NIGERIA'S CIVIL WAR: HATE, HUNGER AND THE WILL TO SURVIVE
Guided by burning flares, a transport plane dipped down out of the night over Biafra last week and landed with a shipment of condensed food for the secessionist state's starving population. When soldiers guarding the airstrip saw its cargo, they burst unashamedly into tears. On a country road a few miles away, relief workers held out bits of food to a group of hungry children. They ran, not knowing what to do with it. "We are going to have to teach a generation of children how to eat again," said a Canadian nurse. In the border town of Ikot Ekpene, the emaciated bodies of a brother and sister lay side by side in a rough cradle. Their eyes had been pecked out by vultures still circling overhead, waiting to attack a line of wasted bodies in a ditch outside of town.
EMERGENT Africa has known more than its share of strife and bloodshed, from the Mau Mau terror in Kenya to the carnage of Congolese secession. But in scope of suffering, in depth of bitterness, in the seeming hopelessness of any solution short of wholesale slaughter, there is no parallel to the tragedy that has been gathering force the past 14 months in Nigeria—once Africa's brightest hope for successful nationhood. One of the opposing forces, wielding a full array of modern weapons from Britain, Russia and much of Europe, is the federal government of Nigeria. It is determined to crush a rebellion that it feels will destroy its republic. On the other side, armed chiefly with determination, stands the secessionist state of Biafra, the home of Nigeria's Ibo tribe. The Ibos are convinced that they are fighting not only for independence but for their survival as a people.
The Biafrans are losing. Outnumbered and outgunned, they have been inexorably driven into a landlocked cir cle of rain forest entirely surrounded by federal forces. Their single remaining lifeline to the outside world is a widened stretch of blacktop road that serves as a nighttime landing strip for supply planes—when the planes can run the gauntlet of federal radar-controlled antiaircraft fire. But they are not only losing the war: slowly but surely, eight million Biafrans are starving to death. Gradually, the image of Biafra's human agony has unsettled the conscience of the world. That image is of Ibo infants and children with anguished, vacant eyes, distended bellies, shriveled chests and matchstick limbs crippled from edema. The world has protested in the form of silent marches of New Yorkers outside the United Nations building, impassioned debates in Britain's Parliament and West Germany's Bundestag, shillings and sixpences collected by Tanzanian schoolchildren and in the appeal of a "deeply distressed" Pope Paul VI. Despite the world's horror, the efforts of the Organization of African Unity, the personal intervention of Emperor Haile Selassie and four separate confrontations across the bargaining table, the fighting and the starvation go on.
Physical Ruin. The symbol of Biafran resistance is Lieut. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a brooding hulk of a man who leads his people's military effort and speaks for their pain. With an Oxford education, a rare gift for rhetoric and a deep sense of the tragedy encompassing the war, he is endowed with the best that the white man has given Africa and beset by the worst of Africa's many ills. Ojukwu is also probably as
reluctant a secessionist as history records. His was a calm and reasoned voice pleading for a united Nigeria long after other powerful Ibos had angrily given up hope of preserving the union. He agreed to rebellion only after he was utterly convinced that the Ibos faced annihilation in a united Nigeria.
Today, Ojukwu's Biafra is a land of physical ruin. Crowded into hardwood forests and mangrove swamps that cannot possibly support them, Biafrans are starving to death, by a conservative estimate, at the rate of 1,000 a day. Most of the 4,500,000 refugees from all corners of Nigeria who returned to the Ibo heartland live in makeshift camps, totally dependent on scanty government and missionary rations. The price of staple foods has risen fantastically (cost of a dozen eggs: $4), and salaried work is almost nonexistent. Biafra's chance of survival shrinks with each day; yet its resolution seems unwavering. Ojukwu himself has guessed that his fate, if he should ever surrender to the federals on behalf of Biafra, would be hanging—at the hands of his own defiant people.
Model of Sobriety. Sundered, stricken Nigeria is a far different place from the fast-developing territory that in 1960 won final independence from Britain and thus became Africa's most populous country. No other on the continent had a more promising future or a more exciting present. Occupying the wide basin of the mighty Niger River, Nigeria's 56 million people had built a sturdy economy and installed an active parliamentary government. Because British colonial law had largely prevented white men from owning land, the enterprise of black traders and businessmen flourished, based on exports of palm oil and cocoa. Four years before independence, drillers discovered deep pools of oil in the Niger Delta—a strike that within ten years made Nigeria the world's 13th largest oil producer. Nature itself, it seemed, was favoring self-rule.
But even bounty could not overcome the ethnic facts that have split Nigeria—as distinctly as the steady current of the K-shaped river system that forms its skeleton—into three separate regions. To the north, living on flat grassland that backs up to Sahara sands, dwell the Hausa and Fulani, haughty, devout Moslem peoples governed locally by feudal emirs. The Western Region is the home of the Yoruba, a tribe known for its profusion of gods (more than 400) and its joie de vivre. To the east, where they are now trapped, the ambitious and clever Ibo people thrived. Brought forcibly together under colonial rule, the three regions developed the hatreds and jealousies of totally different cultures. Most hated of all—and most envied by other Nigerians—were the Ibos, quite possibly Africa's most capable people and, by force of energy and intellect, the dominant tribe of newly independent Nigeria.
Prideful Advertisements. It had not always been so. When the British arrived in Nigeria, the Ibos were among the most primitive people they encountered, scratching out their lives on yam patches and occasionally supplementing their low-protein diet with human flesh. But within their backward tribal culture lay unique seeds for Western-style self-improvement. Unlike many other tribes, they had no autocratic village chiefs. Instead, they were ruled by open councils of what sociologists call high achievers—successful yam farmers, warriors and public speakers. The titles a man earned were buried with him, and his sons were forced, unlike most Africans, to make their own reputations.
The Ibos welcomed missionaries, largely because they brought schools and books. Before their secession from Nigeria, the Ibos of the Eastern Region were spending 40% of their public funds on education. Villagers often pooled their savings to send the most promising boy of college age off to study in Britain, expecting him, in return, to devote his career to the village's welfare. Those who stayed at home eagerly absorbed the mechanics of industry and government from British colonials, who came to rely on willing Ibo hands to do their work. Crowded into their own territory, they became Nigeria's most cosmopolitan people, whose traders and technicians spread throughout the country, building factories, hospitals and their inevitable cooperative self-improvement associations. One of the most successful was Ojukwu's father, Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, who built up a vast fortune in transport, real estate and securities.
After the British left, the Ibos, in effect, inherited the controls of modern Nigeria, from civil service posts in the government to engine-driver jobs on the railways. That alone created bitter rivalries with the vastly more numerous Northerners (29 million). Besides, the Ibos are a proud, sometimes arrogant people, and their frequent bursts of self-praise did little to make them popular. Former Nigerian President Nnamdi Azikiwe, himself an Ibo, is fond of saying, "The god of Africa has created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages." Ibo executives—whether they ran ministries of the federal government or small businesses in northern Kano-had a typically tribal way of surrounding themselves with Ibo associates. The result was clannishness that did not sit well with the rest of the country, especially the powerful North, which spoke bitterly of the "Ibo ring." They won for themselves the nickname "Jews of Africa," and they were, in a sense, a chosen people, although the choice was the result of a cultural accident. They valued what most African tribes disparaged: high personal achievement. It soon proved a curse as well as a blessing in post-colonial Nigeria.
Moslem Mobs. For a time, in the hopeful days of early independence, however, a shaky truce among the three major tribes prevailed under the North-East coalition government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the shrewd and prudent Prime Minister from the North. It came to an end on a night of bloody violence in January 1966, at the hands of five young Ibo army officers who had begun to chafe under increasing Northern domination, and were tired of the rampant corruption in Sir Abu-bakar's government. In a swift, well-planned coup, they killed the Prime Minister and murdered or kidnaped several other leading Northerners. In a bloody countercoup six months later, Northerners regained control of the government in Lagos and installed Yakubu Gowon as the nation's new supreme commander. The coup triggered a pogrom against millions of non-Eastern Ibos.
Northern soldiers, often at the behest of vengeful non-Ibo civilian officials, routed Ibo soldiers from their barracks and murdered them by the dozens with bayonets. Joined by screaming Hausa Moslem mobs, they
descended on the sabon garris (strangers' quarters), the home in almost every Northern city of job-hunting Ibo settlers, slaughtering as they went. The Northerners used everything from shotguns to poison arrows in their slaughter of the Ibos, and they roamed the length and breadth of cities to take them.
