It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. So said Mabel Newcomer. Over the centuries, the constituent parts that were later to make up Nigeria in 1914 had engaged in many wars. Some of the wars were mostly fought against other nations like those that established the Benin Empire, against neighbours like the Oyo Empire; against religious crusaders as with the jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio; against colonisation as between the Benin Empire and the British; and the Ekumeku war against the British occupiers in Anioma area of Delta State. As a British protectorate, Nigeria had participated in World War II on the part of the allies.
Post the amalgamation of Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria in 1914, the administration imposed by the British had largely been peaceful. There occurred from time to time community clashes that were quickly nipped before they could become major conflagrations. Opposition to British rule was mainly civil, with the result that independence was granted in 1960 without a single shot being fired. This was to the credit of the founding fathers of independent Nigeria and the colonialists.
Post-Independence, however, Nigeria had engaged in many wars that consumed its resources in many ways, torn the country to shreds economically, and destroyed any vestiges of unity that was apparent in the 1950s. I want to examine those wars with you in this four-part series.
Nigeria-Biafra Civil War
The events that led to the political altercations of 1965 were the results of regional and national elections that were massively rigged, followed by over-turning of results that had been accepted through cross-carpeting of political party members in the most ethnically brazen manner. Worse still was the unprecedented corruption exhibited by the political class, which pervaded the federal civil service such that any semblance of governance was jettisoned in favour of nepotism and tribalism.
The coup d’etat of January 15, 1966, staged by some military officers that was meant to arrest the downward spiral of partisan politics in Nigeria was botched by its planners, but not before prominent politicians in the country had been killed. The North, feeling that, disproportionately, they bore the brunt of the demise of notable politicians, staged the counter-coup of July 1966 that exacerbated the ethnic divide already frayed in all seams. What followed was a period of anarchy and military governance that consigned Nigerians to their ethnic domains.
Most African heads of state could not afford to have Nigeria go up in flames and so they convened a peace-seeking meeting of the principals in Aburi, Ghana, on January 4, 1967. The resultant Aburi Accord signed on January 5, 1967, which was meant to return Nigeria to its federal structure pre-1966, was hailed by all as the last pathway to prevent an all-out war. But due to differences in interpretation by both the Federal Government on the one hand and the Eastern Regional Government on the other hand, fuelled by the same politicians that had precipitated the crises ab initio, the accord broke down. The Eastern Region declared their secession from Nigeria on May 30, 1967, naming themselves an independent Republic of Biafra. Within days, the Nigerian Army launched a military offensive on June 6, 1967, leading to a brutal 30-month civil war that came to an end on January 15, 1970, when the Biafran forces surrendered to the federal forces.
On both sides, upwards of 100,000 soldiers perished. Three million civilians in Biafran territory died from starvation following the economic blockade of the federal government. It was estimated that two million to 4.5 million civilians on all sides were displaced by the events leading to, as well as the effects of the war itself. Refugees from the war numbered about three million. Needless to say that the country lost some of the best of its military men and women in the two military coups of 1966 and the civil war that followed. Some of the best frontline politicians in the country were murdered or killed also during the coups and the anarchy that reigned subsequently.
The bitterness that followed the war has continued to haunt the nation and is manifesting in things we hear from time to time: the Biafra Nation, Oduduwa Nation, Ijaw Nation, Sharia, Sovereign National Conference, True Federalism, Restructuring, State Autonomy, and Resource Control. It is ironic and the abject failure of our leaders in pursuing and implementing the 3Rs that were coined to guide our national, united governance, Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction, that the war to keep Nigeria one ended up fracturing the country more into many pieces, making the nation very difficult to govern. Reconciliation was not truly pursued, not when the truth was hidden and those that had caused the various mayhems were never brought to justice or made to apologise. Rehabilitation was haphazardly pursued with many opting not to pursue or return to their previous vocations and places of abode they once called homes at some points in the past. As for Reconstruction, the Nigerian Federal Government at various times balkanised the country along tribal lines in the guise of state creation. But it was truly a planned distortion of the federal system that began in 1967. Thus, in simple terms, the crises that stated early in the 1960s, that took Nigeria to Aburi peace talks before the civil war, are still with us to this date.
War Against Indiscipline, WAI
After the civil war, the soldiers, both veterans and those in service, were riding high as war heroes. Their word was law and their paths were golden. In the pursuit of civilian ways of life, they had no patience. They needed to be and must be served first, irrespective of their time of showing up at any place. The rich decided to behave similarly, but were accomplishing theirs through the bribing of the officials meant to serve all. This culture persisted into the 1980s and even the ordinary citizens threw respect for orderliness and civilised conduct to the dustbin. Service lines did not matter and those who respected them ended up not being served. Consequently, citizens resorted to queue jumping and not forming any queues at all. Such were the cases in banks, post offices, bus stops, taxi stands, airports, even in churches, hospitals, schools, restaurants, weddings, and funerals. The norm became “You can jump any and all queues.”
Additionally, citizens were in the habit of misusing or vandalising government property placed under their care. And not to be outdone, banditry, armed robbery, and drug trafficking flourished. So, in 1983, the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari and General Tunde Idiagbon came to power and decided to confront indiscipline within the society. The War Against Indiscipline (WAI) that was very well received by the people was declared by that government. The pair of Idiagbon and Buhari taught us how to be civil, respectful of one another, how to respect time and property, how to conduct ourselves in public, and how to look after the environment. A good many Nigerians refused to be civil and saw the measures being introduced as equivalent to a blanket condemnation of almost every Nigerian as guilty until proven innocent. A lot of our nationals left the country, and many were put in prison or some sort of detention for social ills like defecating in the streets and public places, drug trafficking and drug abuse, wanton damage of public property, publication of untruths or hearsay, and economic crimes. This did not last because, somehow, the authorities managed to make exceptions to the rules meant for all. Another regime toppled the warriors of indiscipline and the Andrews that had checked out previously returned after two years and celebrated. The gate was then partially opened for the WAI to be discontinued. The survival-of-the-mighty mentality returned with a vengeance.
Subsequently, the structures that were put in place to assist the implementation of the war against indiscipline were made ineffective by some of the law enforcement agencies. In some cases, the enforcement agencies were riddled with corrupt staff that were lacking in good governance. One particular institution that fell from grace was the Nigerian Navy, which, for me, had always stood out with their spotless white uniform. That changed the day I witnessed some of them becoming part of the enforcement group that were collecting money from trucks on the Apapa gridlock fabrication. Unlike the Army, Police, Customs and even the Federal Road Safety Corps members in tattered uniforms, the Navy had always been exceptional with their smart appearance. But when you soil your hands with greasy graft from truck drivers, the uniform gets stained and the once fearless and respectable institution is desecrated.
I’ll drop my pen at this point but next week, we will continue this trip down memory lane with the ever-recurring war on corruption.