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Collective Amnesia: The Curse of a Nation

It is cliché that history often repeats itself because people never learn from it. In instances too numerous to rehash, the Nigerian State has been a case in point. In our socio-political life as a nation, we find ways to always get it wrong; and for all the brilliant punditry in the world about fixing Nigeria, it is in the basic things that we are found wanting. Sadly, with an educational system in debacle, the disciplines of history are continually on the decline. One fears for what the next generation of historians will have to continue their trade with the emerging paucity in both class and content in Nigerian historical literature.

Arguably the most talked about national concern today, the Niger-Delta Avengers group, has snowballed into a monster few saw coming. There were initial genuine concerns in some quarters that a defeat for erstwhile president, Goodluck Jonathan, at the last polls will mean a return to the creeks for the militants, but few heeded the caution. The political class was too entangled in the power jostling that every other issue seemed child’s play in comparison. Alas, the militancy albatross is fully upon us and one cannot help but wonder that ‘we have been here before.’ There is a worrying trend in town that any group who losses out in a democratic election, resort to the old creed of ethnicity and religion to foment its grudges and ‘play the victim.’ While not suggesting that the Avengers are avenging the defeat of ‘their son’ in the last election, one cannot help but wonder about the timing of this brouhaha. Buhari’s victory has dowsed insurgency in the North-East and resurfaced the Niger-Delta militancy in the South. It’s a striking development and everyone is at liberty to draw his own conclusions.

However, the bigger issue in the resurgence of the secession creed in the East and militancy in the Delta is that the Nigerian state never seemed to have learnt the lessons of the past. Irrespective of how well meaning the Amnesty programme initiated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua was, there were flaws in its skeleton framework that suggested it was a mere palliative to a greater problem. While the programme returned relative peace to the region, it failed to address the fundamental questions around resource control, regional development, economic inclusion and socio-economic sustainability. Perhaps, we were deluded that the ascension to the throne of a Niger-Delta son was going to be the last jigsaw we needed to align in solving the Niger-Delta puzzle. Alas, we were wrong. Today, the amnesty programme has changed the lives of a few, made billionaires out of a handful, and left a new breed of agitators and cannon fodder demanding a change in a different voice. With the defeat of Goodluck Jonathan and the emergence of a new sheriff in town who clearly has his own ideas, the familiar problems of militancy and secession are back with us. We never learn from history. For too long, we have thrown handouts to deep rooted issues, we have uncannily glossed over the tough questions; we have deluded ourselves that time will fix things by default and we have ultimately retrogressed in many ways. It is common knowledge but it is worth reiterating that things don’t change themselves, people change things.

History is replenished with lessons of how not to do things; and therein lays the power of the past. No programme that attempts to enrich a few from the creeks will be the long term solution of the Niger-Delta. It is time not to go that route anymore. In same vein, it will take more than mere rhetoric and a few appointments of people from the East to achieve inclusion of the region and put an ‘RIP’ on the clamour for secession. The problems are not on the surface and having the courage to discuss the real issues and force the dialogue is the starting point in the quest for a sustainable solution. We must learn from the past.


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