By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I have decided to write on this topic today because of the dangerous giddiness I observe in many of our young ones today, especially on social media. I have no doubt that many of them love our country so passionately but are disappointed in how messy things have been. Many have struggled to go to school hoping to find something meaningful to do thereafter but no such luck. Many have become frustrated and despondent and desperate in the process. The resultant effect naturally is deep seated resentment and anger. But I read somewhere that “anger beclouds reasoning” more often than not. Someone needs to plead with those who think war is a tea party to perish the thought. It is not a game and to fit it into language which our youths of today will probably understand, it is not a video game. No matter how angry we were in our younger days, (and I was a pioneer JAMBITE in 1978, some 41 odd years ago), we tried hard to avoid bloodshed even when security forces fired at us, as they still do till this day. And compared to war, such confrontations are child’s play!
Even if war must come as the very last resort, there must be a method to madness. War should never be fought for the sake of war. One must ask the pertinent questions: what are we fighting for, the objectives; who is leading the war and will they come out on the battlefield with members of their own family or send others out as Guinea pigs; what guarantees have we that even if we win, which cannot ever be guaranteed, we can win with minimum collateral costs and damages? That is why we have what is called a pyrrhic victory, a victory so devastating and debilitating that it might as well have been a defeat! And in a civil war, there is ultimately no victor or vanquished because the protagonists all bear the scars for a very long time. Those who participated in and survived the Nigerian civil war will tell you of the emotional pain, anguish and torture that they still suffer till today alongside the physical injuries and wounds. We have examples of other wars fought across the globe and we know their outcomes. Even where victory has been proclaimed in some of them, we feel the aftershocks and aftermath much later on and wonder why, if it was all so in vain, we ever got involved in the process.
True, war is sometimes unavoidable, but I don’t think Nigeria or Nigerians can afford, or survive another round of a bloody civil war. Of course, it is not just the fact that such a war is likely to lead to the disintegration of the country, because some people will claim that this is what they want in any event, it is the nature of the disintegration that must be feared and avoided. We have become too divided along ethnic lines that we may need to create tens and tens of nations out of present-day Nigeria. Each of the so-called majority tribes in Nigeria have their own local internecine battles being fought with the minority ethnic groups. Just as some majority tribes insist they want to secede or break away because they cannot stand other tribes lording it over them, so also the smaller clans which will have become bigger groups in a vastly reduced sub-region will complain about the overlordship of the new majority tribe in any new nation. Our people are never satisfied or content. There will always be room and avenue for complaints. It is therefore not going to be as simple as many of those calling for war think to conceptualise the numerous nations that will be birthed by a war-ravaged Nigeria.
I have been privileged to read voraciously about the history of wars globally. What pains me the most is that after the insanity that started every war calms down, the antagonists would usually sit down across a table, and dialogue with one another having agreed to a conversation they had rejected out of hand in the past, in their collective stupidity. Many of them would later come back to preach about the importance of unity after wasting so many innocent lives, but never the lives of those close to them. Those ones are usually ensconced in safety in far-away climes.
Apart from reading, I have travelled through several war-torn zones and saw first-hand the vestiges of mutually acquired suspicion and the destruction and calamity that ensued following the seeming intractable disputes that had led to the field of battle. I was in Sierra Leone in 2001 and visited Port Loko and Mange, towns or villages that were ravaged and devastated by the war that raged with so much venom that hands and arms were amputated by whether you were wearing long sleeves or short sleeves. I wondered what on earth could have led to such meanness, wickedness and evil. I also travelled to Liberia where, again, I visited our soldiers who controlled ten of the 15 counties in the country, at the time. The story was quite similar to that of Sierra Leone. No compassion, no sympathy, no empathy. There was looting, raping and murder all in the name and disguise of war. Evildoers in these countries took refuge under the umbrella of war to unleash their bestial nature on poor unsuspecting citizens who despite their pleas and entreaties were massacred in their thousands with great mirth and debauchery accompanying the sickening killings and rapes.
I have also travelled to Rwanda many times in the last couple of years and can authoritatively confirm that no country should ever experience such a pogrom or genocide for any reason. The carnage, bloodbath and ethnic cleansing that I heard about seemed to come out of stories one reads in novels and fantasies only that I saw and met those who had been unfortunate to be victims of a macabre example of man’s inhumanity to man.