Jungle Drumbeat. During a two-week orgy of systematic murder that fall, when tens of thousands of their people were killed and hundreds of thousands maimed, the Ibo tribal elders of the East lost all hope of reconciliation within the Nigerian union. Fearing for the very survival of their tribe, they solemnly invoked the ancient power of Ibo Kwennu, the rallying cry of Ibo brotherhood. From family heads and village elders, there went out millions of messages to virtually every Ibo still living outside the East, each with a single, peremptory instruction: Come home. And from every corner of Nigeria, loaded down with what possessions they could salvage, the Ibo brethren came. They piled into mammy wagons, crowded into railroad coaches, mounted bicycles or simply walked, carrying their belongings on their heads. Within a few months, the great majority of non-Eastern Ibos had returned. With the living came the dead as well. Some parents arrived with the heads of their murdered children in baskets.
Not everyone in the caravans of refugees was dressed in the bright shirts and shapeless dresses of the poorer Africans. Ibos had been the mandarins of the government, the army, the professions. They had run many of Nigeria's hospitals, done much of its engineering, presided over vast commercial empires —and their sudden, simultaneous uprooting deprived the rest of Nigeria of its elite. What is more, like the message of jungle drums that is understood only by the initiated, the imperative summons mysteriously reached those Ibos comfortably ensconced abroad—medical specialists in London, university professors in the U.S., students in Europe. With few exceptions, they too abandoned everything and came home.
Modern Bush War. From the beginning, there was no question among Ibos as to who must lead them. Ojukwu, besides his gifts of intellect and training, was the federal Nigerian governor of the Eastern Region and thus held the key to all its resources. True to his profound belief in Nigerian unity, Ojukwu first argued against outright secession and urged Easterners to settle for a radical loosening of ties with the rest of Nigeria. The ruthless slaughter by the North, he pleaded, was "the final act of sacrifice that Easterners would be called upon to make in the interest of Nigerian unity."
At one point, Ojukwu and Gowon appeared to be headed for a compromise that would have allowed the Ibos a mea sure of autonomy and self-protection while still keeping them in the federation. But Gowon was unwilling to let the East maintain a separate army, finally brought the crisis to a head by decreeing a plan for twelve Nigerian states that would have cut the Ibos off from their oil and their coastline. Meanwhile, Ojukwu expelled Northerners from his region and built up his army. In the early hours of May 30, 1967, at a champagne reception in the regional capital of Enugu, he announced the creation of a new republic. Its name: Biafra, after the Bight of Biafra, off the Atlantic coastline to the south.
At the outset, Ojukwu received little sympathy and no support from the rest of the world. Britain naturally supported its Commonwealth partner. The rest of Europe and even Soviet Russia (seeing a chance to gain a new foothold in Africa by backing the likely winner) were soon providing Nigerian military commanders with every kind of weapon they wanted. Automatic rifles and endless rounds of ammunition, heavy artillery, mortars, rockets, grenade launchers, antiaircraft guns, Czechoslovak Delfin jets, Russian MIGs and Ilyushin 11-28 bombers—Nigeria ordered and got them all. The result was an unhappy precedent for Africa: the Nigerian conflict became the first African bush war fought with modern weapons.
Furious Bursts. Ojukwu's antagonist is a dapper, 33-year-old son of a Methodist missionary. Yakubu Gowon, the commander of the federal forces, had no ambitions beyond serving as a competent staff officer of the Nigerian army until two years ago, when leaders of the Northern countercoup settled on him as head of state. Gowon was, at that point, the North's way of appeasing the South: besides practicing Christianity, he belonged to one of the smallest Northern tribes. Trained at Britain's Sandhurst military school, Gowon once shared barrack quarters with Ojukwu, but has neither his intellect nor his strong interest in politics—a fact that probably does not displease his Northern sponsors. He is an affable, unassuming leader who has shown considerable skill in keeping Nigeria united during a civil war that he himself once predicted would be nothing more than "a short, surgical police action."
It has proved to be neither short nor surgical. The federal army all too often advances only on roads, and by day, and sometimes takes its afternoons off from fighting. When the federal troops attack, their strategy is to saturate Biafran positions with wanton bursts of 76- and 90-mm. artillery fire, move forward quickly, then dig in and wait for the artillery to catch up. Such tactics, or at least the attitude behind them, are not confined to Nigeria's federal troops; they are commonplace with most African armies. Moreover, federal commanders have built up an army to match the scale of their weapons orders —almost a tenfold increase on their 8,000 regulars. Inevitably, the volunteers included unemployed youths and street-corner thugs who planned to serve most of their hitch looting towns and shaking down civilians. They also included a share of vengeful Northern tribalists eager to settle old scores with the Ibo tribe. The songs they chanted marching off to war dealt not with Nigerian unity but with finishing off the Ibos.
