By Matthew Ozah
Fifty years after, Nigerians are still romancing the baleful consequences that led to civil war. This is so because many things that have happened in the past that caused the civil war are still happening today almost exactly the same way. Therefore, it was a welcome development as notable personalities in the society like former Head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Professor Pat Utomi, Professor Anya o, Anya among others, spoke, last week at the anniversary of the Nigerian civil war, tagged ‘Never Again’.
An occasion organised by Igbo think-tank, Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos in collaboration with civil society organisations, appealed to political leaders to stop fanning the embers of war. No doubt, Nigeria can be said to be one of the most blessed and lucky nations on earth.
Indeed, the reports and accounts given by those who not only delivered a paper on the occasion but witnessed or played a role during the civil war provided a dramatic illustration of how human beings can be so forgetful. Yes, people do forget so often when the pain of an injury is gone. Even the scar sometimes seems to bear no lesson because people are tempted to revisit what had caused them severe pain and anguish. The fact that war is an enemy to development and a dire situation one could hardly find an escape is enough not to provoke it. The filthiness and soul-destroying circumstance caused by war are unimaginable. Any nation that fought a civil war bears an indelible scar and hardly survives a second as an entity.
It is hard to overstate the difficulty of distancing political leaders from playing dangerous tunes of crisis in the country. One of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria’s political leaders is that there is a serious problem of trust. This phenomenon, make Nigerians warier than they might otherwise be. Since the end of the civil war, ethnicity and religion have continued to plague the country’s politics and made Nigerians fall out of love for each other. It is important for the ruling government to sow an article of faith and patriotism among young people. This will enable them to distance themselves from political propaganda that may push them against one another.
Leading Nigerian intellectual Professor Pat Utomi speaks during a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian Civil War in Lagos, on January 13, 2020. – Activities have been lined up across the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War, estimated to have cost over a million lives before the secessionists surrendered 50 years ago in January 1970. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)
Lest we forget, Wole Soyinka described his generation as a wasted one because millions of them died while fighting during the civil war.
With the on-going, if one may ask, does it mean Nigeria’s political leaders many of whom fought on either side during the civil war had jettisoned the lessons? Regrettably, peace is becoming a bit of a nightmare to Nigerians as certain people seem happy to fan the embers of war again. And the ruling government is doing little or nothing about it. The fact that Nigeria consists of different nation-states, radically different in culture, political tradition, perception of reality and expectation, gives no reason to resurface a futile war. Ironically, these pertinent issues lay bare before us and are deliberately being ignored by successive governments with the lie of one Nigeria.
In 2014, Nigerians came up with a Constitutional draft from a constitutional conference, where several voices across the country spoke and agreed to restructure the country. However, it is sad to note that, the outcome of the jaw-jaw has been continually ignored. It might be wise, therefore, to listen to the voices of the reason so that the nation does not wobble and teeter on the brink of violent implosion.
The risk to rewrite history by allowing what triggered a civil war to repeat itself is crazy. Amid several uncertainties, if another civil war should break out, two realities stand out. First, the war would achieve nothing, only help to divide the country into particles. Second, and more important, is that having not learned any lesson from the three-year civil war, 50 years after, the crisis will generate more grief and sorrow.
As it were, it is even riskier to observe that the only people speaking the language of ‘Never Again’ are those who are not in position of leadership nor do they aspire to lead in any capacity. It is annoying that many of our political leaders shut their eyes to these realities. Worst still, many of them act on what they think rather than what they say.
On several occasions, President Muhammadu Buhari had claimed to be a born-again democrat and that he would obey the rule of law. But regrettably, Nigerians have seen otherwise on his watch. Unfortunately, there are always reasons, strongly and blindly advanced by government why things should deliberately stay on obscure way. There seems to be a pendulum of pride and arrogance in certain quarters as a particular region in the country feels they are untouchable and born-to-rule. The riddle behind such audacity remains wrapped in a mystery. However, many believe it is a political weapon of choice meant to intimidate other regions. But to a large extent, it is short-sighted to think that way because it does not spell out the plausible and precise criteria for holding such views.
At the moment, Nigerians are beginning to get scared of their shadows with the lingering whispers of imminent crisis. The continued agitation for Biafra is on a high gear 50 years after. It is important to know that Biafra is not an anathema. Once the country is restructured Biafra will naturally fissile out because restructuring will take care of the need to break away.
It is on the whole disheartening to note that Nigeria’s political leaders’ behavior is driven by ethnic and religious interest. Of course, it is undeniable that religion and ethnicity remain a truth from which successive governments in Nigeria indulge reading from actions, inactions, and appointments favourable to a particular region. Over and over, political leaders impose controversial policies that favour an ethnic group for fear of bearing the wrath of kinsmen. Almost every Nigerian leader would feel obliged to please his people and religion. It is a pity that Buhari’s presidency is enmeshed in this curiosity. Not too long ago, instead of repatriating illegal immigrants, the ruling government opened a register for them and very recently the government announced a visa on arrival policy for anybody to enter the country.
However to downplay the sound bites of religious and ethnic politics in the country, the ruling government, through the presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a statement with reference to the civil war said, ”The tragedy shall be neither forgotten nor repeated. The war serves as a potent warning on the dangers of aggressive regionalism, ethnic baiting and political corruption…we must forge common memory that can serve as a bridge to a future free from ravages of sectarianism.”
The ruling government should not involve itself in political shenanigans. Instead, it should be seen to encourage rapport for peace and harmony so as to deepen reintegration among the people. No section of the country should be treated or given unimaginable privileges than others. This will help to give an instinctive reaction to Nigerians not to do anything that may lead to another civil strife.