Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Risen Sun That Shines Forever


Obododimma Oha

When some days ago Olu Oguibe -- a poet, artist, and public intellectual -- called on his fellow netizens on Facebook to honor the memory of General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Biafra's leader who died in London recently, by using Biafra's flag as their personal profile image, it suddenly occurred to me that the Internet as a liberating medium has once more made it impossible for Nigeria to win the war that it fought with Biafra from 1967 to 1970. Of course, General Gowon had, at the end of the shooting war, proclaimed that there was "No victor, no vanquished," a statement that many interpreted as an expression of his largeness of heart, but which I see as an eternal truth that the mighty forces that control the history of humanity forced him to utter, even if he did not understand what he was saying. General Gowon had, in his experience of euphoria at the end of the war, proclaimed to the world that Biafra's "Rising Sun" had set forever. It was not just a chest-beating type of announcement; it was indeed an attempt at mocking Biafra's leaders and those that held Biafra as their pride. What Gowon did not see immediately was the fact that the Biafran Sun was shining and will continue to shine in the memory of those he was mocking. His attempt at extinguishing that risen sun was futile.

In the madness of making sure that the Biafran Sun had set forever, Gowon and his war commanders set about destroying whatever relics of Biafra that the Biafran population had salvaged from the ruins of war. Even art objects carrying the emblem of the Rising Sun were destroyed. I recall with great pain how my late father -- a leader in the Biafran civil defence corps -- was made to burn his walking stick that carried both the image of Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Biafra's Rising Sun. The destruction of my father's Biafran walking stick was for us in the family such a terrible experience, painful much like the death of a relative, for the artistically made stick was for us a representation of the Biafran vision and our pride as survivors. Years later, the Nigerian government shamelessly started looking for Biafran relics to equip the war museum at Umuahia. They started looking for objects that they had previously viewed as evidence of betrayal of the Nigerian nation-state and which they used in frightening the survivors of the war! The war after the war was extended to art and the memory of Biafra!

Now that Odumegwu-Ojukwu is dead, that memory that could not die has erupted to live in his place, or rather to live as him. Every burial provides an opportunity for a resurrection and for an idea to live forever. No one can extinguish an idea. Odumegwu-Ojukwu identified with that idea called "Biafra" and has now come to symbolize that idea itself. He was not just fighting to liberate the peoples of Eastern Nigeria, but trying to communicate that idea which even his enemies, the enemies of Biafra, were later to recognize following the liberation of Eritrea, South Sudan, etc. So, you see, it was not just a Biafran war; it was a universal war of self-determination. That's the idea!

Olu Oguibe asked his fellow netizens to make the Biafran Rising Sun, the Biafran idea, viral; to make it "occupy"" the very arena where it would continue to give stomach ache to the enemies of Biafra, the enemies of self-determination. He wrote: "Share this with your friends and on your group walls and listservs. Let's paint Facebook red, black and green with half of a yellow sun, in one rare moment of unity, and not discord." And it erupted: many on Facebook changed their profile pictures to the image of the Biafran flag. I changed mine too. i immediately became one with the Biafran idea by disappearing into the icon of the Biafran flag. The possibility of changing Facebook profile picture is such an appealing feature of the social media to people like me who would want to keep representing their unstable and multiple identities in a visual mode.

The change of the profile pictures to the Biafran flag also raised an interesting issue about visual differentiation of idenity in that virtual environment. For someone like me with three Facebook accounts, it became difficult for me to differentiate between one account and another. The three accounts -- which I refer to as my Facebook Trinity -- became one, just as I became one with Biafra, and one with other Facebook netizens that had changed their profile images to the flag!

Well, it is proper -- and indeed gladdening -- that the Biafran idea is the unifying element of my trinity, and the unifying element of Facebook netizenship. This is essentially the meaning Oguibe was looking for -- and which he signified as "one rare moment of unity, and not discord." Although Facebook netizens would have difficulty in visually differentiating one interactant from another -- since every interactant is now the Biafran idea -- one sees clearly that the Rising Sun is shining in spite of Gowon and Nigeria on Facebook today, 41 years after Gowon had proclaimed that that Sun had set forever. It is also shining in the hearts of many, more than it has ever shone before.

The option that the enemies of the Biafran idea and the Biafran memory have now is to shift the battleground from Umuahia Sector, Uli Airport Sector, Nsukka Sector, Nkpor Sector, Owerri Sector, Uyo Sector, Ikot-Ekpene Sector, etc to the cyberspace where the Biafran idea has suddenly become viral. But even if they are able to beat their chests later and say, "We have been able to make the Biafran Sun set forever," they still need to log into the disk of human mind and try to erase the memory of the Biafran idea.

I join Olu Oguibe in asking netizens to make the Biafran idea viral. If the name "Biafra" makes someone somewhere begin to experience a stomach ache, let's cure that fellow permanently by screaming the name louder!

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