KILL THAT SILENCE, OR THAT SILENCE WILL KILL YOU.

Africa’s most populous country has a major problem with acknowledging the stories of its inhabitants, especially the plethora of unpleasant stories that many of us do not want to hear.

Nothing illustrates this more than our attitude toward the Nigerian Civil War. Throughout my education in Nigeria, I was never taught Nigerian history to any sort of depth. After six years of primary school and six years of secondary school, all I knew about Nigerian history was a few random facts about Herbert Macaulay, Olusegun Obasanjo, October 1, 1960, and “the three major tribes.”

The adults around me would occasionally reference the war, and then very quickly change the topic when I asked what it was like. I grew up believing a version of history where “Igbos attacked Nigeria,” and then Yakubu Gowon apparently managed to pacify them magnanimously, while singing “Nigeria must be one,” and throwing rose petal confetti to adoring crowds of smiling people.

It wasn’t until I met people who shared their stories that my wall of ignorance began to break, starting in 2011. Among the many people I met was an accountant who survived the Asaba massacre as a 10 year-old boy by pretending to be dead, while his father and three uncles were not so lucky.

In 2014, my mum casually mentioned to my shock, that during the war, she witnessed an anti-Igbo pogrom in Itire, Surulere where she grew up. This incident has been, for all intents and purposes, thoroughly scrubbed from every mainstream historical account of the war I have seen.

The following year, I then met someone who showed me a photo of his sister who died during the war after eating baby food from a batch of aid rations that was deliberately laced with rat poison allegedly by the Nigerian Army.

Apart from the emotional potency of these stories, it must be noted that they took place within living memory – 1970 is not that long ago. Despite how successfully they have been silenced and removed from mainstream political discourse, the fact is that the existence of millions of survivors has real implications for the continued corporate existence of Nigeria.

To my mind, the existential threat to Nigeria’s unified existence is not the fact that demagogues like Nnamdi Kanu exist. The real threat is that the conspiracy of silence surrounding the Nigerian situation and the millions of important stories that have been silenced end up giving power and legitimacy to the likes of Kanu – because nobody else is willing to break the wicked, suffocating silence.

What is more, the lack of regard for people’s stories, and state use of silence as an official policy have led to a situation where Muritala Mohammed – by all accounts, an actual, real-life war criminal – has his face immortalised on our money and has Nigeria’s busiest airport named after him. To understand how a person that lost relatives to Mohammed’s genocide in Asaba must feel about this, perhaps we should imagine a parallel universe where Tel Aviv airport is called “Josef Mengele International,” or the Congolese 20 Franc banknote has a picture of King Leopold on it.

This is the same disdainful lack of respect for people’s stories that leads to the nonsenical assumption that “Nigeria is made up of three ethnic groups.” In reality, ethnic identities like “Igbo” and “Yoruba” are very recent, colonial-era creations – even the word “Yoruba” is not native to the culture. According to Nigeria’s conspiracy of silence however, despite having a distinct culture with its own distinct language and centuries of independent history, I am to identify as “Yoruba” because my hometown is in southwestern Nigeria.

My good friend and former colleague Okechukwu Ofili, who comes from the Olukumi ethnic group in Delta State is to identify himself as “Igbo,” despite being no such thing. As for anyone from Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nassarawa or Plateau, who cares? Anything from Okene up, is “Hausa-Fulani” anyway…”https://thescoopng.com/2019/05/15/silence-nigeria-civil-war/

Africa’s most populous country has a major problem with acknowledging the stories of its inhabitants, especially the plethora of unpleasant stories that many of us do not want to hear.

Nothing illustrates this more than our attitude toward the Nigerian Civil War. Throughout my education in Nigeria, I was never taught Nigerian history to any sort of depth. After six years of primary school and six years of secondary school, all I knew about Nigerian history was a few random facts about Herbert Macaulay, Olusegun Obasanjo, October 1, 1960, and “the three major tribes.”

The adults around me would occasionally reference the war, and then very quickly change the topic when I asked what it was like. I grew up believing a version of history where “Igbos attacked Nigeria,” and then Yakubu Gowon apparently managed to pacify them magnanimously, while singing “Nigeria must be one,” and throwing rose petal confetti to adoring crowds of smiling people.

It wasn’t until I met people who shared their stories that my wall of ignorance began to break, starting in 2011. Among the many people I met was an accountant who survived the Asaba massacre as a 10 year-old boy by pretending to be dead, while his father and three uncles were not so lucky. In 2014, my mum casually mentioned to my shock, that during the war, she witnessed an anti-Igbo pogrom in Itire, Surulere where she grew up. This incident has been, for all intents and purposes, thoroughly scrubbed from every mainstream historical account of the war I have seen. The following year, I then met someone who showed me a photo of his sister who died during the war after eating baby food from a batch of aid rations that was deliberately laced with rat poison allegedly by the Nigerian Army.

Apart from the emotional potency of these stories, it must be noted that they took place within living memory – 1970 is not that long ago. Despite how successfully they have been silenced and removed from mainstream political discourse, the fact is that the existence of millions of survivors has real implications for the continued corporate existence of Nigeria. To my mind, the existential threat to Nigeria’s unified existence is not the fact that demagogues like Nnamdi Kanu exist. The real threat is that the conspiracy of silence surrounding the Nigerian situation and the millions of important stories that have been silenced end up giving power and legitimacy to the likes of Kanu – because nobody else is willing to break the wicked, suffocating silence.

What is more, the lack of regard for people’s stories, and state use of silence as an official policy have led to a situation where Muritala Mohammed – by all accounts, an actual, real-life war criminal – has his face immortalised on our money and has Nigeria’s busiest airport named after him. To understand how a person that lost relatives to Mohammed’s genocide in Asaba must feel about this, perhaps we should imagine a parallel universe where Tel Aviv airport is called “Josef Mengele International,” or the Congolese 20 Franc banknote has a picture of King Leopold on it.

This is the same disdainful lack of respect for people’s stories that leads to the nonsenical assumption that “Nigeria is made up of three ethnic groups.” In reality, ethnic identities like “Igbo” and “Yoruba” are very recent, colonial-era creations – even the word “Yoruba” is not native to the culture.

According to Nigeria’s conspiracy of silence however, despite having a distinct culture with its own distinct language and centuries of independent history, I am to identify as “Yoruba” because my hometown is in southwestern Nigeria. My good friend and former colleague Okechukwu Ofili, who comes from the Olukumi ethnic group in Delta State is to identify himself as “Igbo,” despite being no such thing. As for anyone from Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Nassarawa or Plateau, who cares? Anything from Okene up, is “Hausa-Fulani” anyway…”

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