By Steve Alabi
It is difficult to discern the more strident between the voices of caution and restraint and the voices of dissension and secession in Nigeria. Sixty years of independence and 30 months of an avoidable civil war have not mellowed deep-seated suspicions and racial prejudices of the early days. In the last three months, calls for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be dismembered along tribal lines have become more strindent, especially in the southern parts of the country. Many are even beating the drums of war without interrogating its consequences. But war isn’t a tea party. It is death and destruction of unimaginable proportions. It is the absence of peace and the presence of absolute chaos.
The way things are in this country now, each ethnic nationality is building on the grudges of yesterday and a fuel is spreading that aims to make one to desperately do in anyone who is not of your tribe. The most frightening aspect is that young people are being weaned on the prejudices of ancient times they did not witness releasing in them deep-seated hatred more poisonous than the venom of an adder. These must be stopped.
In May 2018, eighty world leaders, including Nigeria’s President Mohamadu Buhari, gathered in Paris at the World Peace Forum to discuss global peace in commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War. Why did they do that? Because peace is such a huge issue that we must constantly seek it in every respect. It is therefore not surprising that we are rehashing our candid views once expressed elsewhere.
1914 – the year that Lord Lugard welded the Northern and Southern protectorates into one Nigeria – was also the year that the First World War began. According to some records, the war saw 42,959,850 troops of the Allied Powers ranged against 25,248,321 troops of the Central Powers. By the time anger and angst subsided and reason and restraint prevailed on November 11, 1918, there were 22,477,500 military casualties on the Allied side and 16,403,000 on the Central side. Civilian casualties are generally unknown but the numbers are also in six digits. In economic terms, the war cost an estimated $208 billion in just four years of madness and caused the greatest global depression of the 20th century..
In contrast, the 11 editions of the Olympic Games held over a period of 40 years, from Montreal 1976 to Rio 2016, cost only $96.508 billion in operational expenses. It is also instructive that apart from the 17 deaths recorded in the massacre at the 1972 Games in Munich when the Palestinian group, Black September, held Israeli athletes hostage and the two deaths recorded during the 1996 Games in Atlanta when a bomb planted by an American terrorist, Eric Robert Rudolph went off in Centennial Olympic Park, the only other casualties associated with the Summer Olympics occurred in a crowd riot at a qualifying football game between Peru and Argentina in Lima in 1964 in which 300 lives were unfortunately lost and the unfortunate police killings of favela residents at the Rio Games in 2016.
Despite these, the modern Olympics remain a tool for international friendship and cooperation.
Those beating the drums of war again in the wake of the nation’s 60th anniversary and those tearing the fragile fabric that holds the different ethnic groups in Nigeria together need to be forcefully reminded of the consequences and realities of war. The evil prediction that this country will one day break up cannot come to pass without agony and misery. Ethnic freedom and self determination are not likely to be realised without death and disaster. Neither can political independence and new nations be accomplished without pain and paralysis. The trauma and trials that will be unleashed in case of war will be truly horrific. The destruction and decimation that will occur will be extremely catastrophic. Biafra will be a child’s play.
Anyone who has witnessed it will never wish to experience the horrors and brutality of war. It goes deep into the soul and destroys man’s humanity. Have we not heard tales straight from the pit of hell of how mere babies were turned into killing monsters in the brutal wars in Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Liberia and Sierra Leone? Have we not been told of how families were forcefully separated and persons reduced to vegetables due to loss of limbs and sanity? Have we not heard of how innocent women were violently violated by deranged soldiers?
Have we not been told of how whole villages and towns were sacked never to be recovered again? Boko Haram, with all its terrorist atrocities, is a child’s play compared to the horrors of ethnic cleansing, genocide, rape, hunger, starvation, calamities and economic misery that war engenders. Millions will be forced from their homes, stripped of their land, forcibly recruited, kidnapped, raped and tortured.
Once in a while, we may hear of extremity like fans killing one another over a football game but the joy and happiness that sports excite are second only to the one derived from a new life. It is much better and more profitable to seek things that will remove our differences and accentuate our unity and togetherness than to dwell on prejudices that are really of no relevance or consequence to our living together. If we have to fight, let us fight our battles in the sports arena.
After all, Nigeria, as large as it is (356,669 sq miles; 923,768 km²), is approximately one-half the size of Alaska (663,268 sq miles; 1,717,854 km²), one of the 50 states constituting the USA. And the USA itself, as big as it is (3.794 million sq miles; 9.827 million km²), is less than the size of Canada (3.855 million sq miles; 9.985 million km²). In other words, Nigeria is not too big to be one nation.
Splitting isn’t going to solve our problems, as the notable statesman and former Governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande, has wisely counselled. It will only lead to war and war has never solved differences. The irony of it all is that the cost of war is so prohibitive that no peace effort, not even the costliest sports spectacles, can scratch the surface of destruction expenditures. Phillip Noel-Baker, a 1959 Nobel Peace laureate and renowned campaigner for disarmament who won silver in 1,500 metres for Britain at the 1920 Olympics is a man who should know about matters of this nature.
“No Olympic Games yet”, he said before he passed on in October 1982, “has cost as much as the petrol used by military aeroplanes, in all countries, in one day!”
Ironically, the world marked the centenary of the First World War on July 28, 2014 with candlelit vigils and football matches, yes, football matches – because, as a writer put it, “it illustrates how human solidarity can sometimes overcome the horror of conflict.” In the lead up to Christmas 1914, about 100,000 troops on either side observed un-official truces along the Western Front; some even played football!
This is a clear demonstration that ordinary folks just want to carry on with their lives. Look at the way we all become one when any of our national teams does well, even if all the players come from one tribal stock! If we can forget our so-called differences and hug ourselves heartily when the Eagles make us proud, we can surely live in peace together despite our national shortcomings.
Pope Francis, himself a football lover and ardent fan of San Lorenzo in his native Buenos Aires, has forcefully reminded us that, “Violence and war lead only to death.” See what Boko Haram is doing to the nation. Let us solve our differences in the conference room. If we can’t, let us solve them in the locker rooms. No one loses his humanity in the field of play but no one saves his in the war front. Something in you must give. This country, even if it is bad, is something we can all work upon to make good. Let us do it. We can do it.
Let us cease beating the drums of war. Nobody dances to drums of war in the battle field. If we have to beat drums of war, let us take them to the sports arena. Win or lose, we can all dance to our hearts’ content. It is a much better option.
Barrister Steve Alabi is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria ( SWAN).
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