As horrible as all wars are, it is in its crucible that geniuses are discovered and unveiled as they rise above themselves to become all time heroes and legends. The American civil war defined and framed Abraham Lincoln’s all time greatness. Without the Second World War, we would never have known the full measure of Britain’s war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Nor of equally legendary General George S Patton who was the war’s best commander, General Dwight Eisenhower who later became President of the United States and General George Marshall who authored and executed the Marshall Plan. It is not surprising that like these great men before him, the civil war revealed Chukuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a reluctant hero for his people and all those who given the ‘current realities’ now realise and cherish the full mettle of the man.
If it was in the hands of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to choose when to die, he would still be alive today, to at least finish his book on the civil war! But the Lord in His infinite wisdom called him home when He did and the timing contains a celestial warning to Nigeria. The Ikemba Nnewi died when the spectre of terrorism tailored to dismember Nigeria was gathering pace with his kinsmen wantonly killed as the ancient target of those who wish them to leave the north. Ojukwu’s death at this time and Boko Haram terrorism have drawn unparalleled attention to the issues we have conveniently swept under the proverbial carpet. These are fundamental and foundational issues that are still haunting us and will not go away until they are equitably addressed. Consequently, 42 years after the civil war ended justice, equity, fairness and truth still on trial in Nigeria.
His death and burial at this time is a warning not to bury his ideals because as it is often said, no nation survives a second civil war. This warning is because the Lord wants Nigeria to survive. And if we heed it and do what we desperately need to do to renegotiate the basis and basics of our union as a nation, Nigeria will realise its vast potential, though tongue, tribe and religion may differ.
Even though a group called the Coalition of Concerned Northerners have voiced qualified support for a conference to refashion Nigeria, Aliko Mohammed, the leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum’s statement that the existing constitution has defined the basis of our existence as a nation still represents the official position of the north. It is important to remember that Aliko Mohammed replaced Major General I B M Haruna when the latter’s support for zoning was considered doubtful by the north.
One of Boko Haram’s stated objective is to Islamise Nigeria. But northern leaders say it is a fight against poverty and injustice. We are now being told that the injustice and poverty is a result of the 13 percent derivation paid to the oil producing states of the Niger Delta. How can anyone remotely blame the 13 percent for the historic backwardness of the north, when it is well known that the oil producing states started receiving this from 1999? There are states in the South East including Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and the South West that do not receive this 13 percent, yet they have always been more advanced than the north. There has never been a time when the north and the south were equal in terms of development. Dr Babangida Aliyu, Governor of Niger state had amongst other things said that if the revenue allocation imbalance is not corrected ‘the pressure will continue until we are able to find a solution.’ Why should 13 percent derivation become an issue when it was once 50 percent? Is it because the President is from the Niger Delta? The north wants 13 percent of what? What about the South East and the South West? Is the National Assembly northern caucus plan to ambush the 2012 budget because of capital votes allocated to the south south the beginning of the coordinated pressure Dr Babangida Aliyu referred to? Are they not aware that a 20 kilometre road in the south south frequently involves at least construction of ten bridges and therefore costs much more to build than in the north?
It makes me now to wonder if Boko Haram’s resurgence is not a creation of some people to negotiate the return of political power to the north in 2015. For these people, the template of our recent history may have provided examples to follow. These include the fact that it was partly due to NADECO’s campaign after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election that delivered the Presidency to the Yoruba through General Olusegun Obasanjo. Niger Delta militancy gave them the Vice Presidency that ultimately gave them the Presidency through President Jonathan. If Boko Haram was revived and is being financed to help to deliver the presidency to the north in 2015, it means that MASSOB will begin to prepare for its own violent actions to negotiate access to the Presidency!
If the vicious violence of Boko Haram is what many are beginning to think it is shaping out to be, it will backfire. General Muhammadu Buhari’s credential as an incorruptible man is obvious to all. But because of statements credited to him on religion, he is suspect and will never get the votes of the South East, the South South, the South West and most parts of the North Central in this day and times, irrespective of who he picks as his running mate from these aforementioned geopolitical zones. Compared to the so called statements of General Buhari, Boko Haram’s deadly terrorism and statements will haunt the north for a long time, much more than General Buhari’s statements dealt his political ambitions a crippling blow.
