By Wilfred Eya
Echoes of Biafra reverberated, yesterday, as fiery Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Matthew Kukah, insisted that Nigeria was yet to recover from the wounds, 51 years after it ended.
His position captured the submission of majority of participants at the virtual second edition of the ‘Never Again Conference: 51 years after the Nigerian-Biafran civil war.’
In the event chaired by elder statesman and Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Bishop Kukah, who was the keynote speaker, said the country has failed to adopt resolutions that were meant to heal the wounds of citizens after the war.
Kukah, at the conference organised by Nzuko Umunna, a pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, observed that some of those resolutions came from the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission popularly known as Oputa panel, set up by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
He said while the military laid the foundation for Nigerians to begin a process of rebuilding the nation, “things somehow went wrong” along the line.
“I have met a lot of people who fought the war who are full of regrets. There is a lot of resentment, anxiety and frustration that we have not learnt any lessons.
“Fifty-one years after the war, we are still hearing the kind of agitations that ordinarily, with commitment, dedication, focus and the right leadership, we should have put a lot of the anxieties behind us. Unfortunately, they are still with us.”
He described the Oputa panel which he was part of as the best school he would ever hope to attend.
“Oputa panel managed to generate quite a lot of data and information that academicians and policymakers would have used to ensure we erect the signpost saying, ‘Never Again’ because it gave us an opportunity, a mirror to look at ourselves after hearing from all sides but we didn’t have the discipline to follow through.
“We have not been able to forgive ourselves as a people. The wounds of the civil war have not been able to heal. Coups and counter-coups that followed were more or less miniature civil wars by themselves because they threw up the same contradictions, anxieties and feeling of divisiveness across the country.”
Chairman of the event, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, said it was only with justice and equity, restructuring and a people’s constitution that Nigeria could overcome most of her current challenges.
He specifically called for a return to the Independence Constitution or 1963 Constitution our founding fathers such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo agreed to.
Chief Mbazulike Amechi, first republic minister, who decried the marginalisation of Igbo, regretted that Nigeria was no more the country the founding fathers fought for and called for enthronement of equity, fairness and justice.
Another elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, recalled how what he deemed the largely Igbo coup of 1966 aborted the Nigerian dream and trajectory but said 51 years after, a lot of reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation had taken place and Nigerians were living with one another all over the country. He urged joining of forces to deepen democracy and enthrone an egalitarian society.
But the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), in a remark by its spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, claimed President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has failed in all aspects of governance, including security, economy and infrastructure.
“As we speak, this nation has never been worse than this – not even during the civil war. The civil war isn’t the worst disaster; the day is the worst disaster we are living in. We have a very poor government and leadership that does not care about Nigerians. You have massive insecurity, no fresh ideas, and a complete vacuum in leadership. It is only going to get worst unless something dramatic happens…
Pat Utomi, chairman of the conference planning committee, said the initiative started as an advocacy “in trying to bring a better understanding of the civil war and its aftermath to the Nigerian people.”