Wars start with words
“I would rather pray with Esther than take the sword with Judith.” – Mary, Queen of Scots, 16 century
From the first, I wanted the theme of this piece to be on the farouche youths in the north and the ultimatum given to the Igbo to vacate the north by October 1. But decided against it. That, certainly, would be a wasteful anachronism; joining issues with folks who don’t know history. Besides, they aren’t the only farouche youths I have heard of out and about as I peregrinate around Nigeria. Everybody seems to be a youth in Nigeria. All you need do is visit a newspaper outlet in Port Harcourt and hear people, farouche men, harangue northerners to death. Yet they eat suya, vegetables and other foods cultivated by northerners.
I listened to that internet radio (I had to stop), spewing vitriol on the north and west and wondered how farouche they can be. The Prophets in the Holy Book rebuked their own people for sins committed against The Lord. Here, our own people aren’t without sins. ‘Those people’ are the cause of all, “our problems.” And instead of apprehension, they rejoice at the quit notice as though they have made plans for the three million plus Igbo scattered outside the Igbo heartland. Most people from Rivers State, don’t believe in the cessation of Nigeria state. Regardless, some in public places have expressed the desire for cessation so they can finagle the Igbo out of their hard-earned resources should the state cease. You get the drift? Another abandoned property in the making.
Sheshat would have been disappointed, had I made this piece about only the northern youths. As a people, we assign others to catacombs under guises. We fail to look inside our souls to make the country peaceful. We don’t show pity for one another, even though we venerate the Almighty in the church and mosque. How weird? A clergyman told me, matter-of-factly that he foresees an upcoming revolution in Nigeria. A revolution he wouldn’t lead. I call that prescience. A clergyman who believes in prescience isn’t different from the man in my village in Igala land who consults a medium (echebo). Now you know why Nigerian churches don’t reform societies any longer. Church leaders believe in prescience, not God. Revolution indeed. The state is brutal. There are four things the state can do to revolutionaries; co-opt them, jail them, banish them and kill them. Tell you what? The state will use people from the revolutionary’s backyard to do so.
Elsewhere, Pope Francis is busy promoting world peace.
If only the Nigerian state was strong and not weak. We know that Mexico is a weak country; so weak that drug cartels kill more than 20,000 people annually during drug wars but in the U.S., where drugs are consumed more than in Mexico, such deaths aren’t recorded because of tougher laws which serve as a deterrence. The ultimate responsibility for leaders in Nigeria is consistent preachment against incitement of hate speeches. I commend the northern governors and the Emir of Katsina for quickly rallying against those farouche northern youth. I wish all elders in times past were like them; Boko Haram, and the Sharia crises might not have happened. I wish we have real elders all around Nigeria, indeed.
It’s time leaders everywhere began to use their force of personality to teach Nigerians the difference between freedom of expression and freedom of speech. The former is the expression of one’s ideas and opinions freely without the intention to cause harm by false or misleading statements which may lead to character assassination. They may not be logical, without fact, said with emotion and can be clamped down on and the latter is the ability to say anything rational but it must be reasonable, backed by logic, facts and be defendable.
Where is the National Orientation Agency please?
I am sure you have heard these oft-repeated platitudes “those people are our slaves” “Nigeria is a zoo” but no facts to prove so. You could get into trouble.
That is freedom of expression but freedom of speech gives the latitude to speak within the boundary of rationality and objectivity. How objective are we? We seem to be in 16-century Europe where tolerance wasn’t a public virtue. That era when self-importance overrode self-discipline, where Kings and Queens enjoyed the roles but hated the duties of office. We don’t seem to have laws to prevent us from talking Greek gauchely and making snide speeches that are capable of starting wars.
What is wrong with people who can’t differentiate between an extremist and a terrorist? A man supplied a Muslim with bread on credit to be paid for after sales. On the day, he came to collect his money but met the Muslim praying so, intemperately, he began to harry the Muslim to round off and pay him, making snide remarks as he prayed. Guess he must have used adjectives. After prayers, the Muslim attacked him, bit and chopped off his ear, which fell to the ground. The natives gathered, destroyed the shop, went after the Muslim to kill him but he was saved. If only that Port Harcourt native hadn’t started the abuse while someone prayed, he might have still had both his ears. I pass by the Muslim’s former shop, attached to a house where he doubled as a security man, but see an empty space and I shake my head.
If only northern Muslims didn’t call Christians pagans, indoctrinate their children as such and look at the south as our enemy, we might have been united. If only easterners didn’t come to the national table with a superiority complex, they might have been truly relevant first regionally and nationally. When will people learn the mantra, “cause, effect and consequences?” Nigerians need to learn more, read widely and contribute efforts into making themselves useful and Nigeria great. The role of religious institutions cannot be wished away. Ours are about religious competition, and with no relationship between religion and society.
Religion has made a powerful contribution to social development throughout history. Social, moral, ethical and legal advances may well be measured against many of the spiritual values that various religions embrace. Societal roles played by the welfare divisions that many established religions include in their charters, can be seen in most cities and towns around the globe.
Religious affairs in Nigeria, in our day are without thoughts about social development to prompt the notion of sharing and caring for humanity literally. Most religious organisations in the past provided schooling for the disadvantaged. Education was extended to the community’s poor. Not anymore.
Some charismatic preachers may deliver their beliefs from a pulpit and “prove” them by selective verse-hopping. They can take lessons and teachings out of context and totally alter their original meaning to substantiate their claims. This type of brainwashing is not restricted to the poor in Nigeria, where illiteracy is high.
A lot of well-read and well-heeled followers also only look at designated readings and studies. People have dogmas that are not the same as ours. We don’t have to accept them but we need to respect them. The lack of respect for the beliefs of people is one of the major curses hindering Nigeria’s growth and development. The core of all religion is to encourage the awareness of common brotherhood, not to persecute other religions so we can massacre one another with ‘otherness.’
After all, we are where we are only because of an accident of birth. I could have been born into a Moslem home, and not Christian and Igala. Was a choice made somewhere by me? Or was it dictated by the drawer of imaginary lines? Why should I think of myself as better than the other person as a result? When social growth for society is supported by both religious and secular laws, civilisation’s progress can be graded. Religious concepts of equality and social harmony can bind a community into a cohesive force that benefits its members. A developed society demands that these concepts be incorporated into its governing system to mirror man’s rights and expectations. Society thus endorses spiritual and legal boundaries within which individuals may live securely. Sometimes it seems that Nigerians can be tolerant of different customs and cultures, but when it comes to a matter of religious differences, even those which occur among different sects of the same religion, divisions remain.
Maybe religious prejudices could be reduced if a definitive principle of “A True Faith” could be agreed to. A true faith is generous and sympathetic to the rights of others to follow their own beliefs. A true faith is certain of its own light and does not need to cast other faiths into darkness in order to shine more brightly. However righteous and all-fulfilling your faith may be to you, other members of the human race may find the same benefits in a different set of beliefs. A cautionary word to those who believe that their faith is dearer to the Almighty’s heart than any other faith: are you absolutely certain that you are right? In a world of decreasing absolutes and increasing possibilities, doesn’t it scare you that it’s God who discerns whom he favours?
Abah wrote from Port Harcourt.