I’m particularly worried that many of those shouting war, war, war in Nigeria hardly know the meaning of it. My visits to the Kigali Genocide Memorial convinced me that we are playing with naked fire. I see too many similarities to how the conflagration started in Rwanda. Before the two main rivals in the ethnic jingoism knew what was happening, they had started a war that wasted too many lives. I passed through that museum again some days ago and still had tears in my eyes. I ran into many Nigerians and wished they will all go back as Peace Ambassadors having witnessed the harm and suffering that a war of attrition such as that being espoused by some of our youths and aged elders can bring.
Nearer home, I have seen the effect that a mini war can have in the Ife-Modakeke crisis of the 1980’s. Close friends and families suddenly became sworn enemies. People used the opportunity to settle old scores. Young men were slain for apparently no reason. Those who provided the guns and ammunition, the petrol and the lighters for the killings and arson that took place hid their closest and dearest from the blood-letting that ensued. When the dust settled the discerning members of both communities sat down to wonder what it was all about. However, the damage had been done! Till this day, just as there is mutual distrust and suspicion amongst the various majority tribes of Nigeria, so also is there such distrust and suspicion between the Ifes and the Modakekes.
It is so disheartening that many of those controlling the appurtenances of power in our country today once fought for the unity of Nigeria during the civil war of 1967 to 1970. How come they have forgotten the monstrosity and monumental tragedy that befell Nigeria at that unfortunate moment? Why can’t these leaders realise that our country deserves better than to be governed in such petty manner as we now are doing? Why can’t they concentrate on the onerous tasks of nation building instead of nation wrecking? Nigeria is a great country that will become greater still if we stop fanning the ethnic embers and concentrate on building a thriving successful nation. Our diversity should be our strength and not a weakness or an albatross around our neck. Without any doubt, the price of peace is always cheaper than the cost of war. Anarchy will never lead to progress and development. It can only worsen or situation.
However, all the blame cannot be laid at the doorstep of our leaders, especially those in government. I see middle-aged people who were young people at the time, and were unfortunate childhood participants, actors or spectators in disaster that was the Nigerian civil war. This is because in reality, no region was spared. The civil war did not in fact begin in 1967, its genesis was in the mutiny and subsequent military putsch of January 1966. The January 1966 affair became a raging inferno once the retaliatory coup of July 1966 took place and given the egos and youthful exuberance of our military leaders at the time, it was no wonder that they committed to going down the slippery slope of war rather than discourse. One would have thought that with age and maturity, those leaders who are alive, and were active participants in the turmoil that embroiled Nigeria in those crazy days, would reflect and ensure that nothing of that nature ever occurs again in our country. However, it is sad to see that some of them are in the forefront of the agitation for war as means of resolving what is after all a political issue.
The buck still stops at the table of our leaders, especially the President, Muhammadu Buhari. He needs to work harder at reassuring the nation that he means well for Nigeria and that he respects all Nigerians as equals no matter where they come from. For the moment and at this present time in our history, the President must not only recognise the existence and utility of all regions, regardless of their part in his electoral success, he must integrate them. It is not too difficult to do. Our Constitution already provides the foundation for any determined leader to seize the moment and take the initiative. There is provision for Federal Character in most appointments and although this has sometimes been used to crown mediocrity over merit, in the hands of an astute manager, it can be used to assuage and heal old wounds and to kickstart the country’s journey towards living in harmony and unity.
I believe that we must learn to be tolerant towards each other. Some of the complaints about our leaders’ stem from the intolerance and impatience on both sides. This is justified because of our history which our leaders have never properly addressed. At the same time, I also believe that our leaders must focus mainly on the real ills of our society especially poverty, education and unemployment. Dealing decisively with these matters will lead to our youths being more discerning and deciding not to be cannon fodder for anybody. There must come a time when it should not matter where successive Presidents come from or indeed whether they come from the same parts as their deputies. What should matter is merit and good governance. This can only be achieved when those leading us abandon the seeming toga of ethnic overlords that they are adorned with, when it is not their style or portion. This they can only do by transparently demonstrating that they are true nationalists and patriots and will treat all Nigerians the same irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds.
That is the future, our future, not war, secession or disintegration.