Contrary to what some people may think, the drums of war are not indigenous to Nigeria. They sounded in America, the citizens silenced them. They sounded in Ghana, the people did not dance to them. So, as Nigerians, we should be determined to make our country work, against all odds. We too can muzzle the drums of war. We can turn our diversity to advantage. We can survive these troubled times.
It does not take any deep thought to discern that we are presently living in precarious times. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. With what we hear and read in the news every passing moment, it seems that we have lost it as a nation, and all hell is about to be let loose. The reality of sliding into the status of a failed state stares us in the face.
Terrorism is now an ever-present spectre, which has been joined by other fiendish cousins – kidnappings, banditry, hooliganism, ritual murders, and herders’ rampage. And as the fault lines across the fragile union are exacerbated by ethnic champions, the threat of war is now a clear and present danger.
It was the American-German psychologist, Erik Erikson, who said that human beings are created with a natural penchant for diversity and wilful division. We always find a cause to segregate. When we are at the international level, we seek to identify as separate nations and races. At the national level, we draw the lines of tribes. At the tribal family, we find our communities. Then, at the community level, we look for family ties to cling to. It is in us as humans; we always find something that makes us different from our neighbour, in order to classify others as enemies or friends.
Right now in Nigeria, the ghost of the Biafran war has pounced on our rickety tent while we slept. This time, it is about Fulani herdsmen in the forests of Ondo State. Tensions are high. Both the elders and the children are shouting at the top of their voices. And if care is not taken, we are about to reenact the dark drama of the 1960s. The saddest part is that because of the way the Presidency responded to the crisis, there is no longer any central voice of reason to rein in the citizens.
The farce is heartbreaking. It is not funny. It seems to have taken a spiritual dimension. People are suddenly feeling that they alone are God’s best race, the best tribe, the best breed, the best creation, the only creatures. What we now see is a situation where statesmen are no longer statesmen, because they can now beat their chest and say “my people” in reference to the tribe they come from. This is not supposed to be so. Statesmen should not have bias for any particular tribe, or religion for that matter. Their allegiance should be to the green, white and green flag.
We can learn from the United States of America. The country nearly went up in flames during their last elections, but genuine statesmen rose up to the occasion. Donald Trump would not have won the 2016 US presidential election if he did not play on the emerging global condition of dichotomy. America first! But extreme right Caucasian Americans understood this to mean “White America first”. Nevertheless, when in 2020 it became obvious that Trumpism was about to drown the American Union, a majority of the seasons decided to let peace reign. Civil war was averted.
The key lesson to be learnt from America is that a people must not allow their leaders to drag them to Armageddon with their eyes wide open. Yes, the Presidency may show some body language tilting towards support for the herdsmen in Ondo, but we must not take it as the reason to embrace anarchy. Our eyes should be on the survival of the Nigerian union. We can still detach ourselves from the official bandwagon of presidential belligerence.
Granted, it is very difficult to make peace when the damage is coming from the top. Yet, it is possible to make that peace. This is why democracy is the preferred form of governance. It has a limited term for any government in power. Therefore, whatever kind of problem the polity is faced with, the malady has an expiration date. The people must look forward and renew their faith in their own power to make a change, because change is possible.
Statesmen are the ones needed at a time like this. They look beyond present temptations, so that they will be able to guide other citizens. If the present regime does not want to restructure the country, the heck, the next one could!
Violence and bad blood can never solve any problem. Even if there is war, it will end on the peace table. It will not last forever. So, why don’t we go to the peace table first? The environment does not need to suffer unnecessary stress from an ill-advised conflict. Our natural resources are not as lush and abundant as they were in the 1960’s.
This is why the world decided to save the ecosystem from conflict. The journey started on November 5, 2001 when the United Nations General Assembly declared November 6, of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.
Although humankind has always counted its war casualties in terms of dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, destroyed cities and livelihoods, the environment has often remained the unpublicised victim of war. Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage. Recall, for instance, that during World War 2, Adolf Hitler directed his men to effect a “scorched earth” operation as they hastily retreated from the victorious Allied Forces’ mop-up offensive.
Scorched earth means exactly what it says: the whole ecosystem shall be razed by soldiers so that no human being could be able to utilise Earth’s natural resources for a long time to come, even if they succeeded in settling in the “scorched” theatres. Therefore, when one imagines the present-day destructive capabilities of nuclear bombs, and chemical and biological weapons, it is easy to see who the real casualty would be if there happened to be a nuclear holocaust – Mother Earth.
Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Programme has found that over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse. This is what the Fulani herders issue has become in Nigeria. It is not going away. But it requires high creativity and sophisticated statesmanship to solve it. And solve it, we must.
The problem is that most Nigerians do not believe in Nigeria. And there is no way a country can work when the people who live in it see it as a carcass to be either blown up or cut up. This is because there is no such thing as a people-less nation. It is the people that make the country. An Irish American sees himself first as an American before anything else. Here in Nigeria, do we see ourselves first as Nigerians before our tribal affiliation? When we become conscious of our country, our country becomes a living entity. It breathes. It thrives. Without us, it is dead.
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