By Dele Momodu
While Nigerians mourn the demise of this formidable leader (Ojukwu), it is sad to note that some Nigerians have learnt no lessons from that tragic war.
Fellow Nigerians, there is no better time to talk about Nigerian unity than now. Unknown to many of us, the most beautiful girl in Nigeria is Unity and I wish to recommend that Ben Bruce and his Silverbird Group should consider her for a lifetime achievement award. The reason is simple and straight-forward. Unity has put us all to shame by refusing to die, against all known and unseen attacks.
On a serious note, I know many Nigerians secretly and publicly canvass for the break-up of the country. The agitation has been on for long. It is almost as old as the country itself. It is one of those miracles that Unity is still up and standing. By now one would have expected it to be long dead and buried. Only one man in Nigeria ever had the effrontery to carry out the threat to our beloved unity in concrete and comprehensive terms. He was no other than the one and only Ikemba Nnewi, Eze Ndigbo Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who joined his ancestors recently, and his ceremonial journey to eternity has already started.
The great man, depending on what side of the political divide you belong, had led a most fearsome war against Nigeria and made a spirited attempt to carve out a new Republic of Biafra. He and his band of warmongers nearly succeeded with their audacious move but gambled away the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters in the process. It was a most painful experience for the Igbo nation and the people of Nigeria in general. Had they succeeded, it is believed that the Republic of Biafra would have been as developed and influential as many Asian Tigers. That war was a spectacular demonstration of the extraordinary brilliance and resilience of the Igbo People. As sophisticated and explosive as the war was, the Igbos were neither easily defeated nor disgraced.
Ojukwu and many of his supporters paid a heavy toll for their rebellion and he in particular was declared a persona non grata in Nigeria. He escaped into exile and had to live as a refugee for many years outside the country. I was barely eleven years old when that war ended but the memories stick with me till this day. The propaganda then was to see him as a demon and plague to be avoided by all and sundry.
But time is a healer. And it heals most wounds. It took time, and a State pardon, to return Ojukwu to Nigeria. The process of rehabilitation was long and tortuous. When he eventually returned, Ojukwu came triumphantly and in style. But he cut the image of a hybrid figure: hero as villain or villain as hero. It was difficult to separate the two in the case of this silver-spoon kid who had attended the most famous schools in the world.
There were speculations that his acute frustrations with the Nigerian system sent him on the road to what turned out to be an expensive misadventure. Love him or hate him, he was a man of exceptional convictions, who was bold and courageous to pursue his dreams. I’m just reading a powerful essay on Ojukwu, written by Michael Effiong, in the current special edition of Ovation International:
“Dim Ojukwu was many men rolled into one… This was a man brought up as an aristocrat, with all the class and privileges of life, who became a rebel with a cause. .. He jettisoned his elitist and wealthy background … to become a people’s General.
“Ojukwu who was trained at the prestigious Oxford University exuded charm and charisma, his command of the English language was legendary, he spoke with the right accent and the tone of a War General…When he spoke, it was with a boom, he had such gift of the garb…
“Stories had it that it was because of Ojukwu’s mastery of English Language that General Yakubu Gowon, who was the then Head of State and against whom he fought the Nigerian Civil war decided to go back to school after he was overthrown – and made sure he obtained a Doctorate degree. Gowon’s motivation was that Ojukwu derisively used to refer to him as an illiterate in uniform.
“Though this is just in the realm of tales, it just shows the extent to which Ojukwu believed that good education and breeding was essential for human development.”
While Nigerians mourn the demise of this formidable leader, it is sad to note that some Nigerians have learnt no lessons from that tragic war. They are asking us to go through that unfortunate route again, 41 miserable years after the civil war ended. Their argument is that nothing has changed in Nigeria since then. They insist that the country is not different from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others. They are bitter and disillusioned about the way incompatible nationalities have been forced to live together. In reality, there are merits in their arguments. Unity is often promoted without genuine intentions. Federal Character is a means to sharing the National Cake amongst the ruling elites while the crumbs go to the common man.
