Knocking down walls, building bridges – Part 2
There have been walls created by nature and some created by man. We do not speak therefore of walls like the Great Wall of China that was created for security. The Great Wall of China was built for defence and ‘border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration”. We speak of walls like the Iron Curtain which came down with the fall of the Soviet Union. The June 12 1987 iconic speech which then American President Ronald Reagan made to Mikhail Gorbachev ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’, is still fresh in memory. The German nation which had been divided into the two by the allied powers and their opponents in the wake of the Second World War once again became one. North Korea and South Korea have not been that lucky giving rise to constant tension in that part of the world.
Walls are created by religion, politics, poverty, ethnicity and injustice. When the politicians enunciate policies, it would seem that the people are not a factor. The level of hunger, fear and uncertainty is a hard wall to the egalitarian principles for which the nation was founded. The World Bank has asserted that Nigeria has overtaken India as the capital of poverty. Access to the basic things of life is crucial to happiness and fulfilment. We still have millions who go to bed hungry or who do not have a decent accommodation or a good education. Not too many Nigerians believe that they can have justice in the law courts because of the prevailing belief that the highest bidder gets judgment in their favour.
The twin menace of religion and ethnicity has created an artificial wall between and among the peoples of this country. Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Elder Anthony Sani observed recently “The militating factors have been the collapse of national ideals and moral values as well as fall in social contract and a sense of what is right and what is wrong. As a result, ethnic and religious loyalty has supplanted national solidarity’. (The Guardian October 7 2019).
One of the most troubled regions in the world now is the Middle East yet it is home to the two major religions. If religion is an instrument of peace why has one religion been used to kills hundreds and thousands in Nigeria and in the Middle East? Religion has been used to create world and stress difference more than the meeting points of humanity. Is it possible to abolish religion so that the world would be more peaceful? Alternatively, is it possible to change our perception of religion so that practitioners and adherents would be more humane?
A wall is a ‘solid vertical brick or stone construction serving as a barrier, territorial division or protection’. Walls are designed protect or keep intruders away. There are social walls, economic walls, cultural walls, political walls, psychological walls, class walls and religious walls. Some walls are self-imposed arising out of fear or uncertainty. Of course, there are physical walls and walls that are imaginary. Religious walls are often difficult to penetrate because they are built on faith, whether mis-placed or not. A wall that is created by religion subscribes to the narrative of superiority – mine is better than yours; my God is different from yours and my God is superior to yours. Some walls are founded on ignorance and pursued with vigour just as Saul pursued persecution of the followers of Christ in the bible before he got converted. A hegemonic block in any society is also based on a wall or walls to entrench itself in power. The ‘born-to-rule’ fantasy is based on this narrative. This certainly contradicts the tenets of democracy in contradistinction to theocracy or royalty. In a democracy, no one is born to rule. If that phrase fits anybody or class of people, it is the people. In a democracy, the people are born to rule because by the power of the ballot box they decide on who rules over the land.
The most demonstrative of physical walls in our cities today are found where the upper classes and the middle-class people live. Walled compounds were not part of the architecture in Nigerian cities when we were growing up. There were short fences and in front of the compound was a name plate showing that Chief & Mrs. Lagbaja lived here. But when intruders started attacking homes particularly after the civil war in 1970 the need for walled houses became imperative.
Although we have lived together for fifty-nine years as a country, we have not overcome mutual suspicion and distrust. No lessons learnt from the Nigeria Biafra civil war have guided official policy. Concentration of power in the hands of few which is then deployed to serve narrow interests is the order of the day. Ethnicity has become a world just like race in the Western world.
Language has become a wall. Not language itself, but what language represents in terms of ethnicity or political power. At the core of it is the arcane question: where do you come from? If merit were to be considered the question would be: what can you bring to the table? The power or otherwise of language surfaces in the use of names because in our cultural context our names give us away. A name as a marker could be positive; it could also be negative. However, it is also true that from the macro we proceed to the micro unit. After establishing one’s state of origin or ethnic group, the next question is which part of the ethnic group one comes from. Beyond that some even degenerate the discourse to one’s local government, town or village. How preposterous can we be!
In the last general elections, ethnicity played an ugly role in voting power in some states of the federation. In a state where there was a huge concentration of persons from another ethnic group, voting was deliberately sabotaged. This was the scenario in Lagos State as demonstrated by the Okota area experience with a high concentration of Igbo-speaking people. Lagos had recognized the capacity and strength of the non-Yoruba population in some areas and councilors had emerged from those areas. Previous governments and indeed the incumbent government had also appointed non-Yoruba into the state Executive Council. Rather than court voters with projects or promises the powers-that-be resorted to violence, threat and acts of intimidation. People reference parts of the South east where non-indigenes are socially precluded from trading in the market. In other words, across the federation there are still walls created by power blocs either by design or by default. The truth is that integration and cohesion are still a problem in the Nigerian State.
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