22nd January 2018 – National reconciliation and Armed Forces Remembrance Day
Lee Kuan Yew, architect of modern Singapore, visited Nigeria a few days before the military struck on Saturday, January 15, 1966. His visit was in connection with the Commonwealth Conference held in Lagos on Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. His conclusion about Nigeria in 1966 is contained in a book he wrote in 2000 entitled: ‘From Third World to First’. In the book, he concluded thus: “I think their tribal loyalties were stronger than their sense of common nationhood”.
Today, Kuan Yew’s observation about the country has not changed. The similar factors that led to the January 15, 1966 bloody coup that ended the First Republic and triggered a counter-coup that subsequently plunged Nigeria into its historic civil war are still very much the reasons for the unending chapter of violence in the country. Appraisal of Nigerian society forty-eight years after General Gowon’s Civil War Victory Message to the Nation tagged: “The Dawn of National Reconciliation” does not suggest that the country is on the track of national conciliation. We still discuss primordial issues.
Just like before January 15, 1966 crisis, Nigerians of different age group are everywhere listing all the problems with the soul and spirit of the country. The dearth of such values as justice, fairness and tolerance among Nigerians is obvious, yet the leadership is not doing enough to address them. Sadly, the inclination of political profiteers, tribalists and gullible followership to shun the lessons of January 15, 1966 partly accounts for why the country still dances to python and crocodile rhythm as well as resort to “Operation Lafiya Dole” to silent agitation tunes.
If January 15, 1966 was the day that the destiny of Nigeria was totally and painfully redefined, the opportunity to build a new nation provided itself on January 15, 1970. Yet, the country has not explored the opportunity beyond the cosmetic wreath laying, speeches, lamentations and special Jumat and Sunday services, which have been an annual ritual every January 15.
On Monday, January 15, 2018, the ritual of Armed Forces Remembrance Day was repeated at the National Arcade, Abuja as well as all State capitals across the nation. We were told, as usual, that the day was set aside to honour the Nigerian fallen troops in the various military conflicts for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Nigeria and peace keeping across the world. The question, however is, why do we celebrate January 15 and yet fail to carefully harness its message? Undoubtedly, January 15 is not an ordinary date in Nigeria’s history from whichever perspective we choose to view it. But then, have we really done enough to suggest that the blood that was shed on that day and others that followed was not in vain?
Can it really be said that enough effort has been made to ensure reconciliation with the South-East, for instance, in recognition of the perceived grievances and fears since the tragic incidents of 1966? In his famous Civil War Victory Message to the Nation in 1970, former military ruler, General Gowon said: “The so-called “Rising Sun of Biafra” is set for ever. It will be a great disservice for anyone to continue to use the word Biafra to refer to any part of the East Central State of Nigeria. The tragic chapter of violence is just ended”. How do we assess this statement if we go through all national dailies with so many reports of killings, disunity and insecurity in different parts of the nation?
Having been amalgamated for 104 years and lived together as an independent nation for over 57 years, we must commit ourselves, both as individuals and groups, to making Nigeria work, but on the principle of justice and fairness. It is in the interest of all Nigerians that this nation works because the country contains the fabric of uncommon greatness waiting to be fostered. It may be necessary to set up centres for the study of ethnic relations. This can be an antidote to the opportunism of the political class which makes it difficult to separate genuine interests of ethnic groups from the selfish interests of the class. The setting up of a Centre for Ethnic Relations will be one way of making it possible to ascertain genuine interests. It can as well reduce the rate at which our youth rant all day through social media fighting a ‘civil war’ and making more money for Mark Zuckerberg. The Nigerian people can also learnt that poverty, ignorance and disease which oppress the working masses today do not recognise ethnic, language, religious and regional differences.
The federal system should be strengthened through faithful adherence to the constitution to allow for the optimum development of all tiers of government. Indeed, all tiers of government must be viable and productive. We have to beat the habit of preying on others and consuming without producing. Sadly, most people venture into politics as a main route to power and wealth. How to make governance work for the people is of less concern to them.
Professional and other trans-ethnic associations should be encouraged as a counterforce to ethnic associations which exhibit divisive tendencies. Joining popular associations such as occupational and trade unions and clubs which cut across ethnic, language, religious and regional boundaries will make it possible for people to make friends across ethnic and religious barriers. For instance, the interventions of professional bodies like NUJ, NBA, NMA, ICAN etc on national issues will attract more approval than when it is that of religious or ethnic champions, even when expressing similar views. Also, extant integrating processes and policies (like the NYSC programme and other such uniting tendencies) should be encouraged and strengthened, while official and institutional hindrances, as well as unfavourable attitudes (like discrimination against non-indigenes), should be discouraged and outlawed, if possible. This should also be extended to national appointments.
The consumerist, rather than productive orientation of politics, which fuels inter-ethnic elite competition for sinecure posts and state largesse may be discouraged through the strengthening of a non-state controlled private sector.
Musbau writes from Lagos