By Steve Alabi
Last week, eighty world leaders, including Nigeria’s President Mohammadu 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. Peace is such a huge issue that we must constantly seek 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. 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 and caused the greatest global depression of the 20th century.
In contrast, the 10 editions of the Olympic Games held over a period of 36 years, from Montreal 1976 to London 2012, cost only $91.053 billion. If there were any economic losses, they were to the host cities but such were largely mitigated by tremendous profits in political, infrastructure and social terms. 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 which 300 lives were unfortunately lost. Despite these, the modern Olympics remain a tool for international friendship and cooperation.
Those beating the drums of war ahead of 2019 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. 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 (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. 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, “has cost as much as the petrol used by military aeroplanes, in all countries, in one day!”
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.
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.
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.