- Category: Paul Onyewuchi Nnodim
- Published on Thursday, 19 January 2012 02:37
- Written by Paul Nnodim
- Hits: 1565
If war is a bad thing, then civil war is horrific, and religious civil war is even more grisly. Normally, someone like me, who was born a couple of years after the end of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, should have no business educating fellow Nigerians about the consequences of a civil war.
However, by sheer fate, rather than a dauntless accomplishment on my part, I found myself in Burundi in 1994 during the gruesome Burundi/Rwanda conflicts. There, working as a young volunteer in an international relief mission alongside six gentlemen from Europe, I witnessed the savagery and brutishness of civil war. The memories of the war fought between the two major ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi in both Burundi and Rwanda, are still very vivid in my mind. I saw displaced children, who had nothing left to eat, but their ragged, holey clothes. I saw mothers frantically reviving their dying babies, only to see some of them give up the ghost in their nursing arms. Every morning, the crowd clustered around our building, many people nauseous and noxious; ravaged by cholera. Others looked exhausted, disillusioned, and even crazy. The war habituated everyone to a life of hopelessness and despair.
I remember one afternoon, when an army helicopter hovered around me and some kids in the village of Mutumba. We had gathered to hear the stories of those who abandoned ethnic animosity or risked their lives to save others. The helicopter opened fire, and one person, allegedly a rebel, was down, dead. Above all, I remember in particular one remarkable Sunday incident. We had gone to a chapel in the capital Bujumburu to pray, when unexpectedly the battle for the control of one part of the city erupted between the Hutu rebels and the Tutsi dominated Burundian army. Unluckily, we were only about half a mile away from the midpoint of the combat. All of us, foreigners, got caught up in a war that none of us had anything to do with. We faced a barrage of gun fire and the relentless sound of artillery. The battle lasted about four hours before the shooting became spasmodic. We lay down on the concrete floor of the compound, while bullets wheezed past above, hitting walls, roofs, and windows. We prayed that no bomb, grenade, or mortar landed inside that compound to shred us to pieces. In Burundi, our world was fraught with danger because each day brought us closer to death. Every step taken was precarious.
Those among us, who enjoyed the taste of fish, recoiled at the thought of anything fishy. As rumor had it, thousands of dead human bodies had been dumped into Lake Tanganyika and the fish of the great lake had been feasting on them. In its senselessness, that war became a parody of the human intellect. Sometimes families found themselves torn apart. Some Hutus had married Tutsis, and vice versa. Should a man kill his spouse because she belongs to another ethnic group?
If such a reprehensible evil could take place in two predominantly Christian countries, with a near homogeneous culture and one language – Kiswahili (Kirundi and Kirwanda); what then should one expect from a country like Nigeria with a jambalaya of 100 or more ethnic groups’ culturally diverse, and divided along religious lines?
By all indications, Nigeria is facing a catastrophe at the moment: a crisis that could lead to a civil war. How does one conjecture such an evil thing as war? In logic and critical reasoning classes, we have something called conditional statements. Another name for conditional statements is “if…then” statements. When teaching introductory courses in logic to young undergraduates, I use conditional statements to build hypothetical syllogisms. My favorite one goes like this:
If clouds are gathering in the north, then it will rain.
Clouds are gathering in the north.
Therefore, it will rain.
In the same manner, we can use hypothetical syllogisms to determine the most likely scenarios in a given situation. Placing Nigeria under my syllogistic magnifying glass, what I see is spine-chilling and dreadful. Huge clouds are gathering over Nigeria. Let’s hope it does not rain so soon.
Few days ago, I read with great distress about the massacre of Ndigbo of South-Eastern Nigeria in Adamawa state. According to the Associated Press, Boko Haram members, shouting “God is great” and brandishing AK 47, opened fire on innocent Igbo men and women, who had gathered for a town hall meeting. They succeeded in wasting the lives of 20 Igbo men and wounding 15. Boko Haram’s spokesman, Abu-Qaqa claimed that they attacked Christians to prove to the Nigerian government that Boko Haram can always change tactics. Since the Christmas day bombings, Boko Haram has been killing Christians and Southerners in Northern Nigeria almost on a daily basis. Ndigbo have been massacred in the North before. Thousands of Southerners, especially Igbo, were killed by their Northern compatriots in a pogrom that shocked the world, leading to the Biafra-Nigeria civil war (1967-1970). But can Nigeria afford another civil war? Can Nigeria survive a religious war? Should civil war break out in Nigeria, every Nigerian would be affected. Innocent Nigerians, who had no cause to fight one another in the first place, would be the losers.
A sensible government would have seen the recent Boko Haram attacks as an opportunity to rally Nigerians against the group. When terrorists attacked the US in 2001, President George Bush Jr. used the occasion to unite Americans against a common enemy – Al Qaida. Most reasonable Nigerians were looking up to President Jonathan to do the same. But to their chagrin and disappointment, and in a manner that amounts to a dereliction of duty to the masses, President Jonathan turned the tide against himself. Facing Boko Haram’s menace, the President declared in no pettifogging terms, the removal of the fuel subsidy. In fact, Boko Haram may tap into the present fury of Nigerians to give gravitas to their movement.
And so far, what has President Jonathan gained?
There is a public outcry; his public image shifting from virtuous to villainous overnight.
The cost of a liter of fuel skyrocketed from N65 naira to N142 and more. Dozens of Nigerians have died protesting the decision of the government.
The president may have had some good intentions in removing the subsidy, but the timing is horrible. He claimed that his administration will go bankrupt if he did not deregulate the oil sector and closed the loopholes exploited by a coterie of thieves and oil importers as an avenue to siphon billions of dollars from the countries coffer. Perhaps, Nigeria may have been subsidizing corruption for years in the form of fuel subsidy. But did the government build new refineries to assuage the problem of low output from the outdated, existing refineries before removing the subsidy? Did the government consider the verity that some state governors are not even willing to pay ordinary Nigerians the N18,000 minimum wage? Did the President recognize that Nigerian government officials are the highest paid in the world? Some people even claim that a Nigerian senator earns three times more money than the annual salary ($400,000) of a US president. Has he ever thought of curbing the recklessness within his administration? These are the questions that infuriate Nigeria.
The president has promised to use the 1 Trillion Naira (ca. $6 Billion) that the removal of the subsidy would fetch for the government to improve infrastructure and public services. But Nigerians do not trust their government and they have good reasons not to.
The smartest thing for President Goodluck Jonathan to do right now is to bracket his ego, rush to the microphone and shout: “Fellow Nigerians, I revoke my recent, injudicious declaration. I am recasting my views. The subsidy is restored.” Otherwise, his presidency can become history within the early months of this year. There is a limit to how much people can suffer and still remain subservient. The herd of exploited, demoralized, and ostensibly panic-stricken poor will soon snap. The average Nigerian fights for his or her stomach. It’s the survival of the fattest in the land of abundant natural resources. The president should reinstate the subsidy, if for no other reason, for his own stomach.
*Paul Onyewuchi Nnodim, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Philosophy, and Interdisciplinary Studies, Massachusetts College, Massachusetts, USA.