Let me begin by saying that I had no intention of writing this book so early on in my life. This was supposed to be one of my final works. The ruminations and ramblings of an old man if you will. Then again, I never knew things would get bad this quickly. The world around me is tearing itself to pieces as I write this and so it appears that the best time to set my thoughts on paper is now.
I am a thirty-year-old Nigerian, living in Lagos, Nigeria. The country is deep in a recession – even though the government and news agencies claim we are out of it. The news and reality don’t always travel in parallel lines. Even rarer is a chance that both meet at a convergence point. This is especially true in Nigeria. The country’s economy officially entered a recession, on the 31st of August 2016. Truth is, the economy had been receding for far longer than that – a victim of the lies, manipulations, and thievery of Nigeria’s leaders, born of a people no less guilty of the murderous blows that have sent this country on its march towards certain death.
History has a way of repeating itself.
A thought that creeps into my mind as I write this. The recession has left many frustrated and angry. Anger is a common emotion in Nigeria. Just walk down the streets and look at the faces of the people. Everyone is angry at something… at everything. At each other. It was only a matter of time before the ethnic groups that make up this loosely sewn up country, turned that anger on each other. That moment came on the 6th of June, 2017, when Northern youth organizations asked the Igbo people to leave the northern region of the country, giving them an ultimatum of October 1 – ironically the date of our independence and simultaneously the beginning of our lies and deceit.
Why has history repeated itself you ask? This announcement comes one month shy of the 50th anniversary – if you want to call it that – of the start of the Biafran war. Talk about irony. I remember growing up and watching NTA. There were so many unity songs playing on the T.V. station then. There still are. All elements of the great façade. Much like the dormant hatred and racism that has been ignited by a wave of Trumpism in the United States, our inter-ethnic hatred for each other has been ignited by a receding economy that has left us scraping from the remains of an inheritance stolen from us all. Our beloved country was never meant to be. We are all offspring of enslaved African people living in a region that once existed under the name, Royal Niger Company Territories. Our… amalgamation, no choice or action of ours. Our name – Nigeria? Coined by the love interest of the Governor General, Frederick Lugard.
Yet we had choices. Make our country so created by our lords and masters of the time work, re-divide it, or lie to each other. Looking at history, it is safe to say we picked the second and third choices. Unity? The only thing every major tribe in this country has craved is power. That crave for power has replicated itself like an abhorrent virus, spreading through every fabric of our nation’s system – politics, sport, healthcare. You name it and you’ll find the craving there. It was this lust for power that led to some of our founding fathers’ grievous mistakes. Do understand that founding fathers in this context extends to the military officers who murdered some of these leaders in cold blood and worse still, continued corrupt and selfish trends in their wake.
I do implore you to read my message without the veil or bias of the tribal mind. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello are notable examples of leaders who misinterpreted the concept of unity or didn’t want it at all. Both openly expressed fear and resentment of southern Nigeria. Balewa also expressed a pessimistic attitude towards unity and though that perspective changed later, do not be fooled into thinking the entire northern or southern protectorates had their perspectives changed as well. All parties were fuelled by an innate desire to conquer.
If we must stay together, I must rule, pillage and plunder.
The coup of 1960 was wrong and if the participating Army officers were driven by an accurate sense of our leaders’ corruption, then those leaders were also wrong. However, the massacre of innocent Igbos residing in the north – men, women, and children who had nothing to do with the coup – was downright evil. Unity you say. What unity? The saying goes that two wrongs don’t make a right and in this case, there were more than two wrongs. You wrong each other enough and you only lead yourselves down a path to anarchy and destruction. I introduce you to the Biafran war. I do not presume to give you a history lesson but to chart a veritable path to any future other than the ones you and I face, we must honestly dissect and learn from our past. The history of this country has been marred by selfish and poor choices. I have heard the advocacy of others who lean on the possible choice of the Biafran nation to attain sovereignty and independence by way of a referendum. I do see the strong reason behind this train of thought and I somewhat agree with it. However, blood had been spilled and the region encompassing Biafra, also contained what would become the nation’s ‘gold’. Oil. This was never going to be a peaceful nation formation.
So here we are… fifty years on, and lightning appears poised to strike twice. Part of the reason is that we have refused to let go of our inter-tribal hate or to heal old wounds. The Biafran war officially ended in 1970, but like most things Nigerian, that too is a lie. If there was truly a unity cause within our leader’s hearts, there would never have been a Biafran cause. The Hausas would never have labeled the 1966 coup an “Igbo coup.” That would be like the Americans labeling the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth a Maryland assassination or JFK’s a Texan assassination, simply because these men came from both places respectively. They would have seen it as a Nigerian coup – after all, not all conspirators were Igbo and there were Igbo casualties that horrid day. Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello also got it wrong by suggesting that unity was the goal of the British. Control was. Control could only be established by amalgamation. Why did they support the Republic of Nigeria? Why not broker peace? Were the Biafrans not Nigerians? Make no mistake, for I blame both the Igbos and the Hausas for this. You know the one common trait to all pretenses? They eventually come to an end.
For a nation to succeed, nationalistic loyalty and pride must exceed and supersede tribal allegiances, every time. Diversity must be celebrated, not scoffed at. Sincere apologies must be made not just in words, but in action. If we are not ready to do this – and it does not seem like we are – then a peaceful vacation of the nation by people must be agreed upon.
One way or another, we will eventually reach a point where true unity is demanded or true separation.