• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigeria still in search of nationhood 54 years after civil war

20240512_072229_0000

As ethnic hostilities persist, spread

.. Divisive rhetoric, intolerance on the rise

…Economic, political growth suffers

…NOA, NYSC must be more result-oriented

Fifty-four years after the Nigeria’s civil war which was fought for the search of self-determination and in protest against operation and marginalisation, the country is still beset with those ills of yesteryear.

The rising cases of separatist agitations in Nigeria have been attributed to the nature and composition of Nigeria, its diversity and its inability to deal fairly with the components in terms of equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and economic development.

The inability of those who have emerged as leaders of Nigeria to manage and harness these disparities has also created and continue to sustain reasons for mutual mistrust, acrimony and fear of ethnic domination not only amongst Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, but also amongst the majority groups and the ethnic minorities.

Michael Okoye, who was 12 years old then when the war ended, has since moved on after the war, living a fulfilled life as a retired Civil Engineer with two sons and seven grandchildren to carry on his legacy.

So also, many Nigerians who survived the war, especially the victims, have moved on with their lives. Sadly, Nigeria, as a country, seems not to have moved on 54 years after the ugly experience of the late 60s.

Emeka Akuma, a medical doctor, who lost his father during the war, regretted that it was taking so long for the wounds of the war to heal as Nigeria keeps being polarized across ethnic and religious divides; a sad development that worsens during any general election, according to him.

“I am not sure that those who deployed everything to fight to end the war and ensure a united Nigeria are happy today. If they are still alive, they will be wondering why another war has not happened because all the ills that led to the civil war are here again in full force,” Akuma, a cardiologist, said.

Citing instance with Rwanda, Akuma, who run multiple medical consultancy services across hospitals in Houston, United States of America, and Lagos and Enugu, noted that the development strides of Rwanda is heard everywhere in the world today because the citizens have put away their differences to enable their country rise from the ashes of genocidal war.

“The wars in Rwanda, Nigeria and other parts of Africa where they happened, should never ever have happened. But sadly, they did. In the case of Nigeria, all we need to do is to reconcile and move on by formulating a tight constitution and establishing strong institutions that will forestall such ugly incidents from repeating, and most importantly, protect the rights and ensure welfare of every citizen, no matter tribe or religion.

“That is what the Western world has done and that is why they are enjoying stability across all fronts. We can do the same in Africa, it is not rocket science,” Akuma said.

In line with the opinions of the cardiologist, while Nigeria marked 54 years of the end of the civil war this January, Rwanda marked 20 years of the end of its genocidal war this April, but the recovery is more obvious in the East African country despite its small size, landlocked and little natural resources to support economic development.

Against all these odds, the country is today, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, averaging 8percent per year over the past decade, according to the International Monetary Fund, the third best place to start a business in Africa, behind Mauritius and South Africa, according to the World Bank and is now nicknamed “the Singapore of Africa” for its technological advances, among other strides, that Nigerians even visit to enjoy.

Political pundits believe that this leadership failures made it impossible to honesty implement provisions in the Nigerian constitution, the African Charter on Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights all of which Nigeria is a signatory.

These instruments guarantee individual’s freedom of speech, association and movement.

The political pundits and public affairs analysts believe that people who agitate for separation and have reasons to do so, and should be treated with respect within the ambit of the laws of the land.

This is because, they believe that as ethnic hostilities spread across the country, the nation’s economy will continue to bear the brunt, even as political growth suffers on the backdrop of divisive rhetoric, intolerance, brutal attacks and killings

Nigeria has continued to exhibit the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy nation, with citizens living in fear of the unknown

Although the country fought a civil war that was aimed at achieving nationhood, 54 years after, it has not healed and the search for nationhood has remained a mirage.

Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian researcher in Brussels, Belgium, blamed the sad situation on the lack of poor leadership since the end of the civil war as well as weak constitution.

“With the many ethnic groups, different religions, diverse cultures and backgrounds, what the leaders of Nigeria needed to have done immediately after the civil war was to put in place a very strong constitution that would be above all citizens, religions and tribes.

“With that in place, the reasons for the war would be checked, people’s rights guaranteed, welfare ensured and offenders of any law, no matter how small, prosecuted.

“The talk of I am Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa will not be there. Religious bigotry will not be tolerated. Nobody will be proud to say he is from the Middle-Belt, South-South or minority because the constitution upholds your full status as a citizen with corresponding rights, protections, privileges and punishments too, when you err,” he said.

Onikoyi thinks that the country will still be in search of nationhood after more years to come if the leadership keeps taking advantage of the diversities in the country for their selfish gains.

“Nigeria had one of the toughest elections this year and the political undertones, threats, violence, and especially divisions among the people across tribe and religious lines, are nothing to write home about. You mean after over 60 years of independence, over 50 years of the civil war and over 20 years of sustained democracy, Nigeria still exhibited that kind of barbarian acts, then many things are wrong with the people and the country as a nation,” Onikoyi decried.

Onikoyi also thinks that religious and ethnic leaders have big jobs to do also as their influence cannot be taken for granted in fixing the country.

“People should be made to understand that they are first Nigerians before their religion. They should understand that their ethnicity does not confer special privilege on them more than other ethnic groups. There should be laws against religious bigotry and for those that incite ethnic violence with penalty for offenders,” he said.

Considering that there seems to be a more divided Nigeria today than even during the war, Onyewuchi Akagbule, a senior lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, regretted that there is no sign that the country learnt any lesson from the war.

“All the reasons that led to that civil war are happening again. From ethnic cleansing going on in some parts of the country, hostilities among tribes, bad politics and poor governance by the selfish politicians, high level of corruption, marginalisation and growing agitations for self-determination, among others.

“The fact that these are repeating even in much higher dimensions means that we as a people, as a government and as a country have not learnt from out past experience, we have not forgiven ourselves and are not ready to truly reconcile after the war. It is truly sad and the leaders care less about a better country because they are benefiting from the rot in the system,” the lecturer decried.

The economist also noted that the country is suffering from all angles, especially the economy, due to the inability to move on as one nation since the ugly war experience.

“Recently, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report revealed that Nigeria is no longer the largest economy in Africa. We have declined from number one in Africa to number four.

“Yes, that is expected when people allow ethnic and religious sentiments to determine who to vote for, even if the person is proven to be incompetent.

“There is no magic that will fix the economy or forestall insecurity, but bringing competent hands and people who are passionate about the future of this country. Instead, those in charge of us are people who are offered appointments as settlement for their role in the past election.

“Things will not get better that way. No matter how you try to paint the picture, the project called Nigeria is not working because of the poor leadership over the years, selfish and wicked political class, corrupt civil service and biased security agencies,” he concluded.

On his critical assessment of the country’s development since the end of the civil war, Yakubu Tongrit, a retired soldier, decried that it has been stunted considering the huge infrastructure deficit across the 36 states, high poverty rate and exodus of the youth to countries that offer better life for their citizens.

“A 54-year-old man or woman is no longer a small child, he or she should be a grandfather or mother by now with many accomplishments and legacies. I think we are not moved by what even smaller countries in Africa are doing, our neighbours are all better than us and we are only bigger than them in population,” he said.

The Vom-born retiree also regretted that Nigerians are still being killed by non-state actors, especially in Plateau State, and the government has done little to protect them.

“The war has not ended because many have died in the hands of bandits, Boko Haram, unknown gunmen and kidnappers. Silent genocide is also happening in Plateau, villagers are still being sacked in Borno, farmers cannot go to their farms and people cannot move easily for the fear of being kidnapped. Are these not scenarios in war time?

“The government has to wake up to the low-grade war being fought across the country by non-state actors,” he said.

Offering solutions to the sad situation, Tongrit said that the political class has to purge themselves of the selfishness and greed that always make them sacrifice the development, peace and unity of the country on the altar of politics.

