No one who is actuated by a keen sense of justice and patriotism that is hallmarked by a desire that the nation’s cohesion remains inviolable would inveigh against efforts to give the people of the south-eastern part of the country the assurance that there is no deliberate state policy to consign them to a benighted realm of the polity. There is the overarching need for such an assurance since 47 years after the three years of the civil war that inflicted monumental catastrophes on their lives and property, they are still chafing under a sense of alienation. There is a constant reminder of this exclusion by the fact of their being the only people who make up the so-called tripod in the country who are yet to produce the nation’s president.
Thus, what we witness when the Federal Government moves in the direction of breaking this exclusion is a cascade of plaudits from different parts of the country. This was why when in 2000 the then President Olusegun Obasanjo commuted to retirement the dismissal of the military personnel who fought on the side of Biafra, he was commended. Similarly, the decision by the President Muhammadu Buhari government to pay the entitlements of former Biafran police officers has been justifiably applauded. And this is why the government’s further demonstration of its magnanimity by announcing its decision to pay the victims of the civil war N50 billion and deploy N38 billion for the evacuation of abandoned bombs and construction has equally elicited approval from the citizens.
Yet, it is too early to commend the government for the announcement of its decision to pay the civil war victims. Any commendation should only come when some posers the decision has thrown up have been sufficiently resolved. For now, the plan is imperiled by its nebulous character. To dispel this opaqueness, we need to grapple with the concept of the victims of the war. For the government, its own concept of a war victim is clear. And this is why it has already drawn up a list of 1,178 victims made up of 685 people who are classified as survivors and 493 others who are considered as confirmed victims of either landmines or other forms of dangerous military ordinance, including locally fabricated weapons. But for the public, there is the need to redefine and expand the concept of a victim of the civil war.
We also need to discharge the byzantine character of when the government started gathering its information on the victims of the war. In other words, how did the government arrive at its list? We would like to know those who did the collation and when they began this exercise. We live in a country where it is difficult to do the verification of pensioners who have actually served the government whether at the federal or state levels. Pensioners are subjected to endless years of verification and in the process they die. This is why the public would like to know the magic wand the government wielded that made its verification of the civil war victims so seamless that it escaped the notice of the citizens. Such magic is needed to be deployed in the management of pension by the Federal Government instead of hiring the Mainas of this world who would rather steal the billions that ought to go to retirees.
Clearly, the victims of the war cannot be only the 1,178 on the government list. There are many other victims of the war who are just knowing about the good plan of the government to compensate them. An indigene of Imo State who is in his sixties told me that he was just hearing about the development. Before the war, his father was working with a man in the northern part of the country. He wanted to leave for the south-east but his northern employer who was owing him so much money dissuaded him. He assured him that he would protect him. But at the end of the war neither this man nor the money he was being owed got to the south-east. The man asked me if he did not qualify to be a victim of the war in view of the hardship he suffered as a result of the death of his father. Why did the government exclude other survivors of the war who are still living? How about the surviving relations of the millions who died during the war? How about those who lost property during the war? How about those who lost their millions in their bank accounts? Or has the reported payment of 20 pound to them irrespective of the amounts they had in their savings permanently closed their case? How about mothers who lost their children to starvation caused by the war? Are these mothers who are still alive not entitled to be on the victims’ list? The fact that the list of the victims contains only 1,178 shows that it is already defective. For in Asaba alone, over 1,000 persons who should rightly be considered as victims were massacred by federal troops. If these people who were innocent are not victims, is it those who chose to fight on the battlefield and were injured by landmines or other military weapons who are victims? Again, is the government saying that these victims have nobody to claim their compensation? Yet, we have been told that while the men were massacred, their daughters and wives were spared. Why can’t these wives and daughters be among these victims to be paid? In fact, it is difficult to identify all the victims of the war since almost everybody – apart from those who lost their loved ones – in the then eastern region and mid-west was ravaged by the war – materially, psychologically, professionally, educationally, etc. Consequently, one way the government could restore a measure of credibility to its list is to publish it in major newspapers, indicating the victims’ communities and the nature of their losses that qualify them as victims of the civil war.
It was reported that the suit for the payment of the victims has been on since 2009. It was not initiated under this government. Yet, it is curious that the Buhari government that lacks sterling credentials as a respecter of court orders quickly reached a consent judgement that the victims should be paid. The government did not wait to go through the entire gamut of the judiciary before agreeing to pay. This tends to lend credence to the notion that the government has agreed to pay the money because the prime beneficiaries are not the so-called victims of the war but some people who are close to the presidency. These are the people who allegedly would receive the N38 billion to evacuate abandoned bombs.
No doubt, the Igbo and others who have suffered on account of the war should be compensated. After all, the north-east that suffered the tragic consequences of self-inflicted religious bigotry is being reconstructed with the commonwealth. In fact, all international oil companies are being compelled to develop the region and they have been asked to pay $100 million each. But the fact remains that the south-east does not need this kind of intervention. This is because even if the intention of the government were genuine, it cannot ensure the painstakingness that would give such an intervention credibility. And hence such an intervention is bound to leave out some genuine victims of the war who would remain rankled by a further sense of injustice.
Thus, genuine efforts at development and reconciliation of the region and its people are needed. These should be expressed through deliberate attempts to mainstream the people of the region in government. The government of Buhari can start this by making some Igbo people to hold key positions in his government, especially after his cabinet reshuffle. The government could also set up programmes and institutions that would register federal presence in the region. Besides, the government should take a course that would imbue all citizens, not only the south-easterners, with the consciousness that they live in a nation where a premium is on justice and equity since the absence of these breeds hostilities and alienation. Unless, the Buhari government genuinely considers these measures, its plan to pay some amorphous victims of the civil war would be justifiably seen as a scandalous swindle to make its cronies billionaires and a vacuous political stunt to secure the support of the south-east ahead of the 2019 presidential election.