To Build A Nation, We Must Confront Our History, Embrace Reconciliation

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To Build A Nation, We Must Confront Our History, Embrace Reconciliation

By Professor Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu

I am today asking President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a first step to stabilize Nigeria and begin the process of national healing and reconciliation.

It is obvious that Nigeria is a country at war with itself, and in a troubled search for nationhood. The current crisis of insecurity and nationhood, evident in President Buhari’s recent controversial remarks about the security crisis in the Southeast region in the context of the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, and the strong response to the President’s comments from all over Nigeria and around the world resulting in the Nigerian Government’s ban of Twitter, is deeply unfortunate.

While I believe strongly in the viability of a united Nigeria anchored on equity and justice, as a leader, I do not believe in a surface approach to issues. I do not believe in playing the ostrich. I believe in a root-cause approach to solving problems.

I condemn once again, without equivocation, all violence in the Southeast region including the phenomenon of unknown gunmen (UGM), attacks against security personnel and the burning of INEC or other government facilities, and the reported extrajudicial killings of innocent civilians in the region by security agencies.

It is clear, however, that the Federal Government of Nigeria has not adopted a root-cause approach to the agitations for secession in different parts of Nigeria, in particular the Southeast and the Southwest, and the security implications of these agitations.

The root cause of these separatist agitations is injustice. An unwillingness to recognize this fact leads to avoidance or convenient distortions of history in order to maintain injustice and the transient advantage this state of affairs confers on certain vested interests. Without prejudice to the need to maintain security, law and order, militarization of the civilian space as the exclusive response to essentially political agitations is a failing strategy. It will only build up more grievances.

We must confront the historical hurts that have stoked inter-ethnic tensions in Nigeria. The purpose is not for any part of the country to “win the argument” of its own narrative, but to recognize the deep wounds we have inflicted on each other, to pull back from narratives that drive sectarian hatred, and instead build a new, more hopeful future for our country with a resolve to learn the lessons of history.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s primary assignment should be to reconcile Nigerians across sectarian divides that have been sustained by the more unfortunate aspects of our history, in particular the military coup of January 1966 and its casualties, the counter-coup of July 1966 and the pogrom of an estimated 100,000 Nigerians of a specific ethnic origin, and the consequent civil war in which an estimated two million people lost their lives. If we must build a nation of our dreams, we have to confront our history and utilize it for reconciliation and not for division.

This begins with a conscious decision to end a policy of conveniently sweeping history under the carpet and to recognize certain historical facts. In this context, it is important to recognize through a National Holiday the loss of millions of lives in the Nigerian civil war, currently marked unofficially by many Nigerians as Biafra Remembrance Day. To continue to fail to do so is to deliberately avoid recognizing the value of the millions of lives lost in the war. The lives of these departed were lost in the bid to keep Nigeria one. Rwanda recognizes its dead in its civil war and the genocide, Israel recognizes the Holocaust with a memorial and a museum, and the United Nations recognizes that tragedy with an International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A truth and reconciliation commission, along with other policy actions, will go a long way in cleansing the bitterness that has been planted in the hearts and minds of many Nigerians. As a former senior official of the United Nations with a track record in conflict resolution and rebuilding failed states such as Angola, Cambodia, Croatia, Rwanda, and Somalia, and in international peace and security operations, I am making the recommendations in this press statement as a contribution to stopping immediately the current bleeding of our country.

Beyond my personal intervention, the Moghalu4Nigeria (M4N) political movement calls on the Buhari administration to shift from its evident policy of exclusion in governance, with the three constitutional arms of government — the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary — headed by citizens from one part of the country, and parochial control of Nigeria’s national security apparatus, to an all-inclusive government involving all zones of the federation. In my recent declaration of my interest to contest in the 2023 presidential election, I pledged to unify Nigeria through inclusive governance with a dream team from all over our country if given the opportunity.

In conclusion, I make the following specific recommendations:

1. President Muhammadu Buhari should as a matter of urgency establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission comprised of seven independent members of high reputation and relevant expertise, one from each geopolitical zone, and one international member assigned from the United Nations or from South Africa, both entities of which have extensive experience in TRC matters, with a six-month mandate to examine specifically the events of January 1966 to January 1970, invite witnesses, survivors and critical players still alive to make statements, and make findings and recommendations that will promote national reconciliation by turning historical memory into a positive force for mutual forgiveness and nation-building;

2. President Buhari should invite all secessionist agitation movements to a national dialogue in order to give them a hearing with a view to addressing credible, verifiable grievances;

3. Concrete actions towards the establishment of an Constituent Assembly to begin the framing of a new Constitution, with legislative support from the National Assembly, should be initiated jointly by the Presidency in collaboration with the National Assembly and representatives of ethnic nationalities, traditional rulers, the clergy, and civil society;

4. President Buhari should appoint a panel of historians, with equal representation from the northern and southern parts of Nigeria to review and agree on a curriculum of contemporary national history, including the Nigerian Civil War, to be taught in primary and secondary institutions from the specific perspective of lessons learned, national healing and reconciliation;

5. Establish May 30 as a national holiday to remember the millions that died in the Nigerian civil war.

To build our nation, we must confront our history, and embrace reconciliation.

 

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