THE PORTHARCOURT VOLUNTEER :LESSONS FROM THE NIGERIA CIVIL WAR

I have often pondered if the Nigeria Civil war 1967-1970 was inevitable. Could we have done anything to prevent or avert it? Considering the colossal cost of that war in man and materials, arguments have continued to rage as to the inevitability of the war. It is estimated that up to 3 million people died during the war, most of whom were Biafrans and predominantly Igbo .From those killed in the January 15th 1966 coup,the July 1966 counter coup and its aftermath, to those killed in the progrom; from those killed in the battle fields to hapless civilians bombed and strafed in market places, from traumatized and dehumanized civilians murdered in cold blood as happened in Asaba to Children who died from malnutrition, the human cost was enormous. Not to talk of the loss of property by mostly Ndigbo all over Nigeria, some of which became classified as 'Abandoned Property'
  When the war ended, all Biafrans who had accounts in the banks before the war were paid a maximum of Five pounds irrespective of how much money one had in the account. Of course, Biafran currency became worthless and no matter how much you had, you could not get more than five pounds. Some people felt this was a grand design to keep the 'conquered' people of Biafra  perpetually impoverished so as to make them incapable of carrying out any future 'rebellion'.As it turned out there was an unofficial ceiling placed on how much progress any Former 'Rebel' could make in Nigeria- both in the public and private sectors for several years after the war, and may have just been relaxed recently. Only Perhaps. Nevertheless the truth is that it was not only Biafrans that paid the price for the war. Several Nigerian Soldiers died and the National government diverted resources which could have been used in developing the Nation to prosecuting the war. Overal Development of Nigeria was virtually halted in the three years the war lasted and subsequently,  some resources were directed to rebuilding or rehabilitating National institutions and monuments that were destroyed during the war.
  Many of us who saw and experienced the sufferings and pains of Biafra and its aftermath would not wish for another civil war in Nigeria. No body will wish to relive some of the experiences I have recounted in this book. It is only by God's grace that I survived the war and be in a position to put down my experiences in print. In 1993, following the annulment by General Ibrahim Babangida of the Presidential elections generally believed to have been won by  Chief MKO Abiola, Nigeria's unity was fiercely tested and many predicted another civil war. In my opinion, that war did not happen, essentially because the Igbo refused to align with the Yoruba who strongly felt cheated by the annulment. The pains and vestiges of the civil war were still very fresh and the Igbo rejected any attempt to be drawn into another war.  Since then,  at several points in our National History, the foundations of Nigeria's unity have been tested. The "Kaima Declaration" and  the Niger Delta struggle with its militancy threatened our unity. After the 2011 elections, the post election crisis which exacerbated the Bokoharam insurgency has severely threatened the national unity. Even the 2015 elections threatened Nigeria's unity in an aggravated manner were it not for Divine intervention aptly demonstrated through President Goodluck Jonathan's call to General Muhammadu Buhari to concede defeat even before INEC finished collating the result of the Presidential elections. In all these testings, the lessons from the Nigeria civil war seem to have helped us to steer clear of another war. I therefore believe  that the Nigeria-Biafra war, was a war for Nigeria's unity in a sense. 
  But must these testings continue for ever? The long cry for a national sovereign conference had arisen from this instability. Many Nations have gone past the stage where the unity of their nations are brought to question every four years. When can we begin to take the unity of Nigeria for granted? Even in our Region, many countries like Ghana, The Gambia, Ivory Coast  and Benin Republic, have long gone past the point where their national unity is being questioned.  In concluding this story of my recollections of what happened during the Nigerian civil war from the perspective of a young combatant,let me draw out a few lessons and make a few suggestions that in my opinion will not only help to avert another civil war but will help consolidate our unity.
  Firstly, we must create a nation of equal citizenship. There should be no second class citizen. Every Nigerian must be made to feel that he is an equal stakeholder with every other Nigerian( including the high and the mighty). Citizenship must be equal but position on the social ladder can be different. The Fisherman from Okrika in the Rivers State of Nigeria must feel equal citizenship with the son of the emir of Kano. Today some people feel and act like they own Nigeria more or less than others. This is a major destabilizing factor. To achieve this will involve several things. One is that every Nigerian citizen must be granted some basic inalienable rights from birth to death. For example,right of primary healthcare, right of primary education , right of a roof over his head and right of protection from harm. Two is the right of residency. No Nigerian should be made to feel Like a stranger or alien in any part of the Country. We should abolish this archaic and divisive matter of State of   Origin and resort to State of Residency with equal rights for all residents. Charging dis criminatory school fees, having lower cut off marks for admission into schools, etc are recipes for disunity.
  Secondly, we must have a balanced Federation. The country was fairly balanced in structure and practice during the first republic when we had four Regions. Instability was introduced with state creation. And this should not be surprising as the intentment of state creation was to destabilize Eastern Nigeria which later became Biafra. That instability eventually caught up with the whole Country, because 'whatsoever a man sows,that he will also reap'. Since  it looks impracticable to return to the  four regions structure, may be we should adopt the six-Zone structure currently being used for political office sharing at the federal level . Demand for states creation is unending and one day we may end up with one hundred states if we retain States as  federating units.I am not even speaking about the huge cost of administering one hundred states. That will severely constrain funds for development. And yet the demand for more states may never cease.Thirdly, and consequent on the above, we must practise  true federalism in all of its ramifications.  The centralization of authority and command introduced by the military has been a major cause of destabilization. The struggle to control the federal government is the major recurring irritant to National unity. Power should be devolved to the federating units so that we can make the centre less attractive and the struggle for it less acrimonious.
  Fourthly, we should introduce a single National Language outside English. It could be the Wazobia language that was being developed some time ago or one of the current popular Nigerian Languages.Every Country around us has their indigenous national language outside that imposed by the colonial government. It will be a difficult task but it will be worth the effort in the long run. Nothing unites a people more than a common language. Fifthly, this current practice of rotation of public offices must be continued until every zone has held the topmost office in the land and then it can be jettisoned for an arrangement that compels alliances so that no single zone can dominate or go it all alone. Sixthly, the Country must institute a reward system that rewards Hardwork and merit. The subsisting system that seems to promote privileges for the well connected and where reward seems to be inversely related to effort or sacrifice will not promote National unity. Seventhly, we must enthrone a Nation where the rule of law reigns supreme, with no malice or favour to any one and where Justice does not go to the highest bidder.
  There are many other things that can promote national unity, some of which I had previously discussed in my earlier book:NIGERIA: NEED FOR THE EVOLUTION OF A NEW NATION, but I truly believe that if there is a concerted effort among the political and civil society leadership to focus on these seven issues, which may require some constitutional amendments, we should be in a position to consolidate Nigeria's unity in the next ten years. Thereafter a sustained economic and social development of our Nation can proceed without interruption. We must ensure that Nigeria does not fight another civil war nor promote any new regional insurgency, militancy or rebellion. With determination and sincerity of purpose under God, this is attainable. We have had enough!
( Above article is culled from chapter Twelve of my new book: THE PORTHARCOURT VOLUNTEER - Experiences of a young combatant in the Nigeria-Biafra war which was released into the market last week )

Comments

  1. Good thinking! But who is listening? God bless your consistency my brother Sam.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

IS THE NMA A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION OR A TRADE UNION?

WHY HAVE THEY THROWN AMBODE INTO THE LAGOS LAGOON?

PERPETUATION IN OFFICE: BUHARI ACTS TYPICAL