There is an increasing number of Nigerians who believe there will never be peace; as far as the nation remains as presently constituted. Those Nigerians are being vindicated by trends and events that continue to unfold in this wretched land. At the same time, there is another group of Nigerians—the status quo leadership elites from sections of the country who continue to thrive in the pretence that all is well. Even when the reverse is self evident, the myth of harmony and progress is propagated in the midst of blood, toil and tears occasioned by the nation’s ethno-religious contradictions. When groups like IPOB/MASSOB, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) and other legitimate self determination groups burst into the scene; having been birthed by decades of injustice, inequality, marginalisation, internal colonialism, ethno-religious violence and general misrule with the banner of justice, equality and self determination, the chief pretenders of Nigeria castigate and shout them down.
When those who mean well advocate a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) or Conference of Ethnic Nationalities (CEN) to afford us the opportunity to dialogue and create a nation in our own image; properly structured to accommodate ethno-religious inclinations with enough autonomy (federalism) to propel regional development and prosperity within the overall confines of Nigeria — the chief pretenders of Nigeria label them enemies of the republic who want to tear down the nation. Yet curiously in striking down every progressive idea to build a cohesive, just and properly structured nation, they never offer any alternative to the existential crisis that is ever growing before their eyes. Preferring instead to like an Ostrich bury their heads in the sand and pretend that all is well. So the problem remains and the nation continues to burn with a steep price in human lives.
The worst lie is the one a people continually feed themselves thereby shackling themselves to the eternal vagaries of slavery from which they cannot exit until as was biblically proclaimed in John 8: 32; they allow “the truth set them free.” Nigeria has an existential problem; pretending about it or denying it will not solve the problem, but rather it will fester and grow worse until it consumes all of us in ways never imagined. On the 2nd of June, the hard truth of Nigeria’s existential problems confronted us again with the brutal murder of Mrs Bridget Agbahime, a 74 year old woman from Imo state who was killed by a mob in Kano for alleged blasphemy. We later learnt that her only sin was stopping some people from doing pre-prayer wash in front of her stall in the market. These people now mobilised the usual mob of blood thirsty barbarians that murdered her.
As has been reported, this woman has not visited her home state in the last 30 years. For all intents and purposes, she is more a citizen of Kano than anywhere else. Yet she was hacked to death just because of her religion and possibly her ethnicity and we still pretend Nigeria is one. What kind of a people will be so blinded by religious and ethnic hate that they would so unconscionably kill a 74 year old woman? As difficult as this question is to answer, it has been the predicament in Nigeria since 1945—some 7 decades ago when the first ethnic riots happened in Jos, followed in succession by the 1953 anti-independence riots in Kano by which time an incipient culture of violence had been created. In 1966, the existing culture of violence made it easy to activate pogroms in the North at a scale unprecedented in the continent, leading to the civil war. Maitsatsine riots broke the brief lull that occurred after the war. But since then it has been one riot after another in a ritual of ethno religious violence that not only became routine but eventually evolved into terrorism.
Most Nigerians, not in the least my own generation, have lived through endless episodes of ethno-religious riots and killings like that of Madam Bridget Agbahime that always goes unpunished. This circle of violence has been fed and sustained by local support within the religious and political spheres of leadership that then unleashes them whenever it suits their exigencies, political calculations or usual appetites to vent their hate on other ethno-religious groups. In order to satisfy this desire, any pretext is enough. Thus for a cartoon published in Denmark by a Danish cartoonist, hundreds of Nigerians are murdered in riots. Ironically, this has created an awkward situation where a Nigerian is safer living in Ghana, Senegal or Cameroun where no one would kill him just because of his religion or ethnicity than in the North where there is the ever present risk of being murdered on account of your religion or ethnicity.
And yet again we claim to have a country and strangely continue to pretend that all is well. After decades of religious violence, it is no surprise that Boko haram emerged. Arising from the same religious and ethnic intolerance that fed preceding riots, little wonder it went on to become the most murderous terrorist group in the world as declared by the United Nations and Global Terrorism Index (GTI), having benefitted from decades of ample training and experience in religious violence far ahead of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Therefore when the present administration declares Boko haram technically defeated, it should be taken with a pinch of salt. Realistically, a region that has been so nurtured in ethno-religious violence for decades cannot overnight be weaned of such a cancer, more so when no lessons have been learnt from past incidents or when it has never been accepted that such violence was wrong in the first place.
It stands to reason that in such an environment, even if for any reason Boko haram fades away, another group is sure to take its place in no time. Indeed that seems to be happening already with herdsmen that are on the rampage across the middle belt and south killing people at will. The GTI has already classified Fulani herdsmen the 4th most deadly terrorist group in the world. Nigeria now infamously harbours both the first and the fourth most murderous terrorist groups in the world and interestingly both derived from the same region and culture that willy-nilly allowed a culture of ethnic and religious intolerance to take root. There are already suggestions that other more deadly terrorist groups will soon emerge to join the existing or ebbing ones. All these predicate that peace will remain elusive both in the short and long term.
Ultimately, these endless circles of violence, hate and prejudice driven by ethno-religious contradictions unwittingly feeds into and legitimizes the narratives of IPOB/MASSOB and NDA who seek self determination on the premise that Nigeria is unworkable. The slaying of Madam Bridget Agbahime coming on the heels of the decades long ethno-religious violence and recent terrorism has only served to vindicate the logic, that there are no prospects for peace in the Nigerian contraption. Let the truth set us free!
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu