Simon Kolawole: A society of hardliners and bigots

Fellow Nigerians, why are we maiming and killing in the name of religion and ethnicity? We are never going to answer the question the same way. It is poverty, many will suggest. I agree with that position to a large extent—although I am forced to ask why the people of Benin Republic, who are poorer than Nigerians, are not killing one another. Oh, it is because there are too many ethnic groups in Nigeria, another school will argue. Maybe. But there are over 50 ethnic groups in Ghana and I am yet to hear that they are bombing and slaughtering one another. Ah, it is because Lord Luggard forced us into an artificial marriage in 1914, some analysts will assert.

Perhaps. But look around the world and you will discover that virtually every country is an artificial creation. And there is no country without its internal differences—race, ethnicity, region, religion, class, language, dialects, clans, etc. Check the facts with an open mind. I will forever contend that having differences is not the problem; the socio-political management of these differences is what distinguishes success from failure.

There are possibly one thousand and two reasons why Nigeria is like this, but an undeniable fact is that we are a nation of bigots and hardliners. There are people who specialise in stoking sectional tension. Boy, they enjoy it to no end! They spend all their days amplifying our ethnic and religious differences. Every opinion they hold and propagate is based on ethnic or religious sentiments. All their analyses and perceptions are derived from sectionalism. That is the only thing that excites them. I concede that religion and ethnicity stir up the deepest emotions in us. So maybe we should situate the hard-line positions being taken by some leaders and elders within this context.

However, the challenge, really, is to rise above these sentiments and deal with issues case by case. I cannot tell myself a Yoruba man is always right and a Christian can never be wrong. If I harbour such a mentality, it means whenever I see a Yoruba man and an Igbo man fighting, I will never listen to what the issues are. I will automatically join hands with the Yoruba man to pummel the Igbo man without asking questions. That is the life of hardliners. Yet common logic tells us that the world is not black and white. There are different shades of grey. I have been thoroughly appalled by the positions some respected commentators are taking on the Boko Haram insurgency and the Plateau civil war (it’s a civil war, friends, let’s stop pretending). I am now convinced, more than ever, that we are in for the long haul, except these hardliners—who seem to be having the upper hand in the public sphere—begin to pipe down in the interest of peace.

Hard-line positions will never resolve the crises.  I want to focus on the Plateau war today as we continue to deal with the grim reality we have found ourselves. Why has blood been flowing like a river in the state? It depends on who you are asking the question. If you ask the Hausa/Fulani, they will tell you that after living in Jos for generations, they are still being treated as “settlers” by the Berom people who claim to be the “indigenes”. The Jasawa crave equality—they want to be seen as citizens not “settlers”; they would not mind having an emirate of their own in order to be able to fully express their religious beliefs within an Islamic set-up; they seek high-level political recognition such that they would be able to produce at least the deputy governor, if not the governor; and they want some form of affirmative action to guarantee them some political offices.

Now turn to the Berom and ask them the same question. Their answer will be something like this: this land belongs to us; the Fulani came to settle here and now they are trying to conquer us and lord it over us in our own land; what Uthman Dan Fodiyo couldn’t complete with his jihad, the Fulani want to get through the backdoor; we the Berom people have never been conquered by the Fulani, and we will never be conquered by them; the Urhobo, Yoruba and Igbo were living here long before the Fulani, yet they are not laying any claim to Jos—so why are the Fulani different? What the Fulani will not accept from “settlers” in Sokoto or Kano, they want to come and impose on us here! We will never accept that!!

With these hard-line positions from both camps, what are the prospects for peace? It doesn’t look exciting at all. Blood will continue to flow. We have not seen anything yet. It is very, very scary and disheartening. However, the way forward, in my opinion, is that the elders in these communities must for once begin to see the larger picture. The larger picture, in this instance, is peaceful co-existence. They must begin to ask themselves the hard questions: will bloodshed solve this problem? If we continue to hold on to our hard-line positions, what are the prospects for peace? Will there be absolute winners at the end of it all? Are there some compromise positions we can negotiate? Are there avenues we can exploit to stem the slide? Are there mechanisms we can develop to address these longstanding and divisive matters amicably?

The Plateau crises can only be resolved by the people themselves. Federal Government can only send troops. Only fragile peace can be imposed that way. The real peace will be devised by the warring factions themselves. They must see eye to eye. They must sit down and negotiate. They must talk with each other. When they talk, argue, negotiate and arrive at a roadmap, they will be able to carve a sustainable pathway to lasting peace by themselves. We will not need heavy military presence again. We will not need curfews and states of emergency. But for as long as hardliners and bigots are calling the shots, there will never be peace on the Plateau. The people and their leaders and elders must bury their pride and prejudices. No amount of bloodshed will do. I know this for a fact.

And Four Other Things…

Can it get more ridiculous? After being promoted permanent secretary in absentia in Bayelsa State, the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, is now seeking constitutional recognition for wives of political office-holders so that they can begin to enjoy retirement benefits when their spouses leave office. So the wives of former presidents, vice-presidents, senate presidents, speakers, senators, reps, house of assembly members, ministers, state commissioners, 774 council chairmen, councillors and special advisers will all be collecting severance pay and pension? Obviously, somebody has not been reading about the recurrent expenditure crises and revenue headache. Plain ridiculous.

Last Friday, a rampaging gunman killed 12 persons in Colorado, US, at a cinema showing the new Batman film, the Dark Knight Rises. US President Barack Obama and his rival Mitt Romney immediately cancelled campaign speeches and some adverts attacking each other, replacing them with messages of sorrow for the victims. In Nigeria, it would have been a perfect opportunity for the opposition parties to politick and blame the “clueless” president for the gunman’s actions. Americans and their politicians always put their country first in moments of crisis, because the country is more important than any partisan interest. We shouldn’t allow our dislike of one man to blind us to the fact that Nigeria is bigger than anyone.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole deservedly won re-election as governor of Edo State, but the real winners are the people of the state. To be honest, I was worried about the security situation. I expected violence. I expected rigging. With all the pre-election tension—especially the killings—my heart was in my mouth. But the election was peacefully conducted; the people spoke with their thumbs. The defeat of all the PDP big guys in their wards spoke eloquently about how people exercised their free choice. Those who say we have not achieved anything in 13 years of democracy may need to review their cynicism. We’re actually marching forward in many ways!

Today I remember Samuel Famakinwa, former Deputy Editor of THISDAY, who five years ago embarked on a journey of no return to Maiduguri, Borno State. In one of the most tragic and traumatic stories of life, Samuel was found dead in his hotel room: his body on the bed, his outstretched left hand with his mobile phone on the floor. This suggested he was on the phone when he died. Post-mortem report said he died of cardiac arrest. Although we had our suspicions, God knows best. His wife was pregnant at the time, but the boy would never know his father. Life can be wicked. But Samuel lived a meaningful, even if short, life.

This piece was originally published in Thisday.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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