In 1967, a civil war broke out in Nigeria pitching a section of Nigerians against the other in what was called the Nigeria/Biafra civil war. The strife that was expected to last a few weeks or months eventually lasted about 30 grueling months. And when it was over, several millions of people have lost their lives, limbs, family, friends, livelihood, and properties.
Though some have tried to suppress references to this challenging time in Nigeria's history, others insist that it is no doubt the most essential part of Nigeria's history that requires study and understanding if Nigerians sincerely wish to cohabit amicably. Regardless of what position one may take, certain facts are undeniable. (a) The war was avoidable. (b) The unguarded rhetoric of some elders and leaders at the time only incensed the situation rather than calm tempers. (c) Partisan, tribal, or sectarian decisions could incense and fan the embers of division. In view of recent actions and the rhetoric of certain Nigerian leaders, one cannot help but ask; were any lessons learned from the civil war experience, or are current Nigerian leaders blinded by their personal/group agendas?
Some continue to fan the embers of disunity while claiming or pretending to be speaking for their section of Nigeria. Yet, the truth is that Nigeria is a nation and every Nigerian owes the Nigerian nation his or her loyalty regardless of state or tribe. If any leader feels inclined to act or speak in manners that pitch one section of Nigeria against the other, such leader should first allow other Nigerians the opportunity to dialogue and discuss the issue of concern. Until then, such leader is bound to lead in accordance with the principles of the Nigerian constitution or simply step aside.
It is worrisome that even some elders who witnessed the dark times of the Nigeria/Baifra civil war go ahead and make public pronouncements which have the tendency to encourage the sentiments and provocations that eventually led to the civil war. The rhetoric seemed to have escalated since about 400 people traveling in a convoy of about 33 buses were arrested in Abia state (south-eastern Nigeria). Reports have it that the arrested persons were of Northern extraction but could not identify themselves or where they were headed. Consequently some southerners have floated the idea of an identity card system for security reasons, while some northerners have interpreted the idea as a move to maltreat the northerners in southern Nigeria. One has to agree that to single-out a particular people for identity card processing within a territory in Nigeria smacks of discrimination and should not be encouraged. Nevertheless, there are other ways to address the issue rather than resorting to incendiary public statements that could be misunderstood and eventually lead to more violence. Leadership caution has to prevail over tribal sentiments.
Same caution must be extended to any state government in Nigeria engaging in selective registration and/or deportation of fellow Nigerians based solely on any suspicion whatsoever. While proponents of the identity card or registration measures may argue that it is essential to resolve the challenges of the rising violence in parts of the country, certain questions beg to be answered. How fair are the modalities to be used in deciding who should be registered or deported? Since Nigeria is a federation, are these measures supported by the federal constitution and therefore approved by the Federal government or meeting of the council of states? How easy and certain is it to determine who is who in a country where most people look alike and some dress and have the ability to speak in languages characteristic of other tribes? Finally, are these measures well thought out measures that would solve the problem or are they mere reactionary/panic measures that could lead to counter actions that could worsen the situation? The greatest danger lies in the last question and again a look at the history of Nigeria especially during the months that preceded the civil war should teach us to avoid actions capable of causing more division and dissent among Nigerians in any state. Violence (or terrorism) within Nigeria can not be eradicated by mere deportation of Nigerians within Nigeria especially since state borders are not manned by authorities or demarcated by official border posts. For any measure to be worthwhile, it must be fair to all and address the issue without ostracizing people of any particular tribe or region.
An identity card system is something Nigeria has to embrace at some point and perhaps even sooner because ID cards could serve many useful purposes. It is the way forward in today's world not just to counter violence but to aid in effective governance and administration. Identity cards help with enforcing civil and criminal regulations, security administration, health management, citizens database, and more. However, it has to be a national program (or at least a statewide program) involving every citizen or resident anywhere in the country and not just a segment of it. Accordingly, if some southerners wrongly called for ID cards they can be rightly challenged, but it does not justify extraneous comments that could endanger the lives of other Nigerians.
Two wrongs never make a right and leaders cannot afford to be making reactionary or retaliatory statements that could endanger lives of the populace. Incendiary remarks could trigger unimaginable reactions and reprisals that could spiral out of control especially when such remarks come from leaders with impressionable following. History is witness to the fact that such rhetoric led to the killing of several thousands of Ibos resident in the north, the loss of their properties, the declaration of Biafra Republic, and the eventual civil war. History should teach us better. It is therefore commendable that when a youth forum leader in the north recently made incendiary comments threatening the investments of the Ibos in northern Nigeria, it was quickly condemned by another northern youth forum leader.
It has been argued that because some Nigerians and parts of Nigeria did not experience the atrocities suffered by the Ibos during the civil war, it is difficult for them to learn any lessons. Such theorists maintain that only a true discussion and reconciliation process will bring the lessons of the war to the forefront for every Nigerian. Such discussion would look into what really led to the escalations that led to the war and fashion out ways to avoid a repeat of such. Yet, the ongoing violence in the north with a tendency to spread southward should be enough experience for all to see how bad violence could be and how suddenly things can spiral out of control. Initially it appeared that victims were mostly Christians and southerners, the fact today is that even Muslims and Northern indigenes are also getting killed. This fact is clearly evident in the rise in the call by northern elders for a cessation of the violence. The sad reality is that once the carnage begins, many helpless children, women, and men would have been killed, burnt, slaughtered, kidnapped, or abused before any call for cessation would make any impact.
The prevalence of love for country and true compassion for fellow compatriots remain Nigeria's biggest challenge. If leaders continue to feed the populace with statements and sentiments of a tribal, political, or religious nature, it will be a daunting task to overcome division, dichotomy, and disunity within the nation. Leaders have to come to the conviction that they have to lead to unite and not tear the people apart. We continue to pray for a leadership of selfless thinkers with a prevalence for compassion and a sense of care and humanity to all irrespective of religion, tribe, or party affiliation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oliver Oscar Mbamara is an attorney & admin judge, an award-winning filmmaker, actor, poet, and a published writer. For more on Oliver Mbamara, visit www.OliverMbamara.com