Post-colonial Nigeria has gone through many socio-political challenges to its stability and unity, but none has been as threatening as the civil war between 1968 and 1970. The legacies of this three years exercise in violence- an effort by Nigeria to reclaim its eastern part from secessionist Biafra, still inform research insight on the contemporary problems of Nigeria as a developing nation.
In the events that ensued, it is estimated that more than two million people lost their lives on both sides, and the suffering touched off by the conflict in the then Eastern Nigeria,blockaded and starved to surrender registers as one of Africa’s grisliest: one that had garnered a pedagogical place in the academic references of genocide. The Nigerian civil war painted a dark picture of Africa that until this day has remained stereotypical of the continent in the eyes of many in the West.
The civil war ended on a mantra of “no victor, no vanquished”. As apt as this mantra might resonate with the need to balance emotions immediately after the war, its regenerative aims were defeated when presented against policy insights, actions and orientations that followed effort at rebuilding the nation and reintegrating its people after this destabilizing period. There is no official account of the war’s history in the Nigerian educational and national archive, as well as in the programs of the National Orientation Agency, the body tasked with communicating government policy, staying abreast of public opinion, and promoting patriotism, national unity, and development of Nigerian society.
Reasons usually proffered to such policy deficiency rely on the shortsighted sentiment that approving the history of the civil war as either a modular part of the Nigerian historical curriculum or providing a nationally archived communication of it, has the tendency of adding salt to injury and emotionalizing the sentiments that precipitated the conflict. However, in the age of digital massification, the shortsightedness of such policy prescription is bared. One development that attests to this is the rise of a media platform like Radio Biafra.
Radio Biafra and the unsettling ripples of information-dysfunction it has generated recently did not come out of the blue. It is a development that gradually rose to national attention and fed at the lack of innovation in policy initiatives on ways of communicating issues that are sociologically important to the cohesion of Nigeria society. Radio Biafra rose to fill the vacuum created by the protracted silence on the part of Nigeria about the civil war, and has raised uncomfortable questions on issues that are purposefully sidelined in traditional socio-political narratives- proving the indispensable nexus between the past and the present as well as lending hindsight on the importance of strategic communication in the age of digitalism.
Strategic communication as a commonly held view in political and development discuss feed on targeted communication on the issues of a nation’s government, policy initiatives, public engagement etc. It is aimed at fostering growth, social cohesion, sustainable governance and peace, and which eases off the core burdens of developmental challenges, and incentivizes both individual and social level changes. In matters of solidarity and integrative governance, strategic communications rely on historical indices. It aims to strike a balance in historical algorithm and reaps from controlled and uncontrolled antecedents.
Historically, the potency of communication is examined on the amount of realizable data it provides to cognition and which manifests in the collective cognition of a people. These data belongs to the past and are strategically supplied to the present so that the future can be controlled.Strategic communication derived from history thus is at the heart of nation building as it provides a medium through which past information about historical events that are most definitive of a nation are communicated to future generations, and in ways that would tell history and proactively answer its questions. Its aim is to provide ideological and symbolic coherence,and its essence has become more pronounced in our contemporary information landscape.
Although a lot have been written on the Nigerian civil war by participants and observers alike, pedagogically, these works have not followed a strategic course or directed at transforming insight. Most are relativized analysis of the conflict bereaved of systemic conceptualizations capable of a paradigm shift. Such works have therefore not been able to garner the needed level of emotional uniformity required for a Nigerian mind.
At the juncture Nigeria had found itself in the development effort, the job of harmonizing peaceful coexistence amongst its component parts has come to demand more than the psychology of “no victor, no vanquished”. Today, the country is faced with terrorism and internal human displacements of great magnitude. Hate speeches that implode emotions are also on the rise. Such development requires the creation of a climate of trust that would reduce the levels of regional acrimony and allow peaceful understanding between its people. Without such climate of trust, the government might find it difficult to achieve the needed level of power centralization that allows it to enforce law and order, let alone provide public services or regulate economic activities: derivatives that heats up the polity and hinders peace.
Without strategic communication, historical realities are obscured and which in turn forfeits a nation the benefit of historical lessons. The absence of strategically communicated information on the Nigeria civil war has translated into opportunity for recalcitrant alternatives: a situation that breed divergent and triumphalist opinions and heats up the polity to the detriment of peace. Its enduring attitude alienates sustainable development from the needed degree of social cohesion and disassociates motivation from citizenship.
There is Radio Biafra because there is no strategic communication on what happened in Nigeria between 1968 and 1970. There was no attempt to build a true story out of a real event and strategically structured to address the emotions that would be ignited on the basis of that. The justness of any system is measured on the degree the people that make it up accept it to be just.
Kenneth Uchenna Obiakor is a Social Critic and Education as a Human Right Activist. He is the Founder of the Center for Education and Citizenship registered as Leadership Development Foundation for Civic Literacy (Ldfcl.org) – a non-profit organization committed to enriching citizenship through formal and informal education in Nigeria.