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Re-negotiating violence

By Rotimi Fasan
LET us begin from the beginning and quickly recall the wise words of the late Sardauna of Sokoto and first Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, to Nigeria’s first indigenous president, the Owelle of Onitsha, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Nigerians, Bello had warned, must understand and learn from their differences rather than forget them as Azikiwe had advised the North during one testy instance of Nigeria’s constitutional march towards independence. There is a crying need now, more than ever, for Nigerians to understand their differences in order to better live in harmony as one people in a united nation.

That need is hardly acknowledged to say nothing of our living in harmony. Ours has been and continued to be a case of forced camaraderie, a unity enforced at gunpoint.

Situating the Sardauna’s words, therefore, against the background of violence organised by religious thugs down the years leads me to ask if Nigerians north of the Niger River believe and honestly hold that they are both more religious and serve God better than their brothers and sisters in the south?

I quickly want to enter a caveat here, to the effect that the above question is not meant to stoke the fire of hate that has been set alight by the religious bandits, especially in the last few weeks.

Rather the question is meant as an honest and direct quest for knowledge by a Nigerian who really wants to know; a question that I believe is best answered if the fundamentalists in the North and some of them in the South will commune with their hearts (if they have any) with the same honesty with which the human heart speaks with itself.

The truth which has to be confronted is that religion has been made to look like an unbridgeable chasm between Nigerians of Northern extraction and those of Southern extraction by religionists who know the opiate that religion could be and have learned the art of manipulating it for their own ends. More often than not those who believe that they know God better have blasphemed the name of God and committed in the name of their self-created god(s) atrocities that rival in sheer barbarity, if not scale, the ones committed by the Nazis in Germany.

The curious thing, however, is that such violent eruptions, mass killings and attacks on Nigerians on account of religion have to the last been perpetrated by Nigerians of Northern extraction. This claim can be fact-checked by anyone interested enough: religious riots and battles, since we started keeping records in Nigeria, have been carried out by Northerners.

By this I mean Nigerians from the North-West and North-East of this country. What I must now call a lazy way of explaining this apparently well-organised and outer-directed violence, is to attribute it to joblessness, poverty or any of those social vices and disjunctions we are too quick to identify as being at the root of the violence. Poverty or joblessness is not peculiar to the North.

Why then should so-called social protests take a religious bent against so-called non-indigenes in a supposedly united Nigeria? We must now begin to see such eruptions as deliberate and highly organised criminal acts of violence employed as a tool of negotiation.

It is fast becoming obvious here that some Nigerians have come to see violence or the language of death as the fastest and best way to negotiate and gain ascendance in the country.

It is a culture of impunity that has stayed because such treacherous mis(use) of force has always been its own reward, precisely because it has often gone unpunished. The perpetrators are aware that nobody would bring them to account once their activities are couched in religious terms.

It is anybody’s guess what the authorities would have done had the Boko Haram idiots limited their attacks to non-muslims and/or non-indigenes.

The very fact that they were undiscriminating in their attacks, or that their attacks were visited on even Northerners and fellow muslims with any form of haram (read Western education), is probably the reason why the Northern establishment and their counterparts in Aso Rock rose in one voice to condemn Mohammed Yusuf and his army of murderers.

And there is no reason to believe that the manner the uprising was crushed was not an attempt at concealing evidence- of the origin and sponsors of the Boko Haram, especially now it has been established that certain members of the Northern ruling elite are members of the misguided sect.

How did the criminals come by the arms with which they attacked the security agencies and virtually brought governance down to its heels in about six states, with plans to attack more? How come intelligence reports on the Boko Haram and its leaders were never acted upon?

To compound issues, the summary destruction of places identified as arms depots for the militants, even as the sect leaders died in circumstances that are yet unclear but which hinted at the involvement of the security agencies, lend credence to the point that certain individuals or groups are bent on concealing evidence that could help unravel the operations of the group and similar sects yet lying in hibernation in the North. Which makes statements by some softheaded fools blabbing about Abuja expending more force in quelling the religious riots than it did or does the crisis in the Niger-Delta all baloney.

We must reject such sentimental over-simplification and demand that perpetrators of such misery as that wreaked on Nigeria by the Boko Haram be made to face justice in the most professional manner.


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