AFTER THE CIVIL WAR
When the civil war officially ended in Nigeria in 1970, a different type of civil war began.
It is what you may describe as the asymmetrical civil war: the war by the desperate and poor against all others in the country.
Lots of people who joined the military, fought in the war and helped in winning the war against secession were discharged from the military.
They all had training in combat and could use various types of weapons. They were also psychologically disposed to violence, after being trained to kill people, attack peaceful villagers and destroy civilian infrastructure.
Many of them returned from the war mentally damaged, carrying with them traumatic syndromes after participating in mindless killings of innocent civilians, wanton destruction of properties and needless attack on defenseless people who fled in disarray whenever the military entered their territories.
And there were also hundreds of thousands if not millions of traumatized people who survived the civil war without any means of livelihood, skill or education.
Nigeria was thus flooded by millions of people who were angry, disenchanted and disoriented after the “end” of the war.
For those people, the war never ended. Many managed to melt back into civil society. Some even did pretty well, such as Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, who after being discharged from the war became the bandleader of a Fuji music group and turned into an instant celebrity.
Others learned trades, returned to school, or became farmers, investing their discharge money in agriculture.
But a large number took to antisocial activities. They sold illegal drugs, became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and could not make any sense of their realities any longer.
Some were as young as fourteen years old when they were conscripted into the military.
These individuals began an asymmetrical war as individuals or formed groups of armed robbers.
Several generations of Nigerians have grown within this culture of asymmetrical urban warriors and warfare.
They fell upon the unsuspecting civil society of Nigeria. The civil war ended in Nigeria in 1970. By 1975, the armed robbers were all over Nigeria.
In 1979, they invaded what was then known as Bendel State, with the capital city as Benin City.
I was then a graduate student at the University of Benin, and lived in a rented apartment in the city of Benin with a friend.
When the robbers invaded the state, especially Benin City, nobody felt safe. The robbers moved from house to house on rampage, attacking, killing and snatching money and valuables from innocent residents. They raped women, strangled babies and triggered abortions on pregnant women.
Everybody was devastated and frightened.
The security forces in the city were overwhelmed and could not control this asymmetrical warfare declared by the criminal gangs of the underworld.
In response, the residents of Benin City formed vigilante groups to protect themselves. All the men were conscripted into the vigilante groups.
They mounted an asymmetrical resistance to the asymmetrical civil war.
On our streets, the residents organized themselves into groups and we took turns every night to sit in the middle of the street, armed with machetes, clubs, metal rods and whatever we could lay our hands upon.
The vigilante activities worked. The robberies and attacks reduced in frequency.
Nowadays, we witness similar unrest in Nigeria. It is asymmetrical warfare. It requires asymmetrical resistance, because it is beyond the control of the security forces.
Is it not time for citizens of Nigeria to organize themselves into vigilante groups and take control of their cities as we did in 1979 to 1985 in Benin City?