Compare the actions of Boko Haram to those of NADECO whose campaign was against the callous annulment of the 1993 elections. NADECO carried out their campaign without killing anyone. The Niger Delta agitation for resource control was because the northern leaders controlling the resources gotten from their land did not give a fart about the ecological and economic devastation of the region’s land and waters that choked off their means of eking out survival. Yet the militants did not kill indiscriminately.
Invariably, the consequences of Boko Haram’s onslaught will be the isolation of the north and the possibility that they may not produce the president of the nation for a long time. Why? Boko Haram has painted a whole region and religion with the biggest brush dripping with blood, innocent blood. All we see is extreme callousness in the name of Allah the Koran describes as Extremely Merciful, Especially Merciful, Continually Merciful. The face of the north presented by Boko Haram is extremely ugly and will nullify attempts to use Boko Haram to negotiate the return of power to the north. Again why? The other four geopolitical zones, the North Central, South East, South South and South West that have long been suspicious of the core north are now in mortal suspicion of what the North will do if political power gets back into their hands. The fact that northern leaders who have spoken about Boko Haram’s extremism, have spoken from both sides of their mouths, trying unconvincingly to blame their activities on poverty, injustice and sundry other excuses have simply added to the image deficit and suspicion of the North. Even the Coalition of Concerned Northerners willingness to accept renegotiation of the basis of our union is only because of ‘threats confronting the region.’
What has bombing of churches, killing of Christians and asking them to leave the north got to do with injustice and poverty? Was it Christians and Southerners who deregulated corruption, poverty and injustice across Nigeria? If I may borrow the words of late United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan spoken to another senator and adapted to our context, northern leaders are entitled to their opinions but they are not entitled to their own facts. It is a well known fact that northerners have had a near monopoly of ruling Nigeria more than any other region. So if injustice and poverty are the excuses for Boko Haram’s war against Nigeria, we all know who perpetrated poverty and injustice. If Northern Nigeria is more hospitable to poverty than other regions, it is their leaders who perpetuated and deepened it along with ignorance so they can manipulate their people for selfish political and patronage gains. As we all know, all chickens eventually come home to roost. So it is disingenuous to blame poverty and injustice for the current mayhem and to tacitly imply that somehow Christians, churches and southerners are responsible for it and therefore the deserved focus of Boko Haram’s mindless killings. How will Boko Haram’s killings create the environment in the north that will reduce the poverty that is now a convenient excuse? Jerry Rawlings was also a military ruler in Ghana but he prepared Ghana for its current revival. Our leaders made no plans for the future and so made no investments in power generation and distribution, education, health care, roads, railways, pipe borne water, etc. That future is here. Manufacturing companies are fleeing Nigeria for Ghana and those who would have invested in Nigeria simply perish the thought. I make bold to declare that if Boko Haram succeeds in splitting Nigeria and gain control over the core north, they will turn their vicious attention to the men who mass produced poverty and replace them with their kind and viewpoint of Islam. It is therefore in their enlightened self interest to rein in Boko Haram and stop the senseless slaughter of innocent people.
In a recent interview published in Thisday newspaper, the leader of Northern Political Leaders Forum, Adamu Ciroma pointed at the extra judicial killing of Boko Haram members including its leaders in Borno state in 2009 as evidence of injustice. I agree completely with him because it was unjustified. But he was silent on the Christians and Pastors Boko Haram’s leaders personally beheaded. He was silent on the churches destroyed. Are these Christians not entitled to justice? Is injustice not the same regardless of who its victims are? Where is the justice in the constant massacre of Igbos in the North? Should the Igbos avenge the injustice meted out to them, since Boko Haram is also ‘avenging injustice’? Dim Emeka Ojukwu already articulated his thoughts on the double standards of people like Adamu Ciroma when he wrote in his book ‘Because I am Involved,’ as follows ‘We suffer from selective amnesia…we conveniently forget certain unpleasant facts about our journey through life as a polity… We suffer selective myopia…our vision skips areas we find unpleasant no matter how recent… We perceive and draw lessons only from convenient happenings in our history and from convenient sources of our national chronicle…’ There is truly nothing more to add.
