50 years after civil war, Nigerians mull terms of unity, clamour for true federalism
Fifty years ago, a devastating civil war that killed more than one million people in Nigeria came to an end. Most of those who lost their lives in what became known as the Nigerian Civil War died from fighting, disease and starvation during the two-and-a-half-year conflict. In 1967, the military governor of then Eastern Region, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, inhabited mainly by Igbo, accused the Federal Government of condoning the mass murder of thousands of ethnic Igbo living in the north after the botched coup of 1966 in what became the worse pogrom in the country.
On 30 May that year, Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared the former Eastern Region sovereign and independent Republic of Biafra – a unilateral move rejected by the federal authorities. A bloody civil war ensued, with federal troops deployed to stop the secessionist movement.
The Nigerian forces cut off aid and access to the area throughout the war, which ended with the surrender of Biafra in January 1970. The Republic of Biafra ceased to exist and General Yakubu Gowon, the leader of the Federal Government, famously declared ‘no victor, no vanquished’ in the war. But 50 years on, many Nigerians, especially those from the Southwest and Southeast of the country, are pained that there is a re-enactment of the events of 1966, with the wanton killings and glaring dominance of one small ethnic group over the others.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, two separate and significant events took place. In Lagos, Nzuko Umunna, an Igbo intellectual group and Nd’Igbo Lagos reached out to their Yoruba counterparts and held the ‘Never Again’ conference at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
On the same day, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), consisting of leaders from the Southwest, South-South, and Middle Belt gathered and issued a communiqué entitled: ‘Another Cloud of War Gathers Over Nigeria.’
While one group was wishing that the events that led to the war that claimed over one million lives should not happen again, the other declared that a more dangerous, multi-frontal version is already upon us.
In the Lagos meeting, presided over by the a Chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, with President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, and President of Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus present, the lament was that the country is currently under a worse and irresponsible power-holders than it was in 1967 when the first civil war broke out with unbridled nepotism, sectionalisation and undisguised marginalization of major sections of the country in pursuit of a Fulanisation agenda.
In the Abuja event, a communiqué signed by Senator Bassey Henshaw for South-South, Dr. Isuwa Dogo for Middle Belt, General C.R.U. Ihejirike for Southeast and Yinka Odumakin for Southwest, the elders lamented that the country was witnessing an ethnic group dominating the heads of the three arms of government, the leadership of all security agencies, finance sector and communications in a manner suggestive of a rehash of the planning stage of the genocide against the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda, when all sectors relevant to a war economy were taken over for the purpose by the latter.
The elders also expressed worries about reports that Hausa has allegedly became the official language in many federal establishments today and non-speakers, who complain that they don’t understand the language, are usually told to go to school.
The communiqué reads, “50 years after the war, diplomatic protocols and multilateral agreements on movements of citizens across borders enacted by acts of parliament are being overthrown by presidential proclamations to obviously facilitate invasion of our country by Fulani herdsmen through visa-less entry to change the demographic composition of Nigeria with the attendant increased insecurity as the president had openly admitted that most of those wielding illegal AK-47 across Nigeria, whom the government has failed to arrest or disarm, are ex-fighters in Libya and other African countries.”
The elders further expressed regret about reports alleging that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was registering these illegal migrants.
“If this is true, we would want to know if registration by NIMC can make anybody a citizen of Nigeria without having any place of birth in the country or parents who are Nigerians.”
They bemoaned what they described as threats that followed the introduction of a neighborhood security outfit called Amotekun in Southwest Nigeria.
“There is an obvious agenda to make non-Fulani groups in Nigeria defenseless and vulnerable to herdsmen and kidnappers so that the presidency would not have to tutor them on how to live peacefully with their killer neighbours the way it had to tell Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue in January 2018, the communiqué stressed.”
They expressed worry that the president has kept particular persons as service chiefs in the Armed Forces since 2015 against the traditional practice and in the process truncating the careers of generation of officers in the forces.
