January 2020: Learning the lessons of history
January 2020 is a very significant historical milestone for Nigeria. It marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Nigeria civil war. January 15th is the Armed Forces Remembrance Day for the Nigerian military and people. The 15th of January 1970 is the date of the official surrender of the Biafran nation and the cessation of hostilities. Books have been written about the war.
There are many stories on what led to the war, how it started, why and how the war was fought. This year, fifty years on, one would expect some reflection on the outcomes of that war and of General Gowon’s subsequent ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ proclamation which ended it. It would be wonderful if on this historical occasion, Nigeria had cause to celebrate the fruits of the ‘Three Rs’ policy of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction which followed the war. Unfortunately, there is nothing to celebrate. The nation is more divided than ever. Ethnic tensions and mistrust are widespread, aggravated by poverty, deprivation, and grave insecurity, and unclear government agenda. Our country has become an object of derision to the world.
Wars of any kind are clearly the result of failed leadership, and an indictment of both the civil and military elite. Civil war is war of the worst kind. It is the military that actually goes to the war front. Military personnel are not trained to kill their own citizens, but to protect them. They go to war in order to secure peace in their own territory by deterring enemies from harming their citizens and incursion into its national territory. Many patriotic senior military officers who have had to order troops to attack their fellow citizens live with regrets for the rest of their lives. It is sad to pull the trigger on your course mate; to become adversaries with persons alongside whom you trained.
This was what happened in Nigeria. If after this war, we emerged stronger and more united as a nation, the 50th anniversary of the war would have had a different significance. We would be celebrating the birth of a new Nigeria, borne out of the pain and struggles and blood of citizens. But this is not the case. The country’s failure is therefore twofold – allowing our troubles drag us to war against our fellow citizens, and after the war ended, neglecting to nourish the peace, obtained at such a great price, with justice.
Fairness, trust, and equity, underpinned by informed, transparent and non-prejudicial decision-making, are critical for engendering unity. In Nigeria’s case, the Three Rs which were promised were not followed through. Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction never really happened. Successive governments till date have not committed to strengthening and preserving Nigeria’s oneness or promoting the values of diversity. As an example, current political appointments, and composition of the civil service reflect such a bias that will make a discerning persons wonder if the President is there for one Nigeria. His mindless diversity management diminishes the kind of imbalances that bred the perceptions and conditions which led to the civil war. Any system where citizens are classed as insiders and outsiders based on tribe, religion and other such differentiators is a formula for disaffection and recipe for failure. This is a clear demonstration of the failure of Nigeria’s leaders to take lessons from the past, not minding that the government had abolished the study of history from our school curricula.
The study of political leadership, nation building, public policy and military history is best learnt in the war zones, cemeteries, mortuaries, prison yards, hospitals and archives of failed projects and bankrupt organizations. These are the places where the consequences of uninformed policy, faulty decision making, flawed judgments, failed leadership and decadent values are in full view. Conducting post-mortems and analysing biopsies of samples taken from these places provide deep insight to the quality of leadership, policies and systems prevalent over time. Mass massacres of Igbos that date back to the sixties, a count of the tombs in the various military cemeteries, and the recent mass graves in Benue, Abia and Borno states within the last couple of years are clear evidence of failed leadership at various times.
In ‘peacetime’, the same inferences can be drawn from hospital notes on the causes and frequencies of hospitalization and deaths, the archives in the Nigeria Stock Exchange on non-performing, liquidated and bankrupted businesses, and the hordes of frustrated young persons incarcerated in our prisons for various offenses. I may not want to talk about the white collar criminals with Billions in the banks that are working freely and even influencing the systems. Good governance is not about propaganda, but about evidence. The data speaks for itself.
Nigeria has been variously described as a failed state, a failing state and a façade of several states. Analysts say it is only a matter of time. Another war looms.
Government infrastructure and systems are in ruins, leadership quality has dipped to a dangerously low level. The judiciary and legislature, rather than keep the executive in check, have joined in the rape of democracy and seem knotted to the aprons of the President. Poverty is biting hard, insecurity is in permanent acceleration, and voices of opposition are being clamped. If the current trajectory continues, we do not need any Imam or Father Mbaka to prophesy the consequences. The country will break, into how many pieces I cannot tell, but break it will. Our military, security, and intelligence organs are too depleted and fractured to stop what may come.
It is unfortunate that this is happening at a time when Muhammadu Buhari, who participated in the civil war as a senior military officer, is serving as democratically elected President of the country whose unity he fought for. It is instructive also that General Yakubu Gowon, who led the Nigerian forces in that civil war, is still alive. Their Excellencies’, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, all of whom are retired Generals, all of whom have had the privilege at one time or another of being at the helm of affairs in this country, and all of whom participated in the civil war are all still living. I want to believe that God has kept these men alive for a purpose. Note that their counterparts on the Biafran side are all departed. This is deep in meaning. We watch and pray.The Buhari government mindlessly hold peace building in contempt.
The President on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the civil war, bragged to world leaders that his government will use the experience of the civil war to stop the terrorism, insurgency and banditry ravaging the country. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo was reported to have said that the civil war was a defining national tragedy. If the talk is of the mind, he would not be part of the government that is superintending the worst annihilation of Christians, and ghettoizing some Nigerians within the security apparatchik of their country and creating the most irresponsible, parochial and dichotomous state of being.
Only the South East leaders resonated with the moment to sing “Never Again” in a well-orchestrated National conference opening fronts for National conversations for peace building. This January I was privileged to attend President Obasanjo’s Sunday school class at the Baptist Church OOPL, Abeokuta, Ogun state. His deliberated on lessons of the MIND taken from the scriptures. I learnt a few things. Ephesians 4:23 urges leaders to be renewed in the spirit of their minds; and Romans 12:2 amplifies “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I can say that in all cultures and religions, characters of the mind are powerful.
Therefore leaders who feel that the best way they can keep peace, unity and mutual coexistence is by force may think again. People who aspire to lead must heal their minds, be mindful of in decision making and exercise mindfulness in their actions.
As I conclude, my restless spirit wanders to Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Rwanda. Each of these nations is of import in peculiar ways to our nation at this point. The judgment of political leaders in peace time, in troubled times, at the verge of war, in war time and as the war ceases are truly defining moments and requires statecraft and endearing characters of the mind, heart, head and spirit to navigate. I have had the privilege of studying Peace without wars, Leadership, Public Policy and War History. Everyone loses in a war, even the victor. Why would we allow our nation go down this route again? The ADC warm shake is not just a political party symbol, rather, it is an authentic commitment to brake barriers, build bridges, plant love and hone diversity values to leverage our nation and people. For a nation with tremendous opportunities, resources and human force, to create its path to a super power status is not rocket science.
A stitch in time, they say saves nine.
Nwosu is national chairman Africa Democratic Congress ADC.
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