By Odoh Michael
I decided to write on this after reading the writeup of Barnaby Philips of Aljazeera news network on this topic.
Are Nigerians afraid of their own history? And can an honest appraisal of the past help create greater consensus about the present? At a time like this, when terrible violence continues in Northeast Nigeria, this seems a question worth asking.
As a kid growing up in Nigeria some years ago, I only knew that Nigeria fought a bitter civil war with the Igbos and this was caused by the selfish desires of Gowon and Ojukwu. There seemed to be remarkably little residual bitterness around such a cataclysmic event. Nigerians for me are good at moving on and not allowing their memories to fester.
But later after much research, I have come to know the true causes of the war and I know that having learnt from their mistakes, even in my house I will implement policies that favours everyone to a certain extent so that no one will feel neglected in my house if not, war will arise. For example, although I wrote a little piece on the 43th anniversary of Biafra’s surrender that was never published, I recall that the passing of this date attracted hardly any attention in the Nigerian press.
Later, I grew to worry that the truth is less flattering – that Nigerians are very adept at sweeping the past under the carpet, and thereby fail to confront the uncomfortable questions about their country that an examination of the Biafra War, and other more localized conflicts, inevitably raises. As I read Philips Barnaby’s article on this topic and the conflicts he mentioned, the suspicion grew within me and I started to remember all those conflicts during my childhood days. For example, and purely off the top of my head, I can remember my dad sitting in our living room and feeling uncomfortable because of my relatives in other parts of country where there was unrest. I remember my uncle telling stories of ethnic and/or religious mob attacks and killings in Lagos, in nearby Sagamu and the retaliatory violence in Kano that followed, as well as in Warri down in the Niger Delta, and in Anambra in the East.
In February 2000, there were the ‘Sharia riots’ in Kaduna that are believed to have left thousands of people dead (as ever, in Nigeria, casualty figures are almost impossible to come by), and which erupted again in May of that year, with perhaps hundreds more deaths. Now I wonder, who remembers all of this? The families and communities involved, obviously, but in the wake of any of these atrocities was there a concerted effort by the authorities to bring the killers to justice?
Do any of the bereaved have a sense 17 years on that justice was done? I don’t know. All I do know is that in the years since 2000 Nigeria, ethnic and religious massacres have continued in Plateau State again and again, in Kaduna and in Kano. And then there is Boko Haram and everything it’s done, not to mention the excesses of the security forces tasked with its destruction. Of course, remembrance will not solve all the problems but it will help in providing some solutions.
Every September 11, since the attack on the World Trade Center on this date in 2001, the whole world’s attention is turned to America for the remembrance of those that died during this attack. Memorial services are held for them, flowers are laid down for them, and their names are read out. All these is helping to remind the American society of the risk they face of being attacked any time because of the role they play in the world and at such should be always prepared to counter such threats.
All around the world, memorials are held on a special day, monuments built for all those that died in service to their nation or died due to one violence or the other in the nation as was seen the other day during the remembrance of the Rwandan genocide. This has helped the Rwandan society to gradually overcome ethnic hatred because the consequences from such is very bad.
That seems a useful lesson, for all of us Nigerians. History has to be taught to the younger generation about Nigeria and monuments should be built in memory of those that died from ethnic crisis in Nigeria beginning from the civil war to this present Boko Haram crisis. I came across a story some time ago of a young lieutenant who died a month to his wedding, Lt. Leo Kyom. Many other soldiers and officers have been killed in service to their nation and nothing has been done to remember them, neither are their families compensated adequately.
These young men are the true heroes of Nigeria’s unity and as such should be remembered forever in the history of Nigeria. Time has come for the present government in Nigeria to look into this. This can help in solving some problems because we cannot move into the future without learning from the mistakes of the past.
The younger generations should be taught about the history of Nigeria so that when it is time for them to take over the reins of this country, they will not make the same mistakes our founding fathers made.
The media has a role to play on this.
Odoh Michael can be reached via: Odohmike2000@yahoo.com
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