The Coalition of Concerned Northerners had declared that any renegotiation conference must include the ‘lopsidedness’ in the polity and the economy. Let me point out glaring lopsidedness that represents gross injustice and endemic indifference. The present constitution that Arewa Consultative Forum claim is adequate was a product of an undemocratic institution, the armed forces which the north dominated and still dominates. These military rulers chose Islamic architecture for Aso Rock as if it is meant exclusively for Muslim leaders. They gave us a National Assembly building with Islamic dome, painted in Islamic green as if we are an Islamic republic and put Arabic writing on our currency, gave themselves more states and local governments and declared that the basis for sharing the national cake, which is principally revenue from crude oil, is population, number of states, number of local governments, not productivity or derivation, a departure from what obtained before 1967.
So every time northern leaders mouth their banal excuses for Boko Haram’s murderous actions, they simply highlight these advantages they awarded themselves and their region and the failure of northerners who have disproportionately ruled to develop Nigeria, even when they had ruled with maximum power and authority, unhindered by a fractious national assembly. To suggest that the constitution that perpetuates these advantages is adequate is to deliver another crippling blow to the already huge image deficit of the core north and heighten the lingering feeling of injustice. It appears to be too much of a coincidence that northern leaders are all saying the same thing and living in denial. I hope saner heads will recognise this statement credited to the leader of Arewa Consultative Forum as unnecessary and call for a rethink to accept wholehearted dialogue to redesign Nigeria. Let it not drag out like the zoning or no zoning issue that led to statements of making Nigeria ungovernable, statements that are being fulfilled before our eyes.
Very few men, not the average northerner have perpetuated the north-south divide. It is difficult to believe these men ever believed in the concept of one Nigeria. They are answerable to no one, not even their consciences. They have in the pursuit of their personal agendas taken us for granted for too long. It is now so obvious that these few northern leaders then headed by General Ibrahim Babangida had denied MKO Abiola electoral victory because he was a southerner and perhaps not Muslim enough, even though millions of northerners had ignored a northern candidate and voted overwhelming for him. That election delivered a pan Nigerian mandate in which the South East and South South voted for a Muslim Muslim joint ticket, a political maturity that was destroyed by a northern ruler. Compare that maturity to the upheaval eighteen years later in the north after another southerner President Jonathan was declared winner of the April election last year. Karl Marx once said that all it takes to destroy a nation is to block the transfer of values, beliefs and traditions between generations. This aptly describes the current Nigerian situation, where contagious and epidemic hatred has been birthed because northern elite blocked the transfer of the maturity exhibited by Nigerians on June 12, 1993. The blame for poverty, injustice and drift of our nation should be laid squarely on northern leaders who sold out their own people and Nigeria and are today trying so hard to lay blame elsewhere.
If we do not let the leaders of the north take responsibility for the state of things in their region, they will ride out this storm and continue to create trouble for all of us. These are the men who will on behalf of the north first agree to a national dialogue, then determine who represents them, what to agree to and what to resist. In other words, if they believe they can get away with further trifling with our collective destiny, they will frustrate the dialogue, make impossible demands and prolong the crisis while personally profiting from it. If I may borrow Nasir El-Rufai’s words, these men are simply transactional and not transformational leaders.
If Boko Haram was hijacked for political purposes, its potency could only be revved up and exploited by tying its agitation to religion because that is the only way to harvest suicide bombers in sufficient numbers to strike terror into the hearts of Nigerians and they have succeeded beyond measure. But their demands to jettison the constitution, scrap democracy and islamise all of Nigeria will never be realised. If Boko Haram is a negotiating tool for the presidency in 2015, it has failed. Consequently, the many credible northerners who have equal rights to aspire to rule through the ballot box have been short changed by Boko Haram. None of them can win without the votes from North Central, South East, South South and South West whose suspicions have reached an all time high. Even if Boko Haram represents itself, they have done incalculable political and economic harm to the north.
