Buhari’s warning against civil war
President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly warned recently that Nigeria cannot afford another civil war. He is quite right. And, having fought in the 1967-70 war he cannot but know that war is not ‘‘a dinner party.’’ However, the president has not said anything new: Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai voiced a similar warning early August at an event of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
But it is not at all enough to diagnose or to warn about an impending danger. Now that Buhari recognises a clear and present danger, what is he, as ‘Head of State or President, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation’ doing to prevent it. This is precisely what Nigerians and the rest of the world want to hear and see.
It is received opinion in most quarters than no country survives two civil wars. The cost of one alone is too much to contemplate another. Save of course when such madness as defies understanding takes over the rulers of that country.
With specific regard to Nigeria, the 30 month- civil war that ended on January 15, 1970 is estimated by researcher, Dr. Adetunji Ogunyemi of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife to have cost the country in monetary terms alone, about 130 million British pounds. That was then – a time when the Nigerian currency was (unbelievably to many now) strong. The human loss of this tragic war between compatriots is estimated by Buhari at about a million.
As in every war, the damages come in direct and indirect forms – deaths, destruction of lives and private properties as well as public infrastructural assets, social dislocation and displacement of large numbers of people, physical, psychological and emotional trauma and much more. It is therefore correct to warn against another Nigerian civil war. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that more than half a century after the fratricidal war ended, this country of many nationalities that are blessed with diverse competencies and capabilities has, nonetheless, not fully recovered from human and material consequences that its shortsighted, self-seeking leaders brought upon it.
Alas, many of the issues that remotely and directly led to that war not only remain with us, they are, in recent times enlarged by, again, the political class. It may be recalled that coupist, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, complained in his January 15, 1966 against ‘‘the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office… the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.’’ Anyone assessing Nigeria of today does not have to look deep or far to perceive these ills pervasive in this environment.
Many causes are attributable to civil wars, but the most common is sectional discontent fuelled by a feeling of alienation, dispossession, and obvious injustice in the management of the affairs of the state. Brothers rise against brothers in a civil war over perceived inequity, especially in the access to power and public resources and the distribution of the commonwealth.
Equity and justice are foundational to peace and stability in a polity; a perceived lack of this causes discontent, dissension and, if not resolved early and fairly, escalates into conflict of a complicated and destructive nature. For, wars do not suddenly happen, they creep upon the contending parties as each incrementally raises the stakes or descends into more intense animosity.
If Nigeria has, over the past decades, degenerated under mis-governance, the last seven years under Mr. Buhari has been a particularly terrible experience for the country and its people. The human and material cost to Nigeria is hard to quantify.
First, hardly does a day pass that human lives are not wasted by terrorists; hardly a day passes that farms and homes are not destroyed by bandits; hardly a day passes that, for those lucky to be alive, the cost of living does not rise; hardly a day goes by that jobs are not lost, that quality Nigerians are not leaving their country for other lands of better opportunities. Any serious and objective researcher can extend this unhappy list even longer.
Nigeria may not be exactly threatened by a civil war, but it faces an increasingly intense insurgency such that many insist it is already in war. Indeed, daily human casualties and destruction arising from insurgency and terrorism compete very well with those of war fields. And when such killings are seemingly concentrated in particular communities, they tend to create impression of ethnic or religious cleansing, notwithstanding that the perpetrators are basically criminals seeking personal fiefdoms and exploiting the aloofness and lack of political will of government to respond appropriately. That in itself is a recipe for war. On the one hand, terrorists, officially so designated by government, get brazen to the point of operating in the capital city of Abuja killing people, breaking into the Kuje Correctional Centre to free their detained colleagues. They are on record to infiltrate the Nigerian Defence Academy, attack military bases, attack the advance security team of the president, and even threaten to kidnap the Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces. Indeed, kidnapping, a heinous crime that attracts harsh punishment under the extant laws, has become a lucrative business that many engage in. It is all so unbelievable except that Nigerians are witnesses to these intolerable assaults on the country and its hapless people.
To be continued tomorrow.