Our failure to learn from the past is why we are inching towards civil war

Leaders from various northern groups have ordered the Igbos to leave the North; a move that will remind some of the Kaduna riots and anti-Igbo pogrom of 1966 and the Nigerian Civil War that resulted from it.


In case you thought all was well with Nigeria, yesterday we were reminded that we live in a country where people purporting to speak for a region can order a mass exodus of people from another tribe because they don’t like the way they behave.

Barely weeks to this day, on May 30, 2017, the country; Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and all, joined Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo to mark the anniversary of the start of the Nigerian Civil War, the beginning, and end of the now defunct Biafra Republic.

Unlike most civil wars in that period, the hallmark of the Biafran affair was not the bullets that were exchanged or how it justified military rule for years after its end. It was the tribal and ethnic tensions that had boiled over first with attacks on Igbo in the north and inspired, among many other selfish reasons, Ojukwu’s decision to pull the South-East out of Nigeria.

50 years after the first lives were taken, those sentiments are the biggest legacy of that war.

But it is clear we have not learned our lessons.

Yesterday, on June 6, 2017, Northern ‘youths’ gathered at Arewa House, Kaduna to issue what they called ‘The Kaduna Declaration’, instructing all Igbo people to leave the North before October 1.

The declaration was made by ‘youths’ from 16 different politically-inclined groups, including most notably, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Arewa Students Forum, Northern Emancipation Network and Arewa Citizens Action for Change.

According to the document, the signatories cited “the persistence for the actualization of Biafra by the unruly Igbo of South-Eastern Nigeria” as reason for the order, stating that “from the 1st October 2017, we shall commence the implementation of visible actions to prove to the whole world that we are no longer part of any federal union that should do with the Igbos”.

For all the insolence on display, three things stand out almost immediately.

First, it is clear that the word ‘youth’ has lost any sense of value or meaning in Nigerian politics. Once upon a time, youth meant young people.

It still does in a lot of western countries, but in Nigeria, it is a term thrown around by a generation of sycophants hungry for relevance and ready to use anything, words or otherwise, to grab a place in the conversation.

The individuals who signed the declaration were not young, both in body or at heart. They were the old and middle-aged men who have perpetuated themselves in the positions of power at institutions created to represent the interest of young people.

Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the self-styled ‘Co-ordinator’ of the Northern Emancipation Network is an infamous commentator that is at least as old as the war he seems so hungry to re-enact. Over the course of the Buhari administration, he has become infamous for absurd comments, including insisting that shamed SGF Babachir Lawal should be allowed to remain in office.

Another, Shettima Yerima, leader of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, is described as an activist and commentator. When he was asked by Naij in 2016 about the future of Nigeria as a single entity, he answered, “Do we want to go into another civil war? I can tell you that if Nigeria goes into another civil war now, we will not survive it”.

It would appear that his opinion has changed.

The characters that made the Kaduna Declaration may not exactly be pillars of society in any sense of the word but this takes nothing away from the weight of the order that they made.

There may be little to indicate how important it is now or will become with time but the signs are there.

Arewa House, for one, is a place of great symbolism for the North. It was the official residence of the great statesman, Sir Ahmadu Bello, a man whose values still inspire a large following among his people. It was also here that he was killed by Igbo soldiers, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna-Nzeogwu in the events that would set off the war.

It is near impossible to pull off a declaration of such weight at a place of this significance without the support of anonymous bigwigs.

It is why, save for decisive actions by the Nigerian government, the Igbo will do well to treat this order with some importance.

The Kaduna Declaration, as well as the activities of groups like MASSOB, IPOB and the incredibly sketchy Nnamdi Kanu,  show that either for lack of knowledge or a blind insistence to chart an old course, we are still willing to repeat old errors and re-enact arguably the worst period in our nation’s history.

There are reasons and attempts at justifying this new wave of ethnic sentiment on both sides.

The Igbo claim that they have been marginalized as a people and demoted to the class of second class citizens. As examples, they cite the fact that Nigeria has never had an Igbo person as head of government since Aguiyi-Ironsi’s brief stint in 1966.

On the other side of the fence, some claim that the Igbo are unwilling participants who are threatening the success of the Nigerian experiment with their relentless call for secession.

None of these reasons will matter to the people who will lose their lives if war breaks out.

As things stand, tensions are high on both sides, such that in the next few months, there will be two outcomes.

In the first one, the government must find a way to invalidate the Kaduna declaration. This solution will require decisive and deliberate action by the federal government. It will also depend on the support of Northern elders, religious and political leaders who time has shown to have the capacity to affect opinion and attitude among their supporters and subjects.

The 'youths' who gathered in Kaduna to declare fear and doubt in the hearts of Igbos in the north must be made to understand what can happen when one undermines the Nigerian state; we have laws that provide jail terms for such behaviour.

MASSOB, IPOB and the general idea of pro-Biafra agitation must also be neutered; its supporters and leaders should be made to understand that Nigeria is a sovereign state, and declarations such as the stay at home order on the Biafra anniversary, while understandable, are the reasons why it cannot be allowed to exist.

This solution will only have worked when the Igbo feel comfortable living among the Hausa and vice versa.

The other outcome is violence, government broadcasts, the forming of ethnic militia and war. For those who want to know what this looks like, the detailed history of the Civil War, complete with footage of the war front, road-side killings, and starved children can be found on YouTube.

The events of the next few months will determine where we are headed. There is more than enough time to decide what outcome will become our fate.

Ultimately, the continued existence of the Nigerian state is dependent on the Nigerian government, above all, but time and time again, we have seen that it is not the most proactive institution, often incapable of maintaining law and order even when the lives of citizens are involved.

The Kaduna Declaration may seem like a news item now, but if mishandled, it can become much more.

The Kaduna riots and killings of 1966 are old examples, but they are more than sufficient.

History has taught us that there is usually only one outcome for people who fail to learn from their mistakes.

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