50 Years After Civil War: Dissecting Nigeria’s Quest For Unity


Leaders recently reflected on the unity of Nigeria 50 years the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War. MARY AMODU examines the quest to foster unity amongst in Nigeria

Despite the commemoration of 50 years after, there has been many tussles in leadership, politics, religious and tribal games however pundits presume that If Nigeria could stick to the principles of federal character, fairness and a sense of belonging to all groups, Nigeria would witness a different atmosphere.

Recall that the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd); Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka; Professor Anya O. Anya, Professor Pat Utomi and Professor Banji Akintoye, during the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian Civil War, tagged Never Again, organized by the Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos in collaboration with civil society organisations warned that another war was imminent if the current political, social, and economic challenges plaguing the country were not addressed.

The former head of state urged the country leaders to create enabling platforms to dialogue and proffer ideas on how peace and harmony could be achieved for all Nigerians and the black race as a whole; thus ensuring political and economic security and development of the country.

“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 your support and defence,” Gowon said.

Chairman of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Prof. Banji Akintoye, warned that Nigeria was risking the possibility of another civil war if the ongoing injustices in the country persisted.

Akintoye said the mood in Nigeria was similar to what led to the civil war and the character displayed by some of the country’s leaders today makes it look like governance is the exclusive preserve of some people.

“A particular minority today is at war with the majority. The government is being managed in ways that make it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. There seems to be an agenda being pursued to establish this minority in all positions of command in the executive, administrative, judicial and security services of the country. He said the country needs to be restructured to reflect the principles of federalism to avert another war.

“The voices of the majority register protests continually and are continually disrespected and ignored. The state of the law is patently being subsumed to the needs of that agenda, with seriously damaging effects on human rights. These situations are inevitably fostering, among the peoples of the Middle Belt and South of the country, the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered peoples of Nigeria.

“Nigeria must, without further delay, restructure with the objective of giving our country a true and generally acceptable federal structure under which the present sections of the country will be able to develop their resources for the conquest of poverty in their domains.”

Akintoye said the country needs to be restructured in a way that it will benefit all component parts of the country.

Also speaking, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, said one of the ways to say “Never Again” was to enthrone principles of democracy. He said humanity tended to forget too soon and repeat mistakes several times. He said no nation survives two civil wars and urged Nigerians to ensure there was no repeat of past mistakes.

Soyinka said the events of the Nigerian/Biafra war needed sombre reflections.

Therefore, Nigeria must borrow ideas from other nations who had similar experience. He warned leaders not to see others as puns, but as real human beings.

“Anytime, the leadership tries to sacrifice our people in the pursuit of absolutism, we must remind them, like black Americans who told their leaders that black Africans life matter, that Nigerians lives matter,” he said.

The Nobel Laureate, who deplored the insecurity situation in the country, commended the South West governors for coming up with the regional security force, Operation Amotekun, assuring the outfit would respond to the yearnings of the people in the region.

“I thank a number of public-spirited, humanity-considering governors in this nation, who finally responded to the demand and yearnings of the citizens and produced one organisation called Amotekun. It’s one of the most unexpected because I had given up on them; it is an unexpected but at the same time a desirable New Year present,” Soyinka said.

Prof Anya O. Anya, who was chairman of the event, lamented that Nigeria did not learn lessons from the civil war.

“Our situation is not unique, some other countries have gone through similar experiences, we have to learn from their experiences. Japan fought a war and lost, Germany also fought a war and lost, but less than 30 years after the war, they sprang back from the devastation of the war. We have to learn lessons from their experiences,” Anya said.

A keynote speaker, Prof. Pat. Utomi said Nigeria is at war. He referred to what is happening in the social media as a demonstration of leadership failure. He said people who cannot engage in quality and constructive conversation always haul insults on others as a defence mechanism.

Utomi said management of hostilities determines how people recover after war, and that it also matters how a war is ended. He said that before the civil war, Igbo man was simple and conservative, but the psychological effects of the war changed all that.

Similarly, former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) speaking to BBC said instead of forming groups that will tamper with the peaceful coexistence of the country, Nigerians should engage in activities that will foster development and unity.

He said Nigerians should praise Almighty God for sustaining the country for 50 years after the war, adding that no country that engage in civil war has witnessed thorough peace within a short period of time as Nigeria did.

“Nigeria is better the way it is now, all parts of the country should come together and see themselves as one and equal. Just like today it is 50 years after the civil war. As everybody knows so many good things have happened in the country, which is indeed better for all of us. So I think it is better if we put all our differences aside and work for the development of our nation”, Babangida said.

However, there is a palpable sense of foreboding the voices of this notable statesmen. 50 years after, Nigeria still seem to be struggling with many of the malaise that were responsible for the war. It’s unity and territorial sovereignty is still threatened from virtually all sides by groups who do not agree with its system of government and constitutionalism.

Ranging from the Niger/Delta militants to the dreaded Boko Haram and the more recent IPOB phenomenon. But the government and the political elites have been working round the clock and deploying innovative policies to stem the tide and stabilise the system. There have been several constitutional conferences both under the military and civilian regime, and more recently the clamour for true federalism and restructuring. Another major issue remains the power rotation among the geo-political zones.

In such conferences, many policies and arrangements have been advocated in a bid to create a more stable and inclusive federalism but very few have seen the light of day.

