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    Categories: ColumnsShola Oshunkeye

THE DRUMS OF WAR

Even a stranger would not need any comprehensive briefing to know that Nigeria is not at ease; and Nigerians are not sleeping easy. All a first comer to the country needs to comprehend the situation is to scan the headlines, listen to radio news bulletins and watch prime time television.

The past week had been particularly frightening. During the week, the country’s political temperature spiked dangerously toward a boiling point. Apart from Boko Haram, which continues to unleash mayhem in most parts of the north, especially North East, despite being ‘defeated’, the South East, and some parts of the South South, have been on edge. The spiralling tension was largely induced by the increased intensity of the campaign by Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, for the actualisation of the Republic of Biafra.

Signs of trouble emerged last weekend as the military announced that it was commencing Operation Python Dance II on Friday, September 15, running through October 15. Like its precursor, Operation Python Dance I, the military high command explained that the second stanza aims at fighting crime in the state. But many citizens saw the move as targeting Kanu and his co-agitators.

However, true to its words, the military, over the weekend, moved soldiers and equipment to strategic towns in the state. This led to violence, on Sunday, between IPOB members and soldiers, in Umuahia, the Abia State capital. Several people sustained injuries during the face-off.   

Tuesday afternoon, another confrontation at a military check-point at Obehie, Abia State, but which spread to Oyigbo Junction in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, resulted in the death of a policeman. Three other policemen were reportedly injured while two police vans were burnt. On Thursday, a Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Port Harcourt, ordered 32 persons, all suspected to be IPOB members, remanded in prison. That was after they had been arraigned for murder, armed robbery, unlawful assembly and treasonable felony.

By the same Thursday, the fire had spread to the middle belt. According to reports, an altercation over the appropriateness or otherwise of the violent clash between IPOB members and soldiers on Operation Python Dance in parts of Abia State triggered a war between some Hausas and Igbos in parts of Jos, the Plateau State capital. By the time the storm subsided, two people had been killed. Since then, Jos, like Aba and Umuahia, has been under a security lockdown. Governor Simon Lalong, like Okezie Ikpeazu, his Abia State counterpart, promptly clamped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the tin city.

With all these, some people have been beating the drums of war at ear-tearing decibel. Many have been baying for blood. The social media is threatening to burst at its seams with the tons and tons of hate speeches. Brothers are tearing brothers apart with all manner of invectives. Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp are brimming with all kinds of pernicious propaganda. The maze is an admixture of truth, ‘truths’ cloaked in variegated colours, half-truths, and outright lies packaged and delivered with patriotic fervour. Then, there is this vulgarity that makes the blood boil and the heart threatening to jump out of the thoracic cavity.

You also see people coming out boldly to express their willingness to die for the cause they so fervently espouse. It is so scary you would think we are on the verge of war. Things may get worse if the Muhammadu Buhari Administration fails to handle the very volatile situation with wisdom.  Like experiences have shown around the world, tanks do not necessarily bring peace. Dialogue does. Frank talk does.

It is very easy to start a war. But when wisdom takes a flight and the first shot is fired, and force and brutality takes over, and men, women, children, the infirmed and the vulnerable begin to die, the road to resolution becomes tortuous. And extremely costly. Think of the destruction that accompanies war. Think of the humanitarian catastrophe that signposts war. Think of the lives that would be irremediably ruined in the aftermath of war, and that needn’t have been. Think of the despoiling of land and nature. Add all these up, and ask yourself if war is worth the sword. The truth is, the cost of war is difficult to quantify. 

Another truth is, no matter the justification or morality for war, irrespective of whatever motivates the gladiators to bombs and nukes, combatants would still come to the round table one way or another. Even in the bitterest of wars, people must still meet at some point to talk. 

The Colombian situation best illustrates this point. For 50 years, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC, in Spanish), alongside some guerrilla movements, fought the Columbian security forces to a standstill. The masterminds of FARC formed the movement to pursue a campaign of agrarianism and anti-imperialism. Like most insurgencies, they funded their operations through kidnap, ransom, illegal mining, distribution of illicit drugs, and sundry taxation of economic activities.

For 50 years, FARC and their fellow guerrilla organisations unleashed some of the worst mayhems the world has ever known, resulting in thousands and thousands of deaths. The war claimed 220,000 lives; and between 1985 and 2012, about five million people displaced, creating the world’s second largest humanitarian crisis. Still, in the midst of those annihilating crises, the combating sides still found time to talk. And after many rounds of talks and negotiations, they gave up the fight and surrendered their arms. On September 1, 2017, and repugnant as their activities had been to majority of Colombians and the world, the former guerrilla movement transformed into a political party known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force.

Now, imagine how many lives would have been saved had both rebels and government talked, say at the onset of the crisis. Most of those thousands that died would have been alive. The point is, it is much easier and far less agonising to jaw-jaw than to war-war; if you would permit the cliché. My prayer is that wisdom would not fail all the armies in the ongoing sabre-rattling so they could converge in a room, in a hall or inside the rock, or wherever, look one another in the face and sincerely talk. And sort things out.

No matter how irritating Nnamdi Kanu may sound in his separatist agitation, the Muhammadu Buhari Administration must talk with him. There is nothing under the heaven that cannot be discussed and negotiated. If the federal government can talk and, indeed, negotiate with Boko Haram, an organisation that has wreaked so much havoc in most parts of the north, especially the North East, there is nothing sacrilegious in discussing with Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB. The administration must consider dialogue in this case for the sake of the poor masses of this country who have nowhere to run to if the situation snowballs into war; and for the sake of generations on the way.

God bless Nigeria.

Uche Atuma :

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