Yobe state recorded only 17 candidates with five credits out of 18,000. According to the governor of Borno state, Borno north senatorial district recorded only two successful candidates with five credits and they are children of soldiers transferred to the district. It seems to me that the preaching that western education is forbidden has been taken to heart and succeeded beyond measure in those places. In spite of the greatness of their ancient civilisations, the Chinese and Indians with a combined population in excess of 2.5 billion people have all embraced western education and we can see the giant economic strides they are making, with China alone lifting more than 300 million people out of poverty into the middle class in a generation, with a projection to hit 700m by 2020 and 1.4 billion by 2030 according to UN Population Division and Goldman Sachs. By 2030, India’s middle class will rise from 267m projected by 2016 to 1.07 billion by 2030. Even Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam has long embraced western education. I will not be surprised if in twenty years time the educational imbalance between the north and south become a new convenient excuse like poverty and injustice to unleash new mayhem on Christians and southerners living in the north as if they caused it.
The north lost a rare opportunity to show maturity when President Yar’Adua died. Irrespective of the PDP zoning protocol, if only they had acknowledged that an incumbent and qualified Nigerian was on the saddle, from a zone that had never ruled and left him to run for election, the political reward to the north of an all time alliance cast in concrete with the Niger Delta would have been created. Instead, they blew it spectacularly. In 1967, at Aburi, it was Emeka Ojukwu calling for a more equitable Nigeria. Today, it is four out of six geopolitical zones calling for a renegotiation conference. It is an opportunity for the north to unite with the rest of us or to blow it again. The absolute truth is that a nation as divided as Nigeria is cannot stand. Let a united north join their fellow citizens to create a more perfect Nigerian union.
The starting point for ACF, the Northern Political Leaders Forum and the north is not to blow this opportunity to redesign Nigeria. Nobody wants Nigeria dismembered. Ojukwu did not. He was pushed into war as a last resort to protect and defend his people, a fact that so many including Dr Babangida Aliyu acknowledged publicly only after his death. It is easy for some to believe that it is possible to bury Ojukwu and his ideals. The Lord called him home at this time to draw attention to those ideals, as a warning that if we ignore them, the Nigerian nation the Lord has a stake in will die due to our own negligence.
While I share General Yakubu Gowon’s view that it was a good thing Ojukwu died a Nigerian, it would have been infinitely better if he had died in a much better Nigeria and not one in which his people are still being slaughtered and forced to flee from places they called home and invested their means and energies into. These killings validate and cement Ojukwu’s position as a legend who saw so far ahead what his contemporaries did not see or pretended not to see because it was the Igbos that were at the receiving end. It is instructive that the Coalition of Concerned Northerners only agreed to be part of the renegotiation conference because of what they termed ‘threats confronting the region.’ Had we redesigned Nigeria in 1967, it would have been less painful, less divisive but Ojukwu was branded a rebel and today an additional generation of Nigerians have been raised to hate and distrust each other across the north south divide, creating a more dangerous situation that has birthed MEND, OPC, MASSOB and Boko Haram. Had we restructured in 1967, Nigeria would have been launched on a competition driven growth trajectory that would by now have delivered more than 100 million Nigerians into middle class and not 100 million currently living below poverty line, most of them in the north. The groundnut pyramids were replaced with a new pyramid with their elite at the apex sitting on top of ordinary northerners who in massed ignorance accepted their fate as the will of Allah. The elite, whose tolerance for mediocrity is elevated, loves the crowd below but not the people in it. We must now confront the issues otherwise the issues will continue to confront us, destroying Nigeria one day at a time until one day we will wake up to discover Nigeria is no more. For as long as injustice in any shape or form remains in Nigeria, Ojukwu is not dead because ideals never die. Bury his body but not what he stood for.
Ojukwu once called for handshake across the Niger. I would like to believe that in death, he is calling for that handshake across the Niger, westward and northward to build a nation all Nigerians will be proud of. It is still not too late to join hands and harness our vast potential and rebuild a nation whose citizenship he bore at his passing. How do we immortalise a man who has immortalised himself? Immortalise his ideals, not by copious words but by deeds. Ignoring his ideals will be to Nigeria’s peril.