Meanwhile, in the ‘Never Again’ conference in Lagos, Prof. Banji Akintoye, who insisted on the restructuring of the country, also lamented marginalization by the current administration.
“It is hugely providential that we are registering this resolve today before the world and before the creator and ruler of the world,” he said. “I say providential because, as an elderly citizen of this country, and as a citizen who was already a young university teacher at the time of our civil war, I have good reasons to fear today that the character of the affairs of our country these days, and the prevailing mood among us Nigerians are chillingly similar to the character of the affairs of our country in the months leading to our civil war.”
He alleged that the government of the country is being managed in ways that made it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. Akintoye posited that there seems to be an agenda being pursued to establish this minority in all positions of command in the executive, administrative, judicial, and security services of the country.
According to him, “The voices of the majority register protests continually and are continually disrespected and ignored. The state of law is patently being subsumed to the needs of that agenda with seriously damaging effects on human rights. These situations are inevitably fostering, among the peoples of the Middle Belt and South of our country, the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered peoples in Nigeria.
“Meanwhile, some people belonging to the would-be minority conquerors are loudly threatening to overrun and seize the ancestral homelands of the said peoples of the Nigerian Middle Belt and South, and are actually pushing for the conquest with their acts of destruction of farms and villages, acts of wanton killings of people, acts of kidnapping, acts of intimidation, and the act of bringing of masses of their ethnic kinsmen from countries beyond Nigeria to seize and possess land by force and intimidation in Nigeria.”
He also alleged that the government seemed to be purposed not to defend the threatened Nigerians but aid the processes of the conquest. Akintoye noted that the outcome of all these was that the country is divided into two hostile parts – the minority that seems bent in conquest and ethnic cleansing, and the majority that is striving with great handicaps to preserve their homelands and their existence and integrity as peoples.
“Meanwhile, as a manifest corollary to these fearsome developments, the dreaded fundamentalist terrorist movement, ISIS, after being vanquished in the Middle East, has established its new strong base in a part of Nigeria, and from there has proclaimed West Africa as its new province by way of ISWAP.
“The probability has become high therefore that ISIS might make a junction with the minority pushing for the conquest of the majority in Nigeria, that Nigeria might thus be ravaged by ISIS, that Nigeria may soon be the base from which ISIS will push to conquer West Africa and all of Africa, with the purpose of turning Africa into a mighty base of fundamentalist terror against the rest of the civilized world.”
The elder statesman canvassed steps needed to accomplish a new order of existence, saying the Nigerian ethnic nation threatening other Nigerian ethnic nations and engaging in invasion, destruction, disruptive and barbaric rampages in the homelands of other Nigerian ethnic nations and that has been mobilizing external forces to assist the conquest, subjugation and ethnic cleansing of other Nigerian ethnic nations must immediately stop and renounce the agenda to the satisfaction of all Nigerians and to the satisfaction of the civilized world.
“After, we Nigerians must restructure our country with the objective of giving our country a true and generally acceptable federal structure under which the different sections of our country will be able to develop their resources for the conquest of poverty in their domains and for the elevation of the quality of life of their citizens and for their contributions to the overall prosperity of our Nigeria.”He stressed that Nigeria as a country is of many different nations and different in culture, political traditions, perception of acceptable reality, expectations and different desires and growth, noting, “Ignoring this fundamental, we have almost continuously let our country wobble and totter on the brink of violent implosion, and we have continually inflicted serious pains upon ourselves. We fought and ended a civil war, but we have never really moved measurable away from the brinks of civil war.”
Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who addressed the conference through a recorded message, urged all Nigerians to avert another civil war in the country. He added that the commitment of citizens to the country must be total and patriotic.