Prominent among them is the issue of the local government autonomy, and the state police which many believe will enhance the administrative capacities of the lower tier governments and impact the welfare and security of the masses but even them are not without controversies.

Apparently, the Nigerian society has decided to adopt the democratic system and governance as a way of determining how the forces of the nation should be managed and directed but despite this achievement more is still desired as there is still a widening inequality gap which many analysts see as responsible for this vicious cycle of violence and backwardness.

Added on this is the recent controversy emanating from the just concluded general election, which seems to be undermining faith in the Nigerian nationhood as related to the legality and legitimacy.

Debates over whether or not the current administration has undermined the Independence and neutrality of the judiciary and National Assembly rages. Brickbats by ruling and opposition parties over alleged executive excesses have also been topical, a situation which pundits aver isn’t good for stability and unity of the country.

The executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, reflected on the 50 years experience of Nigeria and points out some of the sore points affecting nation building so far.

In a chat with LEADERSHIP Weekend, he called on the federal government to tackle the issue of marginalisation between those he called the ‘haves and have not ‘ noting that the issue of marginalisation is neither religion nor ethnic rivalry but class segregation.

“This is the only way to deal with the mentality that some people think they have been marginalised or ambushed. Although some of this opinions might not necessarily be the truth because when you do the analysis, part of the economy control; the person that thinks has been marginalised you with discover that he actually have that access to good life”.

He added, “For example, here in Abuja, the landed property are owned by people who some persons believe that they have been marginalised. So, the truth is that the people who have are marginalised in this country are in poor people.

“These are the people who the Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern elites have compelled to cloth them into poverty and unemployment. So, those are the people who are actually marginalised,” the civil rights advocate said.

Rafsanjani, noted that while Nigeria must continue to promote national unity, the only way to promote it is through security, justice, fairness and access to equal opportunity.

“First and foremost, it is important that we continue to promote national unity in this country and the only way to promote it is through security, justice, fairness and access to equal opportunity.

“If this is not done by ensuring development in every part of the country and ensuring that all those factors that made the perception of civil war are addressed then, we are not going to solve the problem. Although the federal government after the war have tried to bring in some national integration by introducing NYSC, federal government colleges, federal character principle and also ensuring that paramilitary organisations like the police are interchanging, between northerners and southerners and vice visa. These are all part of the ways, government at all levels must continue to uphold this.

“However, it is not a regional or ethnic marginalisation but a class marginalisation that is going on. So, in my opinion the poverty in the South or North are the same. People are suffering the corrupt and wicked leadership that has been embedded.”

He also believes corruption is the number one problem of Nigeria. “Until we deal with the issue of corruption also, there’s no way we can also make national unity and cohesion, because corruption has integrated into every aspect of life.”

Rafsanjani, however, recommends that good governance must be upheld, radical separatist groups must be tamed and suppressed by mechanisms that ensure inclusiveness and social justice.

“Thus, the only solution is to continue to promote national unity, and ensure that we are guided in our utterances and action. So, we do not encourage those who want to see fire in Nigeria, because some people are deliberately trying to ensure the balkanise the country. But a poor person in the north is suffering same way a poor person in the south is.

“However, hands must be on deck to tackle this class marginalisation by bridging the gaps otherwise, we would be promoting what is not even the real issue. So in my opinion, we cannot afford a repeat of civil war in this country because we are even yet to recover from the psychological, material or funds losses from recent spate of violence in the country,” he declared.

Another analyst, Aloy Atsenokhai, stated that it is important to ensure inclusiveness in governance, stressing that there is a high sense of discord fuelled principally by the belief that the politics of ethnic dominance is at play.

“For a country that is not homogeneous in terms of language, culture and religion, the three major homogeneous lines along which countries are usually formed, it is important that all components parts have a sense of belonging in the union. This is the major reason why our founding fathers included the principle of federal character in our constitution.

“If followed to the latter, the principle truly has the capacity to build unity and give everyone a sense of belonging in the country. At the moment, there is a heightened sense of discord fuelled principally from the fact that people have this belief that the politics of ethnic dominance is at play.

“The civil war had wounds which were already healing to some extent. Giving a sense of belonging to all would have gone a long way in healing those wounds permanently. Unfortunately, that has not been the case over the years. What we need to do now is to go back to the basics and drive those things that encourage sense of belonging for all.

“Government appointments, and projects are a good way to start. By this, it would make the people will know that they matter in the scheme of things and not been punished for whatever offence they are perceived to have committed. Government also needs to tone down on narratives that are divisive in nature,” he said.

On his part, a lawyer and political analyst, Ibekwe Erondu, corroborates the place for equity and closing of gaps between the rich and poor as critical to nation building.

He also believes that regular dialogue and discussions with a view to ensure better ways of fostering national unify need to be done.

“It’s sad that 50 years after the war we are still struggling to ensure that certain fault lines are totally blurred from our national psyche.

“However, as a country we need to start bridging the gaps between the rich and the poor which seems to be widening everyday, we need to start engaging the youths constructively and massively. We need to engage in massive reorientation on the need for Nigerians to see Nigerians as their own. The political, traditional and religious leaders need to recruited into passing such messages.

“It is equally very critical that the government of the day ensures more sense of inclusiveness for all Nigerians. It has tried but it can do more in that regard. Above all, it is important that every Nigerian knows that he can get social justice and protection by the institutions of the state,” he said.