I joined The Guardian newspapers in 1985 and was made to report for The Guardian Express, the staple’s afternoon paper. My daily chore took me to every nook and corner of Lagos and its environ.
One of the most troubling assignment I was saddled with at this early period of my career as a journalist was to report on the refugee camp in Oru Ijebu, Ogun State.
There camped, were those who escaped the war in Liberia.
I mingled with the refugees, listened to their stories and observed their lives from morning to night. After spending two days in that camp I returned to Lagos humbled, and my perspective on war changed for ever.
The Liberians fled their homes and arrived Nigeria on rickety boats from Monrovia. Some made the tortuous journey by road.
The authorities could not find any decent accommodation for this hordes of people displaced by war.
They were taken to the premises of a school in Oru. There in the Oru Camp was no water, no electricity, no toilet, no medicare. The camp was devoid of any facility. Almost all of the rooms, which were hitherto classrooms, in the school where the people found accommodation had no windows. There were no bed but mattresses as flat and as thin as a carton.
Refugees are refugees because they are displaced and are provided minimal survival kits. This I could relate with. In the context of Nigeria, they were burdens on a state whose resources were stretched thin from the austerity of that era.
What was shocking was the moment I began to interact with, and interrogate them . You would have thought they were ordinary citizens, jetsam and flotsam of society. That was not so. I found that the people I encountered were not ordinary beings. They were the elites.
Many of them were elites in the Liberia of yester years. Some were serving judges, academics, business men and women, top civil servants before the war broke out.
These were big men and women who now woke up in windowless classrooms in Oru, go to the bush to defecate, search for nearby brooks to fetch water for drinking and cooking . What do they have as there kitchens ? The traditional three stones on which pans and pots were delicately placed to cook whatever is available .
I saw people who had lived in affluence dashed to the bush in search of wild cocoyam to cook and eat for survival.
I saw husbands who could not account for their wives. I saw mothers who abandoned their children and fled when they saw death starring them in the face. I saw young Liberians girls who were barely teenagers and once born of privilege take to prostitution in the neighboring Ijebu villages for survival.
I saw human misery and I said to myself how I wish this people had not romanticized war but speak for peace before things degenerated.
We went through the Civil War in Nigeria and we are still regaled with stories of how three million people were killed.
Two weeks ago at the Civil War memorial in Umuahia I saw the photographs of numerous children wasted by kwashiorkor . All for what?
History books and numerous memoirs of the the dramatis personae of the Nigeria Civil war are replete with stories of human misery. Yet urchins across the country and selfish elders daily beat the drum of war. To what end?
Yes it is true that our federation may not be perfect, yes it is true that there is still much to be done to offer hope of a better life to our people , yes it is true that some people are feeling short changed, yes it is true that our affairs could be better managed but is war the solution?
Some feel breaking up Nigeria is the solution but have they given thought to the fall out of this, the consequences?
How many countries that fought wars emerged as better country as Rwanda did in less than 25 years after monumental loses? In Kigali the stench of death still hang high over this tiny oasis in the Sub-Sahara wasteland of civil wars that stretched from Congo to Uganda to Angola. One dare say Africa is still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders of those conflicts. We paid a terrible price for not striving for peace instead of war.
How many years ago now has Somalia been battling to get its act together again, and achieve respectability in the comity of nations? It is now an infestation of warlords.
Recently an international super star who escaped the misery and was on the mend back to give back to her homeland was bombed while visiting in Mogadishu! On 29th December, 79 persons just got wiped out in an instant by terrorists. What a waste!
A friend arguing in favor of war told me a couple of days ago that Rwanda wouldn’t have become what it is today if it had not gone to war. I asked if Rwanda is as populous as we are and as complex as our nation is.
Who told him there will still be a country after a war in Nigeria. Who told him the injustices in Nigeria will not be replicated in the small enclaves he is canvassing for ?
Here was a fellow who a couple of months ago complained bitterly to me that the best of what comes to Yorubaland in the Nigeria nation goes to people from Ogun State. After the Yoruba would have quit Nigeria will Ekiti, Ijesa, Ilaje etc also want to quit Oduduwa Republic to form their own in protest of a perceived Egba and Ijebu domination?
What become of the nations of Ijaw, Ishekiri and Urhobo? Just imagine the blood letting that will ensue in Warri.
The Biafra boys have not even learnt the lesson of yesterday. They are still baying to take over Port Harcourt , another man’s homestead and calling it Igbo Otcha or whatever. Shouldn’t the elders be courageous enough to remind them this was a great mistake of the war past.
In any case, didn’t we fight this war, let blood, decimate cities in 1967? Is Nigeria El Dorado now? Are we proud of the aftermath?
I never knew we were so divided until a friend told me he is from Anambra and I told him I had thought he was from Enugu State and he harshly rebuked me. “Do I look like Wawa people?”, he asked in anger. How does the Wawa people look? I thought Igbos were a compact and united until now. So there is this kind of schism too among the Igbo who one could have thought are one.
The North has her own potpourri. A land of minorities. Break up and watch the massive jostle for dominance starting from the Middle Belt. Taraba alone has close to 100 tribes with avalanche of languages and mutual suspicion. Our society may crumble in quick succession without this bandage called Nigeria.
If the Libyans will reflect on their fate now, they will prefer life under the dictator Muamar Ghadaffi to the chaos in that country today. Similarly Iraq would have been better under an aging and fading Sadam Hussein than the fractious bandits of now.
We should ask ourselves has the bloody war in Syria ever resolved the differences between the factions in that country after many years of blood letting and destruction?
Let those who want war realize and know that the only people who benefit from this process are the manufacturers of weapons of destruction. When they unleash them on us from Ukraine, Russia, South Africa and America, we would have become victims, onlookers and canon fodders .
The hyenas are gathering and they are seeing Nigeria as the next theatre. They are feeding us with poison in form of FAKE NEWS and their local accomplices, the disgruntled politicians, the fist thumping youths, the frustrated and ignorant diaspora, the scammers domiciled abroad using hate and division as strategy for personal survival are egging on the narratives of division across the land. We must stand up to them.
When they succeed at stampeding us into war we shall see that bombs and bullets do not differentiate betwen Muslims and Christians, Igbos and Yoruba , Bachamas and Junkuns. It does not spare pastors and Imams, not academics and farmers and neither is it a respecter of GOs and prophets. Being a CAN or MURIC activists will not be your insurance for safety then. Senators and counselors will be same then. War is brutish, and non-discriminatory.
If you survive the blitzkrieg then you will make your way to Benin, Togo and Ghana . There the plastic bowl will replace your chinaware when you queue for your daily ration of a meal.
Come to think of it how many of us Nigerians will those countries be able to take. It will be an unimaginable humanitarian disaster never seen before in the history of man.
Two hundred million Nigerians spilling across Africa will cause a serious destabilization in the region. New wars will start because of it, and the “Anago” as we are derisively called by our neighbours will be the mincemeat served for supper.
Everyone, all of us, will be the loser. Then it will be too late to reason. Let that reasoning start today. Before you get trigger happy, do you have any other home but home? Think.
*NB: This article by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, an eminent Nigerian journalist, an active pro-democracy activist, top-notch writer and former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was first Published February 16, 2020. It is reproduced here with slight change in headline on account of request from readers who are interested in diverse narratives that speak to issues of this period!