By Onochie Anibeze
Permit a personal dimension to this prologue. There were trenches in many neighbourhoods and we all rushed into them and stayed there all day to avoid air raids. Bombings were not restricted to the battle fronts or military targets. Civilians were even bombed most. The fighter jets came so low that we saw some of the pilots and saw the jets drop bombs that killed, maimed people and destroyed houses. If we were not in the trenches we were always outside, largely to alert parents and other older people on sighting the jets.
“Mama, mama, fa biago, fa biago (mama, they have come, they have come). Thus we shouted as we ran into the trenches. The older ones all rushed out from the houses or huts and stampeded into the trenches or took cover under trees. Staying inside your home was dangerous. Each air raid left in its wake dozens of deaths and destruction. There were air and land raids.
And so were mass movements, most times as refugees, from the ruined towns and villages to safer places that shortly became targets too.
I later joined the army but not as a fighter; I was just a kid. I joined the army to serve a military officer. I can now remember only his first name, Sunday. Joining them meant staying in an army camp near the battle front. Gunshots and explosions were so constant they became part of life and nothing one dreaded anymore. I was told Sunday was a great soldier and very fierce in the battle fronts.
He once told me of how he was so engrossed shooting that he didn’t realize when his colleagues retreated. His escape from the advancing troops was a miracle. In the last battle he fought before the war ended he never returned. I remained in the army camp waiting for him but it was clear he had been consumed. By the time my brother, Thomas, came to rescue me from the camp the war had just ended. I lost Sunday, my master.
More sadly, I lost my father, Sylvester Chidobu Anibeze who was actually killed during the pogroms in the North, one of the immediate factors that led to the civil war. The war lasted three years and at the end of it reports had it that more than two million people had been killed.
Many more millions became victims as John Pepper Clark affirmed in his poem on the war, THE CASUALTIES. He wrote: “The casualties are not only those who are dead, they are well out of it.” The dead are gone and no more in pains but the bereaved are still in pains till date, so are the maimed. Some of those who suffered from the war in one way or the other are still hurting. So, we are all casualties of the war. I agree with the poet.
There are many accounts of the Nigerian Civil War, a watershed in Nigeria’s history.
I have recalled this little part of my whole experience in this prologue for our special publication on this day of our Independence Anniversary for some reasons but largely to underscore the tragedy that is war and the need for us to eschew, collectively, any rancour, bitterness that could engender violence or any form of civil unrest that could lead to another war.
We must be mindful of decisions we make or the ones we fail to make that could plunge the country into another war. Unfortunately, many of the things that led to that war still persist in our country 46 years after that horrible experience. Although a mere child at the time I experienced the Nigerian crisis that rendered me fatherless as early as six. I will never want to see another war in Nigeria. It is partly why I have never supported those spoiling for war to break away from Nigeria.
However, having travelled from Enugu to Anambra for the interview with Dr Alex Ekwueme, the clearer picture of why the Igbo are agitating against marginalisation dawned on me. Enugu-Onitsha federal road could pass for the worst road in Nigeria. And my findings are that Enugu-Port Harcourt, another federal road is terrible. It is so in many South Eastern areas.
I don’t know if I will be able to describe what I saw. In my own simple way, those places appear cut off from Nigeria. My immediate question was “why were the Igbo so brazenly partisan for the administration of Goodluck Jonathan? No roads, no federal projects. The Aba power plant was consumed by politics and abandoned. Even a little thing like the Federal Road Safety Corps training camp in Enugu has been abandoned. What do you make of a people in a federation who don’t feel federal presence?
Note that political appointments could empower friends of the President, making them billionaires as we have had in the past but they never develop communities. That’s why I don’t raise an eyebrow when people lament lopsided political appointments. I prefer projects that will create jobs and develop communities. The east has been marginalised in this sense especially during the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations.
It is even worse when you travel in Niger Delta areas, the region that produces Nigeria’s only or is it major product, crude oil. The neglect of the Niger Delta is not only unfair but also criminal and everything should be done to address their agitations. Some argue that poverty led to the insurgency called Boko Haram in the North East. It is partly true and should be addressed too.
There are agitations from many parts of the country and it will pay government not to delay in responding to the issues. The agitation for Biafra is not about IPOB leader, Ndubuisi Kanu. It is largely fulled by the neglect the people have suffered over the years for which you may not blame the Buhari administration. But there appears to be no sign or effort to address the problem. And that’s why IPOB and MASSOB are winning the sympathy of some of the people. It will pay the government to find this information useful.
The scars of the Nigerian crisis and the eventual war are still there. Our country of huge natural resources has been run down by successive governments and no one can say this is the Nigeria of our dream, the dream of our forefathers and the hope of future generations. It is against this background that we tried to reach out to Nigerian statesmen, especially the few remaining nationalists to speak on this 56th anniversary.
Dr Alex Ekwueme, renowned scholar, statesman and Second Republic Vice President was there at the Race Course when the Union Jack was lowered and he appeared emotional when he told us that what we have now as Nigeria couldn’t be the dream that flashed through their minds that October 1, 1960.
We went to interview him at his Okoh home in Anambra, thanks to Chief Ben Ezeibe, his long-time associate and the man who nurtured me in the politics of tennis and its reporting. At 83, Ekwueme still plays tennis. He told us how Nigeria derailed, spoke on life in prison after the 1983 military coup that threw up Muhammadu Buhari as Military Head of State, the Peoples Democratic Party which he played a major role in forming, the current economic recession and his suggestions on the way out for Nigeria. It is not a story for one day and we will continue it next week.
Mbazulike Amaechi, one of the surviving nationalists says the atmosphere in Nigeria now is not friendly and that he would not like to see Nigeria fight another war. His plea was that “if we must part, let’s do so in peace because we will still need each other as neighboring countries.
Not many Nigerians say nice things about Sani Abacha, the late military dictator.
Paul Unongo, over 80 years now differs and says Abacha would have made Nigeria a better country structurally if he lived. His is also another refreshingly different story. Tanko Yakassai, 90, also spoke with us and wants those clamouring for the restructuring of Nigeria to convince him on how that will make Nigeria a better place.
- Richard Akinjide, another great nationalist says Nigeria will never break up but repeatedly blames one thing for Nigeria’s woes. He says it is “our biggest mistake”. Read his interview to find out his own perspective
- Pat Utomi, astute political economist says that the political leadership in Nigeria is so naïve to realise that they have done more to bring Nigeria to the brink of disintegration just by their own daily actions and failure to lead.
- He gives his recipe on the path to Nigeria’s recovery and says “I don’t care whether it is through a revolution that Nigeria will get better because I have lived for too long, embarrassed by the passport I carry about”. His interview is a must read. Professor Ango Abdullahi, always blunt. Reduce recurrent expenditure by sacking workers or cut salaries and allowances by half and Nigeria could be on the way to recovery, he says.
Kalu Idika Kalu was in the World Bank team that mapped out strategy for Asia, South Korea in particular. He is a global intellectual. He says what we have now in Nigeria is total breakdown of the economy and not recession. His is another interesting story on the way forward for Nigeria.
We have a brief story on the major events from October 1, 1960 to 2016 to refresh your memories. We have recalled some of the quotes of the nationalists and past efforts to restructure Nigeria. We have packaged this special edition for your Independence Anniversary. Enjoy it. Happy Independence Day.