I was pleasantly humoured on January 15. On that day, the Federal Republic of Nigeria ‘celebrated’ its annual ritual called Armed Forces Remembrance Day. As usual, it was about the military and its role in Nigeria. But, historically, January 15, 2020, was the 50th anniversary of the end of the war against Eastern Nigeria, popular as Biafra. I had thought that ‘celebrating’ the day as the end of that war, and officially reviewing the past, the mistakes and the lessons, would have been more profound and even much more meaningful. It, however, was not, because Nigeria is a country at war with itself, a country always in denial of its realties, one that never introspects.
Let me bring you to what I mean. While receiving the Silverbird Man of the year award in 2011, Governor Godswill Akpabio, as he then was, asked an evergreen question. He asked: “How come reconstruction started in the West when the war was actually fought in the East? They started the Third Mainland Bridge, the National Theatre, the international airport, and so on, in the West, while the war was fought in the eastern region. And if we really wanted to ensure total reconciliation, how come every account holder in the eastern region was given only £20? It did not matter whether your father had £10,000,000 or £50,000,000 before the war; you were given just £20. It was a take it or leave it situation.” No one has had the courage to offer a response.
Akpabio asked that question for obvious reasons. He witnessed the war. He saw the devastation caused by it, and indeed, he said so. Read him again: “I was a victim of the Civil War. I was one of those who suffered the pains of the war. I was born sometime in 1962; the civil war came really into our area in 1967. So, I was probably five or six years old during the war; and if I had been around nine years, I would probably have been conscripted. I saw parents throw their children into pit toilets because they did not want their positions to be made known to the enemy. I saw devastation; I saw kwashiorkor; I saw hunger; I saw thousands of people and bodies littered everywhere and smelling while vultures had a field day every day. I saw houses destroyed; I saw families scattered such that till the end of the world, they can never gather themselves together again. There were children who were shipped away to Gabon, and they can never come back to Nigeria again because they were small. How would two-year-olds and three-year-olds ever know where they came from? They are now proud Gabonese and I don’t think Nigerians are even asking questions. So, during the Silverbird Man of the Year Award, there were pictures that were shown of the Civil War. Somebody, sitting by me, who is from the West, was asking if those things were acted…”
Akpabio asked that question before an audience which, like he said, had “General T. Y. Danjuma, General Yakubu Gowon, General Obasanjo, General Buhari” in attendance. These were principal actors in that war. So, it was a perfect place to seek answers. None came. However, Gowon managed to explain that he did everything he could to avoid war. But he refused to explain why the reconstruction started in Lagos.
However, the eastern region rebuilt itself, and is still rebuilding, from the £20 which, at the time, could neither cure kwashiorkor nor rebuild destroyed homes, shops, schools, churches, roads, bridges and farmlands. I am aware that many people will prefer to forget the details of the past and trudge on thanking God for greater wisdom. But the fact of living is such that if you do not know where you are coming from; you probably will not know where you are going to. I believe there is reason serious nations teach their history in schools. Therefore, no matter how much we try, we may never be able to obliterate the details of the war from the minds of those who participated actively, and the victims, and from the minds of their children, many of who are pained by the details they get, either from books or as told by aged and aging parents.
Meanwhile some of the policy decisions by the federal government to integrate Nigerians after the civil war, have been bastardised by the government itself, thus making a mess of their aims. I will dwell on just two of such -Unity Colleges and National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). These two organs ought to have played very deep roles in integrating Nigerians and creating better understanding. But the attitude of operatives of the federal government to the details leaves more to the imagination.
For instance, the same federal government that planned to integrate Nigerians better, built only 12 unity colleges in the southeast against 24 in the north central and 15 in the north east 18 each in the North West and South west and 17 in the South-South. So, who explains this? When you look at the deeper details, Imo and Anambra states, with high school enrolment figures, have just two and three unity colleges each while the Federal Capital Territory has five. The logic of the structure suggests something deep.
Beside the unity colleges, a look at the operations of the NYSC also suggests something antithetical to national integration. Yes, the NYSC ought to operate blindly and send graduates to work across the country compulsorily. But as thing are, it seems only the children of the poor are subjected to this ideal. Children of the elite get elite NYSC deployments and postings to stress-free environments. You don’t get to see children of the poor engaged in some of the top public corporations and strategic government offices for their NYSC. Those are the exclusive preserve of the children of the elite. Others are sent to remote villages as teachers irrespective of their academic grades. A cursory look at the Abuja-based public institutions under the Federal Ministry of Finance gives one a glimpse of how the ideals of NYSC had been corrupted by the same leaders who preach integration.
Also, if you remember that of the 774 constitutionally approved local government areas in Nigeria, southeast has 95 while northwest is home to 186, northeast 113, south-south region has 125 and the south-west is home to 137 with the north-central having 112; and with humans like Isa Funtua suggesting that south east people must come seek his permission to produce a president in a country they call home, you will no doubt ask, like I do, if the war actually ended 50 years ago?