In this interview, a cross section of Nigerians speak on lessons from the civil war, Felix Nwaneri and Temitope Ogunbanke report
Gowon: Nigerians must avert another civil war
General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) was Nigeria’s Head of State during the war
I sincerely believe that my speech at the end of the civil war is still relevant today and on this occasion. I therefore urge us to always refer the speech as a reference point for entrenching national reconciliation, peace and unity of the country.
We must do all in our power as responsible leaders and citizens of this great country and nation to create enabling reforms, to dialogue and proffer ideas on how we can live together in peace and harmony for the good of all Nigerians and the black race as a whole, thus ensuring political, economic, security and development of the country. I urge all Nigerians to ensure that we avert another civil war in Nigeria.
Our commitment to Nigeria must be total and patriotic. To me, our Nigeria of today of over 500 ethnic groups of diverse socio-cultural and religious colourations and spread across 774 local government areas and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is worthy of our support and defence.
Okorie: Scars of the war yet to heal
Chekwas Okorie is the National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP)
Fifty years of the end of the Civil War is a remarkable time to remember that very sordid event in our history. Many, who are now adults, were not even born then. However, the unfortunate part of it is that the scars of the war are yet to heal and the promises made by the victorious Nigerian government at the time, have been observed in the breach. So, many still think that the war is yet to end.
What I have always recommended is that since many years have passed and nothing was done in line with the promises made, it would not be out of place if the present government under President Muhammadu to take a second look at the South-East and declare the zone a disaster area, so that there would be a marshal plan to make the area that was so devastated as a result of the war feel some federal presence.
The war ended in 1970, but until the Buhari administration came in, no federal presence was felt in the South-East. This is a sad story to tell. Who will believe that the Ariaria Independent Power Project, which President Buhari commissioned, when he campaigned in Abia State for his re-election was the very first completed federal project in the whole of the South-East and I stand to be corrected.
Now, we are seeing the dream of a Second Niger Bridge been a reality. So, inspite of what a lot of people may say, I want to urge the President to do more in order to heal the wounds of the war for his name to be written in gold.
On continued agitation for Biafra 50 years after the war, I will say that some of the young ones who are agitating are below 50. They were born after the war, but they have not been able to understand why their situation is different; they look at their counterparts from other parts of Nigeria and they are not able to understand why admission into institutions of higher learning is done on the basis of merit.
But, if you look at the judiciary for instance, you will find out that people from educationally less disadvantage states have suddenly become educationally advantage because the occupy all the top positions in that arm of government at the federal level. This is just an example of the several ironies these young people cannot understand and nobody seems to have any explanation for them over these anomalies.
But, all we have been doing is to continue to appeal to them and make them understand that there are other ways of addressing the imbalance in the system rather than thinking of going to war.
On the 3RS initiative that General Gowon came up with after the war, I will not say that it was a deceit as believed by most people of South-East extraction. However, I will say that it meant to pacify those who lost and give everyone a sense of hope. But, his failure to implement it amounts to dishonesty because promises are meant to fulfilled.
For the Federal Government to initiate a policy and 50 years after it is yet to implement is incredible. I can’t understand why a government will make a promise and 50 years after, it is yet to fulfill it and expects you to be patriotic.
I will also add that lessons have not been learnt from the war because there is no doubt that the division among Nigerians is deepening the more, but I don’t see Nigeria breaking up. But, I foresee regionalism shaping the 2023 presidential campaign.
Idika Kalu: We must resolve problems before they become issues
Kalu Idika Kalu is a former Minister of Finance
I don’t think that we have learnt any lessons from the civil war because there were very strong issues in that war. We should not allow those strong issues to emerge again and get to a point that we would be talking about another war in whatever shape. We should learn how to nip problems in the bud before they become such issues.
There were issues of trying to separate brothers and friends, families and Nigerians to the point, where some decided that they were no longer welcomed in the nation. That is one lesson we should have learnt from the war, but I think that there are indications that we have not learnt much in that line. What I mean is that we should learn to manage issues by discussions and not by use of force.
Also, people have to be in tune with realities of situations rather than depending on rumours and innuendoes. That is, perhaps, a more serious issue. It was said that the war was to avenge the January 15, 1966 coup, but we have now learnt that the coup was not as narrowly based as people thought it was. And the very people who tried to stop the crisis then, were blamed for being part of the crisis, when actually, they tried to stop it.
