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Civil war has not united Nigeria, but a political settlement will

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Civil war

By Olu Fasan

RECENTLY, Nigeria marked the 51st anniversary of the end of its civil war, from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970. Too often, retired generals tell us they fought the war to secure Nigeria’s ‘unity’. But, in truth, all they did was to stop, with lethal force, a constituent unit – the East – from leaving the corporate entity called Nigeria.

The war did not create any sense of unity. This is not to belittle the sacrifices of the military. More than 100,000 soldiers died in the civil war, and they are rightly honoured every year on the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. But my point is that civil wars don’t unite nations, only negotiated and enduring political settlements do!

Throughout history, civil wars are usually followed by negotiated political settlements. The English had to negotiate a political settlement after their civil war, as did the Americans, as did many other countries that fought a civil war.

Even major conflicts, such as the decades of apartheid in South Africa and the decades of conflict – known as The Troubles – in Northern Ireland, were eventually resolved through negotiated political settlements.

But the Nigerian civil war ended with the defeat and surrender of the Igbo, without a post-war negotiated political settlement. Of course, there were attempts at reconstruction and reconciliation, but there was no attempt to learn real lessons from the war, to excavate the historical trouble spots, and to reorganise Nigeria in order to make it workable as a multi-ethnic country.

As a result, the issues that caused the civil war linger on. Today, over 50 years after the civil war, Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities co-exist in entrenched mutual suspicion and hostility; they eye one another with utter incomprehension and distrust. Put simply, the civil war hasn’t engendered nationhood. Rather, Nigeria remains a disunited country, an utterly polarised state, with deep-rooted schismatic tendencies!

Consider the events of recent days. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State gave violent Fulani herdsmen a seven-day ultimatum to leave the state, and a Yoruba activist Sunday Igboho gave the herdsmen an ultimatum to leave Oyo State, leading to clashes between Fulani and Yoruba in the state.

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In response, the prominent Northern nationalist group, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, threatened that “there may be counter-attacks in the North and the country will be up in flames”. Evoking the spectre of war, the ACF said: “We recall that the civil war started with attacks and counter-attacks like these”, adding: “The government must be proactive and stop history from repeating itself.”

So, more than 50 years after a devastating civil war, Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities still can’t live peaceably together but continue to beat the drums of war. More than 50 years after the civil war, Nigeria still has a divisive government in which a Fulani president blatantly defends the rights of Fulani herdsmen to live in Yoruba states but ignores the rights of the Yoruba to defend themselves against the herders’ atrocities, when the same government has failed woefully to guarantee the security of the people and their communities?

The Presidency was utterly wrong to criticise Governor Akeredolu’s quit notice on the Fulani herdsmen when, despite being the chief security officer of his state, he can’t stop the herders’ appalling atrocities. In Nigeria’s strange federalism, state governors have no control over security apparatus and resources to protect lives and property in their states.

Humiliatingly, South West governors were corralled by the Presidency to meet leaders of Miyetti Allah, the herdsmen’s cantankerous and war-mongering association. Elsewhere, they would be met by government officials or, at most, commissioners, not governors!

Furthermore, it’s false equivalence to compare marauding herdsmen to innocent citizens who, without state protection, have to defend themselves against their atrocities. It’s like treating fascist and anti-fascist groups alike. It is utterly wrong, and the Buhari government should stop siding with and defending killer herdsmen against their victims!

But here’s the broader point: all is not well with Nigeria. Despite a catastrophic civil war that took the lives of over 100,000 soldiers and over 500,000 civilians, there is still not a veneer, not a scintilla, of unity in this country. And the primary reason is because Nigeria doesn’t have a political settlement that addresses the structural and systemic problems that caused the civil war, and continue to undermine the country’s unity and progress.

The UK Department for International Department, DfID, now part of the Foreign Office, said in one report: “Political settlement is central to all development”, adding that “political settlements explain the difference in performance between countries with apparently similar endowments and disadvantages.” In other words, the country with a political settlement will be more stable politically and perform better economically and socially.

So, what is a political settlement? Well, it is a negotiated political and constitutional pact that addresses how people in a multi-ethnic nation can live peaceably together, how power can be organised and exercised to generate political stability and how governance can be structured and conducted to engender progress and economic prosperity. Sadly, with overcentralised governance, structural imbalance and systemic dysfunction, Nigeria, as currently organised, lacks the conditions for unity, stability and progress.

Recently, at the Daily Trust’s dialogue on restructuring, Professor Attahiru Jega, former chairman of INEC, said that Nigeria has the worst model of federalism in the world, adding: “Nigeria is one of the worst models of political accommodation of diversities, power-sharing and resource-sharing.” Any wonder why Nigeria is also one of the world’s most disunited countries?

Truth is, Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities do not intrinsically hate each other, but the political structure is skewed in favour of one ethnic group and against the others. That creates a deep sense of unfairness, and fear of ethnic domination, that breed tensions and disunity.

Nigeria must create the conditions for inclusion, for peaceful multi-national co-existence and unity. The civil war hasn’t engendered that, but a negotiated political settlement will. It’s time to negotiate and build a new Nigeria!

Vanguard News Nigeria

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