Anyone who has seen the pictures of the innocent people who were senselessly massacred by people who claimed to have done it out of religious conviction would be shocked and appalled by such degree of depravity, of brutality and of wanton disregard for the sanctity of the human life. The pictures were released on the internet by the Anglican Archdioceses of Jos, Plateau State, the new theatre of sectarian killings in Nigeria. As you looked at the butchered remains of kids who were too innocent, too impressionable to understand the hate and animus that had pushed these killers, you saw mother who had used themselves as human shields to protect their innocent ones, but were nonetheless mercilessly hacked to death and you are numbed, exasperated and overcome with anger. You find yourself being conflicted by your deeply ingrained Christian retort to turn the other cheek when your enemy attacks you; your sense of Christian masculinity becomes challenged by the impulse of revenge and retaliation, but you quickly admonished and banished those thoughts, even though it doesn’t take away the fact that you are thoroughly consumed by anger, outrage and sadness at the vilest instincts that sometimes propel the human capacity to do bad things.
On Tuesday, July 10, I had received a call from a journalist from one of the American mainstream newspapers who had seen the pictures and he had proceeded to ask me this question which forms the thrust of my column today: How come the Muslim leaders in the Northern part of your country have not come out to condemn in its strongest terms and rein in these killers who claim to be carrying out these killings in the name of God? He went on to state that when Al-Qaida started its terrorists activities in the early ‘90s predicating their actions on the need for the Western troops who had been given operational spaces in Saudi Arabia following the First Gulf War to leave the Holy Land, the authorities did not initially realize the potency of the threat it posed until it started carrying out numerous terrorists acts, which finally forced the authorities in the kingdom to expel the late Osama Bin-Laden and revoked his Saudi citizenship.
In the contention of the journalist, that was decisive leadership on the part of the leaders of the Kingdom, even though Osama would later move to Sudan and eventually Afghanistan from where he plotted his numerous terrorist attacks. “I think the leaders of the Northern part of your country can end this spate of killings if they come out forcefully and condemn these killers and tell them to sheath their sword. Nigeria is too important to the world to experience sectarian war and it is the onerous responsibility of the people of the north to end this carnage. The images of young children massacred without rhyme or reason is very disturbing,” he had concluded.
The images indeed are heart-rending. The columns of the kids, their skulls either broken, their throats slit and their innocent mothers lying helplessly in their own pool of blood, draws tears from your eyes. As the American journalist observed, I think it is about time the Northern leaders come together to find lasting solution to these killings. And if I may add, I think it ultimately would be in the interest of the northern establishment to end this carnage. For one, the economy of the north currently lies comatose. Life in some of its most important cities, Kaduna, for instance, which is the spiritual capital of the north – a city I often consider my second home having lived in that beautiful city for years – has lost its vibrancy as people are too scared to go out. Its mosaic-its soul and its reputation of being a cosmopolitan city where all shades and colours of the Nigerian project had found succour and abiding love is being challenged as Nigerians from other states who have called that beautiful city home for decades are scampering back to their home states, uprooting in the process building blocks of attachment to the city and wondering how they will start life anew in their homes states which to most, is an unchartered territory.
In Maiduguri, the capital of the glorious Kenem-Bornu Empire, life has come to a standstill, as Boko Haram has sown and reaped fear and has forced business and social life to come to a halt. There is a peace of the grave yard currently reigning in Kano, the commercial nerve-center of the north. Jos, the tourism capital of the north is seized by a deep sense of foreboding as most residents live in fear, not knowing when their precious lives may be destroyed because some elements think killing innocent people would guarantee them entry into heaven. This Hobbesian state of nature should not stand. The north is too important to the development of the country and if this level of insecurity persists, the region’s progress would have been turned back by over 50 years.
The most important thing about a people should be to strategize and work towards the socio-economic advancement of their people, to improve their condition and to create an environment that would engender the pursuit of happiness and success. Conditions as they currently exist in the north do not seem to support the above hopes. The Northern leaders must realize that while it has allowed its territory to be overrun and “owned” by Boko Haram, other regions are making huge developmental strides and it should be the responsibility of Northern leaders to ask themselves certain pertinent questions: Where would the north be in the next five years, ten years if we allow our best spaces to be dominated by insecurity and the retardation of economic activities? What happens to our children and their future? How would they be able to compete when their counterparts from other parts have gone ahead of them in every index of the human experience?
Politically speaking, the north should be worried about the perceptions – the optics that the world is beholding currently. The narrative which may not be grounded in fact that is emerging is that the north, having lost political power, has resorted to invoking violence as a means to rendering the country ungovernable and to retard activities aimed at development of the nation. This narrative is gaining currency both locally and internationally. I think the north should try and diminish this narrative from being internalized by and accepted as the reality or conventional wisdom. There are a lot of dangers in allowing this narrative to stand. First and foremost, it would make the capacity for the north to reclaim power a much more Herculean task. If other parts of the country believe that you can employ every means, including killing innocent people, in order to regain political power and the elites in the region gave a wink and a nod, or in some instances provided aid and comfort to the killers, it would not engender love and affinity from other component units.
As the last presidential election showed, there is a new realignment of political forces – one where local issues are separated from national – a phenomenon that had long taken roots in mature democracies like the United States. If the people of the South-West, the East, the Niger-Delta and the Middle Belt, who presently seem to suffer the brunt of these killings, the region being predominantly Christian buy into this narrative, it may be very difficult for a northern candidate to win presidential elections in Nigeria, and I am sure the Northern leaders wouldn’t wish for this to happen. No one wishes for the north’s political edge to be blunted, but it must help itself by reversing this narrative. I have always said it and I am repeating it here that I am not a believer in zoning. I think it is a bad policy – one that retards democratic excellence as incompetents are given prominence sorely because of geography as opposed to competence. If an able northern candidate were to emerge someday in the future, after the Jonathan presidency had run its full course and has the capacity to galvanize the nation around a set of ideals, I will support him and even after his term ends, another equally competent northerner emerges, I will support him too. The north must begin to internalize these values and advise its people about the new realities on the political space.
The clash of civilization should not be allowed to explode in Northern Nigeria. Please Northern leaders act and act fast too. You don’t have a lot of time to vacillate. God bless our country as our leaders do the right things.
Congratulations to Akwa Ibom State on the 76 Oil Wells
Last Tuesday, July 10, the long and hard-fought legal battle to determine who rightfully owned the contentious 76 oil wells that were given to Akwa Ibom State when a part of Bakassi was ceded to Cameroun from Cross River State was settled in favour of Akwa Ibom State by the Supreme Court.
I congratulate the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Barrister Godswill Akpabio (CON), and the good people of the state on this victory. At the same time, I urge our brothers and sisters from Cross River State, a state that most people of Akwa Ibom still have a spiritual and emotional connection to, not to see this judgment as a big blow, but to continue to look inward for areas that can move its economy forward. Already its comparative advantage in tourism should be maintained. We hope those whose utterances on this issue were capable of pitting two brothers against one another, would desist from such provocative statements and continue to live in peace and harmony.