FIRE ON OUR ROOF

“As I write now, I know we have not concluded
all the election stories for 2011. The big shows
are yet to start screening. I therefore enjoin you
to sit back and enjoy the unfolding drama that
Election 2011 has in stock for us as we return
to the poll on the 16th and 26th of April. Action!”

When I wrote the words above as the conclusion of my last piece (PERSPECTIVES 01), I definitely had no premonition that one of the big stories that will trail Elections 2011 will be the outburst of violence, arson, maiming and killing of several innocent persons in the north. To say I didn’t expect the election, particularly in the north, to have a little touch of violence will be a blatant lie or how else could I justify my voluntary exclusion from being an INEC ad-hoc staff? Though I am in Kaduna state where I am currently undertaking the mandatory one-year NYSC scheme, I decided not to participate in the elections despite the mouth watering sum being dangled at corps members by the INEC. But the truth is that I didn’t know the madness was going to escalate to this magnitude. I am no Chinua Achebe whose prediction of a coup d’état in his book “Man of the People” came into reality on that day in 1966 when the book was released in bookstores.

I am sure no one, except those who plotted the dastardly act, because it obviously was premeditated, could have envisioned such a disaster in 2011. The year we feared election was going to skyrocket into a crises was in 2003 and this was because the last two elections the nation had in the two decades preceding 2003 (i.e 1983 and 1993) resulted in a coup d’état and annulment leading to social unrest respectively. Many in our superstitious society were almost certain that the election coming up in another year with ’3 being the last digit was going to have a “comma” because of the 1983 and 1993 experiences. I remember that serious prayers were therefore offered in worship places that 2003 wouldn’t go in the way of its forebears and when it didn’t climax in any upheaval we all thought we have gone past those black days of electoral intolerance.

While election results were trickling in and it was almost becoming obvious that the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south was coasting home to victory, the supporters of his arch-rival in the presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north, took to the streets in protest. I am not trying to make this an ethnic or religious protest, but it is obvious that the illiterate protesters didn’t know how to differentiate their political protest from an ethnic/religious one as they reportedly chanted “sai Buhari, ba mua so arne” meaning “it is Buhari we want, we don’t want an unbeliever.” This un-coordinated protest in the hands of illiterate miscreants consisting majorly of young people between ages 10 – 20 soon degenerated into a mini war displacing thousands from their homes and leaving several hundreds dead.

While the CPC candidate, Buhari has denied sending people to resort to violence in protest but he had reportedly informed his teeming supporters during his campaigns that he won’t go to court if he loses the election because his past experiences in the courts didn’t yield any meaningful success for him, but he rather admonished his supporters to defend their votes by guarding against being rigged out by whatever means. Even if the retired General didn’t mean his people should lynch people it was obvious they were ready to go the extra mile for their hero, whom they glowingly refer to as “mai gaskiya” meaning the one who is truthful.

This violence has one again put a test on our claim to nationhood. This is because the violence was unleashed by the Hausas, on non-Hausas living amongst them. While it is true that some Hausas were not spared in the heat of the disaster as the Vice President, Namadi Sambo had his residence burnt down, while the palace of the Emir of Zazzau was also set on fire but the truth is that the seemingly political demonstration was set against the non-Hausas (and non-Muslims). The rioters did not stop at beating and burning of houses as they did their kins-men but resorted to maiming, burning and killing of the non-Hausas. More pathetic and worrisome is the death of several corps members who got themselves caught up in this deadly web and lost their lives. Four corps members were confirmed dead with about twenty still missing in Bauchi state alone while the death toll in other states are yet to be confirmed but it is believed that the number will be running to hundreds. These corps members only happened to be serving their fatherland and partaking in the election process as ad-hoc staff for INEC. Many of them were wasted in gruesome circumstances. This also has brought up once again a call for the total cancellation of the NYSC scheme.

The Presidential election was seen as one between the North and the South. As a build up to the election, there were all manners of schemes and machinations to see that a Northener emerges as the winner, one of them being the selection of a northern consensus candidate along the way. And so when the candidate from the South, Jonathan, won, some northern elements felt cheated in an election that was praised by both local and international observers as being free, fair and credible. While I am not saying that the election was not fraught with any touch of irregularity and malpractice, yet it was callous and inhuman for one part of the nation to rise up against people of other ethnic backgrounds. This only shows the crack in the Nigerian nation.

Many have held tightly to the belief that the Nigerian nation is not yet born. This school of thought believes that Nigeria is not yet a nation but rather that what we have is a nation-state. While a nation is a group of people bound and united by a common interest, a nation-state on the other hand is one where the only thing that binds the people is a common government. Being a nation is more than just being held up together in a geographical entity called a country, it entails seeing the other person as a brother irrespective of whether he is Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, Efik, Idoma, Tiv, Ijaw, Kaje etc. Until this is done then it stands to be said that our present claim no nationhood is nothing more than a farce, a facade, a charade, a pretence and a huge joke.

As I said earlier on, this violence has one again put a test on our claim to nationhood. We have over the years tried to live harmoniously as a nation but our nationhood has been threatened and challenged several times. The crack in our claim to being a nation has always been evident since independence as was made evident in the address to the nation by Kaduna Nzeogwu in his January 15th, 1966 coup where he stated his aim as being to
“establish a strong, united and prosperous
nation free of corruption and internal strife.”
The biggest setback to our nationhood however came through the Civil war of 1967 – 1970 wherein about a million people were killed. After coming out from that war, rather than finding a lasting solution, we only resorted to lip-syncing “no victor, no vanquished” in order to placate all sides but we know those who lost the most in the war, the Igbos. Till this moment the Igbos still cry out that they continue to be marginalised and have not been fully integrated back into Nigeria. Of note is the fact that one of the several efforts we have made to hold this nation together in the face of its threatened nationhood was the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in 1973.

The purpose of this piece is not to condemn us as a people, an entity or as a country but to rather call us to rise up from our deception; to come together to iron out our differences and reconcile them otherwise there is no way we can continue to pretend that we are united when we are not. As it stands now, we are more divided than we are united. All that we currently have in place is a geographical entity forced upon us in 1914 and inherited by us in 1960. All that we presently have is a continuation of the pretence we put up from independence till the crack became evident in 1967; unfortunately we didn’t resolve the issues but rather fought ourselves into a falsified united nation in 1970. Those cracks are still there and they always raise their ugly heads in times like this. My purpose here is to call an end to this pretence that we are brothers when we are enemies; an end to the lips-proclaimed “One Nigeria” when we are too divided along religious, ethnic and historical lines.

I am not a lone ranger in this opinion that we are yet to achieve national cohesion. The Senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu while noting that the NYSC scheme established solely for the purpose of national cohesion had failed woefully said the new outburst of violence “shows that efforts to ensure national cohesion, peace and togetherness is yet to be achieved.” The senate president continued that, “yet the essence of NYSC in the first place is to have this kind of level of integration of our people from one part of the country to another.”

This outburst of violence has opened up inherent loopholes in our claim to nationhood; it has pointed out to us that we are still on the ropes; that we are only deceiving and fooling ourselves; that we have gone to sleep when there is still fire on our roof. The purpose of this piece therefore is to inform our leaders and those in position of authority that we cannot afford to sweep this important issue of attaining true nationhood under the carpet as we have done in times past and are always wont to do. It is time to move this nation out of its present deception. Let us chart a way forward out of the present mess. Let us find a lasting solution to our problems as a people and be truly united. Let us move from being an ethnic violence-prone nation-state to truly “live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God” as stated in the preamble to our Constitution. If this is not done then the spate of violence recently witnessed will be a recurring decimal in our country. We need to get it right. We need to make this nation work.

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