FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday appealed to Biafran agitators and other secessionist groups not to leave Nigeria.
He said “we should appeal, if anybody says he wants to go; not that we will say, okay, you can go if you want to go. Do not go. There is enough cake for each of us.”
He added that the 30-month civil war was never meant to exterminate the Igbo, but an altruistic attempt to bring “our brothers and sisters” back to the fold.
He spoke on a day Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, and President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, urged Nigerians to learn from the civil war, adding that disintegration of the country will not be in anyone’s interest.
The trio spoke yesterday at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation Lecture titled: “Memory and Nation Building, Biafra: 50 Years After,’’ in Abuja. Civil war not to wipe out Ndigbo – Obasanjo Tracing the problem of Nigeria to its past leaders who focused more on their regions, making speeches that were tall on freedom and progress but short on unity, Obasanjo said: “We really never had a national leader. We had three leaders at the beginning of our journey as a nation, who were mindful of their different regions and that remains our problem till today.
“Even in the process of our movement towards independence and when you compare with other countries, they were talking about freedom and unity. When you look at the speeches of our leaders, they talked of freedom, they talked of progress but they rarely talked of unity. “So, the unity they never talked about, and scarcely worked for, has eluded us and that should be our starting point.
“So when, of course, the military for whatever reason, and I have maintained that the young officers, who struck in 1966 were naive but there was an element of nationalism in some of them. But be that as it may, it set us back and we moved from the political instability to military coup and then the pogrom, the separation and the civil war.
“I was one of those who wrote the operation orders for the civil war. We thought we would end it in three months, and then bring our brothers and sisters back; we allowed six months, just for the unexpected. The civil war took us 30 months and the federal side nearly lost it.
“Talking about reconciliation, right from the beginning of the war, reconciliation was on the minds of those of us on the federal side,” he said, adding that if the plan was to exterminate the Igbos, the federal troops would not have operated by its own special code of conduct as well as the Geneva Convention, nor would the Federal Government have allowed foreign observers into the country.
His words: “If it was a war to exterminate; a war that did not put reconciliation in mind, then what would foreign observers be doing? We had foreign observers who were filing reports and even empowered to investigate allegations and they did. “Civil war is more difficult to fight than fighting in a foreign land or to exterminate because we were fighting to unite and if you were fighting to unite, how much did you have to do to prevent annihilation?
“All the people who are agitating for Biafra today were not even born during the war. They do not even know what it entailed. Nigeria must be loved and we must treat Nigeria as we treat love affairs. It must be massaged. Nigeria must be massaged by all of us, no exception. It is like husband and wife. If when you have issues, your wife would always say she is fed up and wants to go and everyday that is what you get, one day, you would become fed up and say, ‘okay, you can go’, but if there is any misunderstanding and you come together to solve it, then you would almost live forever.
“And I will say that we should even appeal, if anybody says he wants to go; not that we will say, okay, you can go if you want to go. Do not go. There is enough cake for each of us. And if what you are asking for is more of the cake, then try to ask in a way that is pleasant, not in a way that could make others feel that you are not entitled to what you are asking for.”
Osinbajo On his part, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, asked Nigerians to learn from the history of Nigeria’s civil war rather than beating the drums of a second civil war, saying while the wise learned from history, experience remained the best teacher for a fool. Osinbajo, in a keynote address, entitled “Greater Together than Apart,” said while it was kinder to learn from history, experience is a harsh teacher.
While Osinbajo said there was no harm in discussing the nation’s existence, he urged Nigerians to use the country’s diversity to make her great “instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity” or to focus on the narratives of division.
He said: “Introspection is probably what separates us from making mistakes. That ability to learn from history is perhaps the greatest defence against the avoidable pains of learning from experience because history is a better and kind teacher. There is a saying that experience is the best teacher. It is incomplete. The full statement of that adage is that experience is the best teacher for a fool.
“I was 10 years old when my friend in school, Emeka, left school one afternoon. He said his parents had decided to go back to the East. I never saw Emeka again. My aunty, Bunmi, was married to a gentleman that I cannot recall his name again, but I recall when my parents tried to persuade her and her husband not to leave. We never saw again. We are better together than apart. No country is perfect,” he said, adding that the often quoted statement that ‘Nigeria is just a geographical expression’, originally applied to Italy.”
Nwodo said Nigeria, blessed as the richest and the most populous nation in Africa, has enormous potentials. His words: “Every part of Nigeria can survive as an independent country. The North with its mineral and agricultural potentials can build a strong nation. The West with its cocoa, oil, indomitable intellectual know-how and commerce can build another Britain. The South-South with its oil, notwithstanding its declining economic potency can transform its area before oil ceases to be a major foreign exchange earner. The East with industry, outstanding innovation and little oil may still emerge as the African wonder.
But none of these little enclaves will rival the capacity of a united and reconciled Nigeria. We must all rise up and save this nation from a trajectory that will make a break-up a more viable option. We must find creative ways to manage a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. History teaches us that no society is static; the status quo cannot endure forever. We must find creative ways to promote political, economic and social justice within a nation and between the people that comprise it. If not, then we are invariably opening the doors to future threats of chaos, disorder and societal dislocation.
“The final challenge of our generation is to show that we learned the right lesson from that sad conflict of 50 years ago. We must bequeath our children with a nation that works for all and one that looks ahead. We want a Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is collectively owned by all Nigerians as opposed to a Federal Republic that will be perceived as the private property of one group or groups of ethnic groups depending on who is in office. The categorical destination is a Nigerian Nigeria under the collective hegemony of the people of Nigeria.
“In order to achieve this, we must have a flexible federation; strong enough to guarantee our collective defence and protect individual rights, agile enough to react to emerging tensions and threats, yet expansive enough to allow each state room to develop at its own pace. We must create a national order whereby each state bears the primary responsibility for its development.
“At the end of the war, in spite of a policy of “No victor, No vanquished” by the government of General Yakubu Gowon, an unconscionable policy of impoverishment of Biafrans was unleashed by the Federal Government. Every bank deposit of Biafrans that had encountered a transaction whether by deposit or withdrawal was reduced to £20. Massive savings were completely wiped out. Capacity for investment and recovery from the war was shattered. Whilst this poverty pervaded, the Indigenization Decree was promulgated, enabling other Nigerians, except Biafrans to acquire commanding heights in the indigenized companies, which held at that time the critical and commanding heights of Nigeria’s private economy.
“Nevertheless, on the issue of reconciliation, we must give due credit to the resilience of the people from the war-affected areas and the generosity of millions of other Nigerians that opened their hearts and homes to their friends and neighbours that were victims of war. In many ways, it was by these incredible citizen-to-citizen relationships that Nigeria achieved one of the most remarkable post-conflict people-to-people reconciliation and reintegration in modern times.