Between 1967 and 1970, Nigeria was at war—at war with herself. This war “was precipitated by secession of the Igbo-dominated south-eastern region to create the state of Biafra. It was the first civil war in Africa, the predecessor of many.”[i] Based on the terms of agreement, it was illegal for any region to secede from the federation and so the proposed Biafra republic had to be forced back into the federation; hence the civil war. Even though the Nigerian head of State at that time, General Yakubu Gowon, declared that there was no victor nor vanquished in the war, between 1 and 3 million lives were lost. It was a war whose consequences the Nigerian nation still suffers from some 40 years later.
All machineries were set in motion by the Nigerian government in order to conquer Biafra and leave them with no choice than to surrender. Chiefest of these strategies is starvation of the Biafran nation of food, war materials and international aid. Atofarati records that “Nigeria knew that the survival of Biafra depended on importation of material from abroad to sustain her war efforts and the only route was through the Atlantic Ocean. As part of strategic planning, the Nigerian Navy (NN) was to blockade the region from the sea thereby preventing shipment of arms, equipment, food and other war material and services into the East. At the same time all flights to the region were cancelled and the international community were informed that no flight to the region would be accepted without clearance from Lagos… at the Diplomatic level, the Federal Government mounted a serious campaign to dissuade other countries, particularly the super powers, the USA, USSR, and the United Kingdom from recognizing the secessionist. The war was painted as an adventure by an individual.”[ii] Of course, Biafra and its soldiers could only sustain themselves for a little while without food, adequate health care and help from any country. It was only a matter of time; their leader fled with his immediate family and the rest is history.
The casualties of the war are majorly those who knew nothing about why it was being fought or of the origin of the war. Some of them were young men who were forcefully drafted into the army while of course, women and children died as well, but the Chief Commander of the war lived still for more than 40 years after the war. As pointed out by Atofarati “The Nigerian political tensions, conflicts and confrontations, like other human interactions, had never conformed with the law of physics that action and reaction are opposite and equal. Reactions had always been more intense and graver than action, real or imagined. Those who are the sowers of wind are usually the reapers of the whirlwind. The Kano riots of 1953 was a reaction to the humiliation of the Northern legislators in Lagos most of whom are still alive and politicking while the rioters are dead, unsung and long forgotten. In the Nigerian historical context, each political action, tension or conflict had evoked more violence in reaction and the elites who initiated the action are normally not the ones who reap the more violent reaction or destruction. They are masters in the art of survival and they have always emerged almost unscratched. It is the common man who knows little or nothing of the on-goings and who certainly gains nothing from the appointments or the prerequisites of office of these elites that is used as cannon fodder and expendable material for the attainment and sustenance of power, wealth and prosperity.”[iii]
Many civil wars have been fought in history, but none is so fierce or has lasted so long as that which a believer in Christ fights with himself/herself; it is fierce and lasts till death. Ellen G. White, a nineteenth century church pioneer aptly puts it thus: “The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought.”[iv] Only those who have tried to secede from their sinful nature will understand this to be true. Many give up the fight and travel the easy route, as a friend of mine once told me that “the best way out of a temptation is to yield to it”. But my bible tells me that “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12). In order to lead men away from this battle, the enemy of soul suggests easy ways out. He coins such expressions as “I just feel it’s right, so I’ll do it” or “Just follow your heart” or “If no one is hurt or killed, then there’s nothing wrong with your action” and so on. Thus, the unrenewed heart justifies sin and blames God for creating it with a natural likeness for the evil which it does.
Even though it is a biblical fact, and true for every person that: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps 51:5), it does not mean that man has to settle for such a state of being, God makes a way for secession as pointed out by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans; he says “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:22-24). The next verse has the answer; it says: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus offers a way out, but not without a struggle.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not for the faint hearted. And don’t get it twisted, a faint heart can behead a great man, like Herod beheaded John the Baptist and Nero beheaded Paul. A faint heart can conquer empires just as Adolph Hitler did. A faint heart may terrorize its own people like Idi Amin. All these can be done by yielding to self and its passion. The greatest battle yet which these men refused to fight, because they couldn’t have done it without faith anyway, is the fight against self. It takes courage and divine help and surrender. Says the Apostle Paul: “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27). Self does not naturally want to secede from its nature, it takes the grace of God, because repentance is a gift from God; it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. (cf. Rom. 2:4).
