Fifty years after the commencement of the Nigerian-Biafran war that reportedly claimed over three million lives, prominent Nigerians yesterday lamented that the country is still threatened by disunity and hate campaigns.
Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and former president Olusegun Obasanjo warned that allowing the situation to persist would put the country in a more precarious situation.
The duo spoke at a conference to mark the 50 years of the civil war organised by the Yar’Adua Foundation in Abuja.
The theme was: “Memory and nation building: Biafra 50 years after.” The civil war raged for 30 months between 1967 and 1970.
Agreeing that some happenings in the nations had left some people frustrated, Osinbajo said the solution to such situation was not to engage in hate campaign, agitation for self autonomy and actions that would not unite Nigeria.
“I fully believe that Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreement are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognise and acknowledge that necessity. And today’s event is along those lines – an opportunity not merely to commemorate the past but also to dissect and debate it, ask ourselves tough questions about the path that has led us here, and how we might transform yesterday’s actions into tomorrow’s wisdom.
“Some say secession is the answer to charges of marginalisation. Some say Nigeria is colonial contraption, and that we should be independent ethnic nationalities. This is what forms the call for Biafra which is sometimes vitriolic.”
He insisted that Nigerians had a lot to gain in remaining in unity.
“We are greater together than apart. Instead of trying to flee every time we face frustrations, it is best for us to come together to build the nation.
“As we reflect on this event today we must ask ourselves the same question that many who have fought or been victims in civil wars, wars between brothers and sisters, ask in moments of reflection….what if we had spent all the resources, time and sacrifice we put into the war, into trying to forge unity? What if we had decided not to seek to avenge a wrong done to us? What if we had chosen to overcome evil with good? The truth is that spilling of blood in dispute is hardly ever worth the losses. Of the fallouts of bitter wars is the anger that can so easily be rekindled by those who for good or ill want to resuscitate the fire.
“Today, some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed. They say that secession is the answer to the charges of marginalisation. They argue that separation from the Nigerian-State will ultimately result in successful smaller states. They argue eloquently. I might add that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure. This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic, and has sometimes degenerated into fatal violence. Brothers and sisters, permit me to differ and to suggest that we’re greater together than apart.
“No country is perfect; around the world we have seen and continue to see expressions of intra-national discontent. Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a “mere geographical expression” originally applied to Italy. It was the German statesman Klemens von Metternich who dismissively summed up Italy as a mere geographical expression exactly a century before Nigeria came into being as a country. From Spain to Belgium to the United Kingdom and even the United States of America, you will find many today who will venture to make similar arguments about their countries. But they have remained together.
He cautioned against the use of the media and the social media to propagate hate.
Former president Obasanjo who was the special guest of honour argued that those in the forefront of agitation for Biafra were young people who knew nothing about the war. He urged Nigerians to learn vital lessons from the war,
“Some of the people agitating for Biafra today were not even born then. They don’t know what it entails,” he contended.
He, however, advised against clamping down on the agitators
“I think we should even appeal to those saying they want to go, we should not tell them to go, we should make them understand that there is enough cake to share. We should massage Nigeria just like in a love relationship.”
He counseled that everything must be done to guide the country out of the current situation where some people believe that the plausible option to their condition was to secede from the nation.
“I have maintained that the young officers who struck in 1966 were naive but there were some element of nationalism in some of them. Be that as it may, it set us back.”
He said the war showed the bad side of the country.
“The language used in the war did not help matters; the people on the Biafra side called us vandals and we called them rebels. We thought we would end the war in three months, but it took us 30 months, and the federal side nearly lost it. Civil war is more difficult than fighting in a foreign land because we are fighting to unite.”
Ohanaeze President, Nnia Nwodo lamented that the South East was yet to be accepted into the country years after the war ended
He said Ndigbo was not interested in fighting another war but noted that there was need to restructure the country and engage Nigerians in meaningful discussion on how to chart a new path for the country.
“We have shed enough blood without producing corresponding political results. Fifty years after Biafra, the time is now overripe for a fresh approach. We must immediately commence discussions and fruitful negotiations about our political future. In the era of assymetrical warfare, war is no more an easy option for states. Therefore, we must negotiate our way out of a sense of national despair to a new national consensus that unlocks our national possibilities.”
Eminent Nigerians at the conference chaired by elder statesman, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, included Director, Lagos Business School, Prof. Pat Utomi, former minister of education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, rights activist, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu and former minister of state for foreign affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia.