Chinua Achebe had in his diagnostic book, “the trouble with Nigeria” pointedly concluded that “Nigeria’s problem was purely and squarely a failure of leadership.” As rightly diagnosed, the blight of bad and bigoted leadership has taken a terrible toll on a nation that according to Karl Maier has now literarily fallen. From the dawn of independence 56 years ago in 1960, Nigeria was bedevilled in the main with deficient leaders whose rhetorics and agenda were more devoted to ethnic jingoism, parochialism, domination, abuse of power and electoral irregularities at a time when the nation needed a consolidation of our diversity, integrated national development and the building of a robust democracy anchored on free and fair elections. Some post independence leaders were so anti-Nigeria in their outlook, that in deeds and words they repudiated the very idea of Nigeria. It was not uncommon to see some of these leaders make references that suggested Nigerians from other regions were aliens. Indeed, for the most part aliens were even more welcomed and better accommodated than Nigerians from other parts as one of the foremost first republic leaders alluded to in a video available on YouTube in regards to preferring to give jobs in his region to foreigners rather than Nigerians from other regions.
Thus; from the early years, the nation’s plague of deficient leadership ignored the commonsensical necessity to invest in nation building and create a common identity for Nigerians. Being more inclined to ethnic machinations and pre-eminence than they were in justice and equality for all— they also ignored the need to play by the rules so that the centre can at least hold. It is therefore not surprising that soon after independence, riots broke out in Tivland following abuses by the Northern people’s congress (NPC) controlled native authorities police who were accused of brutalising and incarcerating political opponents. The Tiv riots was succeeded in 1962; just 2 years after independence by severe national crisis occasioned by a rigged population census followed in quick succession by protracted political crisis and the imposition of a state of emergency in the Western region. All these would not have happened if the nation had been invested with purpose driven leadership committed to nation building and the advancement of a free and fair process in all participatory processes such as census and elections. But the worst was yet to come.
By 1964, the decadent politics of the first republic had further deteriorated with the massive electoral heist in the Western region and the unmitigated violence (wetie) that followed— setting the stage for the incursion of the military in 1966. As it turned out, the military constituency that took over fared no better as they quickly succumbed in greater measure to the same tribalism, sectionalism and impunity that truncated the first republic leading to an ethnically motivated counter-coup and subsequent pogroms, that in turn led to the civil war. It is instructive to note that the pogroms were essentially a law and order issue; at least initially until the then head of state, Yakubu Gowon refused to act and the army/police that was supposed to protect life and property were found to be complicit. The perceived complicity of the head of state and the security services in the pogroms led to a total loss of confidence in the Nigerian state, while the consequent return of troops to their ethnic enclaves and mass exodus that followed prepared the stage for war.
Millions of lives were needlessly lost in an avoidable war that was occasioned mainly by a failure of leadership. Yet as regrettable as that war was, the dead died in vain as recent events indicate quite clearly that no lessons were learnt from it. Not only has the nation continued to stumble from successive deficient leadership; the greatest example that Nigeria learnt no lessons from the civil war are recent events by a government that came to power promising to change things for the better, but under whose watch emboldened Fulani herdsmen have gone on a killing spree across the country while the president has remained mute. What has been the most dangerous and irresponsible is the open collusion between the DSS, Nigerian army and the herdsmen in what amounts to aiding and abetting genocide against other citizens. That the herdsmen in violation of all statutes openly bear offensive assault weapons without any harassment from the security services is no longer news. That the security services always remain mute and seldom makes any arrest when herdsmen massacre people in communities across Nigeria is also well known.
Thus when 76 young men were arrested in Awgu by military personnel and handed over to the police because they mobilised to protect themselves against herdsmen and when it was reported that some Fulani herdsmen had been kidnapped in Abia state and DSS issued a press release within 2 days claiming to have found the corpse of the herdsmen and alleging that IPOB was responsible for slaying them, it became obvious that not only was the army and DSS aiding and abetting the herdsmen, in the case of the later it also became obvious by their press release that they were intent on inciting a reprisal attack and possibly a pogrom. The details divulged by the Governor of Enugu state following the recent Uzo-Uwani massacre by Fulani herdsmen, indicated again that the security services had prior knowledge of the attack but refused to act. These incidents are not in any way different from the scenarios that led to the civil war. When a president suspiciously keeps mute and security organisations go out of their way to irresponsibly collude with terrorists on tribal grounds and issue inciting press releases, it underscores the fact that the lessons of the civil war is lost on them.
Yet it must be boldly told to those who indulge in inciting ethnic violence that Nigeria this time will neither survive a pogrom nor another war. The nation has thus far survived in a fragile union because political and security elites have not been forced into a retreat and thus have neither backed nor mobilised for secession. But if Fulani massacres like that in Uzo-Uwani continues and if the kind of irresponsible incitement to ethnic violence by DSS and Buhari’s conspiratorial silence leads to violence remotely resembling the crisis of the 60’s leading to military and political elites returning to their regions in droves, it will lead to a major push for break-up with or without war that Nigeria this time will surely not survive. One thing I can also assure the instigators and perpetrators of violence is that this time, they will face justice in the International criminal court (ICC) for their crimes.
Evidently, like the first republic and subsequent administrations, deficient leadership as Achebe posited continues to be at the heart of Nigeria’s problems and except we learn from our past, we will be bound to repeat the same mistakes, but this time with consequences beyond our control.
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu