July and these times

As a people, our attention to history is very low. So low that on many occasions, major turning points in our history are largely ignored or even consigned to the realm of amnesia. Take the month of July. Two momentous events took place and these events have gone a long way to define our trajectory as a nation. The first one occurred on July6. The second was the counter-coup in which Araba! Araba! was the rallying cry until extraneous forces intervened. By the way, Araba is the Hausa word for separation.

As regards July 6, on that day, the first shots which started the epochal civil war were fired. Till date, save for one or two mentions, nothing has been said about this historic date-such indeed is our chloroformed attitude to history. At that point in time, when the horror called the civil war started, both sides did not reckon with the intensity and the subsequent human toll. On the Federal side, there was even a laid back posture. So laid back that the Nigerian side was of the roseate and optimistic view that the engagement with Biafra will be over in a matter of say weeks or at most a few months. This would partly explain why, at the initial stage, what was declared by the Federal authorities, was the relatively innocuous: Police Action. Meanwhile, on the Biafran side, the oxford educated leader of the movement also indulged in his own theatrics.

Read Also: Nigeria versus Biafra: the hypocrisy of Great Britain

According to him, he had put in place a fighting machine, which had a pre-eminent profile in black Africa, and that any potential aggressor should watch it! Ultimately, when push came to shove, both sides realized that the exercise was not a picnic after all. The horrendous exercise spawned the killings of millions as well as massive destruction of properties. The toll on Biafra was particularly heavy. The hunger, the suffering and the malnutrition were virtually unspeakable. At a point in time, those with a bent for words christened Biafra, as ‘Biafufu’-i.e. bring hunger. In view of the immediate foregoing, the rational mind is likely to say: never again! This was indeed the overwhelming mood when hostilities ceased. Matters were also helped by Gowon’s declaration of: No winner; No vanquished. Really? Evidently the winners and losers knew themselves. At a nuanced level, the losers were largely the underclass in the then Eastern Region.

In a way that is reminiscent of earlier times, it looks as if, like the infamous Bourbon kings, we have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. It was as if the civil war never happened

I have always been very curious about the role of the privileged in Biafra during the war. Now and then in conversations, one learns to appreciate that most of them stayed away from the glare of the guns. And very much the same can be said for their offsprings. In other words and in broader terms the war was largely an intra-elitist game whose consequences were largely borne by the underclass. The war itself ended some fifty years ago. One would have thought that given the sour experience of that unsavory incident, we would all have learnt something from this unwholesome experience. But sadly enough, this is not the case. In contemporary times, the noise across the land is not good.

What one continues to hear, are again calls for separatism and secession. In a way that is reminiscent of earlier times, it looks as if, like the infamous Bourbon kings, we have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. It was as if the civil war never happened. Yet it did. The irony here is that the prime mover of the polity at the moment was a major participant in that war. Therefore, one would have expected a more inclusive approach on his part towards national issues. Sadly enough this has not been the case. The consequence is that there are deep feelings of angst and alienation across the land. Some groups rightly or wrongly feel that they do not belong, and as such they seek to want out of the Nigerian Project. This may well explain the upsurge of sub-national feelings across the land. Biafra, for whatever it is worth has been resurrected. As we write, there is the ongoing drama of Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB outfit. Meanwhile, in the shadow is the complementary phenomenon called MASSOB. Honestly, I was of the view that all these ghosts have been buried. Sadly enough, I have been proven wrong. The nation as it were, lurches on in these times, such that it cannot be called a melting point. Rather what we see emerging from the woodwork are crystals, such that one begins to get the impression that not much progress has been made in our evolution towards nationhood.

In the meantime there is also Sunday Igboho, who is engaged in his own running battle with the managers of the Nigerian State. Since he appears to be on the run, what I expected was that the rally for a Yoruba nation would be a thin one. But no. The rally ground was brimming with believers in Igboho and his ideals. In other words, just as in the case of Kanu, there is also a groundswell around this Yoruba pointman. Unfortunately, what has been sketched above is just a broad canvas . There are other groups, who are also agitating that if these two broad processes are consummated, then other nations are likely to emerge from the current and dismal dynamic.

However, the upside in all of these is that even as we write, and as dire as things appear to be, the elites in these various subnational groups are yet to buy at least visibly, into these subnational projects. One telling and commendable instance is Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate. He deposed recently that, Yoruba nationhood would be too narrow and insular, and that the best thing is for us to continue to work with the Nigerian project. Incidentally, major subnational groups like Afenifere and Ohanaeze as well as similar groups in the North have also bought into this wider perspective. That in a restructured context, it is still possible for the Nigerian project to work. I am in full support of this visionary take. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. We should not allow the transient gods to derail us. The labours of our heroes and heroines past as the ditty goes, should not be in vain. Thus, as we trudge on in this month of July, let us pause and remember the echoes of history in these times.