If Buhari Did Not Topple Shagari Dec ‘83, Will There Be Cause To Say Never Again Today?

If Buhari Did Not Topple Shagari Dec ‘83, Will There Be Cause To Say Never Again Today?

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By Chima Nwafo

The series of activities that marked the Never Again Conference has come and gone. But not completely, as the organizers said that it will be a one-year programme. It commemorated the 50th anniversary of the hateful Nigeria-Biafra conflict or the Nigerian Civil War or as Prof Wole Soyinka chose to call it: The Nigerian Tragedy, being opposed to the word Biafra. But in his well-articulated history-laden keynote address, after asking rhetorically – When is a nation? – which interspersed his delivery, he summed up by saying that Nigeria has not learned any lesson from the civil war.

That is precisely the purpose of the memorial which some believe ought to have come earlier. In the words of Maj-Gen Abel Obi Umahi (retd), President-General of Igbo Foundation, Lagos: “ Looking around us today, those who were old enough before the war started and those who learnt from the history books, may have discovered that some of the remote and immediate causes of the civil war have persisted and have even become more frightening. Mutual suspicion continues to serve as a tool used by politicians to further divide us; hence, setting us towards the path of eternal hate and conflict. Nigeria has never been riddled by mutual suspicion and disunity as we have today. Besides, life is cheap and threats of insecurity can almost be touched. We cannot afford to allow this to continue. 

“Every nation that desires never to repeat mistakes of the past must expose its generations to the history of their country. To do otherwise is suicidal.”  An educated and globally exposed army commander, Umahi regretted that History is no longer taught in Nigerian schools, thereby denying young ones the opportunity of learning what transpired during the 30-month civil war.

How then can such an ill-informed generation of youthful Nigerians understand the mood of the nation?

It’s pretty difficult for them to appreciate that this nation is now on a tinder box. As the Coordinator of Nzuko Umunna, Ngozi Joseph Odumuko reasoned:

“This event is in appreciation of the unbreakable link between healing from the effects of the war and our moving forward as a nation. Fifty years after the civil war, there is a need for a national reflection that will herald a new chapter in the nation’s history. Many Nigerians believe, perhaps through observation of unfolding political and economic activities that the Igbo are yet to be fully reintegrated in the real sense, 50 years after the war….. Let’s appreciate our diversity and eschew hatred, discrimination, mutual suspicion, etc., and emphasise the things that bind us together rather than our differences. I call on all to forgive and heal, but healing and forgiveness can only be achieved through justice, fairness and peace.”

A youthful university teacher in 1967, Prof. Banji Akintoye, current Leader of the Yoruba Nation Worldwide warned that the state of affairs in the country today is exactly the political mood in the mid-1960s when the civil strife began. With the benefit of hindsight, he said that the country is today governed by a minority interest, while the voices of the majority register protests which are often disrespected and ignored, and that the state of the law is patently being subsumed with seriously damaging effects on human rights. This, he averred, give the peoples of the Middle-Belt and Southerners the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered people.

And you wonder how Gen Yakubu Gowon would have reacted to this if he had been physically present at the event, where he sent a written speech and video recording. Against the foregoing backdrop of the renowned historian’s learned observations of the mood of the nation today, let’s see what Gen Gowon pledged in his post-war speech which he reproduced in his message.

His words: “We guarantee the security of life and property of all citizens in every part of Nigeria, and EQUALITY IN POLITICAL RIGHTS (emphasis mine)… We should all exercise civic restraint and use our freedom, taking into full account the legitimate rights and needs of the other man. There is no question of SECOND-CLASS CITIZENSHIP in Nigeria. All energies will now be bent on the task of Reintegration, Reconciliation and Reconstruction. We mourn the dead heroes. We thank God for sparing us to see this glorious dawn of National Reconciliation.”

Much as the three Rs recommended by the then head of the military government was not officially implemented even during the five years of his post-war administration and the succeeding Murtila/Obasanjo regime, the truth was that the socio-political and economic milieu at the time was not as murky and oppressive as it is today. The Igbo being an adventurous and hard-working lot, they took advantage of the peaceful atmosphere to self-rehabilitate their communities. And given the quality of political leaders at the time, there was a measure of reasonable development in the region.

This aspect was almost completely lost as everyone focused on 50 years after, forgetting the relatively friendly, secure and peaceful atmosphere that existed ten years after the war. Somehow, Pro Pat Utomi, in his prognostication necessarily recalled his stint at the Presidency during the Second Republic. Incidentally, Prof Yima Sen, whose father was Member of Parliament in the First Republic under the platform of the defunct United Middle-belt Congress (UMBC), also served under the Shagari government. He and Utomi were on the same page on the political state of affairs at the time. The civil war was almost a forgotten campaign at the time. Both agreed on the persona of President Aliyu Shehu Shagari as the first Executive President of Nigeria operating our version of the borrowed US presidential system. Utomi recalled the Shagari that the Nigerian press never captured: A highly disciplined and detribalized Nigerian; a chain smoker, who would never smoke in his office out of respect for the institution. Under his able and non-sectional leadership, the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had worked out a programme of the handover of power to the vice-president Dr Alex Ekwueme in 1987. That was after Shagari’s second term which would have run from October 1983 to 1987.

But as if from the blues, in the midnight of December 31, 1983, just three months into the second term, Gen Muhammadu Buhari struck, and toppled President Shagari’s administration. Nigerians witnessed hardship under a most tyrannical regime that came on a revenge mission, as exemplified by the bitter experience of Vera Ifudu of NTA who broke the N2.8 billion scandal and The Guardian’s conviction on a head-or-tail you lose Decree 4 of 1984. Perhaps, it was more important, a mission of political reversal as confirmed by happenings on the political arena since 2015. A comparison of the reasons for the 1983 coup and Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s rationale for overthrowing GMB reveals a distinction without a difference; that they were all alibis with concealed political motives. Honest Nigerians who witnessed the events of January 1984 to August 1985 are not at all surprised at what is happening in the country’s political stratosphere today.

Mr. Nwafo

Although absent at the Never Again Conference, in a live programme on Channels TV,  former Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) has expressed regrets that the Nigeria he is seeing today falls short of his expectations and that of all those who paid the supreme price for the country to remain one indivisible entity.

Babangida said nobody would like to see Nigeria go through another civil war hence those in a leadership position should be conscious of their actions and inactions to avoid a repeat of certain build-ups that led to the breakdown of law and order that culminated into the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. Now that Nigerians have advanced in both age and political wisdom, Babangida challenged leaders to avoid the mistakes of the past by ensuring that policies that would not include every segment of the country were avoided or discarded for peace to reign.

This, in a way, tallies with the brief remarks of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South, that he came to the Never Again Conference to see how the people feel and their reactions about the war so that he can convey the sentiments to the Red Chamber and those who believe they can sit in their offices and tell everybody what to do.

*Nwafo, Consulting Editor News Express, can be reached on: chi_dafo@yahoo.com;+2348029334754.

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