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 Averting another civil war

Averting another civil war

THE NATION

Latest happenings around the country continue to raise deep questions about the future of Nigeria. The nation is going through pain and tragedy.

Way back in the early 1960s, a declassified diplomatic wire from the US State Department archives described the country’s political scene as being one of “complicated African politics, in which tribes, religions and economics all play a part, are involved in the situation.

The North is at odds with the Eastern Region, where “large oil deposits have been discovered…there have been threats of secession by the east; threats of violence “that would make Congo look like child’s play”.

Today, little or no effort has been made by opinion leaders and politicians to nip this disastrous trend in the bud. Politics is still largely crude and banal; campaigns are conducted not on platforms of ideology or policy “but based on personal abuse and vitriolic ethnic chauvinism”.

It is high time we embrace the nationalist idea. The world is changing and Nigerians need to move with it. Our ethnic demography may have played a role in the past civil war; it should not be so now. The conventional view that “violence in Africa is a product of the legacy of arbitrary colonial borders that bundled rival tribes together” is archaic and should no longer have a place.

Odd as it may seem, it has been established that regardless of how ethnically mixed a state is, the probability of a civil conflict decreases as a country get richer. Multi-ethnic countries that are rich show less tendency to fight it out, for instance, the Walloons and Flemings in Belgium.

In a comprehensive 2003 study, Stanford University’s civil war experts James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin noted that: “it appears not to be true that a greater degree of ethnic or religious diversity — or indeed any particular cultural demography — by itself makes a country more prone to civil war.”

The study noted that civil war can spark off under certain circumstances that favour rebel insurgencies. These insurgents may be anti-colonialists, greedy opportunists, and communists of various stripes, ethnic chauvinists or Islamists. They are usually protected by a sympathetic rural population, a mountainous terrain and also funded by foreign support. These groups take advantage of a weak and corrupt government.

In early 1990’s, we recall that Northern Nigeria had few cases of kidnapping and banditry. Such news usually emanate from the Niger Delta where militants parading as resource agitators, kidnap expatriates and demand for huge ransom. Through the years, we have seen a paradigm shift, leading to an exponential increase in kidnap and banditry in the North.

The causes are not far-fetched. It is common knowledge that there is a causal link between poverty and crime. The overdue neglect of the government in ensuring equality and providing a conducive environment for businesses to flourish, have worsened the situation.

Furthermore, the alarming rate of uncontrolled arms around Nigeria is disturbing. Proliferation of arms is contributing greatly to the insecurity and lawlessness we see today. The arms business cartels are fuelling conflicts in Africa as postulated by Crawford Young, a former dean at the National University of Zaire.

This brings us back to the question of how insurgents finance and acquire military hardware. Here, the effort of the government in tracking down Bureau de Change establishments said to be directly facilitating the finance of Boko-haram activities through their businesses is noteworthy. Indeed, rebels may not necessarily need popular support as far as they can manage to finance themselves. This calls for urgent action on the government to hasten the prosecution of those found wanting.

It is also important for the government to engage aggrieved parties if only to quell rising agitations. For example, the amnesty programme of late President Umaru Yar’Adua did a lot to quell the restiveness in the Niger Delta. One recalls that some militants decided to suspend their nefarious activities in exchange for jobs and skill acquisition. We should see sincere and honest effort on the part of government in this regard. Even the legendary activist, late Ken Saro-Wiwa once noted that the Nigerian civil war “has taught everyone several lessons, one of them being that secession of any part of Nigeria is an impossibility”.

It remains the responsibility of all Nigerians to make this country a better place to live in. Security agencies should keep a watch full eye on our porous borders. Let us be wary of politicians who are “ethnic champions”; leaders without national outlook. Our debate should now focus more on the need for adequate policing, economic development.

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