The Sweepers. As the war progressed, the chants turned into terrible reality. In captured village after village, frontline troops were followed by ragtag "sweepers" from Northern Nigeria. They nailed Ibo tribesmen to the walls of their wooden huts, then sprayed them with automatic-rifle fire or set torches to their clothes. "Mop-up" soldiers raped women, sometimes lined up whole villages to be shot. The Ibos concluded that the Hausa tribesmen fully intended to use the war to systematically exterminate them. This fear, more than anything else, has hardened the Biafran determination to fight on to the end. "We shall all return to our villages and homes, if necessary behind enemy lines, and torment and harass them at every turn," says Ojukwu.
"We are fighting this dreadful war not for conquest but for survival."
Road to Slaughter. The cost of survival weighs heavily on Ojukwu. Clad in an orange and gold shirt, the Biafran leader sat looking out a window last week as monsoon rains pounded down. "I am haunted at night by the faces I see in those refugee camps," he said. Some of the hunger—"about 30%"—he admits is the Biafrans' own fault. "There is more we could do ourselves." One thing he has done is go to his home town and eat snails in a public demonstration. The Ibos scorn snails as food "only for the lowest." Ojukwu told TIME Correspondent James Wilde: "What you are seeing now is the end of a long, long journey. It began in the far north of Nigeria and moved steadily southwards as we were driven out of place after place. Now this path has become the road to the slaughterhouse here in the Ibo heartland."
Ojukwu's early schooling took place among the Yorubas of Lagos, Nigeria's bustling seaport capital. At twelve, he was shipped off to the best British education that an Ibo millionaire could buy, first at Epsom public school in Surrey and then at Oxford's Lincoln College. "When I first went to England as a boy," he recalls, "I was swamped by that sea of white faces. I didn't even recognize people who had been my teachers, once they were immersed among their own kind." On the debating team at Epsom, he developed a keen gift for words and also played rugby; and in 1952 set the school record for the discus throw (115 ft. 81 in.). He is remembered at Oxford as a good history student—though his grades were only average—and for a bright red MG sports car, with which he frequently burned up the A40 highway between Oxford and London on weekends. It was only one of several high-speed sports cars that he has owned, and Ojukwu can still hold forth at length on the fine points of fuel injection. "Those were the good days," he says, "the carefree days."
His return to Lagos was scarcely less carefree, judging by the swath he cut through capital society while an administrator in the government. Then, in anticipation of the role of the military in post-independence Africa, Ojukwu joined the Nigerian army as an officer trainee. He felt little attachment to the army as such, but realized that it was "the only truly federal organization in Nigeria that appeared likely to remain intact." Until the very end, Ojukwu tried to use his influence to bridge the gap between Nigeria's cultures.
Wartime Democracy. His dedication to Ibo nationhood dates from the same day as his now luxuriant beard, which he let grow during the 1966 fall massacres "as a sign of mourning." He sleeps from dawn to midmorning, lives and works in his tightly guarded Umuahia villa. He evacuated his wife Njide-ka and two small children after a bomb was dropped near his home. Slouched at his desk, pacing the grounds impatiently in darkness, chain-smoking State Express filter cigarettes, he is a lonely figure in his besieged land. Ojukwu often is pictured in Nigerian propaganda as a power-mad Hitler. In fact, he runs Biafra as a wartime democracy, frequently seeking the advice of his consultative assembly of Ibo elders. Biafra also has a functioning judiciary, a ministerial executive government and a civil service. "There will be no military dictatorship here," he says. Somehow, despite the austerities of war, Biafran technicians have kept water and some power running in large cities, have even managed to short-circuit captured exchanges in order to keep telephone communications open.
Ojukwu's military situation, on the other hand, has grown steadily worse. The Biafrans' territory has shrunk to less than one-third its original 29,000 square miles, now fills a lopsided circle about the size of Vermont. The Ibos hold only three important cities—Aba, Owerri and Umuahia—and federal forces are pushing toward all three. Increasingly, the Biafrans have based their defense on quick guerrilla-type strikes, which are the specialty of a small group of hard-bitten European mercenaries who have thrown in their lot with Biafra. Last week, in one of their most successful raids yet, Biafran commandos managed to sneak behind federal lines near Owerri and bushwhack Nigerian columns, killing 116 Nigerians. But federal field commanders have launched a "final push" to overwhelm Ojukwu's forces.