The wide spread nature of the coup was narrowed down to a few or even single ethnic group, which wasn’t the case. Also, efforts to limit the carnage was unsuccessful and people ended up suffering so much for so long and both sides were to be blamed for that. Both sides misled their own people. Instead of getting all the facts right, we are doing the same thing again hence all these wrong interpretations, fake news, wrong analysis, wrong conclusions and a measure of adamant feelings without considering those who are going to be the victims of war.
On the 3Rs that General Gowon came up with after the war, I not will describe it as a deceit because to implement that policy required maximum open-heartedness and lots of resources. But we know that subsequently there were lots of resources. I think also that the people in the East felt that they were not seeing much of resources and took upon the development of their area in their own hands.
The fact that those who fought were allowed to deteriorate in their various centres shouldn’t have happened. The state should have taken care of them, knowing that these people were obeying orders from their superiors. So, every effort should have been made to rehabilitate and reinstate them. When you look at what is happening now; people are talking about how those some people regard as rebels and terrorists are being rehabilitated, how much more of citizens, who should have been rehabilitated much more faster.
In sum, I think the 3Rs initiative was well intentioned, but may be, people thought things were so much worse than they really were and the moment they found out they weren’t so bad, they were no longer enthusiastic to implement the initiative. A lot of things are still in shambles, but I don’t think that one side should be blamed for that. Both sides should have worked together to make sure that things were sorted out. We wouldn’t have been heading to another schism within the polity if everyone was given a sense of belonging.
On how Nigeria can get out the several agitations for statehood among the various ethnic nationalities that make up the country, I think the leadership knows the way out. Whatever one may say, it is going to be difficult to break-up this country the way some people say it. The issue is: Is it better to strive to break it up or to put in the same energy to rebuild what we have cracked in the body polity? I think the latter is more preferred.
Therefore, it is the leadership that honestly has to come out and bend over backwards to give people a sense of belonging. Despite the fact that we failed to develop structures that would have bound us closer together, the relationship over the years, which dates back to the 19th Century is that much strong.
A lot of countries were designed by accident; no country was designed for a particular ethnic group to dominate others, so we have a reason to make ours’ work. Right now, part of the reason why some people say that we have not learnt lessons from the war is that the kind of schism, the kind of apartheid and the kind of discrimination as well as absence of a level playing ground in the system.
These are the things driving those who are saying we can’t continue and that everybody should head to his or her own tent. But, as I said, it is a harder task to break-up Nigeria than to mend what is broken.
Obioha: Issues should be resolved through dialogue
Chief Ralph Obioha is a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and Second Republic member of the House of Representatives
It is half a Century that this war is over, but not much lesson has been learnt. After the end of the civil war, we should have resolved many things through dialogue.
Fifty years after the war, the issue that has continued to promote the resurgence for the aspiration for Biafra is simply centered on marginalization and exclusion. There is an Igbo saying that when a child is always pointing to one direction, he knows the father or the mother is there. So, this is what is attracting the younger generation.
It doesn’t require so much from the Federal Government to engage in dialogue with the young men for them to come over and reiterate what their anger. And everything has an explanation. If you are talking about marginalisation, the government should be able to roll out projects for them.
If they are complaining about appointments, government should be able to rejig its appointments and make it more inclusive representation. But, to leave it in abeyance and thinking that things will take care of itself; anybody who is advising that is giving a wrong advice. Government should be able to come out and explain things to the people.
Sani: War, not the best way of resolving conflict
Anthony Sani is an elder statesman and the General Secretary of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)
I think the “no victor, no vanquished’ and the 3Rs declared by General Yakubu Gowon cannot be doubted, considering how Igbos have been integrated across the country. Today, millions of Igbo people have settled in other parts of the country and pursuing their passions with vigor. In the same way, some other Nigerians have settled in Igbo land and doing businesses.
At the government level, the Igbo have been integrated by way of being the second in command like the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and the vice president. Igbo have been Senate president, Speaker, Secretary to the Government of Federation, Service chiefs, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governors, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and others.
States have been created in such a way that the former Eastern Region has nine states compared to six states in former Western Region and two states in former Mid-Western Region. So, one can say the implementation of the 3Rs have progressed appreciably.
