MEMORY & NATION BUILDING BIAFRA: 50 YEARS AFTER  …a sober reflection ~ PROFESSOR EGHOSA OSAGHAE.




RECONCILIATION RECONSTRUCTION REHABILITATION: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED

Post hoc analyses pose fairly peculiar methodological challenges. Quite apart from running into the fallacy of imputing causal relationships to temporary sequences, they also face the risk of interpreting past events from the lenses of present realities which are quite often different. For this reason, it is probably best to interrogate decisions, relationships, outcomes and effects of past events within the context of their existence. With regards to our present concern – the Nigerian civil war in general and issues of post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation in particular – there are obvious paradigmatic and contextual differences between civil wars today and those of the past.

The variable of time, operationalized as constellations of general tendencies and formations that define a particular period and set it apart from other periods, is very crucial here. The changes in the post-Cold War global order, including the International Criminal Court which was established in 1998 as the first ever permanent, treaty-based court to prosecute individuals for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, growing popularity of truth and reconciliation models of post-conflict peace-building, and increased intervention by major regional and global actors in post-conflict reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation, set today‟s wars apart.

These developments may not be altogether new – for instance foreign intervention especially involving United Nations peacekeeping operations has been a prominent feature of civil wars since the 1950s – but they were arguably at lower levels of development at the time of the civil war in Nigeria and, counterfactually speaking, would have made a difference in the war trajectory if they existed. One key point in this regard, which has not been given the emphasis it deserves in analyses of the war in Nigeria, is the zero or limited role played by the United Nations, because as U Thant then Secretary-General explained, “the issue [was] not properly brought to the notice of any of the principal organs of this world body” (Azikiwe, in Uwechue, 1971:x).

In the event, the mediation stage was left to the Organization of African Unity, OAU, whose interventions were feeble and circumscribed first by Nigeria‟s preeminent status in the organization, and second, by its ostensible fidelity to the bogus principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. The Commonwealth was also involved in the efforts to restore peace and stability in the country, but its interventions were as feeble as those of the OAU. Decisive foreign intervention, especially one involving the United Nations, could very well have affected not only the trajectory of the civil war, but also that of post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation, which were entirely a Nigerian affair, undertaken by Nigerians themselves with little or no experience in such matters.

We recognize the possible dangers of post hoc analysis, but the point is that it cannot be avoided. This is especially so if the interrogation is done within the framework of lessons learnt, and with the purpose of explaining why the remedial steps taken to the ends of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation worked well or not. The analysis which follows is set within this framework.

Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation: Framework and Matters Arising

The declaration by Nigeria‟s head of state, General Yakubu Gowon, at the end of the civil war in January 1970 that there was „no victor, no vanquished‟ set the tone and rationale for post-war reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation. But, even with the best of intentions and reconciliatory motivations, quite a number of framework problems dogged the template. First, given the massive scale of persecution, killings and destruction suffered by Igbo first in the pogrom in the north mainly but other parts of the country also in the pre-war period, and second in the civil war itself, Gowon‟s reconciliatory mantra appeared overly ambitious. How easily were the deep wounds, hurts and losses suffered mainly by the Igbo, but also by the ethnic minorities in Biafra and Mid-West going to be healed? Was healing possible without addressing the fundamental issues of equity and justice that were central to the war, but which remained largely unresolved? Was this possible when the process was undertaken unilaterally and imposed by the victorious federal side to which Biafra leaders had surrendered? Gowon‟s guarantee of “general amnesty for those misled into rebellion” in his national address following the end of the war had set the boundaries of a top-down, take-it-or-leave-it reconciliation frame.

In particular, how were the perspectives and demands of the Igbo to be factored in, in the absence of post-war negotiations, the kinds that took place in last-ditch conferences and summits to prevent the outbreak of war or in the peace summits under the aegis of the OAU and Commonwealth while the war lasted? The controversial issue of so-called abandoned properties in Port-Harcourt, which required proofs of ownership that people coming out of war could not easily obtain, was one of the casualties of the imposed peace paradigm. The virtual neglect of refugees and displaced persons, which amounted to a failure of rehabilitation efforts, was another. Yet a third was the reintegration of Igbo public officers and military, police and security personnel, which was disjointed and possibly insincere, to the point that 1) limits were set for the advancement and promotion of many of those reabsorbed especially in the military, police and security agencies; and 2) over thirty years after those absorbed were retired they were not receive retirement entitlements.

In the absence of participatory and inclusive peace-building process, which had Igbo voice, some of the actions of the federal government, such as the introduction of the indigenization programme and the decision to change the colour of the national currency shortly after the war, were viewed with suspicion as attempts at inflicting further punishments on the defeated.

The timing of indigenization so soon after the war was perceived as a deliberate attempt by the federal government to exclude the Igbo from control of the economy by the Nigerian bourgeoisie. In fact, it was not until the occasion of the Justice Oputa Human Rights Investigation Commission, which was set up by the administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001, that the Igbo elite had the opportunity had the opportunity to formally table their grievances and demands. They alleged pre- and post-civil war marginalization and discrimination and demanded reparations for injustices, genocide-related atrocities, and disempowerment before, during and after the war. Although the hearings at the commission provided the opportunity to ventilate frustrations in the manner of contemporary truth and reconciliation approaches, they offered little or no healing as the issues raised were consigned to the pages of the reports.

Above all, given that reconstruction, rehabilitation and especially reconciliation do not take place in one fell swoop, but are rather long-term processes whose outcomes are continuously shaped by post-war developments, how should we score the efforts today, decades after the war? Why have federal infrastructures, especially highways, bridges and educational institutions in the South East remained some of the most neglected in the country since the war? Why do the Igbo continue to allege marginalization and exclusion in the federal scheme of power and resource sharing? Does the resurgence of separatist agitations by a number of Igbo nationalist movements – MASSOB, IPOB most notably – suggest that the efforts have, overall, been ineffective? In other words, that reconciliation and all have failed? These lead questions guide interrogation of lessons learnt with regard to the reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation processes that followed the Nigerian civil war.

Before turning to do so however and to put the lessons learnt in proper perspective, it is necessary to deepen our conceptual understanding and correlates of the three Rs, especially of reconciliation which is on aggregate the most important element of post-war settlement. The three Rs may be mutually reinforcing – indeed reconstruction and rehabilitation constitute necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for reconciliation, reconciliation is a far more elusive and difficult bargain. Reconstruction and rehabilitation tend to be short-term and more empirically verifiable (reconstruction of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, houses and infrastructural remediation in general, as well as rehabilitation of refugees and displaced persons can easily be seen and counted in costs and numbers). It is generally agreed that the increased wealth of the federal government following the oil boom of the early 1970s gave a boost to the reconstruction efforts. Theoretically, both processes can also be undertaken by the dominant or victorious power as was the case in Nigeria, although as we have argued, they yield better outcomes if those to be rehabilitated have a say in their management.

It is not so with reconciliation which is a cumulative, long-term and covert psychological process. Worse, reconciliation is an essentially contested concept. We can readily agree that reconciliation entails forgetting, forgiving, resolving differences, and possibly a return to harmonious relations. Each of these is problematic: whose memory matters, forgives what, forgets what, resolves what, and returns to which harmony? Harmony of oppression and domination in which the defeated, the victim, acquiesces to the status quo? Clearly reconciliation is not a neutral or objective concept either in meaning or negotiation. It has winners and losers, and if those who feel unjustly treated do not find compensation and a bettering of their social conditions that led to conflict and war in the first place, then reconciliation remains the monopoly and privilege of the winners and acquiescence of the losers. This appears to have been the essence of the reconciliation processes that followed the end of the civil war in 1970. If the continued agitation for what some call genuine reconciliation, which has sometimes taken the form of resurgent separatism is anything to go by, the conclusion will be that the process has been one-sided and uncompleted.

Lessons Learnt

The first lesson learnt, therefore, is that reconciliation – and reconstruction and rehabilitation as well – are negotiated rather than objective or imposed outcomes. This was a road not travelled in the Nigerian case because the victorious federal government executed a unilateral programme of reconciliation, and even at that lacked the capacity and experience to devise an all-inclusive arrangement. Unfortunately, the prevailing circumstances in the country make a one-on-one negotiation between „Biafra‟ and „Nigeria‟ as they were in the civil war highly unlikely. The Igbo question can only now be posed within the larger framework of the vexed National Question that has agitations for political restructuring, true federalism and equitable accommodation as key defining elements. The platforms and mechanisms for ventilating these issues – notably the 1995/96 constitutional conference convened by the Abacha administration, Obasanjo‟s 2005 national political reform conference, Jonathan‟s 2014 national conference, proceedings of the Justice Oputa Human Rights Commission, power sharing-oriented party politics and coalition-building amongst social movements and civil society constituents – all point in this direction. What has raised the stakes of the National Question is the concentration of power at the centre and in the office of the powerful presidency, which makes questions of access, equity, inclusivity critical.

But even granted that the three Rs were the exclusive preserve of the federal government, and in the absence of significant foreign support (only the Red Cross was active in refugee management), the other problem was the lack of local capacity to address issues of conflict and disaster management, refugees and internal displacement, humanitarian interventions, demobilization and demilitarization, radicalization, and post-conflict peace (and confidence)- building. The poor management of the highly contentious issue of so-called abandoned properties in Port-Harcourt is a case in point. Another is the neglect of radicalized youths who had served as child soldiers and been dehumanized, brainwashed and subjected to substance abuse. These all had adverse consequences. The failure to undertake a proper and systematic programme of demobilization and demilitarization for instance led to the proliferation of small arms and rise of violent crimes, especially armed robbery. The need to build capacity not only for responsive and emergency interventions but proactive and preventive actions cannot be overemphasized. The recent and ongoing challenges of internally displaced persons, radicalized youths, and arms proliferation in the north east region of the country further teaches that this capacity must be urgently built hopefully with the support of the international community.

War memories present some of the most traumatic aspects of conflicts that require appropriate psychological operations to heal. How do you erase the memories of the pre-war pogrom in Zaria, Kaduna, Kaduna and other parts of the then Northern region, of the horrendous massacre in Asaba and several other war zones, of starvation, mindless killings, and so on? Healing therapies that have been applied across the world include trial and punishment of war crimes and crimes against humanity, truth, justice and reconciliation commissions and hearings (many people, possibly casualties, are still unaccounted for 50 years after the Nigerian war), and reparation. None of these therapies has been applied in Nigeria, and it may be too late in the day to apply some of them, but a way has to be found to heal the lingering wounds, hurts and losses. “Unless the surviving actors of the genocide [before and during the war] are brought to book and appropriate compensation paid to the Igbo” one actor in the war has warned, “let us be assured that the descendants of those genocide perpetrators will continue to commit more and more genocide. The perennial ethnic cleansing in the north are modern, atrocious and tactical versions of this earlier genocide” (Orjinta, 2012:xvi). The other likelihood is that the bitter memories and grievances of the war would continue to trigger and lend support to anti-state mobilization and conflict. But in all this, the point must be made that post-civil war reconciliation – and reconstruction and rehabilitation in tow – is not entirely an Igbo question. The interests of the minorities of the former Eastern region and the Mid-West, who were also victims of the pogrom, suffered devastating losses on both sides of the war, and have suffered systemic deprivation and exclusion as a consequence of the war, should also be mainstreamed in the civil war chapter of the National Question. The oil wars in the Niger Delta, and the continued marginalization of minorities from these are for example, are intricately linked to this chapter (Osaghae, 2015).

PROFESSOR EGHOSA OSAGHAE
25TH MAY, 2017

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s