On the other hand, breaking up the country is not as simple as ABC. The implications are far-reaching. There are those who believe, like me, that unity is our biggest asset. And that the respect Nigeria manages to get in the comity of nations is as a result of our numerical strength and not because of our oil or gas. Everywhere I have been, on all the continents, I found Nigerians in sizable numbers doing great things. Nigerians are brilliant and ambitious. They are unstoppable. We shine like a million stars in the firmament. This is why those on my side of the debate believe that the problem of Nigeria is not as intractable as it seems. If Nigerians are doing so well all over the world, we must search for the reasons behind our poor and non-performance at home. The problem has been narrowed down to Leadership. It is not that we lack the brains to think and dream big, or that we are the most corrupt race on earth. We just have not been able to democratically, or forcefully, produce leaders beyond borders.
Every race has the propensity to embrace bad manners and force the majority to carry the cross of the minority. Those who commit atrocious crimes are always few and far between, but they usually make us look bad and ugly. That is the tragedy of our nation where a few leaders have stigmatised us with poor governance. They are the ones fanning the embers of disunity and beating the tam-tam of war. Their political relevance, and qualification, is a certificate they obtained from the University of Ethnicity. It is their pride and prejudice. While serious countries of the world are advancing beyond the moon, our leaders are depressing us with their level of carelessness and recklessness. They seem totally unbothered about the march of mankind towards amazing breakthroughs. And unfortunately, we have allowed them to consign us to the dustbin of history as a result of our crass spinelessness and infinite capacity to absorb absolute rubbish.
We have continued to wobble, and fumble, from one mal-administration to the other. The stories are never different because we are a nation of citizens who are comfortable to rotate in our cycle of political rascality. Poverty and ignorance have largely conspired to keep us perpetually in bondage. And like victims of mass hypnotism, we have accepted our fate with uncommon docility. It would seem no one is willing to take any risk because they know how vicious the Nigerian Mafia is, and can be. Nothing is beyond them. This has intimidated most people into becoming voluntary accomplices to this second slavery.
The tradition is for the ethnic groups to wait patiently for their turns even when it is obvious that nothing rewarding would ever come to their communities. If anything, only the leader, his family and cronies would benefit from such appointments. If you doubt my thesis, please, look around you and confirm if the communities that produced powerful leaders in Nigeria have developed beyond the squalid state they were before their distinguished son or daughter became someone of importance. Your answer is likely to be a resounding No! Not one kilometre of road would be built or rehabilitated. And the poor would remain poorer at the end of the day.
What then is the essence of the whole hocus-pocus about attaining power? The strategy is simple. It gives the jingoists access to power and stupendous wealth beyond comprehension. They would do anything and everything to secure their turn in order to partake in the orgy of national waste. A nation that everyone knows is broke and almost comatose continues to live like wealthy nations, and in apparent self-denial. What befuddles me is the inability of our people to see beyond this primitive accumulation of wealth and emulate world figures that left their countries better than they met it.
The new oppressors go all out to instigate the government against those who built institutions and big money before them. And with their newly-acquired power and influence, they will malign their rivals and competitors in business. They would seek government support to come through the backdoor to take over other people’s hard-work of many years. Such people are the ones that would lobby for the liberalisation of oil companies, banks and telecoms sector. They wait till other people have paid the supreme price of building business empires and stroll in to reap where they did not so.
We must get wiser as a people and resist the temptations of getting used by those pretending to serve our interests. Many investors I know are getting jittery of approaching Nigeria because we don’t honour agreements. Every new government tries to humiliate the past government, and totally dismantle old structures. Many companies that came here when no one wanted to come are being threatened with a take-over if they refuse to sell off their shares. Please tell me who are those who have bottomless pockets to buy those companies if not our politicians and their proxies? The monies that they can no longer hide abroad are now hidden at home by buying up and destroying those companies.
Unity has been nailed to the cross in Nigeria. We must plead with our leaders not to inflame this country further. Many of us just want to live at peace with fellow Nigerians. We are tired of people dividing us for selfish reasons. Those who have benefitted the most from a unified Nigeria are the ones angling for its demise because things are not working the way they want. I’m sure they are in the minority and must learn to co-exist with other citizens. Husbands and wives fight every day, but it is no excuse for divorce. We must consider so many things that bind us together and learn to be tolerant.
If a man as brilliant as Ojukwu failed to break up Nigeria, it is not likely that it would happen through the crude methods currently on display.