“If the government is sincere at fixing the country, passionate about people’s welfare, committed to the protection of the people and fight against corruption, Nigerians will respond with more love for their country. The solution and change have to start from the leaders and trickle down to the masses,” he noted.

For Akagbule, various government agencies and programmes for fostering cross-cultural exchanges and national unity such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), among others should be rejigged and made more result-oriented.

However, they agreed that justice for those crying marginalisation, addressing the complaints of agitators, equity in handling the natural resources of the country and fighting corruption at all levels, including electoral fraud, will combine in making Nigeria truly the ‘giant of Africa’, in all fronts.

Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, speaking on the ongoing agitations, said after years of unheeded calls for constitution amendment and restructuring that could heal the maladies of marginalisation, ethnic cleansing, and insecurity masterminded by religious terrorists and jihadists masquerading as herdsmen, the Yoruba and Igbo agitators have now insisted that they are no longer interested in either constitution amendment or restructuring but in having an Oduduwa Republic and a Republic of Biafra respectively.

“Even the predominantly Christian indigenous peoples of the southern parts of Northern Nigeria, who are popularly called the Middle Belt, have warned that they would never associate with the Muslim Core North if Nigeria breaks up.

“The reasons that the Southerners and the Middle Belters have alleged for their positions are marginalisation, ethnic cleansing and religious terrorism by some Core Northern ethnic and religious groups.”

Goddy Ehimikhuai, a Constitutional lawyer, in his assessment of the current separatist agitations, believe that many of the agitators, should be seen as “people struggling to have a fair share of the power structure, rather than be treated as common criminals.”

Citing Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, who in an article, described lack of power, as “a universal and basic characteristic of poverty”, added that “a man is poor, if he lacks power to achieve his aims in life.”

For him, “poverty is not solely a lack of income, but rather is characterised by a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatisation, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, which all mutually reinforce each other.”

This definition provides a justification for ethnic agitators who base their struggles on perceived marginalisation and deprivations, while primarily demanding for freedom, as well as empowerment.

“When you talk about the Civil War and what it achieved, I will say that we learnt nothing from the bitter war,” Ehimikhuai said.

His position justifies the claims that the ills that led to the civil war are with us in full force.

There are ethnic hostilities, bad politics, marginalisation and agitations for self-determination occasioned by a feeling of alienation and suppression.

People have become the more intolerant of others from other ethnic groups and today, the dominant discourse everywhere is the possibility of a divided Nigeria.

These agitations depict the persistent anger, lack of satisfaction with the leadership and frustration, over the inability to ensure a peaceful change through the ballot box.

Also referencing John Kennedy, a famous American leader, Ehimikhuai said: “It is a common saying that those who make peaceful change impossible will make violent change inevitable. We must entrench a culture of free and fair election that will allow people elect or remove a leader.”

He also frowned at persistent victimisation of those who oppose government in power.

Auwal Ibrahim (Rafsanjani), executive director, Civil Society, Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), however berated some agitators who do so for selfish reasons.

According to him, some of them have alienated themselves, from the people they claim to be representing.

“It is good if such agitations are for the entrenchment of good and responsible governance.

But from our experience, we have seen agitations based on the promotion of self-centered interests which have nothing to do with the entrenchment of good governance, inclusive development and promotion of the rights of the poor and the under-privileged people around their areas.

“Rather, they are actually agitating or promoting selfish, narrow parochial interests.

“From the benefits of hindsight, we have often discovered that not all agitations have proofs or evidence of engagements with the people they claim to represent. They do not have the mandates of their people.

“Many go into agitations solely as part of strategies to empower themselves, become lords over their people, while condoning even bigger oppression in their localities.

“We noticed that while these agitators make louder noises and condemn government at the national level, they ignore what is going on at the grassroots, especially the high level of corruption, bad governance, insecurity, banditry, amongst others. They are not speaking on behalf of their people.

Ibrahim also alleged that “some government officials even orchestrate these agitations with the view to embezzling government funds at the local government level.”