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Published On: Mon, Jan 13th, 2020

War, nationalism and the social media psyche

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By Umar Yakubu

There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited. – Sun Tzu.

Last week, a lot happened in the international arena. The highlights are that a serving officer, General Qasem Soleimani of Iran, was killed in a targeted drone strike by the United States of America on Iraqi soil, along with other Iranian and Iraqi officials. In retaliation, Iran responded a few days later with some missile strikes at American military bases in Iraq.
Between the assassination of the General and the response by Iran, the Nigerian social media space went on fire. Loads and tons of ignorant analyses of how the U.S. was going to, let me borrow the words of Hilary Clinton in 2007 during one of the presidential debates with then-candidate Barack Obama, “annihilate” Iran were proffered. Even Obama was astonished by that statement. I remember the look Obama gave Hilary. It was breathless.
Conversely, others started analyses of how Iran would strike back at the U.S., ‘deal’ with them, and end the war as victors. All sorts of conspiracy theories were churned out by the minute, backed up with the military spending of both countries. Most could not explain any detail regarding the crisis that started since the days of Mohammed Mossadegh, pre-1951; through the Shah era and Henry Kissinger’s role in the 1960s; the Islamic revolution in ’79; the eight-year war with Iraq; the June 28, 1981 bomb attack that killed top members of Iran’s Islamic Republican party, including Chief Justic Mohammed Beheshti, four cabinet members, 27 members of parliamentand several government officials, which Iran blamed on U.S surrogates. Also, Obama’s “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) concluded between Iran and the world’s major powers in July 2015, which was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.
In truth, much of the social media space displayed crass ignorance – mainly the Generation Y breed – of international law, politics, security, history and power-play. Now, that’s not even the point. No one knows it all. But the minimum requirement is that before one makes a comment on anything, he should at least know what he is talking about before he mis-educates others.
Anyway, the primary point was that, just like in most of our issues, we exported our local brand and style of thinking into international affairs. Discussions were shaped around, as usual, religious and political affiliations. Most of the supporters of the United States were the usual mix of the anti-Buhari, anti-APC, pro-IPOB, pro-Pentecostal, pro-southern Nigerian, and anti-Northern Nigerian elements.
The Iranian supporters were mostly northerners; a mix of pro-Shi’a ideologues, alongside anti-America, anti-South and anti-‘Arna’ Nigerians. The third silent majority were northerners who cannot stand the first group because they are anti-Shi’ite and hence, dislike Iran. They yet don’t mind Iran being ‘wiped off the map’ due to theological differences, even when they do not necessarily like the U.S.
Now, these are choices that we are all entitled to, as there is an absolute freedom of choice and association! But I stress that when it comes to war, a potential World War III for that matter, its about survival, and we cannot take sides with anything other than our national interest. What was scary was that the discussions were around the U.S. and Iran, with no thinking about the consequences of the fallout of whatever happens for the survival of Nigerians. There was no analysis of what the consequences of a possible World War III – may God forbid this from happening – could be to the Nigerian State. Some mentioned that the price of oil would rise, but Nigeria won’t benefit much from this because of the lack of domestic refining capacity; that the price increase would simply balloon our petroleum subsidy bill.
Anyway, the reality is that if a war starts, and I repeat that may God forbid this, there would be consequences dire beyond our religious sympathies or primal affiliations. For starters, Nigeria as a country would have to take a side in the war because there will be coalitions. There will be no fence-sitting because weak nations like ours will be conscripted into the war, whether we like it or not. If anyone doubts this, they should go back to the history lessons of World War II. Although the dynamics of 1939 would certainly be different from that of 2020, yet it is instructive that nearly all the countries of the world participated in the earlier warfare. Most countries were neutral in the beginning, but by the end, their neutral statuses underwent change. Thousands of Nigerians died then. Sometime in 2018, the current Nigerian Ambassador to Thailand, Ahmed Nuhu Bamali, collated the names of Nigerians buried in a war cemetery in Burma. They have been forgotten. I guess that there are hundreds of others who fought on the side of Her Majesty’s Government, who are also not known to us today. As such, if the present conflict escalates, we will definitely be drafted into the war as representatives of ‘Nigeria’, and not as people of the north or south; Muslims or Christians.
In the first stage, Western Europe, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, will join the U.S. France will equally conscript Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Senegal and other African countries. On the other side, the whole states of the former Soviet bloc, maybe with the exclusion of Ukraine, will join Iran. China, North Korea, Syria and possibly Turkey, will be right behind them.
In this stage, we are talking of nations with a combined yearly military expenditure of over $1.8 trillion. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that just in 2018, the U.S. spent $650 billion; China, $250 billion; Saudi Arabia, $67 billion; Russia, $61 billion; Turkey, $19 billion; and Iran, $13 billion on military expenditure. And these are just additions to previous years of massive defence spendings. I recall an inscription at the entrance of the United Nations building in New York, which states that: “The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded”. Beside the inscription, there is a dashboard that displays by military expenditure around the world, which goes to billions of dollars every single day!
If we are on the U.S. side, the Shi’ite man from Zaria will see himself fighting alongside the Americans, the French and all those his group presumably hate because they are fighting Iran. If Nigeria joins the Iranian coalition, IPOB supporters, despite their acclaimed Jewish ancestry, will find themselves on the battlefield fighting Israelis. The northern Muslim would be fighting the Saudi man. The southern businessman dealing in imports will be fighting China. Its easy to start a war but no one, absolutely no one, can predict how it would end.
Libya was destabilised, arms flowed south, and we still can’t effectively end the Boko Haram insurgency. And that is just Libya! Thirty people died last week in Borno. Thousand of soldiers and civilians have lost their lives. Millions are displaced. If there is a large-scale conflict in the Middle East, how Nigeria would be protected in the first place should be our thinking. As the giant of Africa, I have not seen or heard diplomatic moves geared towards dousing the tension. We ought to be global players because aggression anywhere in the world affects us as Nigerians. We should not be anxious to see the start of a war out of sheer naivety.
When Muslims are persecuted in Myanmar or China, or when other condemnable acts occur, some Nigerian Muslims are more enraged over this than when Nigerian Christians are killed right within their communities. When the U.S. is bombing Iran or Somalia, some Christians in Nigeria think it’s a campaign in which a Christian country is destroying a Muslim one. Some Nigerian ‘Jews’ celebrate when Israel is bombing Palestinians or the Lebanese, thinking that all Arabs are Muslims. They don’t know the extent of the Christian population of Arab world, with many having names like George Habash, Wadi Haddad or Hanan Ashrawi. This first two mentioned Christian medical doctors resisted the Israeli occupation, probably at the same level with Yaseer Arafat, who was a Muslim. It was all about the struggle for country.
As such, it is high time we start seeing ourselves as Nigerians and thinking of our national interests first. All the countries we love to defer to have their interests, which they hold on to and cherish. No state loves Nigeria more than itself. But in thinking about it: What are Nigeria’s national interests within the international arena?

Umar Yakubu is of the Counter-Fraud Centre.

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