By Okey Udeagwu
East, West, North and South, right-thinking citizens must acknowledge right and wrong policy trajectories and past mistakes. There is no particular theme to this short piece. Perhaps, the themes revolve around Nigeria yesterday, today and tomorrow. Let us begin unambiguously with former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon. He is the very symbol of Nigeria’s unfair and inequitable treatment of a section that ensured armed conflict over 50 years ago. We may want to pray for all we want, but that wouldn’t make us the innocent peacemaker without pronouncing those soothing words like, “we are sorry, it wouldn’t happen again”. When anyone especially as a leader of a nation offends a section – or a tribe for that matter – like the war of attrition or annulment of an election, the state should ask for forgiveness, make amends. It is, therefore, meaningless for an individual or individuals to traverse the landscape organising prayer sessions or holding court in their palatial hilltop homes.
In the Nigeria of today, we must get one singular fact clear and straightforward ab initio. No sane being or group would ever wish for a war; any war especially of the undefined African strand unless it is of the religious conquest type like Usman Dan Fodio’s. Most of us have heard and read from the frontliners and the frontiers that the Nigeria-Biafra war was an unnecessary war that should never have been levied on a region seeking to live, to survive from the pogroms. But the ‘others’ banded together, even some from within acquiesced and provided fodders for the smouldering fires – and it is still happening even today. A war that observed conventions in the breach. Schools, marketplaces and worship centres were strafed and bombed, pregnant women disembowelled. Even if gauded, Gowon levied this unconscionable war.
How do we avoid another war? This is where regime apologists and miseducated students of power almost always convulse in their poetry and sophistry.
We do not avoid another senseless carnage by asking victims (of inequity, injustice and unfairness) to accept their fate with equanimity as many currently tend to suggest. In one sure way, we can avoid conflict by mediation, asking parties to a roundtable and finding a common ground. Question is, are all involved in the Nigerian tragedy willing to talk or negotiate equitable terms of cohabitation or peaceful disintegration?
We do not ask victims to continually receive the thunderous slaps from the bullies who are not to be offended. A tit for tat leaves everyone with sullied eyes and cheeks. But no one has a monopoly of violence – not when vultures of conflicts (nations, corporates and individuals) hover in the air. But the lawless Leviathans seem not to realise or care a hoot.
In a nutshell, let it ring from the tallest trees and mountains across our land, a call and quest for self-determination isn’t a call or quest for war!
And this leads to a different albeit related issue. The current leadership or lack of it in Nigeria today.
Some of us may continue to pretend but it doesn’t take clairvoyance to know where Nigeria was headed after the elections in 2015. The body languages. The utterances. Even things left unsaid were pointing to a direction populated by negatives. Injustice. Inequity. Unfairness. And worst, stark naked bigotry and lack of capacity by the helmsman, and helmsmen. Many compatriots that spoke were labelled wailers. Many warned that when the foreboding torrential rains begin to drop, it would know neither wailer nor respect the hailer, but would batter all rooftops alike. We are at that point now.
We remember many a good number of elite Nigerians pretended not to have seen brewing evil even when the distilleries were oozing sonorous smoke bigger than Nigerian Breweries and Guinness and all others put together. They promoted partisanship in place of equity – glorifying seizure of power by whosoever by any means. This same class of triumphalists would then make snide remarks on the Igbo for ‘putting their eggs in one basket’. But let it be said, if candidate Muhammadu Buhari presents himself multiple times for an elective position in Nigeria they would reject him based on their republican and egalitarian nature even at their own peril. Even at that and as should be, the rejected on accessing power cannot institute or continue with the erstwhile unwritten state policy of ostracising from collegial leadership. Echoing these go beyond social media activism; it is the grundnorm of democracy.
Those warming up to inherit the mantle in 2023 no matter where they hail from should do well to realise the people’s of Nigeria are asking for their humanity; they are asking for a negotiated terms of cohabitation; or, if that cannot be resolved, by then a peaceful separation. No one shot needs to be fired. By the way, Nigeria and Nigerians did not sleepwalked into our current dire existential travails and neither did they began with Muhammadu Buhari – only that 2015 marked the newest turn of the journey to the precipice.
For the Igbo, let us say this in the case some have not noticed, there is this tendency common among them, especially some of those resident or plying their trades and vocations outside Igboland – which is to denigrate their fellow tribesmen even themselves in a mistaken bid to curry the favours and approvals of members of other tribes. They are not the gauge of the pulse of their teeming tribesmen. Believe it, today, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s underlying message of self-determination rather than his strategy captures the overall interest of the Igbo. Please note we always use the demeaning word ‘tribe’ as the West has commanded!
Now, Nigeria has always drawn back from the precipice. But the beckon of the abyss seems more compelling now than ever before. Dysfunctional institutions of state have allowed non-state actors and even rogue state actors free reigns. There has never been consequences for bad behaviour in our fatherland even much more now hence the rifling killings and criminality everywhere. Funny enough, institutions and authorities chase shadows, always quick to label and pursue agitators in the place of terrorists and criminal elements and groups.
Rome, we were told, was not built in a day, but the 19th Century English playwright, John Heywood, rightly interjected, “but they were laying bricks every hour”. Is Nigeria and her leadership doing the needful?
Pacifism never truly make an enduring peace. Individuals, groups and regions must elect to stand on that time-honoured tripod of justice, equity and fairness. Doing otherwise is a disservice to ourselves as a nation, generations and humanity.
It is only a tree told it’s due to be hewn down that maintains its stationary position. Without poetry or sophistry, the choice is clear for Nigeria and her people. Those on the receiving end of erstwhile unquestioned hegemony have started singing songs of equity and freedom. Live and let live. If Nigeria and her leadership keep the obnoxious inequity in the land her inhabitants surely would certainly reap mutually assured destruction, MAD. We should at least notice that ‘our children have gone mad’ and no longer towing the path of their pacifist forebears.
The French general and statesman, Napoleon Bonaparte may have reportedly said to the effect that God is on the side of the better battalion. But take it to the bank, evil never truly triumphs over good; God, the good Ominiscient and Omnipotent Lord, is not, and can never be, helpless.
• UDEAGWU writes from Umueshi ancient kingdom in Imo State