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Nigeria is unwittingly courting disaster by leaving the sores from wounds of the Civil War to fester with the expectation that mere passage of time shall take care of everything. Events have shown that this approach is faulty because, as long as many see no closure to the bitter experiences of the civil war era, suppressed anger can reemerge in sudden and unpredictable ways with undesirable consequences. One of the best means to gauge the pent-up resentment that still lingers within the polity is to monitor the acrimony that is aroused whenever politicians, deliberately or inadvertently, make an allusion to a subject that pertains to the Civil War. At the outset of President Obasanjo’s first term, Justice Oputa-led commission was tasked to feel the pulse of the nation by conducting open hearings in all parts of the country and to make recommendations on best ways to heal wounds of the past and reconcile all parties for a more harmonious future. Parts of the country, particularly civil war battleground states, seized this opportunity to bring up the otherwise shelved subject of finding an acceptable closure to wounds of the Civil War. Ohanaeze Ndiigbo capped its submission, on behalf of states of the Southeast, with a whopping bill of $87 billion (US) to the Federal Government as recompense for Igbo losses since 1966.

President Obasanjo’s statement during one of his visits to Niger Delta caused an uproar because he made a comment which implied that securing oil resources for the Federal Government was the key reason for prosecuting the Civil War. One of the junior ministers in Obasanjo’s first term drew fire from Igbo critics when she bucked at the decision to compensate civil war veterans who fought on the Biafran side. Perhaps, the most provocative remark, so far, about the Civil War is the apology which the Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, was reported to have made on behalf of Ndiigbo for spearheading Biafran resistance. He went as far as to assert that declaration and defense of Biafra "was a mistake on the part of the Igbo". As one would expect, a deluge of condemnation for the governor’s position emanated from a wide spectrum of Igbo groups and individuals. To add fuel to a raging fire, the loquacious young governor opined that his statements were informed by his quest “to move forward” by first securing forgiveness of Igbo role in the Civil War. In his own counteroffensive, he characterized his critics on this matter as “those who do not want the old war wounds to heal”.

Since some would sympathize with Governor Kalu’s approach, it is easy to see a dichotomy of views amongst the Igbo political elite on how one can best find a closure to wounds of the Civil War which shall be acceptable to Nigerians on both sides of the battle line. Ohanaeze’s demand for payment of multi-billion dollar reparations to Ndiigbo contrasts sharply with Governor Kalu’s apologetic stance and implied admittance of error on behalf of those who fought for Biafran sovereignty. With this new development, there is an urgent need for Ndiigbo to resolve the differences within their political elite to enable them to find a credible common ground for relating with the rest of their compatriots on healing wounds of the Civil War. The fact that little mention has been made by the Federal Government regarding the reparations bill submitted by Ohanaeze through the Oputa Panel suggests that, even though the average Igbo would prefer this approach, no payments are imminent. On the other hand, the massive repudiation of the notion of offering apologies on behalf of Ndiigbo for their role in the Civil War is indicative of the pain that is still felt by the average Igbo over this tragic era of our collective history. If, indeed, there is a critical mass of conscientious citizens who are serious about finding the way forward for Nigeria through finding universally acceptable closure to civil war wounds, effort must be directed now at seeking compromise between the above two extreme positions.

Sacrifices in blood and human misery have already been made decades ago, mostly by residents of civil war battlegrounds. What really matters now is to what use the present and future generations of Nigerians put those sacrifices. The generation that partook in the Civil War is fast depleting in numbers. It will be a great disservice to Nigeria, Africa and the Black man for those who are well versed on issues that surrounded this tragedy to bequeath a festering sore to future generations without providing a clue on how to best heal the wounds that their generation helped to inflict on the nation. This scenario makes it very likely that all sorts of interpretations and conclusions, which could have serious destabilizing effect, may be reached by generations who had no firsthand knowledge about the cause, prosecution and immediate aftermath of the Civil War. The controversial utterances by the Abia State Governor, who was a mere toddler during the Civil War, should be a sample of what can happen if the task of finding closure to fratricidal war wounds is deferred indefinitely. It is noteworthy that arch protagonists of neo-Biafra actualization movements are comprised mostly of those who were too young to be directly involved as civil war combatants.

Nigeria stands out as the lone country that has failed to harness the experiences and sacrifices of a costly civil war in furtherance of its nation-building effort. It was successfully sold to the citizenry and the world at large that the primary reason for Nigerian Civil War was for preservation of the nation’s territorial integrity. This war cry was mostly responsible for shifting the tide in favor of the victorious Federal armed forces since international bodies, at the time, were averse to reshaping of national boundaries on African continent. National territorial integrity was restored since January 1970 but the residual pent-up anger still lingers in the subconscious of those who paid dearly for that war. The present democratic dispensation offers Nigerians the unique opportunity to establish institutions and structures that can help to bring closure to pains of the Civil War and at same time foster the objective of building a strong, united and tolerant polity. The National Assembly should, without further delay, create a National Memorial Day as a national public holiday to commemorate sacrifices of the civil war era. Historic battlegrounds should be preserved as part of the National Park and Museum system to teach posterity about the price of plunging into internecine wars with inadequate circumspection. Appropriate monuments should be commissioned by all levels of government and civil society to honor those who shed their blood to bring about the Nigeria we inherit today.

Finding an acceptable and lasting closure to civil war wounds is a sure means to bring about a new sense of belonging to millions of citizens, from all ethnopolitical backgrounds, who feel left out of the center stage of national governance. It may have been possible to maintain national cohesion without addressing the lingering bitterness of the war years during the protracted era of military rule. In a democratic dispensation, however, continued procrastination of this essential chore could become a costly undertaking and a constant source of irritation in the nation's political discourse. The sacrifices in human blood and 30 months of socioeconomic retardation have already been made. Since the war, Nigeria has achieved relative stability that should now be further buttressed with a renewed sense of nationalism which can, in turn, unleash the necessary patriotic fervor in the citizenry for tackling the daunting tasks that lie ahead. Neither the Federal Government nor Ndiigbo should be compelled a priori to admit special culpability for bringing about the Civil War because such may never happen. The best way forward is to establish institutions and structures now that shall concretize the doctrine of “no victor no vanquished” which was aptly enunciated in the immediate post-war period. Let’s start this healing process now by creating a National Memorial Day as a national holiday to commemorate the sacrifices of the civil war era.
Osondu
The Survival Struggle for Ndiigbo
 

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