OPINION: When Will Nigeria Learn from History? By Uche Ezechukwu - EazyFeeds

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Monday, 3 April 2017

OPINION: When Will Nigeria Learn from History? By Uche Ezechukwu

The major problem with history is the stub­bornness with which it repeats itself, especially when people fail to learn from the lessons which it so amply showcases. There are many people who swear by whatever they hold most sa­cred that Nigeria would not be wallowing in this laby­rinth of woes, if it had learnt from the nations and societ­ies that had trod the path we are currently threading.

The late Dim Chukwue­meka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the ‘rebel’ that I once served as a speech writer and media aide, was a man for whom history and its lessons are al­most everything and he im­planted much of that attitude in me. It was not a mere hap­penstance that the Biafran leader became the first uni­versity graduate to join the Nigerian Army. It was rather out of a deliberate plot by a man who had studied histo­ry at and obtained a Masters degree in political history, from the Oxford University in the United Kingdom, be­fore voluntarily enlisting in the colonial army of Nigeria and became commissioned in 1958.
So intent was he to join the army that when his very influ­ential millionaire father swore that his son would never join the army, convinced by the wisdom of his Igbo people that, “nne mulu soja amuro nwa”, meaning that the moth­er of a soldier ischildless[UE1] , the young Emeka had other ideas. Because his father had the reach and connection to frustrate his joining the army through the officer cadre, his son put away his university qualification and enlisted as a recruit, alongside the ordinary sons of other ordinary Nige­rian parents. (The scope of this short piece would no ac­commodate the well-known process of him transmuting into an officer cadet and be­ing sent to Sandhurst for training, thus becoming the first university graduate to join the army). That account belongs to another time and place.
During the two and half years that I served the ‘rebel’, he intimated me with very private things about him that are not readily available to a wider audience, for which I will remain grateful for as long as I live. The most cher­ished aspects of the trove of information was letting me into the reasons why he em­barked on many controver­sial decisions he took in his life, before and during the Ni­gerian civil war. One of those was why he joined the army, even though myriads of op­portunities lay before him in and outside Nigeria, not just because of his educational at­tainment, but also because of whose son he was.
The recent and distant po­litical history of Latin Amer­ica was the propelling force for his joining the army. As a student, the history of the Latin American countries held a lot of interest for him, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. He was particularly enthralled about ‘militics’ or military politics. Emeka Ojukwu had seen that the Latin American countries went through several decades of colonialism under Spain and Portugal. They were later to win their independence from their colonial masters and had gone into pseudo democratic regimes that were characterised by the influence of powerful individuals that were propelled by entrenched interests like the Catholic Church and companies that were owned by colonial inter­ests, much like the UAC in Ni­geria, which was an offshoot of the Royal Niger Company through which the British had colonized Nigeria. In other words, the independent Latin American countries, on inde­pendence, practised weak de­mocracies that could be better described as dictatorships. Those regimes were run by individuals and minions that were handpicked by former colonial overlords.
One by one, those newly in­dependent Latin American re­gimes were overthrown by the military that usurped political authority for several years or decades. At the time when he was at the university, Ojukwu foresaw that the colonized Af­rican countries would soon start getting their political in­dependence from their mas­ters, in a matter of few years, judging from the tendencies that were obvious. It was ob­vious that for the key colonial masters – Britain and France, something had to give.
He further reasoned that once political independence was granted to African coun­tries, the situation would not be different from what had happened in Latin America, because, as he was often very fond of quoting, Alexander Pope had said that “the proper study of mankind is man”. One by one, he had reasoned, the newly independent countries in Africa would be taken over by the military, under several pretexts. In his calculation, it would be a matter of few years after independence. Ghana became the first key African country to gain independence from Britain in 1957, 60 years ago…a year after Ojukwu fin­ished from Oxford. He had made up his mind that he would be part of the new crop of African leaders, and the only way he could ensure that was to enlist into the military and work up to its elite ranks, in imitation of those who had overthrown the Latin Ameri­can regimes.
History was his faithful guide, as, a few years later, and after he had found himself in the army, the newly indepen­dent countries and their weak governments started to fall, one after the other like domi­nos.
Ojukwu, the historian, had made history his guide and it had paid off handsomely for him and his colleagues when the military made their first incursion into the politics of Nigeria on January 15th, 1966, just eight years Ojukwu was commissioned as an officer of the Nigerian Army.
(To be continued next week)

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