Lessons Of Fifty-One Years After The Nigerian Civil War



Let me start by appreciating the organizers of this conference for creating this forum to enable us parley and exchange ideas on the journey which we have embarked upon during the last half century and also chat a way forward for our children. I specially would like to appreciate the Nzuko Umunna (the Igbo Think Tank), Ovation International, Njeje Media, and our own indefatigable Professor Pat Utomi, the Chairman of the Conference Planning Committee for putting this together; especially in creating an auspiciously convivial atmosphere and bringing in such a distinguished array of speakers and participants.
I would want, to specially appreciated the fact that His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, our former President of Nigeria, whom I was privileged to serve in different capacities while he was in office and consider a lifelong mentor is here. The presence of Chief Obasanjo today as Special Guest of Honor, is most appropriate because no Nigerian, either living or dead could be substituted for him in terms of the wealth of personal and institutional memory of Nigeria’s post-independence political and socio-economic experience.
I have been privileged to read President Obasanjo’s rich and rather unique assortment of writings which encapsulate in an encyclopedic manner, the Nigerian story from our dawn of nationhood. For the purpose of our discussion today, some of his books such as “Chukwuma Nzegwu” with whom he shared closest affinity as well as “Not My Command” and “My Watch” (three volumes) all dwelling on the Nigerian Civil War, underscore his knowledge on the subject of our discussion.
Similarly your successful conscription of our ever ready father, Pa (Chief) Ayodele Adebanjo who is not just leader of Afenifere but has been a foremost political activist and firm nation builder from the days of nationalist struggle is most useful. This has aptly been shown from his rich intervention as Chairman of the Occasion. Similarly our other patriarchs, Dr Uma Eleazu and Alhaji Tanko Yakassi, both of whom have already made rich interventions showing their forte in this complex process of nation building which we are seized with. These are amongst our most outstanding patriots. I also salute our many contemporary voices assembled to share thoughts here.
It will be totally incomplete if I do not pay deserved tribute and appreciation to Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah our Key Note Speaker. I have been tempted, a few times to refer to Bishop Kukah as a veritable typology of the 16th century theologian, Dr. Martin Luther who ignited the process of Christian Reformation and political change in the then “known”. But more precisely, Dr. Luther took on the gargantuan Roman Catholic Church which ruled the world during that epoch and boldly appeared before the conspiratorial Council of Worms in 1521 to defend his views.

Intra-state conflicts and wars have always been part of human society from the cradle of human social organization. This is to the extent that the object of the causative disagreements is to possess control of political power, economic power or influence public policies and maintain control of some over others.
Without going too far or detailed into history, the truth is that, a trail of civil wars have occurred around the world. For example, from the time of the Trojan Wars (1300-1200BC, 1200-1100BC) to the Greco-Persian wars (492-449BC), the Peloponnesian wars (431-404), and even up to the Punic wars during the 2nd century BC, internal conflicts and civil wars have never seized. That was why the Norman Conquest of Europe in 1066 AD, the 100 Years’ Wars in Europe (1337-1453) during which over 3,300,000 people died as well as the 30 Years’ Wars which left a terrible toll of over 8,000,000 lives, all remain recounted painfully in world history. Indeed, of more particular note, to us are the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) between Parliament and Monarchy over the style of governance, limits of power and religious freedom. Of similar interest is the American Revolution (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1787-1799) and the American civil war (1861-1865), in which about 620,000 soldiers died.
In more contemporary times, were the atrociously bloody experiences in the Balkans and all around us. Closer home, we have all been witnesses to the civil wars in Congo, the Great Lakes region, Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, etc.
I have gone into such details to underscore the fact that civil wars of different dimensions and scopes have sadly been part of human history. Furthermore, such wars have not been limited to any particular part of the world. But unfortunately, have been part and parcel of human history and touched most realms. It is of particular note, that despite all these internal upheavals, most of the countries that experienced them are today, quite peaceful and counted today as some of the most stable democracies. The question therefore, is how did they do it?