In contrast, federal Nigeria is relatively untouched by the war. In Lagos, street lights remain dark to conserve power and protect against an air attack, though that is certainly improbable. Military roadblocks and the spot checking of cars for smuggled ammunition create massive traffic tie-ups; and on walls throughout the city, government posters depict Ojukwu's demonic countenance being crushed by the boot of a soldier. Otherwise, life in Lagos maintains its prewar rhythms. On Saturday evenings, the Gondola and Cabin Bamboo dance halls still swing, and weekend picnickers jam the gleaming bay-front beaches, splashing in the surf and munching smoked stockfish.
Military Telex. The far different visage of a Biafra slowly starving to death is part and parcel of Ojukwu's coldblooded strategy for pleading the right of Biafra's secession to the world. The second most important military installation in Biafra—after the airstrip code-named "Annabelle"—is a Telex machine that sends out news, photo captions and press releases daily.
In-stirring the world's conscience, Biafra's publicity has forced three of Nigeria's arms suppliers (Czechoslovakia, The Netherlands, Belgium) to cut off their shipments. It has also supported the diplomatic recognition of Biafra by four African nations (Gabon, Zambia. Tanzania, Ivory Coast). Eventually, if they can somehow hold out long enough, Biafrans may win a source of material help. They have lately found an influential friend in Charles de Gaulle, who has urged that the war be settled on the principle of "a people's right to self-determination."
The other end of Biafra's strategic cable hookup is in the Geneva office of Mark-press, a public relations firm owned by American Adman H. William Bernhardt. Since January, Mark-press has literally waged Biafra's war in press releases —more than 250 of them. They are crammed with news of impending arms deliveries that is designed to embarrass European governments and with stark warnings about starvation. The firm has arranged air passage into Biafra for more than 70 newsmen from every West European nation and transmitted eyewitness reports to their publications.
Rats vs. Frog's Legs.
The federal government bitterly admits that it has come out second best in the war of words. Nigerian Minister of Transport Joseph Tarka last week took pains to set one matter straight. "The Western press printed many pictures of the so-called rats sold in African markets for human consumption," he said. "I can tell you that the so-called rat is a real delicacy in our part of the world, and I'd rather eat your so-called rats than your damned frog's legs." Gowon, who has recently begun reading books about the American Civil War, seems resigned to his unfavorable image. As he told TIME Correspondent Friedel Ungeheuer in Lagos last week: "I know that world opinion thinks of me as a monster. But the war is not against the Ibos. It is against the personal ambitions of Ojukwu and his rebel gang." Federal officials accuse Ojukwu of shattering the unity of their nation and scoff at the idea of a plot to exterminate the Ibos. Some 30,000 Ibos who remained in Lagos, they point out, are in considerably better health than those trapped in Iboland. "I am sure that if the Ibos return to the fold and are prepared to be honest and fair," says Gowon, "Nigerians will forget the past and welcome them with warm hearts and open hands."
Byzantine Obstruction. The trickle of food that has managed to penetrate Nigerian lines to reach the Ibos has mostly landed aboard a fleet of Super-Constellations owned by a German-American entrepreneur named Hank Warton, who is also Ojukwu's major gunrunner. Both Caritas, the international Catholic relief organization, and the International Red Cross have paid for his services (cost of a round-trip flight: up to $25,000), simply because it was the only way to get medicine and food to Biafra. Some flights were temporarily suspended by bad weather and the Nigerians' radar-directed antiaircraft fire, but last week a Swedish DC-7 landed at Annabelle by a new, still-secret route. It was piloted by Count Carl-Gustaf von Rosen, 59, a legendary air adventurer who began his long career by landing an air ambulance behind Italian lines in Ethiopia in 1935. The sum total of relief so far delivered to the Biafrans, however—some 900 tons—is not even enough to meet a week's needs.
In the sheer act of getting something done, Warton and Von Rosen have won applause from a legion of frustrated humanitarians. Relief officials who elected to go through the usual channels have encountered, and sometimes created, a wall of Byzantine obstruction. Tons of food are now stockpiled on the islands of Fernando Poo and Sao Tome, in Lagos and at other points—but the combatants cannot agree on how it is to be delivered. Nigeria insists that it come by overland route, where federal forces can make an in spection for arms. Biafra insists on an air route, claiming that the Nigerians will poison the food if they get close to it.
Airlift as Symbol. Ojukwu's fear of mass poisoning is not so ridiculous as it seems to the Western mind: the traditional way of doing in an enemy in Africa is to poison him, and Ibo lore abounds with such tales.
