Amotekun Security Outfit. Image via First Weekly Magazine
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, was in a buoyant mood, the other day, when he nodded at the birth of the security outfit called Operation Amotekun, which was launched, in Ibadan, January 9, 2020, by the six governors of the South-West geo-political zone. He described it as the best new year gift that Nigerians had been presented within recent years. The occasion was a conference on “Nigerian Civil War: 50 Years After”, with the theme “Never Again”, which took place at the Agip Hall of the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos. For Soyinka, who was one of the many active dramatis personae in the Biafra war theatre, and, yes, as an inspired peace-makers, who wanted to prevent the genocide in the Republic of Biafra, and keep Nigeria one – the conference was more of a familiar terrain.
It was an occasion to reflect on and make a case for the consuming relevance of humanity in any discourse, if Nigeria was to make a truly sustainable development on the wings of democracy. Never again, it was Soyinka’s view, must Nigeria go to war – if basically because ’tis a lot better to dialogue as accepting the true lesson of the Biafra war, and the truth that no nation-state can survive two civil wars. Still, half a century, since Republic of Biafra ceased to exist, Soyinka observed that the political foundation of Nigeria remains faulty: Nigeria is a forced agglomeration of nearly 300 nations clobbered together by the British colonial power.
And, as with most African states, since independence, in the 1960s, African political elite, who succeeded the colonial powers, have striven, in tune with the charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Soyinka observed, to preserve the sanctity of the post-colonial borders and internal arrangement that were imposed at independent on African states. The inference drawn from this by Soyinka was that the foundation of most African States – including Nigeria – should be re-laid. That, for the most part, explained the case for self-determination in some African states: South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, for instance, which is the 193rd member-state of the United Nations and the 55th of the African Union; and before her, Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, which, in 1993, seceded from Ethiopia – after a very long sanguinary war. Within these strands, one could see the Nigerian case, but Soyinka said that in disavowing violence by saying “Never Again”, it is imperative to enthrone democracy, which is all about people: workers, tax-players and voters, and sustainable human development.
Indeed, everyone who wished Nigeria well, in the 21st Century, should, as a matter of course, key into the “Never Again” gospel being preached by Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo Lagos – the organizers of the conference – in collaboration with Civil Society Organization (CSOs). And, as Professor Anya O. Anya, the Chairman of the occasion, rightly pointed out, the gathering was about the first time, since the sun set on the Republic of Biafra, that Nigerians were reflecting on the poor decision taken that led to the war. The conference, he said, should have been held forty years ago, in an honest quest for peace and development – on the basis of justice for all. Anya recalled that, back in the early 1960s, some American development economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, noted that the Eastern Region of Nigeria had the fastest growing economy in the world. But there came the Biafra war, which flattened all the development strides and promises that the region had made.
The stark contrast, as Anya pointed out, was that Germany and Japan, who were two of the three allies defeated in the Second World War, were able – many thanks to good leadership, remonstrance and a steely resolve never again (!) to trigger unprovoked aggression – to rise, fast, from the ashes of the war to become the strongest economy in Europe, and the world’s second largest economy, respectively, until the recent miraculous emergence of China. Even so, Anya was sanguine that given good leadership and constructive national dialogue – a desire to shun violence, in the face of provocation – the Germany or Japan, or a well-engineered amalgam of both in Nigeria, could still surface as one of the world’s topmost economies.
But Professor Pat Utomi, who teaches political economy at the Lagos Business School, felt that yes, there was the Biafra war, one of the mistakes Nigerian leaders had made, since then, was not interrogating and tapping generously into the scientific ingenuity of the ever so resilient Igbo people, which sustained the Republic of Biafra for as long as it lasted – in a conscious effort to enrich national scientific research and development. It would be recalled that the United States of America, after the Second World War, harboured a visible number of German scientists to boost her technological profile. In effect, Washington’s technological history cannot be complete without a fair reference to the roles played by those Germans.
And yet, one dominant leitmotif of the conference was a call – by Soyinka, who rightly suspected that his position could, mischievously, be misrepresented by a section of the press as trumpeting a disintegration of the country; Utomi, who advocated an elevation of the human spirit and morality in public administration, as he noted that the 20th Century, starting with the Armenian gory episode, in 1915, was one of genocides; and that some African leaders should be tried for poor performance, economic crimes and genocide at the International Criminal Court (ICC), at The Hague, in Switzerland; and Professor Adebanji Akintoye, the Co-chairman of the occasion, who desired a truly people-representative democracy –for the restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The trio – alongside Akin Osuntokun, a former aide to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo – and Professor James Ortese Ayatse, Tor Tiv and Chairman, Benue State Council of Traditional Rulers – were in support of a return to the pre-1966 federal structure: Northern, Eastern, Mid-West and Western regions. That way –and the return of the so-called abandoned property to their rightful owners, as canvassed by a visibly bitter diva – Onyeka Onwuenu – Nigeria would rest, anew, on an assuring foundation. It is a foundation that would discourage today’s frighteningly smouldering discontent and the push for self-determination by some genuinely aggrieved individuals and groups. Perhaps, as Utomi posited, all that would have been avoided were it that there was a reality check on the Gowon regime’s slogans of No Victor, No Vanquished, and Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction in the post-bellum years, as a process of healing and forgiveness through justice and equity for the victims of the Biafra war.
Uzuakpundu is a Lagos-based journalist.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN