Just over a week ago, Bashir El-Rufai, the son of Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai, wrote this in a now deleted tweet: “A segment of a nation undertook a coup and killed other regional leaders with so much disrespect & expected peace and acquiescence thereafter. Then attempt to make history solely define it as revenge when same was done to them. It was revenge & it was sweet. The North remembers.”
He later took down the tweet and apologized, but don’t get me started on that. The regret was clearly because of the public backlash and not of any change in opinion. And that’s the tragedy. An educated young mind believes that somehow the Igbos deserved what they got during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war.
About six years ago, I wrote a review titled “In the heart of Achebe’s darkness”, where I penned down my heartfelt anger on how Chinua Achebe wrote about the North in his memoir about the civil war, “There was a country”. In that review I struggled to ensure that I do not justify the killings of Igbos. But at the end of the day, it was glaring that I was defending that the killings were as result of the Kaduna Nzeogwu’s coup. I know better now, and I wished at no point in my life did I believe there was any moral justification in the wanton killings and deaths that happened.
Everyday we see a new variation of this gaping North-South divide. Remember how in the aftermath of the presidential polls, a lot of Southerners went on the attack against Northerners for the huge votes President Muhammadu Buhari recorded in the region. It did not matter that Buhari’s main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, was also a Northerner. The North was denigrated and insulted in every imaginable way. People shared videos on social media as they randomly chastised Almajiris on the streets for voting Buhari.
What I see in these examples is that we do not like each other. We say things like, I went to school with Christians, I am friends with Muslims, I buy things in the market from Igbo people, the Hausa man is my gateman, the Yoruba woman is my best friend… but in those statements lie our deep-seated resentments for each other. On social media, we spew poison, we post updates that can incite hate and genocide.
Going forward: There needs to be a consensus that a great injustice was meted on the Igbos in that deadly war. Up till now, the Nigerian Government has refused to take responsibility for the death of between 500,000 to 6,000,000 civilians (mostly Igbos) that died in the Civil War. These were people killed through organized killings, starvation and diseases as a result of the blockade. It is because almost 50 years later no responsibility has been taken for what happened that’s why my generation has carried over the remnants of the hate. We are once again dragging each other and reminiscing about the sweetness of the revenge that ought to be a national tragedy enough to make us bow our heads in shame and ask how we ever let such a thing happen.
It was our lowest point as a nation and you don’t simply throw that under a carpet. You have a conversation about it, and do all it takes to find closure.
My journey to gaining more perspective on the Civil War started with engaging a lot of Igbos on the Civil war. It got heated most times and then one day a friend asked me to mention anyone I knew who died from the war. I couldn’t. He went on to talk about relatives that went missing, killed or died from starvation. Some Igbos had to leave their children behind with trusted friends in the North. They reasoned that if they did not survive, at least their children will. A lot of them never came back for those children. How did I not see things from that perspective all this time?
Things need to be done differently now. The Federal Government needs to apologize to the Igbos. It is just and honorable thing to do. It won’t bring back the dead, but it can heal the hurt.
Nigeria also needs a single civil war story. At some point soon, all those who lived through that war would be dead, and we still don’t have a proper, honest account. The government needs to commission a team of national and international historians to use available resources, archives and testimonies to pen down an accurate and authoritative story of what truly happened. The different versions of what happened need to converge at one point and agree that this is the story that we want to tell generations of Nigerians to come.
We need memorials to commemorate the lives we lost. That is how we begin to heal these divisions that constantly tear us apart. That is how we quench troubling opinions like Bashir Elrufai’s. That is how we begin to say with finality: Never again!
This is not exhaustive, of course. For instance, we still need to talk about inclusive utterances, actions and policies by leadership, starting with the president, who is not exactly the most gracious person. But if we start with the suggestions listed in this piece, it could be the start of something new in our country.