As I stated earlier, none is in a position to give better account of the Nigerian Biafra War than President Olusegun Obasanjo. Also, other speakers have in a rather rich manner, collectively added to give the background to the series of events that led to the war. It may therefore, be needless for me to dwell on the details of what happened but rather focus on the lessons we have learnt. It would however, suffice to lament, that the staggering 2,000,000 lives or more of civilians particularly from Biafra and about 100,000 soldiers who died in that war from 1967-1970, could have been averted if our political leaders at the time had decided to learn from history of similar occurrences from around the world. Besides, if our leaders had bothered to show more restrain and enquired on why some countries have never experienced civil wars but maintained relative peace around them, conflicts could be staved off.
Unfortunately as once said by the English philosopher and writer Aldoux Huxley “men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important from all the lessons of history”. So I am afraid that we seem not to have learnt much, but let’s keep talking and talking. More than that, let’s keep thinking about the way forward, ponder on new solutions and regurgitate on new ideas.
This approach is also in tune with my area of academic interest which has focused more on State Formation and National Integration. In other words, what keeps nations together, what could make them to disintegrate, and what could make them survive the complex vagaries that comes with the process of staying together. My thoughts I must mention, humbly, are contained in two of my award winning books: Perspectives on Nation-State Formation in Contemporary Africa and Global Trends in State Formation.
So, 51 years since the Nigerian Civil Car ended, what lessons have we learnt. Also, what anecdotes can we put in place to avoid any such reoccurrences in the future. With respect to such reoccurrences, I also mean the series of political interruptions by way of endless military coups which we experienced in Nigeria for 38 years and the rather slow process of national integration after over 100 years of amalgamation and 60 years of statehood. This also includes the continued reign of political intolerance as well as the parlous state of social and economic development in the midst of relative wealth and not excluding the rising tide of internal divisions, suspicions and disharmony.
Having said that, and with the limitation of time, let us ponder on a few areas that I believe will help us as a country in the years ahead. I must confess however, that these prescriptions are rather annotated.

The underling factor of keeping nations at peace and avoiding bloodshed is for the elite to have very positive disposition towards staying together as one. This is a sine-qua-non for peaceful co-existence and harmony in all political communities, irrespective of size and extent of complexity. As we know, almost all nations of the world are multi ethnic, diverse and heterogeneous. Even in places such as Somalia, North Korea and South Korea which are often cited as relatively homogeneous societies, there are internal expressions of sub-identity of various forms. As a matter of fact, nations are like the human alimentary canal which keeps changing in demographic form and character, and defined by what goes in and comes out overtime.
It is therefore incumbent on those on whom leadership has been entrusted to continuously work on how to make the union to work. As a matter of fact, the history of political philosophy in all traditional societies was more focused on consensus. This is what still obtains in our traditional societies here in Africa and Nigeria in particular. It was why some of the founding fathers of African nationalism such as Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, opposed the imposition of Westminster type sharp divisions in governance. That is, the idea of having a Seating Government and a Shadow Government, both on each other’s throat. Nyerere argued and rightly so, that in his own traditional world view, like most of Africa, the concept of an opposition leader was an anathema and was almost equivalent to enmity. Nyerere insisted therefore on continuous dialogue and consultation within any political space until consensus is arrived.
If we cast our minds back to the origins of the Nigerian state itself, Lord Fredrick Luggard, our first Governor General appreciated the fact of our diversity and so did all his colonial successors who were ceased with administration of Nigeria. On the Nigerian side, our founding fathers all recognized that varying differences existed amongst our people. Yet they all agreed to live together, work together towards independence and the building of a nation. Such elite consensus is therefore paramount and absolute, if we do not want to go back to the ugly civil war years.

Great nations are also founded on the existence of laws which exist and create an atmosphere of fairness, equity and justice. Wars, dissensions and disaffections have always occurred when a state of inequity and multiple standards exists. That is, where some groups feel aggrieved and get treated with disregard, there is bound to be conflict. The law must make all to feel same sense of belonging and inclusion. The law must protect all and not promote superiority and inferiority classes, either expressly or in opaque terms. The law must continuously integrate all and not have lacunas which could be the basis for disharmony.
The guiding mantra to avoid conflict should be, “what is good for the goose must be good for the gander”. That is why we cannot brush aside the clamor by the Ibos to be allowed or rather encouraged to aspire for the office of the President of Nigeria. Why not? Or the quest by the people of the Niger Delta for greater control of their resources in line with the spirit, letter and original tenets entrenched in the 1960/63 Constitutions and or demand for better protection of their environment much damaged by oil production. The law must protect their environment from pollution and similar situations around the country, without discrimination. The law must rule and protect all.

While democracy has been identified as the best form of government, it is important to mention that there’s no fit for all form of the concept. Yes, it has irreducible standards for all nations to adopt. However, democracy must be endogenous and homebred. Democracy only thrives and becomes an enabler of peace and balanced growth, if it is tailored to the realities of the specific political ecology.
That is why the 26 cantons of Switzerland, the peculiarities of American Republicanism and Exceptionalism, French Hybrid Republicanism, the German, Israeli and Italian models are all unique. So is the post Soviet, Russian model of political order, the Indian federation of 28 states and 8 Union Territories, the Constitutional Monarchies of Europe, Middle East, Japan, Thailand, and elsewhere. All these have their peculiarities.
Nigerian does not need to shop around the world for an idyllic form of democracy. The tendency of continuously borrowing from norms of other nations breeds the enabling environment for conflicts. The political elite must look at our peculiar situation, antecedents and geo-strategic circumstances and craft our paradigms for state buildings. Such indigenous prototype will be fit for staving off possible potent internal conflicts and even civil war as occurred for the bloody 30 months.

