Jan 15: Still searching for closure - Lambaba Media



Saturday, January 14, 2023

Jan 15: Still searching for closure


Nigeria has had more than 50 years to bring closure to the Nigerian Civil War. But eight heads of state/presidents later, not only has a closure remained far-fetched, the crisis of nationhood faced by the country has become exacerbated, if not intractable. Nine constitutions have been deployed to the search for nation-building, stability and order – seven between 1914 and 1963, and essentially two since then (1979 and 1999) – to no avail. The first seven were undone by the January 1966 coup, whose anniversary, like the end of the war in January 1970, is marked today. And the last two constitutions have been inspired and shredded by borrowing from other climes as well as ignorance resulting from wrong diagnosis of the Nigerian condition and even wronger prognostications.

Had a closure been brought to the Biafra War, both the remote and immediate causes of the war would have been dealt with in a way that would enable the country build on solid foundation.

 The 1966 seemingly one-sided Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu-led coup and the inexpertly drafted January 4-5, 1967 Aburi Accord constituted the immediate causes of the war. Both raised fundamental issues about the politics and administration of the country, but no leadership since the war has grasped their significance, not to talk of holistically addressing them. The consequence was the July 1967-January 1970 war that followed. Sadly, and more deeply reflecting the failure of leadership since 1060 till today, no Nigerian leader has managed to avoid the bitterness and vengefulness, not to say the triumphalism, that have made a lasting solution difficult to attain.

If the immediate causes of the war were difficult to grapple with or understand, the remote causes have proved even more inaccessible to the unperceptive and emotive leadership the country has been saddled with for decades after the war. Some of the remote causes could be gleaned from the seven constitutions enacted since 1914, but many more of the causes were and still remain firmly located in the decisions of the 1884 Berlin Conference and policies and practices of colonial rule, two grave historical events improperly and imperially engrafted into the fabric of the new nation in 1914 and through the incrementally tinkered pre-independence constitutions. From Lugard Constitution to Clifford Constitution, and from Richards to Macpherson and to Lyttleton, and then from the Independence Constitution to the Republican Constitution, there was only a token admission of the disparateness of the Nigerian people, their different stages of civilisation, and their almost parallel worldview.

Yet the little concessions to some of the finer principles of federalism that could make a disparate people coexist, such as were innovatively enacted with the Lyttleton Constitution and reinforced thereafter, were summarily and ignorantly wiped out by the 1966 coup and counter-coup, both of which enthroned and entrenched unitarism. Worse, both the contentious Aburi Accord and its dismal aftermaths simply compounded the problem by catastrophically ignoring and abandoning the federalist principles that loosely but somewhat effectively knitted Nigerian people and cultures together. 

Until the Aburi summit, civil war, while a likely possibility, was not inevitable. But once the then head of state Yakubu Gowon was convinced that Aburi was a bad deal for the principles and objectives he and his team advocated, and Emeka Ojukwu took an exultant and inflexible stand based on the Accord, war loomed next door. And when finally Col. Gowon jettisoned every pretext to federalism and peremptorily created 12 states out of the four regions in May 1967, war became inevitable.

Nigeria is now precisely at a point where its people and leaders hope that civil rule and elections can midwife competent leaders and help guarantee national stability and development. 

In fact, last week, President Muhammadu Buhari suggested that multi-party democracy, which he rightly claimed trumped military rule, was the chief requirement for progress and order. Since 1999, many Nigerian leaders and politicians have embraced and promoted the idea that once elections are free and fair, good government and competent leaders are more likely. It is not certain where this phantasm comes from, given its obvious lack of rigorousness and applicability. The country may not be at war in the general sense of the civil war years, but it has continued to fight many small wars and skirmishes, faced unrests of all kinds, triggered banditry, and inspired violent self-determination groups. 

These are reactions to the imbalances in the system, and a reflection of the dissonance and disequilibria introduced into the polity at foundation, as a matter of fact from the Berlin Conference. Until the country produces leaders competent and visionary enough to coax the people into contending with and resolving the country’s structural imbalances, no amount of good government can guarantee the kind of stability and development conjured in the minds of many Nigerians. The alternative is to wait until the crisis comes to a head and situations (read revolution) seize the initiative and compel a rethinking and rejigging of the superstructure. No one can say conclusively which is better or what the outcome would be.

The perception is that with the failure of both ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo and President Buhari, who had enough goodwill at their inaugurations to remake the country’s foundations and to seize the moment and get the constitution rewritten in consonance with the principles of federalism, politicians will continue to run the country in fits and starts, with the dangerous eclecticism that has led to state failures elsewhere. 

Even if the next elections do not miscarry, the election of a new and competent president will still not obviate the need for a structural realignment. The Aburi Accord, which by the way made mincemeat of the so-called accomplishments and endowments of youths, shows quite clearly why it is urgent to reexamine the country’s foundations. 

More relevantly, the immediate causes of the civil war, themselves a reflection, manifestation and calcification of the remote causes, indicate why a closure simply must be brought to the 1967-1970 war and the colonial attenuation of local cultures and civilisations if stability and lasting progress are to be guaranteed.

