by Chude Jideonwo
Yesterday, Goodluck Jonathan caught my attention. Speaking to the nation in a long overdue but still welcome address, he spoke directly to those who have chosen to exploit the lines that divide us over the beautiful things that unite us: “You may hurt and bring grief to some innocent families momentarily, but you will never succeed in stopping our transformational journey; a journey that will lead this country, by the grace of God, to emerge stronger, more prosperous and more united.
“My fellow countrymen and women, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.”
Striking words. But that’s not what caught my attention.
This is what caught my eye: “If anything at all, these acts of mayhem are sad reminders of the events which plunged our country into 30 months of an unfortunate civil war. As a nation, we are yet to come to terms with the level of human suffering, destruction and displacement, including that of our children to far-away countries, occasioned by those dark days.”
In speaking these words, the president did something that his predecessors, at least in the two odd decades since I was born, have regrettably been unable to do – directly confront the history that has defined this country since 1966. In a nation that has resolutely chosen to forget, a president who seems to have the capacity for beyond-the-surface thought seems set to change all that.
That is as it should be. The Nigerian Civil War, whether triumphalists like Olusegun Obasanjo like it or not, is a major definitive milestone that has shaped our country. It is the reason why, those who doubt the massive turnout for the Jonathan candidacy from the south east and the south-south, are behind the curve: these are regions that still live with the scars from the near-genocide that Nigeria visited on them.
It is at times like this that a remarkable fact seeps through, something remarkable occurs to me in fact: President Jonathan is the first Nigerian leader from any of the sides of the nation that suffered during the civil war. He is one from a side of the country that saw, first hand, the brutality and inhumanity that we are capable of when politicians successfully exploit our differences. This surely must account for his clear-eyed understanding of why we must bring that subject matter to the centre of national discourse.
Would this lead to the country’s secession? Will it suddenly lead to an eruption of violence across the country? Well, what do we have to be afraid of? Ethnic and religious violence is already a fact of our audience. Apparently, not talking about these issues has not helped us – wouldn’t it be helpful to take another tack?
In any case, why would a serious minded nation that is so fundamentally torn apart that even largely credible elections would lead to such widespread violence, be unprepared to ask and answer the hard questions? These are questions that have confounded me even from childhood.
Questions like: is our unity truly our strength? Are the things that unite us really, truly stronger than those that divide us? Is it really true that if we go our separate ways, we will be unable to be strong nations on our own? How many more will die before we re-assess this tenuous unity? What use is a unity that does not bind its people? Is there really any brotherhood or sisterhood when you really get down to Nigeria’s core?
Or can it be that, while the rest of us, safe in Lagos or Abuja or Berlin or Miami engage in reverie about the nostalgic One Nigeria, many from Bauchi to Jos continue to die because of that same shaky ideal. Are nations built on starry-eyed nostalgia or on a hard-nosed understanding of reality? Is this Nigeria, as presently constituted, amenable to progress? Are we able to overcome our mutual suspicions, no matter how many high-minded words we speak?
In the task of rebuilding our nation, we cannot afford to have no-go areas. These questions have to be answered. Or more will yet die.