By Dele Sobowale
All religions must be tolerated…For everyman must get to heaven his own way. Frederick the Great, 1712-1786. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 212.
Our country is bleeding profusely from the blows inflicted on it by the apparently unending Boko Haram insurgency; another possibly prolonged round of blood-letting has started with the pro-Biafra movement which recently claimed reportedly over twenty lives in Aba on February 7, 2016. The last thing we need now is another religious conflict; and certainly not in Kaduna state. Yet, the stage is being set, even if inadvertently, for one. That would constitute the mother of all tragedies to befall Nigeria.
Some of the readers might be wondering why a Lagos state indigene and Christian is interfering in what is happening in Kaduna State? The matter is simple. When Boko Haram started out as a minor incident in Maiduguri, before spreading to the entire state and to other parts of the North, most southerners assumed it would stay there. Soon, it engulfed people of all faiths in several parts of Nigeria. Today we all know what can happen when small disagreements escalate into major conflicts and then wars. But, apparently, we have not learnt enough. For unknown reasons, some of us still take steps that will bring great calamity to this nation if carried too far.
Throughout the history of the modern world, religion had played a great part in peoples’ lives –quite frequently destructive ones, if allowed to get out of hand. Growing up in the Campos area of Lagos Island, where religious tolerance had been taken to its highest level, it was easy for me to take religious tolerance for granted. A full year course in COMPARATIVE RELIGION, as a mandatory study for International Relations, in my third year at the university in the USA opened my eyes to how explosive religious conflicts can be. When Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1717-1778, wrote that All sects have tormented others, all have offered God the sacrifice of human blood” (VBQ, 212), it sounded lunatic in 1965, but by the summer of 1967, visiting a few nations in the Middle East and after wading through over twenty books, including the three Holy Books of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, as well as their histories, it became clear that religion is more dangerous than nuclear weapons and had killed more people than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when America dropped the bombs. No religion, if it is big enough, had failed to be responsible for genocide. Anyone reading the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus Christ, in the 13th and 14th centuries, would be forgiven for thinking that the current global villains, ISIS, are rank amateurs when it comes to inhuman brutality. Yet, every major pogrom starts with one or two leaders of a sect who are determined to force the entire world to worship their own way – which they call the TRUE RELIGION. One year of study 1966-67, including summer, cleansed me of religious bigotry forever and taught me to caution others about handling issues which are basically religious in nature.
So, not only me, but all Nigerians are involved in the impending escalation of hostilities in Kaduna. Furthermore, Kaduna, as a former regional capital is the second most cosmopolitan city in the north and the third in Nigeria. Only Lagos and Abuja surpass it in the diversity of people living there. It will be difficult to find an extended family in Nigeria which does not have one of their own in Kaduna. And, it is so centrally located that any outbreak of continuous conflict will involve more states and more investments. Finally, at least ten years of my life were spent in various parts of the north living and working there and it is indisputable that Kaduna is the one city where all northerners feel most at home irrespective of their state of origin.
The real fear prompting me to sound this note of caution is connected with that nagging feeling that the leaders might be going about the Zaria clash the wrong way and might be paving the way for another insurgency in the north. I was in Kano during the Maitasene uprising; now, the Boko Haram affront is ruining vast areas of Nigeria. We don’t need another one. But, we might stumble into it.
“In every community there is a class of people profoundly dangerous to the rest. I don’t mean the criminals. For these we have punitive sanctions. I mean the leaders. Invariably the most dangerous people seek power.”(Saul Bellow in VBQ). Sometimes they create havoc out of ignorance or good intentions. But, all too often, the calamity results from their failure to think through the consequences of their actions. But, before proceeding to the reasons for this warning on Kaduna, it is important to observe that Nigerians should consider ourselves fortunate indeed that the Boko Haram war is taking place in the Northeastern corner of Nigeria and had been largely confined there. Had it been more central the damage would have been far greater and it would have consumed more of us.
The Federal Government, the army and the Kaduna State government might take the attitude that they are confronting criminals challenging constituted authority; but the followers of El Zakzaky don’t see the matter that way. For them the issue is religion; or, more precisely the practice of true religion which they are enjoined to propagate. One of the most difficult conflicts to resolve is one in which the parties to the dispute cannot agree on what the disagreement is all about in the first place.
The army and the Federal Government regard what took place as purely criminal and the leader of the group, the Shiítes is being held without bail; perhaps to be charged for offences still to be disclosed. Several members of the sect died in the shoot-out with the army, including members of Zakzaky’s family. The Governor of Kaduna State is on all fours with the army and Abuja. And he has established a Judicial Inquiry which the Shiítes have rejected. Ordinarily, this would not have been alarming. The extra-ordinary thing about this face-off is that it has attracted international “tag team”partners – especially in the Arab — World where Saudi Arabia and Iran have been squaring off for war – Sunis versus Shiítes. It will amount to a mistake of monumental proportions if the majority Sunis in Nigeria expect the Shiítes here to be destroyed. At the same time, it will amount to a suicide bid for the Shiítes to want to confront the majority. Unfortunately, the rest of Nigerians who don’t belong to any of the two sects will suffer collateral damage if the conflict escalates.
Neither shooting nor imprisonment, especially if imposed by people recognised as enemies will settle the matter. It will merely be seen as more provocation. Right now, the Shiítes regard Governor El Rufai as their enemy on account of some ill-advised comments he had made. They will not partake at the inquiry. Then what? You find them guilty in absentia?
It is almost certain that the Shiítes are already prepared for a verdict casting them as villians; they expect the worst. But, like most embattled religious groups they are also ready for the worst. For the most fanatical among them, dying for their cause is a price they are ready to pay. Against such fanaticism the rest of society is helpless because we don’t want to die; even soldiers shy from confronting martyrs and those who have nothing to lose. A typical soldier is trained to kill for his country, not die for her. When confronted with death-defying opponents their blood runs cold. At any rate, we should avoid sending our soldiers out on another mission to kill fellow Nigerians – even if those people are bent on suicide.
To be continued…