Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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At the beginning of 1979, Dr. Richards Joseph, our Political Science lecturer at University of Ibadan had made significant progress in his research work for a book he was to write on Nigerian politics. He had toured almost all of Nigerian landscape, interviewing notable and not so notable people. At an informal meeting with some of us his students, he rounded up his impressions about Nigeria.
“In my discussions with Ibo tribesmen and others from the defunct Biafra, I discovered that they always talk of “before the war”. It is not common to find other Nigerians from other ethnic groups to make reference to the civil war in every discussion.” He went on to observe that the civil war must have made a significant impact on the lives of Ibos and others from Biafra to remain a reference point ten years after it was all over.
He was then asked by one of the students if he feared that a similar war could still break out of Nigeria given the unwillingness of the rebels to forget the war. He said he did not harbor such fears. According to him, the Nigerian army of 1967 was quite different from the Nigerian army of 1979 and that if a rebel group threatened the corporate existence of Nigeria as they did in 1967, they will meet an army that was experienced in war and that the insurrection would be swiftly put down. An African American who had pinned a lot of hopes on the emergence of Nigeria as the first black power in global affairs, he was very disappointed in the turn-out of events in our country later on. Mr. Jonathan Ishaku, a notable journalist and author with whom I shared the same class at Ibadan later reported that the man broke down and wept at a public function when he was discussing how the country was messed up in the 80’s. Ishaku was then Editor of the Champion newspaper and the country had fallen under military tyranny and misrule after soldiers seized power from squabbling politicians who had ruled Nigeria from 1979 to 1983.
It was a sad development for many of us who were witnesses and had hoped for a new Nigeria with the return of democracy in 1979, the year Richards left Nigeria back to the US. The soldiers that led Nigeria to an avoidable civil war in the 60’s were now in the saddle and the country was not faring any better in terms of statecraft. There were frequent rumors of coups and counter coups. Coups themselves took place and some ex-military men calling not, very silently, for war and the disintegration of the country. Pictures of what led to the bloody civil war, beginning with the bumpy democratic experience of 1960 – 1966, the military coup and the counter coup began to play in our minds.
It was at this time I fell in love with an intelligent and vivacious Ibo girl. We were madly in love and discussed freely. One day I asked her what it felt like when the war broke out in 1967. She was very happy, she confessed. As a very little girl of between five and seven years, she saw the whole thing as Christmas time. During Christmas then as even now, Ibos troop down to their villages in the east part of Nigeria to celebrate with their kith and kin. Since all Ibos were moving down the east, she thought it was another Christmas Season with its joys and merriments in abundance. Sadly as she grew in age, she knew the difference between the Christmas of earlier years and the Christmas of the day. Their whole family moved from Kaduna to Enugu but instead of rice and stew very plenty as in earlier years, rice and other foods became very scarce. They did not have new Christmas dresses and were constantly moving from one bush village to another as the federal troops closed in on them. Their clothes, even the new ones they had before migrating from the north down south became rags. Then it dawned on her that war was not Christmas after all.
It seems to me that most Nigerians do not really know the full implications of war today just like my poor innocent lover and other Ibos discovered to their dismay and horror in the 60’s.
Even the victorious federal sides saw the ugly side of war. Beginning from Vandeikya in Benue State and Gakem of Cross River State and moving up north, there was nothing but tales of woe. The Tiv tribesmen who live on that northern borderline suffered greatly and so did their Idoma and Igala neighbors who bore the Biafran onslaught. They enlisted in drones on the federal side in the war to keep Nigeria one as the federal propaganda proclaimed it “a task that must be done.” Many lost their lives in that task. It was sad because they never bargained for the events that led to tragic war. Today, there is no family in the above mentioned ethnic groups that has not lost a member in the war. Even those in the hinterland of Nigeria, losses were recorded to life and property in the civil war that are very huge.
Richards Joseph, now a Professor at the Carter Foundation in discussions with his students in 1979 concluded rather wrongly that the Nigerian army was war tested and could easily put down an insurrection within days or months and not the three years it took it to bring down Biafra. Now, look at the Boko Haram challenge. It has taken how many years for a rag tagged army of insurgents to challenge and effectively hold their own against the Nigerian army which has become hopelessly inept in carrying out its constitutional duties.
And some Nigerians who are blissfully ignorant of the difference between war and peace are busy pushing the country into a swooning inferno that awaits Nigeria if war breaks out.
NB. As some Nigerians continue to push us towards war, I am forced to publish this article which was first carried on these pages in January this year. Some of us lived through the Nigerian civil war and we know what war means. I advise those who were not yet born then to look for the pictures of kwashiorkor victims of the war to see what it does to humanity.