30 March 2023

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If we are to live together in peace we must come to know each other better ...LYNDON JOHNSON

On my way out of a birthday party of a dear friend a couple of nights ago, a neighbour confronted me thus, 'what are we going to do about the Boko Haram on our street?' To my question of 'which Boko Haram?' he retorted -'have you not noticed about 6 'Hausa boys' who always converge at No 3? I was at my dismissive best and with my usual warmth I called him an ignorant bigot. I must say that everybody on his table sided with him! The very next day there was the unfortunate bomb blast in Jos with scores of lives being senselessly and brutally terminated. I was inundated with messages on my phone with one saying- 'this is getting too close to home, we must now all say what we have felt but refused to air – the northerners must be told to go!

To me the two tendencies above are myopic and laughable. It would however appear that to many southerners who live either abroad or in the south of Nigeria, what is nonsense to me makes perfect sense to them. In the event that our country is being driven to the brink of anarchy by ignorance, it is the duty of the sensible patriot to broaden the narrative beyond the present tendency.

If not for ignorance, how can we see northerners as Boko Haram members or sympathizers? Or is that not the same attitude we condemn as ignorance, when non-Nigerians glibly catalogue Nigerians as fraudsters? Surely we must appreciate that the same way we feel when we are stereotyped because of the actions of a tiny criminal minority must be the way northerners feel when they are referenced as Boko Haram. It is painfully illogical when those bearing the brunt of the Boko Haram devilishness are those being labelled as such. It is probably the case that the young boys on my street, ran away from Boko Haram to Lagos, yet they are the threat! How unthinking, how ignorant! I will advise my neighbour to have a chat with those boys for his own education.

The penchant of scapegoating any group of people on account of actions of persons traceable to that origin is by no means a Nigerian phenomenon but it does not make it helpful or less combustible. After 9/11 many actual Arabs or Arab looking people were attacked and some killed as revenge. This does not make sense the same way the killing of innocent Igbos in 1966 as revenge for the actions of a few Igbo army officers will never make sense. That is why the proliferation of all these divisive groups with diverse motivation is very worrisome and why it behoves us to liberate our thinking so that we can educate our people to see through the present cloud of ignorance. Otherwise we will wake up one day and start killing ourselves senselessly.

All these talk about the artificiality of Nigeria is counter intuitive. In life we never get to choose who we commune with. Even in the family setting, nobody has ever chosen fellow family members. Just like any country we are born into one. The families that thrive and live harmoniously together are those in which the members practice 'live and let live.' It is the erosion of communalism in our country that has now tuned our national conversation to the station of divisiveness and warmongering. We have allowed the few in the callous and selfish power class to appropriate our sovereignty and fan the embers of discord all as part of their power and money games. The only message that makes sense for us as a whole is that we are all human beings and that it is the divisions that are artificial. We have found ourselves by whatever 'mistake' or happenstance in one country and given that we are blessed with sufficient resources for all, we need to build the spirit of communalism and enthrone a reliable organizational method to guarantee fairness to all irrespective of tribe or religion. There is no magic wand organizational method, be it parliamentary or presidential or whatever, any system can work provided it is operated fairly in the spirit of communalism. With the level of greed, impunity and territoriality in Nigeria, no system will work! And guess what? divide Nigeria into as many countries as you want, agitation will not stop because it is wrongly directed, we should be agitating for fairness and good responsible governance not divisions.

Let me take Akwa Ibom for instance, I understand that under the Eastern Region government, 'my people' were seriously marginalized by the majority Igbos. South Eastern State was created as a result of the agitation. The Ibibios were now majority but were soon agitating that they wanted out of South Eastern State because of marginalization! Akwa Ibom was created and with it the Ibibio, Annang and Oron divide was exacerbated. Now the agitation is that the Annangs have cornered all the resources and marginalized the Ibibios! I wonder if any 'missing funds' exist in the name of Annang people? Rather than agitate for good accountable governance we keep on chasing shadows! We should be more discerning and then perhapswe will discover that the agitation is being promoted by individuals who did not personally benefit from the squandermania?(wink wink)

There is no denying the fact that we live in a fragile country, but that is the more reason why well meaning patriots must rise to counter the ongoing deceptive and hypocritical narrative. The atmosphere of xenophobic hysteria is exactly what led to 'Ghana Must Go' about thirty years ago. We blamed Ghanians for every societal ill including rising crime and unemployment. In mob fashion, we dispossessed them of their property and hounded them 'out of town' in the most barbaric of circumstances with many of them especially children and women dying at the chaotic Nigerian border (choked and overflowing with a dehumanized multitude.) Yet the same Nigerians who have now flocked to Ghana have the temerity to complain that their 'brothers' are asking them to pay trading levies which they categorize as unfair! Did expelling Ghanians solve any problems? Of course not because they were not the problem but merely victims of misdirected aggression. We must direct our aggression at bad governance because that is the problem. Bad governance thrives throughout the country because we are focused on the wrong targets and the perpetrators from all sections are having a good time at our collective expense.

Our 'soldiers of fortune' have produced different maps including one by 'The Southern Peoples Assembly' comprising four new countries of Oduduwa, Sharia North, Middle belt and Southern people. So these days things have changed so much that the Niger Delta minorities desperately need to form a country with the Igbos only? Hopefully the capital will be in Uyo, whose people were dancing on the streets when Cross River State oil wells were ceded to it and as one taxi driver victoriously declared to me at the time – 'Now let us see what they will eat?'

Suddenly in a country where a child from Enugu State cannot because of 'indiginization' enjoy free education in Abia State but will enjoy same in Sokoto State, we are glibly talking of Southern Nigeria!

I would not have been so worried by all these inanities, but I am, because Nigerians are so shockingly gullible. All manner of stories are being bandied about and fact, fiction and fantasy are mixed together in a form of crude osmosis where 'dem say' is the only required proof of all manner of 'evidence'.

The Almighty loves Nigeria very dearly and perhaps why he has provided South Sudan as an example to warn us to retrace our steps and embrace the path of unity, without which there can be no progress. Also we must in serious matters draw the line between flighty phantasm and foolishness. We must take the admonition of Martin Luther King seriously -'We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools'

Edo Ukpong
Legal Practitioner