Without a shred of doubt, and regardless of the frequent assertion that the problem of Nigeria is not the constitution but the people, both the 1999 Constitution and its progenitor, the 1979 Constitution, are misshapen and largely inoperable. Constitutional expert Professor Ben Nwabueze last week acknowledged that their presumptions during the drafting of the 1979 Constitution were faulty and flowed from a misreading of the politics and structural discrepancies that undermined the Republican Constitution of 1963. 

He is right, and the country must be grateful to him for acknowledging their error during the drafting of the 1979 document. A history of the post-war constitutions of Germany and Japan shows why sound and visionary leadership are integral and indeed indispensable to the drafting of a great and enduring constitution. 

Chief Obasanjo was no such leader in 1978, nor was Sani Abacha, another military head of state, nor obviously President Buhari who has offered no original or even borrowed thought on democracy and the constitution.

At the end of the war in 1970, the victorious General Gowon government naively declared that there was no victor, and no vanquished. Of course there was a victor, and the vanquished knew itself. 

Instead of sentimental pronouncements, it was expected that a year or two after the war he would undertake the extensive revision of the country’s constitution, assembling great minds and political leaders to rethink the country’s founding document, and taking cognisance of those contentious issues that imperiled the country. He and his team ought to have demonstrated that they learnt something from the mishap of the Aburi Accord, the coup and counter-coup, and the civil war itself. 

More appropriately, they ought to have rethought the 1914 Amalgamation and found an ironclad way to get the various nationalities coexisting seamlessly with one another. Sadly, the regnant opinion among his team and even the country after the war was that more centralisation was the anodyne for the sanguinary events of the pre-war years.

As everyone now knows, the reigning opinion is that centralisation is the bane of the country. After and if the constitution is redrawn, untrammeled federalism will be the needed antidote to misrule and increasingly violent self-determination campaigns. As the country hurries into the next polls – and there is really no alternative for now – there will be little time spared for finding a closure to the civil war or the colonial fabric imperiously sewn by the British and forced on Nigeria. Until a closure comes, peace and development may continue to prove elusive.  

Reports indicate that Prof. Banji Akintoye, leader of Ilana Omo Odua Worldwide, a Yoruba self-determination advocacy group, has withdrawn his resignation as leader and chairman. He never fully disengaged from the group after he first resigned a few weeks ago, officials have now reiterated. His successor, Prof Wale Adeniran, has also resigned as the former new leader, and is now also being prevailed upon to continue his advocacy within the group. 

A crisis of confidence had unnerved the group and led to resignations and appointments, thus creating a whirligig for Ilana upon which the emotions of the leaders were spun, and with many of the group’s functionaries remaining tightlipped about just what they were fighting over. Some reports, however, indicate that the crisis involved the usual Nigerian ogre of transparency and accountability, as discussed in this place two weeks ago.

Ilana may not always prosecute the objectives of the group expertly and exquisitely, but there is no doubt that their objectives are laudable, and would be even more so had they managed to summon to the fore the political virtues and administrative principles they claimed their perennially laggard country lacked. But if they see their advocacy only as the first tentative steps in the ultimate goal of delivering a just, democratic and modern Yoruba nation, their internecine combat would be worth the sacrifice. However, can they resist the sneaky thought of wishing that the ongoing effort by the Southwest to clinch the leadership of Nigeria would end in fiasco? If it does not, as many indeed expect, Ilana would founder even quicker than they dared hope.   

Buhari and mixed signals

When he met with Catholic bishops in Abuja last Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari swore beneath his breath he would leave a stronger, repositioned economy and a stable polity significantly improved by the successful fight against insurgency and banditry. 

It is not obvious how he hoped to reposition the economy in the about four months left for his administration, three of which he will become lame duck. Nor did he explicate his epiphany about Boko Haram which he described as a ploy to destroy Nigeria after first indulging and then placating the sect. The bishops needed to be told something, it was clear. But that something should have been plausible rather than romantic. 

His administration has undoubtedly affected the country’s infrastructural outlook; but if in seven years or more he had not articulated nor implemented policies designed to reposition the economy, it is doubtful he could begin in the closing weeks of his administration to inspire a structural reengineering of an economy he had burdened with debts and run along suffocating unitarist lines.

A day before he met the bishops, President Buhari had boasted at a banquet held in his honour in Damaturu, Yobe State, that he could not be blackmailed with stories of unexplained wealth stashed here or abroad, whether investment, supposedly in tax havens, or property owned through proxies. 

To him, having a clean nose is an invaluable contribution to the anti-corruption war, perhaps far more than a structured, systemic and enduring approach to preventing and curbing graft. 

He did not of course make such direct correlations, but it was implied, given the enthusiasm with which he set store by his personal probity. He is, however, mistaken. Personal probity will receive nothing more than a footnote in the pages of history.

What finally addled everyone’s wits was his expression of concern at the plenitude of coups or coup attempts in Africa. 

He parroted the regnant idea of the sanctity and beauty of multi-party democracy, a system he lauded as being far more preferable to military rule. Apart from his inability to understand democracy, which he confuses with elections, or equates with multi-party system, he at least gave a little semblance in his last year or so in office of respecting some of the pillars of democracy. 

It would, however, have been far better had he really in his two terms made significant contributions to redefining and entrenching democracy, despite his limited understanding of the concept. 

Democracy was not strengthened under him; that job, like the economy he romanticised about repositioning and the corruption he feigned to fight, must now be left to his successor.

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