He said, “We must do all in our power as responsible leaders and citizens of this great country and nation to create enabling platforms to dialogue and proffer ideas on how we can live together in peace and harmony for the good of all Nigerians and the black race as a whole, thus ensuring political, economic, security and development of the country. I urge all Nigerians to ensure that we avert another civil war in Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, advised the government to deploy wisdom in addressing the clamour for secession. Citing the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), for instance, Soyinka identified several other nations that separated such as Myanmar, Pakistan, Chechnya and the most recent Britain, which is on the verge of leaving the European Union (EU), also known as Brexit.
According to him, since the agitation for secession started with the civil war, it has followed a trajectory of unison, affirming the decisiveness of the people irrespective of the age, literacy level among other demographics.
“The claim that no nation has ever survived two civil wars may not be historically sustainable but, it belongs to that category of quest that I have referred to as the pursuit of wisdom – in this case, we may equate it with the wisdom of not holding a bank note over a flame just because the Central Bank claims that it is fireproof. Or attempt to hold an exposed electric wire, just because NEPA is notorious for electrical incapacitation.
“Correspondingly, our analogy is sternly directed as a mirror to those contrary voices which boast: ‘I have fought a war and put my life on the line to keep this nation one, and I am ready to do it all over again.’ That bravado, by the way, conveniently overlooks the reality that a parallel, often more devastating toll in human lives and lingering trauma is also exacted from untrained, unprepared non-combatants, burdening the future with a more unpredictable, indeed even irreversible hangover.”
While giving his remark, chairman of the occasion, Prof. Anya Anya, said that Nigeria is in trouble partly because the country went through a temptation period that led to the war, adding, “Nigerians have never reflected on the past history since the beginning of the good period. This is the first opportunity for us to do so.”
Anya said the Nigerian situation is not unique, as there are other countries that had gone through it. He said Nigeria should learn from others and from her past mistakes, and called on Nigerians to eschew violence and work collaboratively to make the country great.
In his address, Chairman, Planning Committee of the conference, Prof. Utomi, said the inability to manage public conversation is a major challenge to nation building in Nigeria. He said if the Nigerian civil war were fought today, there would be no Nigeria because the mood in the international community now accepts self-determination.
“If you go to the social media today, you will know that Nigeria is at war,” he said. “The young people, who were not anywhere near the war, hates so much, and you wonder why. This is a failure of leadership in Nigeria.”
Also speaking at the event, Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, cautioned leaders to thread softly in order not to destroy the country, saying, “The reason why we are having many problems in Nigeria today is the perception that we haven’t learnt any lesson from the civil war and therefore the ‘Never Again’ conference is to draw our attention to the matter that actually concerns everybody.
“The point has been made in the conference and the point is, ‘yes, we have four regions and there was a civil war.’ Now, we have 36 states. Do you think that we can survive a civil war under 36 states? What is just going to happen is dismemberment of this country and immeasurable pains and sufferings to millions of Nigerians. So, it makes sense for us to talk to each other and as we talk to each other, we learn lessons from the past.”
Also speaking, a renowned musician, Onyeka Onwenu, who was one of panelists, lamented that 50 years after the civil war, the Igbo are still marginalised in Nigeria.
According to her, “I have tried with the little talent that God has given me to use it for the betterment of my society and my country. But if I were a Yoruba or Hausa woman, I would probably have had more patronage, more help and more support than I have gotten in my self-effort to raise this country up. But I am not asking anybody for anything.”
In his remarks, President of Ndigbo Lagos, Major General Obi Abel Umahi (rtd), said, “Every nation desirous of peace, justice, tranquility and its attendant development and prosperity must place emphasis on historical insight, learn to embark on a journey of genuine forgiveness, healing, justice and peace as these are the ingredients for national cohesion. Fifty years after the civil war, there is a need for national reflection that will herald a new chapter in our nation’s history.”
In the same vein, the Coordinator of Nzuko Umunna, Mr. Ngozi Joseph Odumuko, remarked, “Many Nigerians believe, perhaps through their observations of the unfolding political and economic activities that the Igbo are yet to be fully reintegrated, in the real sense of it, 50 years after the civil war.”
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