Armed Forces Remembrance Day: Legionnaires for rituals
Year after year, the memories of soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice to keep Nigeria one are celebrated. The celebrations bring to the fore the glaring realities of the conglomeration of nation-statehood. The economic and security realities are a mirror to what the citizens are facing in their everyday life.
The choice of 15th January, as Armed Forces Remembrance Day is a sad reminder of the coup-d’etat of 15th January, 1966 and the surrender of the failed Biafran Republic on 15th January, 1970 after a 30-month bloodshed that claimed uncountable lives and unquantifiable property in a post-colonial state that is still battling with problems of ethnic national identity, security challenges resulting from multi-faceted political imbroglio and controversial federation that have ordained the poor and arid region to scramble for the so-called commonwealth endowed in the south. This, in effect, led to the plunging of the “mere geographical expression” into the fratricidal war, followed by recurrent internecine conflicts.
Recruited and conscripted from the active populace, the soldiers fought and killed the enemies they did not create. Despite the post-war Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation programme initiated by the British favourite stooge and wartime head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, the fears and the scars of the war still litter our landscape, especially the maimed and the wounded that have been invariably secluded from the country they had fought to unite.
The crying questions are: in whose interest did they fight the war? Did the war correct the abnormalities? Why are we still facing many challenges after sacrificing over 3 million people particularly the Easterners in an unjust war?
Indeed, the civil war was a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight which aptly explained that the soldiers died for nothing, while maintaining the fragile peace and unity in our political balloon that has threatened dismemberment since after amalgamation, that has been typified unprovoked tragedies.
The history of senseless destruction of lives and property in Nigeria is not unconnected with political domination, religious and ethnic intolerance. This may have triggered the late revolutionary and visionary Lybian Leader, Muammar Gaddafi to lend his voice in March 2010 when he opined that Nigeria should be split along a predetermined religious boundary, Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other, for peace to reign. The suggestion came in the wake of the carnage and large-scale pogrom that was a recurrent decimal in Plateau State and other states in Nigeria. Gaddafi cited the example of Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan which he said that the bifurcation saved many lives. In his words, “Splitting Nigeria would stop the bloodshed and burning of places of worship”. Although Nigerian leaders lashed him as a “madman”, their domestic idea of restructuring of the country is merely an interesting academic discourse as the Northerners are more at home with the feeding-bottle federalism. A similar domination led to eclipse between the majority Hutus and the minority Tutsis in Rwanda. The western media described the genocidal campaign as ethnic cleansing and the country as human abboteur. To avoid the unthinkable, we need an urgent solution to our diffused nation-state to end the feverish revival of firebrand ethnic nationalism
Sorry to say that in 1947, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had stated that, “Nigeria has existed as one country only on paper, and that it was still far from being considered as one country, much less think of it as united”. In the conferences that followed the July 29, 1966 counter-coup, the Northern Delegation submitted a Memorandum, demanding a confederation as the basis of Association of the Regions, including the right to secede, though they subsequently modified their position, allegedly on the advice of Britain. Britain is the Nigeria’s foremost nemesis. One, she colonized and amalgamated the country as her economic enterprise.
Two, she was Nigeria’s number one supplier of arms during the civil war and controls the steering of underde.velopment in her neo-colonial state. The petroleum resources of the South are exploited by the British-owned Shell that has no meaningful or clear-cut plan to develop the area.
In a document, Niger Delta: The Economic life of Nigeria, The Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement has questioned, “…why then have the same Northerners become advocates of a powerful central Government controlling all the country’s resources and weak client and beggarly states fully dependent on the centre for survival?” This answer is simply the enormous wealth that is being generated from the Niger Delta resources. Even in the midst of the crisis brought about the bloody counter-coup of July, 29 and the pogrom that followed, the Northern Delegation with one foot outside Nigeria and halfway into secession, had started craving for the wealth of the Niger Delta’s oil by prescribing selfish preconditions for them to remain in a “united Nigeria”.
But Michael Crowder, an iconic historian, had made a very revealing assertion when he wrote, “the colonial office ruled that the rich southern protectorate should provide the deficit-ridden Northern protectorate with the funds to finance its Baro rail line”. Consequently, even without waiting for the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Nigeria, the Baro-Kano railway was built from £77,207.09 funds obtained as loan from Southern Nigerian. This information is from Annual Report of the colonies, Northern Nigeria, 1907-8.
Suffice to mention that it was an economic war instigated by Britain, kick-started by the North to plunder the wealth of the South, particularly the East which the Federal Military Government had pitched them in the emergency state of East Central State.
Suspicion lubricated the relationship between the majority Igbo and other Eastern minorities that Gowon’s action was a desperate gambit to impoverish them even with their God-given resources. With no defining focus, the minorities dived into the ephemeral honeymoon with the Federal side. This took a heavy toll on them and their resources. In such a sudden and hasty situation, danger took the place of security; peace gave way to war and violence.
Gowon, son of a Christian cleric who is now interceding for the country has given a lot of interpretations to reconstruct the past and justify his misdeed, including asking for forgiveness. We can forgive but we cannot forget. He knows the dustbin of history is filled to the brim with the ugly past of leaders who misled their people.
While reminiscing the labour of the fallen heroes, the maimed and the retired soldiers with elaborate ceremony, we should appreciate them by paying the living their dues, instead of the annual laying of wreath on the grave of the Unknown Solder. This solemn ceremony has done nothing to improve the welfare of the retired soldiers or the deceased families who paid dearly for the avoidable war. The annual ritual of remembering the dead without caring for the living amounts to the mockery of our so-called untiring patriots that makes the legionnaires victim of the ritual. The government at all levels should share the immortal lines of Santosh Kalwar with the legionnaires, “If I can see pain in your eyes then share with me your tears. If I can see joy in your eyes, then share with me your smile.”