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The radicalisation of a population

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By Donu Kogbara

LAST week, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) planted a couple of car bombs in Warri on a day when a Vanguard Post-Amnesty Dialogue was due to take place.

In a statement that was issued by its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, it became clear that the bomb attacks were motivated by MEND’s belief that such dialogues are a “deceitful” waste of time. MEND also bitterly criticised Uduaghan, the Delta State Governor, other Niger Delta governors, oil companies and Northerners who earn more petrodollars than natives of the region.

MEND had made efforts to ensure that there were no fatalities. Warnings to evacuate the area in question were issued in advance. The bombs were meant to prove that MEND is a force to be reckoned with. They weren’t meant to kill; and they didn’t. There was no homicidal intent.

But let’s face it: Such scenarios cannot always be controlled. Many innocent people could have been slaughtered. And I said, in last week’s Sweet And Sour column, that while I shared some of MEND’s frustrations, I totally disapproved of the bomb attacks.

Much to my surprise, many Nigerians have contacted me to say that they disagree with my position. I have been amazed by the number of individuals who have told me that while they are glad that nobody died in Warri last week, they regard the planting of bombs as a justifiable means of giving the establishment a nasty shock and encouraging it to change its ways.

And I am not just hearing this radical viewpoint from Niger Deltans. I am also hearing it from many Yorubas, many Igbos and quite a few Northerners who feel that MEND symbolises legitimate protest in general as well as protest on behalf of a particular geopolitical zone.

Nor are these pro-MEND opinions only coming out of the mouths of diehard activists or people who are suffering and can therefore be expected to wish the establishment ill. These anti-establishment comments are also being uttered by normally responsible folks who would have been solidly pro-establishment if they were citizens of a country they believed in. I am talking here about professionals, entrepreneurs, etc, who are not broke but are sick and tired of selfish politicians, widespread corruption, lousy hospitals, constant power outages and so on.

What the above reactions have taught me is that a significant percentage of Nigerians are so traumatised and enraged by bad governance that they have been radicalised and are ready to sympathise with protestors who use illegal and violent methods to challenge our rulers.

This is a very dangerous status quo. One can only hope that Acting President Dr Goodluck Jonathan turns out to be an enlightened and effective performer who responds dynamically to the urgent need for profound reforms of a rotten system that has failed us for too long.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

LAST week, Colonel Ghadaffi, the famously controversial Libyan President, said that Nigeria should be divided into two different countries – a Christian South and Muslim North.

A number of Nigerians, including our Senate President, David Mark, have reacted very angrily to his remarks, describing him as “mad”, “insulting”, etc, and telling him to mind his business.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Ambassador to Libya has been summoned home for “consultations”, which indicates that a diplomatic rift might ensue.

I personally don’t have much time for Ghadaffi. Because I am essentially Eurocentric and an unrepentant admirer of the Western World’s impressive achievements, I have never warmed to Ghadaffi’s knee-jerk resentment of Europeans and Americans. His penchant for grandstanding and attention-seeking also irritates me. But I doubt that he suggested partition in a malicious or disrespectful frame of mind; and I think that his opponents are over-reacting on this occasion.

What is the big fuss about?

For a long time, I myself was absolutely convinced that we might be happier as two or more separate nations. But I recently concluded that the REAL problem with this country is not a North versus South, Muslim versus Christian or Niger Delta versus The Rest matter.

The REAL problem with this country is the gap between those who are economically buoyant and powerful and those who are not…and the gap between those who have good intentions and those who don’t.  Tribe, tongue and religious affiliations don’t matter within this context.

At the end of the day, I have more in common with like-minded Northern Muslims than I do with fellow Niger Deltans or fellow Southerners or fellow Christians who don’t share my values.

And I have often received more kindness from Northerners than from my own ethnic brethren.

Given that there are Christians in the North and Muslims in the South, Ghadaffi was being simplistic when he talked about dividing the country along religious and geographical lines.

But there’s nothing wrong with wondering whether partition will solve our problems. It is a viewpoint that should be debated rationally, not rejected outright in an emotional manner.

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