Chukwudi Nweje and Romanus Okoye
Echoes of the civil war reverberated in Lagos, yesterday, with prominent Nigerians insisting on restructuring as panacea to the country’s problems. They also cautioned against utterances and actions that could lead to another civil strife.
Participants at an event organised by Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos in collaboration with civil society organisations with the theme, ‘Never Again Conference Nigerian Civil war: 50 Years After’ regretted that issues of injustice, inequality and the penchant for some people to lord it over others which caused the war were still prevalent and should be checked to avert a similar tragedy.
But a key player in the war and former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, said fear of population and political domination by a section engineered the issues that led to the War.
Gowon also said different interpretations of the Aburi agreement between Nigerian and Biafra representatives had contributed significantly in the war because while Odumegwu Ojukwu insisted that “on Aburi we stand” he told Ojukwu “from Aburi, you will fall.”
Gowon, in a recorded speech played at the conference called on Nigerians to ensure that the country averts another civil war. He urged that Nigerians should always refer to the speech he made at the end of the civil war as a reference point for entrenching national reconciliation, peace and unity.
“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.”
“Let me say again, that although, the Nigerian civil war ended in January 1970, yet it has continued to be a veritable reference point in our nation’s political discourse for the past 50 years. It was indeed a welcome way it ended at the time, for it had posed the greatest threat to the territorial integrity and unity of Nigeria, our promising multiethnic federation. The civil war left an indelible impression and desire in me to hold dearest, the unity and indivisibility of a democratic Nigeria.”
Chairman of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Prof. Banji Akintoye, warned that Nigeria was risking the possibility of another civil war if the ongoing injustices in the country persisted.
Akintoye said the mood in Nigeria was similar to what led to the civil war and the character displayed by some of the country’s leaders today makes it look like governance is the exclusive preserve of some people.
“A particular minority today is at war with the majority. The government is being managed in ways that make it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. 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.He said the country needs to be restructured to reflect the principles of federalism to avert another war.
“The voices of the majority register protests continually and are continually disrespected and ignored. The state of the 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 the country, the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered peoples of Nigeria.
“Nigeria must, without further delay, restructure with the objective of giving our country a true and generally acceptable federal structure under which the present sections of the country will be able to develop their resources for the conquest of poverty in their domains.”
Akintoye said the country needs to be restructured in a way that it will benefit all component parts of the country.
Also speaking, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said one of the ways to say “Never Again” was to enthrone principles of democracy. He said humanity tended to forget too soon and repeat mistakes several times. He said no nation survives two civil wars and urged Nigerians to ensure there was no repeat of past mistakes.
Soyinka said the events of the Nigerian/Biafra war needed somber reflections.
Therefore, Nigeria must borrow ideas from other nations who had similar experience. He warned leaders not to see others as puns, but as real human beings.
“Anytime, the leadership tries to sacrifice our people in the pursuit of absolutism, we must remind them, like black Americans who told their leaders that black Africans life matter, that Nigerians lives matter,” he said.
The Nobel Laureate, who deplored the insecurity situation in the country, commended the South West governors for coming up with the regional security force, Operation Amotekun, assuring the outfit would respond to the yearnings of the people in the region.
“I thank a number of public-spirited, humanity-considering governors in this nation, who finally responded to the demand and yearnings of the citizens and produced one organisation called Amotekun. It’s one of the most unexpected because I had given up on them; it is an unexpected but at the same time a desirable New Year present,” Soyinka said.
Prof Anya O. Anya, who was chairman of the event, lamented that Nigeria did not learn lessons from the civil war.
“Our situation is not unique, some other countries have gone through similar experiences, we have to learn from their experiences. Japan fought a war and lost, Germany also fought a war and lost, but less than 30 years after the war, they sprang back from the devastation of the war. We have to learn lessons from their experiences,” Anya said.
A keynote speaker, Prof. Pat. Utomi said Nigeria is at war. He referred to what is happening in the social media as a demonstration of leadership failure. He said people who cannot engage in quality and constructive conversation always haul insults on others as a defence mechanism.
Utomi said management of hostilities determines how people recover after war, and that it also matters how a war is ended. He said that before the civil war, Igbo man was simple and conservative, but the psychological effects of the war changed all that.
Onyeka Onwenu said the war has not ended.
She also lamented that Igbo have not reinvented themselves, but instead have allowed others to keep them down. She said that an Igbo by nature is a genius and does not need the propping of anyone to excel. Onwenu, called on Nigerians to either re-integrate Igbo fully into the country, or allow them pull out and be on their own.
Minority Whip of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe urged Nigerians to avoid everything that could plunge the country into another civil war.
Maj. Gen. Obi Abel Umahi, President General, Ndigbo Lagos, regretted that politicians use the civil war experience to divide the country.
“Looking around today, those who were old enough before the war started and those who learnt through history books may have discovered that some of the remote and immediate causes of the war have persisted and have even become more frightening.
“Mutual suspicion continues to serve as a tool used by politicians to divide us, hence, setting us towards the path to eternal hate and conflict. Nigeria has never been riddled with mutual suspicion and disunity as we are today. Besides, life is cheap and threats of insecurity can almost be touched. We cannot afford to allow this to continue,” he said.
January 13, 2020, marked 50 years since the commencement of the Biafra-Nigerian civil war. The ugly event ended on January 13, 1970.