Fifty years after the end of the Civil War, I believe we have learnt the bitter lesson that war is never the best way of resolving conflicts precisely because it is too costly and because ultimately, the warring factions would reconcile and realise that the certain benefits of togetherness are by far more than the uncertain gains of separation.
Those still hankering for separation are those who never experienced the war. As a result, they do not know that the youth are the ones who bear the brunt of war. The lessons are that war is never the best solution to problems that arise from mechanism of community living.
The creation of states, the movement of capital to Abuja, the number of schools, health institution and improvement of energy and power as well as relative pluralism that comes with inter-ethnic marriages and urbanization are testaments to the fact that nation building is work in progress because order, justice, liberty, peace, common decency and prosperity are never natural order of things, but attained through consciously directed efforts to make desires possible and then actual by not only leaders, but also the led.
Development is not a day’s job. Challenges are natural concomitant of mechanism of community living and must be tackled as they arise. The wounds of the Civil War on both sides have since been healed appreciably, considering the spread of settlements and investments across regions and the participation and inclusion of the Igbo in the government.
The only area the Igbo seem to complain about is the position of president, which they claim they are entitled to. Yes, they are entitled to produce a president just like many hundreds of other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, which are yet to produce a president. But the inability to produce a president is largely due to lack of strategy and not civil war.
If the Igbo want to produce a president in a multi-party democracy, they must develop a winning game plan and sell it to other sections persuasively. I say this because intimidation and threat that come with bellicose and percussive posturing are not part of multi-party democracy, which is contest of ideas and reasons, and not a bull fight.
Utomi: There is more to learn to make Nigeria work
Prof. Pat Utomi is a professor of Political Economy
Obviously, everybody learnt something somewhere along the line, but I don’t think we have learnt much. There is a lot more to learn to make Nigeria work.
The critical question is: Why is Nigeria wobbling so badly inspite of experience that should be driving it forward and what can be done about it? I think we can list the reasons to include the mistaken view that Nigeria is about how much more you can extract from the national cake. A cake to eat makes poor tomorrow but producing makes rich always.
Merit matters. Nigeria in essence, sadly has become the democratization of mediocrity. Affirmative action that some are educationally backward has been abused for excessive cronyism that has devalued the Nigerian way and its institutions and made corruption the purpose of public life.
The collapse of culture, which has reduced human purpose to primitive accumulation of power and money often through criminal privatization of the common wealth, has hurt Nigeria badly. Public life must be about service and advancement of common good.
There is loss of sense for the principle of subsidiarity that government and authority be decentralized, so it is at levels closest to the people where they can feel it and be able to hold it accountable. A distant government in a place like Abuja creates a moral distance in the civic culture and has made corruption endemic.
There is also overburdening of people by an expensive and pompous state. So, government needs to be cheaper, simpler, more ethical and more sensitive to the extent circumstances.
Abaribe: Nigeria won’t survive another war under 36 states
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is the Senate Minority Leader
If you have a traumatic experience, the ideal thing from that as a human being is that you learn lessons from it. The reason why we are having so many problems in Nigeria today is the perception that we haven’t learnt any lesson from the civil war.
The point has been made and the point is yes, we have four regions and there was a civil war, now we have 36 states; do you think that we can survive a civil war under 36 states.
What is going to happen is dismemberment of this country and immeasurable pains and sufferings to millions of Nigerians. So, it makes sense for us to talk to each other and as we talk to each other, we learn lessons from the past.
If what happened before the civil war is exactly what is going on today, and there is some trend by some people that they cannot be questioned with what they are doing to the rest of us, then we are simply following that path of destruction and that is not going to be good for Nigeria.
Onovo: Only truth’ll heal the wounds
Engr. Martin Onovo, is a former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP)
Fifty years after the civil war, Nigeria has not learnt the simple universal lessons of integrity, justice, diligence and unity. The first war was fought because of the pogrom. Today, 50 years after, we have the terrorism of Fulani herdsmen encouraged actively by the Federal Government led by a Fulani General.
Governance has gotten worse with time as the government actively corrupts public morality. The wounds of the civil war can be totally healed with truth, reconciliation, justice, equality, integration, good governance and no second-class citizen.