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Refusing to go to Afghanistan in Nigeria

By Banji Ojewale
30 December 2019   |   2:13 am
In Nigeria, falling for Afghanistan’s sirens simply is when our newspaper columnists and writers focus their attention on far-flung foreign features while ignoring domestic hot-button issues beckoning them.

In Nigeria, falling for Afghanistan’s sirens simply is when our newspaper columnists and writers focus their attention on far-flung foreign features while ignoring domestic hot-button issues beckoning them. When home matters of momentous concerns come up asking to be sorted out, or to be interrogated for a solution, the fatal feminine fellows in the form of foreign news upstage the burning national discourse and take our writers away.

The age of military rule in Nigeria gave birth to the concept of going to Afghanistan. The soldiers, upon seizing power which didn’t belong to them, would abrogate the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, brutishly expressed in the suspension of the Constitution, with all the operational institutions the sacred document created: the elected executive, lawmaking assembly, political parties, popular organizations like labour and student unions etc. The martial lords were notorious for throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So if a journalist or newspaper commentator stood in their way through his critical articles as they tormented the land with their jackboots, they were not only ready to move the writer out of the way; but also they had no compunction consigning him to mother earth and underneath it for more trampling. The ever creative and existential Nigerian journalist worked out a system that allowed him to stay in business with his profession while staying out of business with the armed usurpers.

Why not turn a blind to the excesses of the soldiers at home and concentrate on the civil war in Afghanistan, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aftermath of the Cold War, the rising influence of ‘small’ Cuba in global affairs, the challenge of the Iranian Revolution under Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. Remember, all these global upheavals and developments were happening during the different phases of Nigeria’s stay in the abyss of military dictatorships. Now, the Nigerian columnist played the ostrich. He hid his head in the low mound, feigning it wasn’t seeing the evil around. But tragically, the pervasive evil wasn’t as daft. It would always locate this creature that sought to dodge evil by burying only a small part of its whole frame. In that vulnerable state, the ostrich would be cheap prey for the forces of evil. How do you win a battle where from the onset, you’ve exposed your weak flanks to the enemy? The predator would make short work of the hunted.

Therefore, going to Afghanistan when we should be in Nigeria isn’t helpful. It is unpatriotic. It is counterproductive.
Currently, our leaders our playing the Going to Afghanistan music. A Hate Speech Bill card has been played. A law to control the Social Media has been dangled. Journalists are being held for exercising their fundamental human rights. Law courts that have given judgments in consonance with the rule of law as prescribed by the Constitution are being raided. An online newspaper publisher set free on bail was forcibly rearrested in court by agents of the central government in gangster-movie fashion. Stringent and nigh-impossible bail conditions are the order of the day in the judicial system now. These are anathema in a true democracy. You get these only in societies where the military have purloined power and would want to suppress popular dissent.

Under such a climate, it’s easy to be chased into Afghanistan. You would fall into the waiting embrace of a host of issues: Impeachment of US President Donald Trump. Death sentence on Pakistan coup leader and former president. Unending war in Syria. Meeting of 20 Islamic nations in Malaysia dramatically boycotted by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Internecine battle for the soul of Tripoli. The quicksand called Brexit. Low-intensity war between Israel and the Palestinians. Hong Kong and France protests.

These are enticing global developments that would easily compel a writer into serious engagement. Everybody speaks of a small world, where a sneeze in Australia spreads cold and catarrh in Africa. We are asked to be global citizens, forgetting the home scene for the international. But this proximity and mix of nations and cultures cannot displace grave national concerns in Nigeria.

Coupled with these seducing elements, the Nigerian authorities are also putting up draconian laws to prevent newspaper columnists from discussing issues that would expose their incompetence. That returns us to the hated past of military rule, when we, the people, couldn’t talk about aberrant leaders without risking a spell in jail. It’s obvious then, that there’s a conspiracy between the ‘Afghan spirit’ and the local authorities to disallow a robust dialogue on the national question.

It is unwise to fall for this silence when there is so much loud disrespect for the governed. We can’t be like the ostrich which exposes its life to more danger when it refuses to acknowledge the reality of its perilous environment. We can’t bury our head in the treacherous sand of foreign news when our domestic frame is in danger of being swept away by angry waves of the sea.

Why must we be consumed by the impeachment of Trump when we have graver issues with our own leaders here in Nigeria? Why must we feel more at home writing on an ex-military leader sentenced to death for passing a death sentence on his country’s Constitution when here in my country there are more serious threats to the Constitution and the rule of law? Why must our editorial writers not talk about the misplaced priorities of politicians who would set aside a whopping N37b for the renovation of a structure that cost only N7b years back and talk solely about the conflict in Libya? Must we not be disturbed about a First Family who can’t have time for pillow talk to resolve domestic differences? Why must we not reflect the views of our people on the land that is making their country to post some of the planet’s worst penurious statistics? Why must we bury our head in the problems of other climes while pretending we aren’t facing worse ones at home?
Let’s learn from the ostrich; it never got away with its wilful alienation from reality.