Teach us history, give us justice
On 5 January this year, residents of Ndoro community in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa state fled their village following the alleged beheading of a soldier by militants. Over the weekend just passed, several fatalities occurred in Khana LGA, Rivers state as two communities, Gwara and Gwure, took the law into their own hands following an allegation of the rape of a Gwara girl by some Gwure youths. Why did Ndoro people flee their homes? Why did Gwara youths feel the need to exact their own justice?
On June 10, 1944, soldiers of the German Waffen-SS entered a village, Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The soldiers stayed only a few hours, but when they had gone, the community was dead. To be fair, the German High Command started court-martial proceedings against SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, the man who led the massacre. But, he was never brought to justice. A few weeks later, he and many of the others who had done the killing, were killed in battle. France chose never to rebuild Oradour. Till this day its ruins stand as a memorial; a reminder to the world that this should never happen again.
This act of confronting the past, rather than pretending that it does not exist, is one that we have seen all over the world. Memorials are built, enshrined, and maintained. Why? Even as close as Rwanda, where only twenty years ago, the fastest genocide in human history occurred, the Rwandans have not swept their tragedy under the carpet. No. They have confronted it headlong, taught their children about it, and burned it deep into the national conscience, in order to ensure that it is never repeated.
In Nigeria, we have had similar tragedies, and we are still having similar tragedies, because we don’t do justice, and we don’t do history.Half a century ago, our country was in the vortex of a brutal civil war. This week of 15 January, fifty years ago, the Second Invasion of Onicha was well underway. It would go on for another two months. Just a few weeks before, the first Invasion of Onicha, at Asaba, capital of today’s Delta state, had happened, where a whole generation of men and boys were wiped out in the evening of October 7, 1967. Asaba was not mentioned anywhere in Nigeria’s national discourse until the Oputa Panel, thirty-three years later. No one has been charged, much less brought to justice. For the sake of fairness, it must be pointed out that at the Oputa Panel, General Gowon apologised to the people of Asaba.
Following the end of hostilities in our war, Nigeria collectively chose to bury the past. Literally. Nigeria has had massacres since that time; in places like Ugep in Cross River, where in December 1975 the late Mohammed Shuwa supervised the killings of a large number of males in the town because a soldier disappeared. It is worth noting that the body of the soldier was found after the massacre, and an inquiry headed by the late Mamman Vatsa established that he was not killed by the townspeople, but had gotten drunk, and choked to death. Did Ugep get compensated? No.
What happened to Shuwa? He was simply transferred and rewarded by being named federal commissioner of trade and works later on. In 1999, there was the Odi Massacre. State backed massacres are not the only problem. In 2013, I listened in horror as the then head of the DSS, Kayode Are, “forgave” members of the Ombatse cult after they killed more than sixty security personnel, including Chris Ibekwe, brother to my friend, the award winning journalist, Nicholas Ibekwe. Justice has not been served to the perpetrators of the Miss World Riots, the many Jos Riots, the Yelwa Massacre…
In recent times, the government has not even been bothered as the Pastoral Conflict has raged, and tit-for-tat killings have become the order of the day, consuming the lives of children as young as three days old as we saw with the murder of Hassana Abdullahu in Shefaran, Adamawa state, last November.
In 2006, author, Chimamanda Adichie published a book, a love story set against the backdrop of our civil war. That book, which went on to receive the Orange Prize for fiction a year later, was later adapted into a film. The film, which premièred in Nigeria in April 2014, suddenly found itself unable to air on our cinema screens because some blazers at our film censors’ board became uncomfortable that certain aspects of the film would cause rofo-rofo in Nigeria. In October last year, I was ordered off air by our broadcasting commission because I was talking about the Asaba Massacre on a radio station.
These are examples of us again shying away from our history. It bears repeating: wishing the past away, pretending that there is no elephant in a room, or denying justice when wrongs are done, do not make the past, nor the elephant, disappear. We must as a people learn to confront our bitter past so we will not make the same mistakes again.
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