One of the most destabilizing factors in any human community, state or nation is the inability of leaders to communicate appropriately in a direction that will build common good. This has been worsened y the wrong use and application of diverse modern communication channels, especially social media. Hence what has become popularized as “hate speech” is now most potent weapon for conflict and wars, especially internal. On the contrary, effective national building can best strive when leaders and critical political actors communicate in a manner that conjures feelings of common and shared destiny amongst the various peoples. The civil wars in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and several still festering conflicts around the world, have their origin and sustenance from what one may call evil communications from leaders. Such negative forms of communication, deliberately on unwittingly spurn hate, mutual suspicion and incitement to violence and anarchy.
These must be avoided and discouraged as of common cause by all. On the contrary, the leaders of various groups in the country must come up with a template of what is acceptable forms of communication and have very strict sanctions for infringement. This is the best panacea to avoiding what happened in 1966 and through to 1970 and has remained as an albatross in Nigerian’s unique situation in the past 51 years.
For us to avoid the tendency of recline to anarchy, conflict and even war, there is a need for us to ensure that the country is able to feed itself. Food is one of man’s basic needs and therefore closely tied to the question of security and peace. As a matter of fact, food availability, access to food and the prevention of hunger and malnutrition could in a major way douse political tensions where they exist.
We must, as a country, therefore, focus on agriculture, production of food for our people, and have functional food support and school feeding programmess. All those in need of food must be catered for and have access to proper nutrition without difficulty.
Food availability will engender economic growth, social wellbeing and in a general sense reduce poverty. If we must live in peace and avoid the kinds of situation that created the war in 1967, we must apply copious financial resources, technology and deploy our active population to produce food. The 80,000,000 acres of arable land which the country has must be utilized fully. We have to apply irrigation and drainage, fertilizers, genetic engineering, land preparation and reclamation, tractorisation, green house technologies and the like to feed our people and thereby seriously eliminate the propensity to conflict and anarchy. Besides this will mop-up the army of unemployed youth and improve house hold savings and wealth creation.
As long as majority of Nigerians go to bed hungry every day, the propensity for a return to what caused the civil war and has easily tended to create an atmosphere of social tension will be there. The saying that “a hungry man is an angry man” holds quite true and must been avoided.

The whole concept of Peer Review is the openness of allowing persons with similar background and competencies to provide some level of censorship to what is being done by one another. This, to some extent, is a form of self-regulation, so a person with such abilities in a particular field, is able at all given times to cross regulate one another. This is to ensure that certain globally accepted standards in civility, political decency and governance are maintained.
In other words we must develop a national frame-work where our political elite are able to have a mechanism of checking and extracting the best of standards of good conduct and public decorum from one another. This must be at all levels, both at the federal and subnational levels (that is the 36 states and 774 Local Government) areas.
This is unlike the present situation where there are no ingrained norms for evaluating equal standards among political actors around the country. So the present situation of governance and leadership in the country appears as a situation of anomie and a free for all.
When the leaders of the African continent formed the African Union in 1999, they shortly came up with a template called the African Peer Review Mechanism. One author defined this as “a mutually agreed instrument voluntarily acceded to by member’s state of the African union (AU) as a self-monitoring mechanism”. Since this process was started in 2003, it has become a major instrument “to encourage conformity with regards to political, economic and corporate governance value, costs and standards among African countries”.
At national level, our process of integration into one, in the midst of much diversity and creating of a feeling of common belonging by our people and at the same time putting us the sad years of civil will be greatly enhanced if we can have such a regime in place. This is due to the fact, that good governance cultivates an atmosphere forl peace.
The Global Corruption Perception Index shows that the most peaceful countries are those where their citizens enjoy the best standard of living, which is a function of where corruption is least endemic. As a former Nigerian Ambassador to the Scandinavia that is Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, I can attest that political peace is intrinsically connected with the question of good government and transparency.
One of the bane of underdevelopment in Africa is the unmitigated reign of corruption. It continues to ravage the continent leaving behind a trail of despair, frustration and underdevelopment. According to globally leading sector ombudsman, Transparency International, Africa is the world’s second fastest growing region, yet a majority of its population live in extreme poverty, due mainly to corruption and bad management.
Studies have shown, that annually, African countries loose about 50 billion dollars to illicit financial flows of which Nigeria is at the vortex. As a matter of fact, a study by Price, Water, and Cooper (Pwc) shows that corruption could become as much as 37% of African GDP in 2030.
It is woeful that at present, Nigeria is 146 out of 180 most corrupt countries in the world. Indeed Nigeria is considered by sector experts as the most corrupt country in Africa with a major impact on its youthful population which is the 3rd largest in the worth after India and China. More than half of the population is still below the age of 18 years of age.
The high incidence of corruption, despite current policy pronouncements to tackle it affect the country in several ways including increasing the cost of doing business, and also depreciate sustainable growth, social well-being. Corruption has continued to create a cycle of frustration, anger and tension in the country as ordinary citizens are directly impacted.
Arising from the above, is the need for a genuine national consensus in Nigeria devoid of politics, devoid of partisanship and devoid of ethinicism or religion to fight corruption. We must, from our hearts and actions say “never again” to corruption as a key panacea to avoid what has happened 51years since after the civil war.
We were all witnesses to the recent events in the United States where it was once thought was the bastion of unshakeable democracy . The recent assault on the American Capitol on 6th January 2021 was therefore, a major dent on 245 years of relative political stability, founded on the existence of institutions of the states. These include Political Parties, the Legislature, the Presidency, the Judiciary, the Bureaucracy, the Military, Academia, media civil society and so on.
These institutions are the building blocks for the purpose of political and social order. They also create the standards, values and norms for government departments, other actors and individuals. In other words there institutions are the bedrock for proper administration and are the enabler’s of social harmony and protection of the rule of law and the common good of the society.
As we have seen since after those events, the secret of peace and order in the more developed democracies is the fact that such institutions have been allowed to evolve and develop over time. They have become the foundation to regulate various systems and form the basis for normative, cultural, psychological and other critical behavioral attitudes of the individuals and in by aggregation, the society.
So, despite the terrorist like assault on the American political set up, we noticed that various institutions were able to rise up to bring order within the shortest time.
If we are to build a Nigerian nation that will not take us back to the period of the civil war, institutions of governance in the country must be allowed to grow and stand. They may make mistakes and flounder at these initial stages of state building, but we must allow them to grow. The Nigerian elite must be willing and see the good to allow the various institutions to develop on their own and become the foundational structures towards a stable society. So even where situations occur like the civil war and its after-math, these institutions will, timeously, combine to ensure that peace and harmony are restored.