There can be little doubt, however, that Biafra's leader is holding out for an airlift for other reasons, too. He knows only too well the value of an airlift as a visible symbol of the world's helping a besieged people stay alive. That, in turn, is the kind of psychological advantage that the Nigerians are determined to prevent, and they may well let the Biafrans starve rather than make concessions. (Some of the federal officers frankly prefer starvation to fighting as an offensive weapon anyway.) At the same time, Ojukwu is equally willing to let his fellow Biafrans starve, unless he can get food on his own terms. It is a chilling standoff, and one in which it is both dangerous and difficult for outsiders to assess blame.
The world finds it hard to understand why some powerful nation, particularly the U.S., cannot announce that it will send food to Biafra, and simply do it. In fact, the Administration has privately agonized over Biafra's suffering for a long time, but concluded that nothing short of military muscle would get supplies through, and it is certainly unwilling to risk that. An unauthorized airlift might endanger the lives of 5,000 Americans now living in federal Nigeria, and it would bring howls of outrage from most governments in Africa, which have served notice that they want to handle the Nigerian civil war in their own way.
The absence of neighborly compassion among the tribes is a fact of African life. But the Nigerian government is caught in a special dilemma. If Biafra succeeds in its secession, a Nigerian federation will be doomed. On the other hand, if the Ibos are decimated and permanently embittered, the federation may be doomed in another way. Nigeria's rulers are talking unity, while at the same time conducting a form of tribal warfare that may make unity impossible at best and unnecessary at worst. By granting Ojukwu his demand for airborne relief, the Nigerians would show minimal concern for 8 million people who remain, by their own definition, Nigerian citizens.
African Product. On the larger issue of the war, both sides have a case—as in most serious conflicts. For ordinary Africans, the fate of Biafra evokes all their own fears about tribal survival, and from the beginning they and much of Africa's press have shown concern for Biafra's cause. Moreover, Biafra is an African product, and that arouses admiration. "We are Africa's first real nationalist state," says Ojukwu. "We constitute a warning to other states that oppression of minorities cannot go unpunished." This argument has had considerable effect on the four African heads of state who now recognize Biafra. "You cannot kill thousands of people and keep killing more in the name of unity," says Tanzania's Julius Nyerere. "There is no unity between the dead and those who killed them."
On the other hand, the Organization of African Unity, which can agree on few things, has gone on record as supporting Nigerian sovereignty over Biafra. Its members, the national leaders of Black Africa, can only view the precedent of tribal breakaway with profound dismay, for each must cope with tribal divisions in his own country. "It was the Congo and Tshombe yesterday, and it is Nigeria and Ojukwu today," warns Gowon. "Who knows what African country will be the next victim?"
Food that Kills. This African domino theory would not necessarily work quite that automatically. For one thing, most of Africa's tribes feel as remote from the Ibos as they do from Tibet. Still, Biafra's victory and emergence as an independent country might take Africa one more step in the direction that most African scholars are convinced would lead to disaster. Far from splintering into countless anthill economies, they argue, Africa's nations should be consolidating their resources and widening their markets. Three nations in East Africa have moved in this di rection by founding a nascent common market, and elsewhere there are the beginnings of cooperation in handling currency and passports. But if Africa's most populous nation can fall apart, the prospects for successful regionalism look dim indeed.
For the time being, such questions pale before the immediate human one: What is to be the Biafrans' fate? Gowon himself does not want the "final solution" that the Ibos so deeply fear. But he does not speak for all Nigeria, nor can he control all his military commanders. Each day that passes, the matter becomes more and more irrelevant to many Ibos. Even should massive food supplies suddenly arrive, thousands of undernourished Biafrans would die with the first bellyful of protein food that they took. It would simply prove too much for their debilitated systems to handle. Already, famine must have caused brain damage in many of Biafra's children; if it goes on much longer, it could blight the minds of an entire Ibo generation.
The children of Biafra, like children in all wars, are the victims of a struggle beyond their control. Their parents, rightly or wrongly, believe that the Ibos must follow their own destiny and carve out their own mini-nation. The federal Nigerians believe in the vision of a united, pluralist Nigerian nation. The cruel dilemma has been eloquently summed up by Yoruba Playwright Wole Soyinka. "Every Ibo man, woman and child believes today that he is fighting a last-ditch battle for his home and his dignity," he says. "What that means in practical terms to the nation is that the federal government is faced with a choice of wiping out the entire Ibo race or administering a nation that has built into its flesh a core of implacable hate. There will be no victory for anyone."