Peaceful coexistence remains a dream
Nigeria may not be a failed state, but the symptoms of failure stare everyone in the face. Lawlessness and criminality, not helped by mass poverty and unemployment, seem to have become the order of the day in all regions of the federation. While it will be opportunistic and dishonest to single out a particular group or ideology for our unpalatable situation, there is hardly anything that threatens the unity and peace of Nigeria than the lawlessness and criminality easily attributed to so-called Fulani herdsmen and their affiliates operating in the southern regions of the federation. Not just a few believe they are responsible for a series of killings, kidnapping, and raping of women in those regions. The belief, insinuation or assumption, widely held, that they are emboldened by the nepotistic support of leadership should be worrying.
Those who have warned of the possible collapse of the Nigerian state know of the existence of disintegrating factors in our polity. They know that the minutest of disagreements have ominous implications for peace and order in our society. Reproduced below is an article I wrote many years ago on the troubling nature of relations in our federation. The article, I believe, is more relevant today than it was when I first wrote it.
“The participants may have cultivated the habit of interrupting one another rather crudely, but this has not in any way diminished the usefulness of the discussion panel hosted by Gbenga Aruleba on the African International Television channel. A recent discussion of great interest was on whether or not the geo-political zones created by the government of the late General Sani Abacha in 1995 should be accorded a constitutional recognition. An exciting contribution came from a lady who said she could not stand people wanting to know where she came from, although she introduced herself as a Nigerian from Ile-Oluji in Ondo State.
Wanting to know where one comes from should be one standard question taken for granted on meeting another person for the first time. It is not uncommon in the Western world to hear people say, “my parents were from Pakistan, but I was born in London”, or “I was originally from New York but now I am a Washingtonian”. In fact, people proudly wear T-shirts with the names of their cities or towns inscribed on them. There would have been no reason for the lady from Ile-Oluji not to enthusiastically flaunt her place of birth if ours were not a society where danger and disadvantages await “unwelcome sojourners”.
That cartoon, published in some distant European country, depicting the Holy Prophet Mohammed rather derogatorily was unnecessary. The author and the newspaper that published the cartoon had intended to insult Islam, but what they never intended were the consequences of their stupid action. There were understandable reactions and protests in most cities of the world, such protests directed at the embassies of countries where the cartoon had been published. What one cannot appreciate is why, in Nigeria, we went the extra mile of taking revenge on our own people. Nigeria’s protesters did not converge on Abuja and Lagos and make their anger known to the officials of the foreign countries where the cartoon had been published; instead, what was reported on radio and in the newspapers was that 51 Nigerians were killed and churches burnt down in Maiduguri by religious protesters. Would the lady from Ile-Oluji who is so passionate about her being Nigerian have been spared if she was in Maiduguri and the protesters had identified her as a Christian?
Ours is one nation where the action of a stupid, drunken man or woman defecating near a church or a mosque in some remote part of the country could mean that death sentences had been passed on ethnic or religious affiliates residing somewhere else. Since the return of democracy in 1999 thousands of Nigerians have been killed through the premeditated actions of others. Had President Olusegun Obasanjo not acted with utmost restraint in the early days of his presidency, the storm of Sharia which spread through the states of the North could also have blown the regions of the South out of the Nigerian federation. The timing of Sharia, many in the South rightly or wrongly believed, was intended to undermine his leadership. Ours is one delicate and fragile nation where a lot of homework needs to be done in order to ensure that our people can take harmonious co-existence of differences for granted.
Of course, there may be whispers in some quarters that the Yoruba have demonstrated consistently over the years that members of different religions, be it Christianity or Islam, can co-exist peacefully and even celebrate religious occasions together. This “Yoruba model” may not be quite feasible in some parts of the Nigerian federation but, at least, it is important for religious practitioners to know that a merciful God or Allah has not mandated anyone to commit murder on his behalf. While parents, religious leaders and educationalists must continue to impart the ethics of tolerance and good neighbourliness on those under their influences, it is the responsibility of the law of the land to bring its full weight to bear on anyone, no matter how highly placed, who deliberately sets out to destroy life or property belonging to others. The bitter truth is that there are Nigerians today who hate Nigeria so passionately, simply because they have had experiences which most of us have been lucky not to have had. They once loved Nigeria and would not have wanted to be identified as belonging to any section or group.
Nigeria will never achieve full integration. In fact, many nations of the world never will. Furthermore, the Nigerian situation is compounded by the facts of different languages, different cultures, contrasting and competing religions, super-imposed on regions demarcated by ethnic boundaries. However, the Nigerian nation can still be held together as a federal nation where differences co-exist peacefully. Acknowledging the realities of ethnic and religious divisions, rather than indulge in shouting slogans like those leaders of the former Soviet Union, is itself the beginning of wisdom in constitution making and political engineering. “Dictatorship of the proletariat” was one historical fallacy that crumbled under the full weight of ethnicity!”