Fifty-one years is well into adulthood in the life of any individual, political or social institution. However for a nation, this may appear, rather, at a stage in infancy. This not-with-standing, it is enough time for Nigerian leaders to learn from the mistakes of other countries and from our experiences so far. Nations great and small are not normally built by angels or supernatural beings. Nations are built by individuals with the commitments to live together. Nigeria’s founding fathers, despite what many call Lord Luggard’s “forced union”, showed that instinct, appetite and determination to live together and build a new nation. As they negotiated for independence through the various constitutional processes, they could have insisted on going their separate ways. Rather, they did not do so, but decided to stay as one. As may recall, at the eve of independence in 1948, that is 22 years before 1960, India and Pakistan decided to part ways and the British facilitated that process for them. This has happened in several other cases.
However, Nigeria’s founding fathers father saw good reason to remain as one. Accordingly, from the 1914 Luggard Constitution to the 1922 Hugh Clifford Constitution, onto the 1946 Arthur Richards’s Constitution, to Ibadan Conference of 1951, which led to the John Macpherson Constitution 1951 and eventually the Lyttleton Constitution 1954, those who birthed the nation, remained resolute on staying together. They tolerated each other and they made spirited effort to understand each other and the differences between them. They decided to adopt the spirit of give and take and it was that character that finally led to the adoption of the 1960 Constitution and also the 1963 Constitution.
Sadly, the present constitutional order, a product of several years of military rule, with participa bytion of picked civilians, has deviated fundamentally from what the founding fathers negotiated studiously and agreed. Even more grievous and particularly perturbing is the fact that dispassionate efforts to bring back that warmness and mutual tolerance which prevailed at the time of our fathers are not only been resisted but censured by some with vehemence.
If we must avoid what happened in 1966 and between 1967 and 1970, the spirit of give and take must return to our body politics. The feelings of other parts of the country must be understood respected and taken into consideration and not regarded as irrelevant.
Agreed, that a strict return to 1960/63 Constitutions would be rather difficult. However, the calls for rigorous constitutional amendment or restructuring must be given needed attention and not dismissed as undeserving of consideration. After all, even the more advanced countries have gone through major constitutional reviews which include the United States – 27 amendments since 1787, France -24 amendments since 1958, India -104 amendments since 1950 and so on. This could happen in those countries due to the fact that their political elite have realized over the years, that State Building is not an end by itself but is a continuously refining process to accommodate all interest. The truth is that understanding the fears, pains and peculiarities of one another is a fundamental panacea for living together.
Once more, I thank you for inviting me to be part of this process and I hope, that we will learn from history and the pessimism, negativism and naysaying around us would be put behind us.

Thank you.

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