory of the Tiananmen uprising daily in the edifice christened the Tiananmen Square. The Normandy and ANZAC landings are examples of the World War II memories. The anniversary of the Allied Forces marching though Poland and other Slavic nations, the anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and eventual surrender of Japan during the war is celebrated at relevant sites yearly with great pomp.

Besides the economic derivative from post war history, these war mementos could be a temple for igniting and preserving the much-needed spirit of nationalism. In the Ogoja sector of the war, I have found that people still retain very kind words for General Mohammed Shuwa, then Commander of the First Area Command of the Nigerian Army which executed the “police action”. The veteran soldier was killed in Borno State in controversial circumstances in 2012. Michael Olehi, Captain Amadi, LieutenantOjukwu and other Bifara officers who laid siege on Gakem go down well for fighting for what they believed in. President MuhammaduBuhari, then a lieutenant was among the Federal Forces who fired the first bullets to herald the civil war. His immediate commander then was then Major Martin Adamu. Other great warriors like AbdullahiShellenge, GadoNasko, Lieutenant Gom among others, were in Ogoja for the enforcement of the Operation UNICORD which was the codename to end the Biafra insurrection

As pointed out in my book which is a product of historical and investigative journalism, any monument erected in Gakem will not only honour those who died in the war, it willgravitate the nation towards a centre of unity. This will combined with the already established atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in Cross River State to enhance the state’s status as a first rate tourist destination.

When this is done, politicians will scurry to mark key military ceremonies in Gakem or even stop over during electioneering campaigns as candidates jostling for the presidency of the United State scurry to the National Cemetery, Arlington, Pennsylvania, USA. If the Federal government led by President MuhammaduBuhari corrects this injustice done to Ogoja, he will not only honour the memory of his comrades –at-arms who lost their lives protecting the nation in Gakem, he will also be revisiting that that crucial page of his career diary which reminds of him of where he was on the wee hours of July 6, 1966.

*Nkrumah Bankong-Obi, journalist and poet can be reached at banxobi@gmail.com


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