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Time for national healing

IT is one of the most difficult things to do and, according to Shakespeare, it is not a human attribute, but the character and nature of God.

That is, to forgive, forget and reconcile with those who have hurt you. Sometimes, the gulf appears too wide, the pain too raw and the memory too fresh to want to forgive but when we eventually do it makes us more than human and gives us the very nature of divinity.

Again, that is not to say it is easy. It is really tough. Imagine, for a moment, that you were the parent of one of those youth corps members cut down in his prime, while serving his Fatherland. A lifetime of unqualified financial and especially emotional investment put to waste by people who didn’t know his name and who he had not personally offended.

Imagine! The loss would no doubt seem unbearable and there might be the temptation to go into murderous rage, to become prejudicial against all Northerners and even to take the law into your hand. But would it help? Of course, it would help if those who committed these heinous crimes are punished but true forgiveness goes deeper than that and is more than the presence of justice. It is refreshing and divine, and that is what Nigeria needs now -a period of healing.

The presidential election was in many respects divisive. This was what the international media focused on – how the ‘Christian South’ voted for President Goodluck Jonathan and the mainly Muslim North went to General Muhammadu Buhari. The perception that ethno-religious factor was the main theme of the presidential election and that Nigerians were divided across religious and tribal lines.

That observation was not entirely true, but this is not the focus of this essay.

The theme here is on the need for us to come together, put the controversies of the elections and move ahead as one united nation under God. This would require real sacrifices by both the victors and losers. A  spirit of give and take. We have done it before in this country -overcome great barriers to embrace peace and unity.

The period after the Nigerian Civil War was delicate for us, which could have created a divide that would be impossible to bridge, depending on how the then government handled the fallout. But the Gowon administration declared that there was ‘no victor, no vanquished’ and, in spite of serious challenges, made deliberate effort towards re-integration.

Although the Igbos suffered terrible losses and were justifiably embittered, it did help that largely they were warmly welcomed back into the union.  This helped to heal the wound on both sides after the war. And just nine years after, an Igbo man, Alex Ekwueme was elected Vice President of Nigeria, and a couple of years later, Odumegwu Ojukwu who led the Igbo seccession was granted amnesty and returned home from Cote d’Ivoire. Now, Nigerians of my generation, those age 40 and below, rarely mention the Civil War, a great sign that it did not cause a permanent damage.

This can happen again. For President Jonathan and his numerous supporters who handed him the Presidency, this is the time to preach peace, temperance and unity. Not now the period to display the arrogance of the tactless victor and the winner-takes-all mentality. The President needs to reach out beyond his natural support base in the North     West and North East, the two regions where he lost and where the protests against his victory were more violent and vociferous.

He should be seen to be the President of all Nigeria, and no region should feel disadvantaged because it voted a rival candidate. This is not to suggest that he shouldn’t be firm and allow law breakers to get away with it. It means he should be fair -and fair to all.

Those on the other side of the political divide, who lost out in the elections must be willing to sacrifice too. They must realise that the election has been won and lost, and burning down their towns, killing strangers and generally causing trouble would not change that fact. The fact that whether we like it or not, the man called Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will be our President for the next four years except fate or the courts say otherwise. This is the time to put our grievance aside, shelve regional sentiments and embrace our Nigerianness.

It is understandable why the presidential election whipped so much sentiments. Choosing a leader of a complex and heterogeneous society like ours is not a piece of cake. Besides the fact that election will decide the direction the country will go, depending on the policy, competence and worldview of the leader, it also gives psychological satisfaction to many that “their brother is in power”.

The connection between the President and that ‘brother’ may just be the fact that they are of the same ethnic stock or even more extraneous from the same region.

The Presidential election therefore is more than voting a competent person in power; in a way it is also about a competition between different regions. The general perception is that a person from the same region as you will be more favourable and site more projects in your region. This, of course, is a fallacy. A competent and broadminded leader can ensure robust development across the country and ensure that not only his ‘brothers’ from the same ethnic group or region get juicy contracts.

It is this feeling that you would be shortchanged if people of other regions get all the valuable portfolios that creates unusual tension and gives the election ethnic and regional bias. True, there is historical basis for the fears as in the past we have had myopic leadership that pursued narrow regional interest.

But nothing in his appointments and comments suggests that President Jonathan is this shortsighted and that kind of man. So we should give him the benefit of the doubt and support, even if cautious support.

It is a good thing that a Judicial Commission of Enquiry has been inaugurated.  It provides an historic opportunity to really dig deep and discover what is behind this dangerous tendency to burn and kill when election results don’t go the way we projected. Gratefully, members of the panel appear to be people of integrity and who would not compromise and be used to witch-hunt anyone.

They would hopefully make far reaching recommendations and the government will be bold enough to implement them. Even more critical is the need for  Nigerians to allow them do their work and not bog them down by frivolous court cases. Like in all things, the government has a role to play. So do we!

Mr. BY JULIUS OGUNRO, a pulic affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja


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