by Mike Ekunno
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
– John Donne
My thoughts on the nature of injustice in the Nigerian socio-political space have been rudely pre-empted by the storm over Chinua Achebe’s latest book, There Was a Country. If anything, the tenor of reactions on his rehash of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s adroit manoeuvres in the name of expediency fit very much into my thesis here. And my thesis is that injustice is here to stay because primordial considerations of clan and religion colour our judgment of right and wrong, justice and injustice. Achebe’s rehash can only become a storm in a society deeply divided along primordial lines. If not, all that is needed is to ask whether starvation should be used against belligerents in a war on principle. And if we have difficulty grasping the issues involved because of the impersonal way it is couched, we may just reverse the charges by asking: Should we be subjected to starvation if our people find themselves in a war?
Away from Achebe and Biafra and onto the injustice with a more individual resolution, the ongoing travails of the (former?) President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, must get every conscious Nigerian worried. The worry is not about the personalities involved or the political colouration of the ding-dong affair. No. It is about the fact that the second most highly placed judicial officer in the land can feel sufficiently unjustly treated to seek legal assistance. The merits and demerits of the matter are secondary here and there are no shortages of learned opinions on both sides. What rather worries me, and obviously should worry anyone, is that in the very inner chambers of justice, a principal in the mould of the President of the Appeal Court can feels denied of justice.
Before Justice Salami, there had been an Attorney-General of the Federation and husband of a respected Justice of the Appeal Court who was murdered in cold blood. The late Bola Ige was assassinated while in office and not the fact of his exalted position or that of his wife could get the family and the state justice. In fact, his widow’s death may not be unconnected with the distraught she felt from seeing how the system was playing table tennis with the matter of her husband’s assassination. These are sobering signposts on the state of justice or the lack thereof in our land but the elite don’t seem to “give a damn”. If the iron could be broken, what fate awaits the stick, the Igbo proverb wonders?
The nature of injustice in the Nigerian public space is such that it has been dished around to different groups at different times. That macabre roulette is still rotating. It is not programmed to stop in our land because previous victims lack the moral spunk to say, “Never Again!” Even if they do for themselves, they don’t do for “The Others” and they watch smug in their comfort zones as the next great measure of injustice is doled out from our national roulette. What they fail to realise in their short-sightedness is that just as the Americans say, what goes round comes around.Their smugness is going to be short-lived as it soon becomes their turn to suffer injustice and oppression.
Among the military ruling elite of the Babangida era, it was cool to deny Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe preferment to two-star generalship to match up with his elevation to the post of Chief of General Staff and second-in-command of the junta. Precedence was clearly in his favour in respect of the same treatment given to Generals Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Tunde Idiagbon and their predecessors. Because he was seen as an outsider, a phoney distinction between the political and the professional was invented to deny him. Before long, Gen. Domkat Bali who, even if he did not actively canvass Ukiwe’s humiliation was okay with it, found himself holding the short end of the stick. The cabal which had used him against Ukiwe struck peremptorily and retired him without admitting him to the exclusive club of full generals. Again, as we watch the Plateau regrettably turned to killing fields, our genial and godly Gen. Yakubu Gowon must be wondering where he got it wrong. Having fought to make Nigeria one, wherefore is he to be banished from his homeland by forces with whom he had allied against the “Nyamiri”. Is it possible to see in the present travails of the Plateau State the seeds sown by indulging murderous gangs of the 1960s who decimated the “other” group and went scot-free?
For long, it was the “others” who were at the receiving end of wanton destruction of lives, limbs and property across the North. The northern elite remained mostly unfazed and were not beyond blaming the victims. Nobody ever thought that a day such as this would come when clerics wept at Friday homilies and the traditional elite of the North abandoned provincial palaces to take refuge in Abuja. The recent rapprochement between the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo should therefore be commended by all men of goodwill. It is a harbinger of the big apologies that must be traded across the divides by both the oppressor and the victim.
In a way therefore, John Donne’s eternal words at the beginning of this piece bear recommendation to Nigeria’s power elite, ethnic and religious groups and other parochial interests. Let them not presume that the tolling bells of injustice, impunity, oppression, deprivation and brigandage are reserved only for the “other” group. As sure as what goes round comes around, it will willy-nilly get to them. Let us not ask for whom the funeral bell tolls; it tolls for us, Nigeria’s living dead.
Mike Ekunno, a freelance book editor and proof reader based in Abuja.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.