Thursday, March 27, 2014

Philip Efiong: The forgotten hero of the Biafran war?

The Nigerian civil war is by far the greatest tragedy in terms of loss to civilian lives over such a short period of time to have befallen the Nigerian state. I wasn’t born back then so all I have to go on are written accounts and words of those who were alive back then to unravel exactly what happened. Whatever the case is, many people lost their lives (needlessly might I add) and that has to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It doesn’t matter where they were from, North, South, East or West. Makes no difference if they were black, white or pink. People died needlessly, and that is wrong. It will take something sub-human to justify it.

Philip Efiong and the Biafran flag

It is easy as a follower of history to just take in the numbers and statistics.  What is however needful is to put yourself in the shoes of the poor people who had to go through these evil as part of their lives. Who did they offend to have to starve? Who did the women offend to have to lose their husbands and sons who go off to the front lines? Where did the young men err that had to witness their wives get raped by opposing soldiers? What wrong has the young boy who just lost his playmates done?

Much has been said of what caused the war and who the villains were. Even more unfortunate is the seeming need Nigerians look to have cultivated of blindly towing the tribal lines. Seriously? Correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t the war get to Ore in Ondo state and claim Yoruba lives and weren’t there any Hausa casualties from the Nigerian Army’s side? Who cares if the guy who killed and raped innocent people is from my village? He should be condemned and brought to justice, simple! How petty have we become to idolize someone who caused pain needlessly on people just because he is a fellow tribesman?

Children went through untold suffering during the war

As far as I’m concerned (and I definitely stand corrected), the war was more about justifying a man’s earlier mistake who was too proud to concede he was wrong. I mean why secede as a state when you don’t have the means to maintain your sovereignty. Even if it turned out the secession made sense, how about the war continuing when it increasingly looked like nothing more than a suicide mission? And to cap it all up, if you were so brave, why did you run away at the end of it all sitting on the floor of a cargo plane? Why cause the death and destruction of so many lives and property and then scamper and flee when it was all over? I don’t want to come across as if I’m bent on attacking anyone but if that’s not cowardly, I’m not sure what is. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what the then Nigerian head of state called him.

It was obvious anyone who puts an end to this massacre is a hero. Right? Step forward Major General Philip Efiong. A general from what you can call a minority. He was left to make the concession after the main belligerent had run away. It might have been the obvious decision but so it had been for a long time, yet the chief belligerent himself had been too proud to admit it.

I came across a post somewhere on the internet of someone calling him a coward. How is he a coward? He soldiered on like the soldier he was when taking orders from his boss and did the needful when he had the authority to. Was he supposed to ‘fight till the last man’ and at the end of it still have the Nigerian forces occupy their land anyway? I heard his son in a speech at the National University of Ireland recount his account of the war and it only showed the toll the war took on Efiong’s family, property and self. In his own words:
"I have no regrets whatsoever of my involvement in Biafra or the role I played. The war deprived me of my property, dignity, my name. Yet, I saved so many souls on both sides and by this, I mean Biafra and Nigeria. I’m denied everything; No gratuity no pension. Nothing. I felt that I played a role which has kept this country united till today. I never shot anybody, all I did was as a military personnel and officer, I trained soldiers who went to the bush to fight. At the end of it all when I saw they (Biafran soldiers) could no longer continue and Ojukwu had fled, I did what was ideal after wide consultation that today Ojukwu is a hero in this country. I’m not envious but why am I being persecuted by country I played a significant role in is unity".

Efiong died in 2003. I don’t know how much he had in his account or how many houses but I’m pretty sure he died with a clean conscience not for his role in being a part of the war but his role in ending it. He saved many lives predominantly Igbo lives. And may I also remind everyone he wasn’t Igbo. In my opinion, Philip Efiong found himself somewhere and simply did was he thought was the right and obvious thing to do and he should be celebrated for that.