Prof Wole Soyinka and Prof Banji Akintoye lamented on Monday that Nigeria had yet to learn any lesson from the civil war.
Akintoye said the mood in Nigeria was similar to the mood in the country months before the civil war began in 1967. The duo spoke in Lagos alongside Prof Pat Utomi, Prof Anya O. Anya, and renowned musician, Onyeka Onwenu. Others were the President General, Ndigbo Lagos, Maj.Gen. Obi Umahi (retd.); Director General, Northern Elders’ Forum, Prof. Yima Sen; Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe; and Mr Akin Osuntokun.
They spoke at the ‘Never Again Conference’ organised by the Nzuko Umunna and Ndigbo, Lagos, to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil war. The conference with the theme, ‘Nigerian Civil War: 50 Years After’, held at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos. Renowned historian Akintoye, who delivered the first keynote address, said from his recollections as a young university lecturer in 1967, “the prevailing mood among us Nigerians (now) is chillingly similar to the character of the affairs of our country in the months leading to the civil war.
“The government is being managed in ways that make it look like an exclusive preserve of a particular minority. There seems to be an agenda being pursued to establish this minority in all positions of command in the executive, administrative, judicial and security services of the country.
“The voices of the majority register protests continually and are continually disrespected and ignored. The state of law is patently being subsumed to the needs of that agenda, with seriously damaging effects on human rights. These situations are inevitably fostering, among the peoples of the Middle Belt and South of the country, the feeling that they are being reduced to the status of conquered peoples of Nigeria.”
Akintoye called for the restructuring of the country “with the objective of giving our country a true and generally acceptable federal structure under which the present sections of the country will be able to develop their resources for the conquest of poverty in their domains”.
Soyinka said one of the ways Nigeria could say ‘Never Again’ to civil war “is to enthrone the principles of democracy”. He warned that the popular saying that “no nation has ever survived two civil wars” might not be historically sustainable.
The Nobel laureate said, “In this case, let us equate it with the wisdom of not holding a bank note, for instance, over a flame, simply because the Central Bank of Nigeria says they produce a currency which is non-flammable; or even the wisdom of not holding an exposed electrical wire in one’s hand simply because we know that NEPA never supplies electricity, it might just provide that incinerating charge; so, even the capacity to be resilient is not an excuse, not a justification for tempting fate.”
Utomi relived his experiences during the civil war, including how his grandfather was used by soldiers for “target practice” because the septuagenarian refused to run into the bush as others.
He, however, said he was no longer bitter about the civil war because he was convinced that General Yakubu Gowon and the late President Shehu Shagari were sincere in their efforts to heal the wounds caused by the war. Utomi said, “Had the Shagari mindset resulted in (Alex) Ekwueme’s Presidency in 1987, the ghost of the Biafran War would have been buried permanently but that was aborted in 1983.”
Anya, who was chairman on the occasion, said Nigeria failed to learn from the example of Germany and Japan that bounced back from World War II to become economic giants. “We have not learnt lessons from our past and the experiences of others,” he said.