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14). The faint-hearted man or woman is one without the sanctifying Spirit, and such has no struggle with the desires of the flesh. In a sermon which he preached in 1941, C.S Lewis points out that “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Like the woman at the well we seek for things that do not satisfy while the saviour pleads with us to draw from His well that will never run dry.
And so, for the strong-hearted who choose to follow Jesus, life with Christ is that of a daily struggle because the enemy of souls doesn’t take secession lightly and he combats in full force such that only those who fight in faith with their eyes fixed on Jesus will conquer. In this civil war, the starvation tactics works as well. Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:5). Those who constantly feed the flesh by what they pay attention to by sight and hearing are setting up the flesh for a victory over the Spirit. That is why the choice of entertainment, music genre and movies matters a lot for a Christian who is serious about conquering the flesh. One cannot keep feeding the flesh and expect a victory over it. Victory over the flesh can only be achieved by feeding the Spirit through a regular study of God’s Word, prayer and a lifestyle that witnesses Christ to the world.
In contrast to the evil spirit which takes man by force, this is not the nature of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, when starved and tactically told He is unwelcome in the heart by one’s actions and inactions, leaves the person. That’s why David prayed saying “Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.” But instead “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps. 51:11, 10)
In this civil war, we are not to be in the offensive but to stand in the defensive, the Apostle Paul admonishes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:10-18 emphasis supplied)
It is not our duty to go and look for the devil for a fight, the Bible admonishes us to stand in defence. The Biafran army acted likewise; “Whenever war is declared, people are generally concerned with the relative strengths of the opposing forces coupled with their war potential. Armed forces are the towing equipment that pulls a nation out if she runs aground in her policy. It is madness for a nation to commit herself more than her armed forces can do. There was no comparison between the strengths of the opposing forces in the Nigerian civil war. Nigerian Army (NA) was too formidable for Biafra, a ratio of 4:1. However each side knew the tactics the other side would employ since they all belonged to the same armed Forces before the war. The Biafran Army, realizing the odds against them decided correctly to go into defense. Taking the advantage of fighting on their own ground, they constructed fortified pill boxes on the enemy most likely avenues of approach, the major highways connecting the Eastern Region with the rest of the country.”[v] Likewise, we must know that we cannot meet satan on his own grounds, therefore one must not play with temptation with the thought that I know when to stop, that might just end in self deception and a great fall.
A great controversy is raging between good and evil in every soul, and without Christ, we do not have the resources to match the enemy’s. White suggests the way to victory:
“A soul thus kept in possession by the heavenly agencies is impregnable to the assaults of Satan. But unless we do yield ourselves to the control of Christ, we shall be dominated by the wicked one. We must inevitably be under the control of the one or the other of the two great powers that are contending for the supremacy of the world. It is not necessary for us deliberately to choose the service of the kingdom of darkness in order to come under its dominion. We have only to neglect to ally ourselves with the kingdom of light. If we do not co-operate with the heavenly agencies, Satan will take possession of the heart, and will make it his abiding place. The only defense against evil is the indwelling of Christ in the heart through faith in His righteousness. Unless we become vitally connected with God, we can never resist the unhallowed effects of self-love, self-indulgence, and temptation to sin. We may leave off many bad habits, for the time we may part company with Satan; but without a vital connection with God, through the surrender of ourselves to Him moment by moment, we shall be overcome. Without a personal acquaintance with Christ, and a continual communion, we are at the mercy of the enemy, and shall do his bidding in the end.”[vi]
The apostle Paul asks: Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:16). Choosing the easy path of no-struggle-against-the-flesh ultimately leads to death while the path of continual struggle against the sinful nature and obedience to God’s Word leads to righteousness and life. It is an everyday surrender to the Holy Spirit. In this battle, yesterday’s surrender is not sufficient for today’s battles. We must fight till the end. Until such a time when we’ll say:
“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”[vii]
And I’d rather die fighting than live yielding to unrighteousness.
[i] Richard Akresh et al, War and Stature: Growing Up During the Nigerian Civil War, IZA DP No. 1964, Dec. 2011
[ii] Abubakar A. Atofarati, The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt. US Marine Command & Staff College, 1992
[iv] Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, pg 43
[v] Abubakar A. Atofarati, The Nigerian Civil War, Causes, Strategies, And Lessons Learnt. US Marine Command & Staff College, 1992
[vi] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pg. 324
[vii] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy. Pg. 678