By Rauf Aregbesola
We are gathered here to honour our fallen soldiers, the wounded and infirm and to put into national consciousness their families and dependants who lost their loved ones to the defence of our fatherland.
Of course, the history of soldering, for us, started long before colonialism. Much more in our consciousness was the Yoruba civil war that broke in 1877 and lasted for 16 years before coming to an end on September 23, 1893 when the warring parties signed an armistice.
It was a war fought to preserve Yoruba federalism and independence of all the sub-nations of Yorubaland. It was in the words of Aare Latosa, ‘A war to end all wars’. For a nation just coming out of the throes of 300 years of forced Euro-American enslavement, the war weakened the Yoruba nation, decimated the few remaining population and destroyed the advanced technology and productive basis of the society, from which we have yet to recover 125 years after.
Then, entered colonialism and the European wars. As a colony of Britain, Nigerians fought on the side of Britain during the First and Second World Wars during which no fewer than 50,000 Nigerians, mostly from the West, were killed on the side of Britain. To be able to appreciate this figure, when Queen Elizabeth II came to Nigeria in 1956, the population of Lagos was 150,000. It would be like killing a third of the population of Lagos then.
These two wars were precipitated by deranged despots with oversized imperial ambition, thus plunging the world and their nations in particular into a catastrophe with their reckless actions.
However, the wars were driven largely by hatred, hate-mongering, racial superiority, incitement to anger and violence and thoughtlessness on the consequences of one’s actions.
World War I claimed 27 million lives, including soldiers and civilians. The World War II claimed between 60 and 80 million lives, which was about three per cent of global population as of 1940.
Since independence in 1960, we have fought and continue to fight our own wars. We fought a deadly and destructive 30-month civil war in which none of the issues has been resolved till today, making us to wonder if the war effort was not in vain. More than 100,000 soldiers and two million civilians were estimated to have been killed in that war. This was at a time Nigeria’s population was 55 million by the most generous estimate.
After World War II, Europe was devastated and in ruins, requiring a Marshall Plan and trillions of dollars in rebuilding efforts that took a whole generation.
We have fought and continue to fight other minor and low intensity wars against militancy in the Niger Delta and insurgency in the North-East, intra and inter-communal clashes in practically all the zones of the country and the menace of herdsmen, which continue to claim the precious lives of our gallant soldiers and civilians alike.
Nigeria has also contributed to peacekeeping missions of the United Nations and the African Union, particularly in West Africa, in which precious lives have been sacrificed for the peace and tranquillity of our sub-region.
The long and short of all these is that war is a very bad business. It is costly, deadly and ruinous, even for a supposed winner. It is worse for the loser. Indeed, all are losers in a war. The resources, human and material, used to prosecute wars could have been used for the development of the people. The lesson of history is that nations and people emerged from wars weakened, devastated, impoverished and vulnerable.
The worst part is that though nations may decide to go to war or otherwise easily, before the outbreak of hostilities, it is far more difficult and sometimes impossible to decide to stop, thus we have prolonged and sometimes indeterminate war. This is the hard part.
We see the devastations of war in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon (and closer home) in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While some like Liberia and Sierra Leone are fortunate to put the war behind them, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq have found it difficult to stop their own wars. Lebanon lost its Paradise and Pearl of the Middle East status to the United Arab Emirates. The mutual antagonism and distrust that the Nigerian Civil War bred are still with us.
This is why it has become imperative for us to work assiduously for the peace of the nation by avoiding anything that could lead to war. We were fortunate that the civil war ended after 30 months, the first time; we may not be that lucky again, if a war should break out in Nigeria this time round.
Through carelessness, thoughtlessness, selfishness, wickedness and hate-mongering, we may unwittingly be pushing our nation towards another war. God forbid! Acts of genocide, mindless exploitation of other people’s resources, reckless pursuit of one’s interest, not minding the consequences on others, unmitigated greed of the elite through rent-seeking and primitive accumulation outside of work and productivity, we might be provoking rage, anger, resentment, destroying intra and inter-communal peace and inciting rebellion from below.
We see also the false messianic impulse of military adventurers who wrongly believe that the barrel of the gun is the solution to complex problems that require tact, consultation, wisdom and nation-building. Those who aborted civil democratic rule and plunged the nation into chaos, have only found out, to their chagrin, that they themselves were not better than the civilians they overthrew in addressing the issues and grappling with governance. As I said last week at the emblem launch, decapitation can never be the cure to headache.
We must all recognise that the mark of civilisation is the mature engagement of the contentious issues, tensions, conflicts and challenges of nationhood that we have been tackling since independence, and not through armed conflict.
In the interest of the black race, Nigeria must not just exist, it must also be strong to be able to lead the continent to achieve its manifest destiny. The greatest riches of the continent are domiciled in the Great Lakes Region comprising Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Nigeria should be strong and provide leadership with South Africa and the leaders of the region to be able to develop these riches for the development of the people of the continent and for Africa to be able to take her place in the world.
Essential to achieving this is peace. If there is no peace, we cannot make any progress. If we should slide into war, we can only regress while the rest of the world will not only leave us behind, the gap between us will also become widened and unbridgeable.
We should therefore use the opportunity of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day to call for peace and avoidance of any act or utterance that might create tension and lead to conflict. The best way to honour the memory of the dead is to prevent wars, in order that their sacrifice will not be in vain.
Peace is the foundation for productivity. All able-bodied persons in the country must be mobilised for work. We should discourage idleness and the quest for free money, which is no longer available. Each person must generate surplus value from work over their own needs, in order for our nation to be prosperous. Peace should therefore lead to productivity which should give us prosperity.
Lastly, let us remember the families and dependants of our fallen soldiers; the surviving veterans and the wounded and infirm. We owe them a duty to support them and not make them to regret their sacrifice to fatherland.
Governor Aregbesola delivered this speech at the 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Osogbo on January 15, 2018