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Today, I begin a new journey of public discourse on this page, a journey of self-discovery, soul- searching dialogue, inter-generational and intra- generational conversation, regional and ethnic dialogue that will build bridges across what divides us and cement what binds us as a nation. This page offers me an opportunity to define myself, my generation and play the role of interlocutor in explaining Nigeria, as I see it, to my various audiences.
I belong to the post-civil war Nigeria (1970 – 2000), I was born on the smouldering fires of a civil war that redefined our country and changed it in more ways than one. In the Eastern part of the country time was divided into three belts: before, during and after the war. My parents and their friends described events, births and death with the before, during and after war time wrap. So words like “osita was born after the war” was a common way of determining my age and age mates. When there was debate about the timing of birth or events words like “she gave birth during the war after we ran from Enugu” or “he was buried after the fall of Port Harcourt”
The scars of the war and the psychological damage on both sides were covered with the wall paper of oil boom denying the country an opportunity for introspection and catharsis. On the Nigerian side the psychological damage arising from a bloody three – year war to keep the country one did not find a healing outlet. We talk today of the Unknown Soldier and perform some perfunctory ceremony ostensibly to honour that soldier whose purpose and reason for dying remains unknown to the post-civil war generation or even to those who fought alongside the soldier.
On the Eastern side of the country the three Rs of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation provided the convenient ointment to soothe the pains of the bitter pogroms and war. Together with the oil boom and the quest to survive, the necessary soul searching and existential interrogation that ought to accompany the reconciliation never occurred.
Taking an example from the United States of America, a country founded on the idea of freedom and inalienable rights, we look at the way those who lost their lives during the American Civil war and the Second World War are treated. Every June 6, the world celebrates the D-Day, the landing at Normandy. On the 50th anniversary of that landing, veterans, Presidents, Prime Ministers gather at Normandy to celebrate the most audacious military campaign by the Allies to fight back Nazism. At the National D-day Memorial located in Bedford, Virginia, the community suffering the highest per capita D-Day losses in America, the memorial is described “…as a permanent tribute to the valour, fidelity and sacrifice of D-Day participants. The memorial is encompassed by the names of the 4,413 Allied soldiers who died in the invasion”
Where is the memorial to the valour and the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought to keep Nigeria one or the memorial for those who lost their lives in the pogroms and the Biafra side? What is the reminder for ‘‘Never again”? What will make a post war generation conscious of the triggers of that war and the human and material cost of the war? We must confront our past to help in ensuring that a new generation does not repeat the mistakes of the past as the prevailing situation across the country suggests.
The generation that fought the civil war did not and have not defined the reason it fought to keep Nigeria one. We do not have the equivalent of our own Gettysburg speech that raised the reason for the war above the mundane. We have not honoured those who laid down their lives so that the Nigerian State will survive and exist. Since the colonial government amalgamated Nigeria, have we defined the concept of Nigeria along values and ideas? We talk about unity and faith, unity for what? Faith in what? For what purpose?
Our ethnic, tribal and religious diversity ought to provide the inspiration and aspiration to build a nation out of our different tribes and tongues. Our founding fathers missed the opportunity to inspire and construct a nation of ideas and not a mere inheritor of a British convenience store. It is in trying to sustain and build on the British foundation and scaffolds that we have missed our way and continue to do so.
As a Freedom child born on a Nigerian soil watered by the blood of young men and women on both sides of the war, I have decided that we have come of age to set new scaffolds and construct new pillars that will give new meaning to the idea of Nigeria. Those born after the war are gradually ascending to the commanding heights of the bureaucracy, economy, politics and academia and will sooner than later assume responsibility for managing Nigeria.
Our national aspirations should inspire the next generation and provide them with the existential meaning of Nigeria. A meaning that transcends geography, natural resources and ethnicity. To grow Nigeria we must build a society that harness human resources, provides equal opportunities and develop capacity for innovation.
I have decided to start the conversation that will build bridges, that will promote new values for the Nigerian state. Underpinning the foundations of our country must include ideas like justice, freedom and inalienable rights. Building a nation where no man is oppressed should be the beacon of light that the post-civil war generation must find it’s bearing from. Denouncing the false constructs that divide us and promoting the values that can sustain a modern nation must be our immediate goal.
Technological advancement and increased capacity for a band of misguided or genuinely angry youths to unleash and sustain terror against groups and indeed countries makes it an imperative to rebuild Nigeria along the lines of social justice, fairness, equity and economic opportunities. Nigeria of tomorrow cannot be built on yesterday’s ideas. It must be built around new consensus that can withstand the existential and irrational challenges of religious and ethnic extremism. The building blocks of that new consensus will be the focus of my column.
I will interrogate the past, review the present and proffer solutions that can become part of the resolution of the equation as we march courageously towards a new equilibrium. Nations and indeed civilisations don’t disintegrate because of the absence of infrastructure but due to the absence of timeless values that provide the rationale for existence. I will use the platform of this column to encourage the post-civil war generation to embark on a journey of self-discovery and the search for new meaning.
I am an Afro – optimist and a believer in the great possibilities of a united Nigeria as a home for the black man, a continental example of pragmatic unity and a potential innovation hub of the African continent. At least our movies, music and dressing are unleashing a cultural and creative revolution across Africa. The downside is that with a bulging youth population, an economy built around a mono commodity, a lack of clear and coherent national vision of inclusiveness and a global rise of extremist and violent ideologies that is resonating with angry youths, we need to urgently press the reset button.
I will end today with the word of Eric Donaldson in his 1970s music appropriately titled Land of My Birth.
This is the land of my birth; I say this is the land of my birth.
I say this is Jamaica, my Jamaica, the land of my birth.
I will never leave her shores, I will never run away.
I will always believe in the black, the green, the gold I say.
All nations greater for their trials, we must face the test of time,
And our people they are strong and we going to get along.
Though some people say we are poor, but the progress you make my friend is not always how rich you are.
– Chidoka was a former minister of aviation.
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