We ignored Biafra’s scientists and inventions to our own common peril. Imagine across the nation a thousand constantly modified refineries of the type designed and built by Biafra’s engineers that stood the test of the most difficult of times, war. We would have had no need to import fuel and speak of subsidy in 2011 that will most likely top N2 trillion or subsidy for 2012 of N888 billion. We would have had thousands of Nigerians gainfully employed to operate these refineries, reducing poverty across the land!
The attempt to deliberately shut down the ingenuity of a people always boomerangs as it has done in Nigeria. The engineers and scientists of Biafra’s Research and Production Unit (RAPU), whose ingenuity were unleashed by war are now mostly dead, their knowledge and several inventions perhaps lost forever to the Nigerian people and the world. There is something patently evil in deliberately trying to slow others down as a means of catching up.
The Second World War directly led to many inventions and innovations by Nazi Germany in many areas including but not limited to the first jet aircraft in combat, futuristic aircraft designs, rocketry, submarines, and many synthetic materials and so on. The world would have been a poorer place if these inventions had been allowed to die because Germany lost the war. Instead, as the war drew to a close, there was a great hunt for German scientists, their inventions and papers by the victors notably the Americans and Russians who were not ashamed to admit German scientific superiority in several fields. Subsequently, for instance jet engines found their way into passenger aircraft, shortening travel times considerably, a significant giant step towards turning the world into a global village. The subsequent economic miracle of Germany, anchored on their ingenuity and many war time scientific discoveries happened because no one tried to sabotage or delay them. Today, an economically strong Germany is undeniably and justifiably the engine room of Europe! The Japanese after their defeat three months after Germany’s defeat, experienced similar successes because they were allowed to develop at their own pace and they provided the template that brought a very backward Asia out of poverty into astonishing prosperity. These are the kind of worthy examples Nigeria has consistently failed to copy, examples that would have made the Nigerian economy with her resources, resourcefulness and population the engine room of Africa, and a member of the G20.
Those who opposed Ojukwu and his ideals are still influential and still continuing the mistakes that robbed us of a vibrant nation of massive potential. They rigged him out of the Senate in 1983, after claiming he was the reason they wrested Anambra state out of the grip of the NPP. Even in death these men still fear him and if they have their way, they will bury Ojukwu and his ideals. But those he led and gave everything for during the 30 month civil war know Ojukwu will never die because he now lives in their hearts. And never again in the history of Ndi Igbo will so much be owed by so many to one man, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Someday soon, Nigeria will owe so much to him when they finally admit that the war time cry ‘On Aburi We Stand!’ still resonates as the starting point for redesigning Nigeria to be all she can be, anchored on the energies of its vibrant regions recreated.
Ojukwu was born in the North, schooled in the West, spoke Hausa and Yoruba. There is no leader of his time more Nigerian than him, but he was forced by circumstances not of his making to fight against Nigeria. He was a reluctant warrior. Regardless of the diplomatic ‘no victor, no vanquished’ declaration of General Yakubu Gowon, Ndi Igbo lost the war which has been viciously and maliciously rubbed into our faces with the South East the only geopolitical zone with five states, federal roads in complete disrepair and hydrocarbon deposits in Ojukwu’s home state left unexploited, perhaps to deny Anambra state the 13 percent derivation as an oil producing state. But Ndi-Igbo did not lose their potential. Ojukwu’s presence sustained that potential. His passing will not diminish but heighten it. What we have failed to understand in the Igbo man’s attitude is his belief that potential knows no boundaries, physical or mental. That is why he is everywhere and why anywhere he is welcome and finds peace, he calls home. The Igbo man is the ultimate Nigerian.
I still remember as a young boy in Biafra, joining mothers in tears waving and running after trucks bearing Biafra’s soldiers to the war front, the soldiers singing heart rending war songs. Those mothers some of whose sons were in other fronts knew that some of those boys will be dead within hours but none of them encouraged them not to go. On the day I received news that my father’s hero and my hero Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was dead, I remembered lots of those soldiers’ war time songs. One of them whose every word I still remember brought tears to my eyes as they did during the war and I sang it for Emeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu. It goes this way, ‘Oh my brothers don’t you worry. Oh sisters don’t you worry. If I happen to die in the battle front, never mind we shall meet again.’ In death Ojukwu like Abraham Lincoln now belong to the ages.
Okechukwu Peter Nwobu