By NDI KATO
Twice this week I have been fed with photos from Nigerians at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. The photos taken at this museum in a country that understands the respect and preservation of history and its place in charting the course for a better future have been used to send warnings of a similar fate that may befall Nigerians if we are not “careful”. These warnings from experiences in faraway East Africa are intended to teach us to live in peace with one another if not; this huge genocide that Nigeria has supposedly never witnessed will befall us.
Anyone who is not a student of history may be tempted to think that a similar, unfortunate, historical event did not happen in Nigeria. While the time span may be significantly different, the numbers are not easy on the heart. The Rwandan genocide took 800,000 lives in 100 days, the Biafran war cost the Igbos of South Eastern Nigeria over 2 million lives between 1966 and 1970. Two million people were murdered by direct assault or starvation.
This is the reality Nigeria wants to pretend never happened.
I have had several arguments with Nigerians over my support for the removal of history from the curriculum in Nigerian secondary schools. What is my reason? I took history as an elective subject in Senior Secondary School and the subject was laden with shallow lies and a terrible paint job that attempts to bury the intricate details of Nigeria, our journey and why we are where we are. I learned nothing that would give me an understanding of our past and a clear projection of our future.
This is the reality for most Nigerians today; a people with no knowledge of the dynamics of who they are and what the Nigerian state and nationhood means.
We speak of nationhood but do not build on the things that may make us a nation. I use “may” because we are not a nation; we are a geographical expression at best. I also refer to Nigeria as a coagulation of largely unwilling groups tied together by crude oil. My favourite definition is “Nigeria is a business entity operating at the expense of human lives”.
None of the things that tie people to their countries are uplifted in Nigeria.
Our history is ignored, the existence of over 250 tribes is constantly brushed over, our unique languages are ignored and constantly being forced to bow under the umbrella of the three largest ethnic groups.
Many Nigerians outside the Niger Delta are just knowing the Ijaw people are a large population spanning several states, many do not know the over 200 ethnic groups in what is known as Northern Nigeria. We are ignorant of the existence of several tribes constituting the majority in States like Kebbi and Bauchi; the cover up paint job runs deep.
Just yesterday, I learned that a certain celebrated hero with his face on our currency and an airport to his name “led the Asaba massacre of 1967 and that when he got to Onicha and found it largely abandoned save for the wounded in the hospital who couldn’t move, he shot them in the mouth till he ran out of ammunition. He slit the throat of the rest with his bayonet”. Nigeria knows too little of this man and this has prevented us from asking the right questions. Where did his brutality come from? What informed his choice of actions? Are there more like him? How does the Nigerian Army avoid recruiting people like him? Important questions for any country serious about unity and nationhood, questions that have been forced away. This man has been crowned a hero and for the Igbos and the people of Asaba, the naira note and the airport serve as a constant dig in sores that are old yet kept afresh by an unjust nation.
I was also recently introduced to the story of four young men who attempted to hijack a plane to register their displeasure with the IBB Government and the VP who abandoned same government in protest against bad governance.
These stories buried to keep us from remembering a time when people were drastic in their quest for a fair Nigeria.
Fast forward to present day Nigeria and the warnings of a war to come if we don’t toe the line of burying realities and conversations that should be held, at the altar of “One Nigeria” built on the devaluation of the Nigerian life.
I want to point out that by virtue of the lives lost and states under constant attack, we are at war. Why is this another reality that we have refused to acknowledge? Access to several interstate roads is already being cut off. This past week, 72 Nigerians (these are the ones we have on record) were killed, the week before, over a hundred deaths from multiple attacks were recorded.
Let us look at more numbers, according to Premiumtimes, 25, 794 Nigerians were killed in various attacks in the first half of Buhari’s tenure. Syria, a war torn country recorded 20,000 deaths in the whole of 2018.
These numbers easily reveal that the war we fear that is to come is already here. These killings are an informal memorial for an unresolved war and a genocide we have refused to mount and stories we have refused to tell.
As we go to Rwanda in search of an example we pretend to not have, our memorial tugs at us back home. It lives in the hearts of those affected by the Biafran war, it lives in the wanton destruction of Nigerian lives from 1970 to date, it lives in our disdain for history and it lives in what we continue to suffer.
The preferred “Ozoemena” is a physical tribute to the dead and a memorial to serve as a reminder that this unity is negotiable and the future will be built on lessons from our history.