January 15: Remembrance Day and amnesia

Let me begin by stating here that, inherent in the above topic is a contradiction. How can you remember and then forget; that is what amnesia is all about.

Another January 15 has since passed. We duly followed all the usual protocols of remembering those men and women who paid the ultimate price to ensure that we are still together as a nation. However, in what can be seen as one of those rare coincidences, January 15 is really double-sided.

It refers to the end of the civil war in which several lives were lost on both sides of the then divide. And for those who are sensitive to the pulse of history, the date also refers to the time when civilian rule gave way to the Khaki boys who for a very long time occupied the cockpit of power.

Thus, January 15 is in reality a double-sided remembrance. As regards the civil war, one can easily look back and wonder, whether it was worth it. As I write, and in my own little corner I have personal memories that point to the fact that in any war, members of the underclass usually suffer the most. And at the risk of sounding cynical, this much is evident, some of the rich folks even went on to become richer, courtesy of the war.

It is useful to remember here that in any war, the troops have to be fed and weapons have to be procured among other things. But the endpoint is death for much of the populace and the consequent suffering for the surviving relatives. This is why someone has remarked that when old men quarrel and war ensues, it is the youth who usually have to bear the brunt.

In the course of the crisis, which led to the civil war, I remember the case of a young boy who came down from Nguru, to attend an interview, in Kings College Lagos.

It turned out to be a one-way trip for him. By the time the interview ended, he could not go back to Nguru. The crisis in the North had started – ‘Araba’ was the watchword. To cut a long story short, that was the last time that he saw the rest of his family. And if the reader can remember here, this was really the prelude to the civil war. I wonder how such an individual would feel today. This is what can be regarded as an eternal tragedy. No closure.

And of course, subsequently, there was the war proper between the Federal side and the then breakaway Republic of Biafra. In human terms, the latter side bore the brunt of the war. One can still remember searing images and pictures of malnourished children wracked by kwashiorkor. And if you call them the living dead, you will not be wrong.

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Meanwhile, there was also the absolute dimension, i.e those who were dead and dead. Even then, a poet like J.P Clark has gone ahead to talk about the victims of the war. And such is his artistic imagination that he has gone on to contend that the victims are not just the dead. Even the so-called survivors can be regarded as victims. And indeed, such was the weariness and futility of it all that, almost instinctively, one is tempted to say: Never again!!!

But really? This is more so in the light of the fact that the Nation appears to be sleep-walking towards the precipice again. We carry on as if we are ready for another war despite our chequered and bloody history as embodied in the date – January 15.

The other signpost of January 15 is also scary and bewildering. It will be recalled that one fine morning, Nigerians woke up to the fact that we were now under the jackboot of the Military. Although I was very young then, still the euphoria of the moment got to me. There was some sort of jubilation. That, at last, the discredited politicians had been booted out of office. At that point in time, we did not fully appreciate that we had entered a long tunnel, which can be described as the birth of our death, or if you like, the death of our birth.

Indeed, when viewed closely, the two signposts of January 15 are organically related. One in fact led to the other. The coup of 1966 generated other counter-currents which gave birth to the civil war.

Predictably and unfortunately, these defining episodes have left dark scars on our national psyche. More often than not, however, especially in our national conversations and in the conduct of public affairs we exhibit a level of amnesia.

This is because; we often forget that our nation has passed through those harrowing periods. We are so absolute in our respective stances in which the attitude is usually: let the heavens fall. Certainly, this is no way to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, such that our country is still standing today.

Thus, one authentic way in which we can continue to remember those who perished in the war and in the various coups is to exercise restraint in the national arena. This is the only way in which remembrance, as embodied in the date of January 15, can be meaningful.

Indeed, should we continue to exhibit amnesia as we still recklessly do, then our collective peril is imminent. After all, someone who should know has repeatedly warned us that: no nation can survive two civil wars.

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