By Ochereome Nnanna
A LOT of young people who do not understand what the Boko Haram orgy of killings is all about have been asking questions. Why is the Islamic sect killing people like this? Why are southerners, especially the Igbos who have been often targeted in churches or meeting places not staging reprisal attacks in the South? Does it mean that the South loves peace and Nigeria more than the North?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I can explain the socio-psychological peculiarities of the Nigerian groups involved and perhaps the answers can be deduced therefrom. The theatre of Boko Haram activities and the general areas in the North where they are daydreaming about their quixotic Islamic Sharia republic is the Muslim North. It comprises the old Sokoto Caliphate and the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire. For centuries they have practised the Islamic cultural system.
Islam is usually described as “a complete way of life”. Apart from being a religion, there are also prescriptions that cover all activities in human societies, including politics. Islam is said to be a religion of peace. But it is often illustrated in pictures with crossed swords (and in contemporary times, the most efficient killing firearms, the AK 47, especially for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Boko Haram). Most Moslems are peaceful, peace-loving and often very pious in carriage. That is probably because they immerse themselves in the religion and faith aspect.
But a smaller percentage of Moslems are violent due, perhaps, to their attraction to the political appeals of the religion and the ease with which some of the more radical faithful could be persuaded to be used to pursue political objectives of influential Muslim leaders.
Moslems in Southern Nigeria tend to pay more attention to Islam as a faith than political lever. That is why they have achieved great success with people of other faiths in terms of peaceful cohabitation. However, perhaps due to the Fulani Jihads that established the Sokoto Caliphate some two centuries ago, as well as our colonial experience in which the British colonisers gave undue advantage to Muslim North, the tendency to exploit the political capacities of Islam is very appealing to politicians and Islamic clerics in the North.
Christians, on the other hand, have a completely different orientation. There is very little politics in the faith which is depicted as a religion of love and forgiveness. Little success has been achieved in attempts to use Christianity as a political tool in the same way that Islam has been used in the North. Christians are raised to love their neighbours as themselves and never to seek vengeance. In fact, Matthew Chapter 18: 21 – 22 reports Apostle Peter asking Jesus Christ how many times he should forgive his brother his trespasses. Christ told him: “seventy times seven”.
This simply means you should never retaliate because by the time your brother offends you up to 420 times he would either be tired or dead! Therefore, those who opt for retaliation or reprisal are no longer carrying out Christ’s injunctions. They are being mere humans, not Christians.
Secondly, the Igbo people and all their Minority cousins as well as Yorubas are culturally barred from harming visitors and strangers in their midst. The Igbo in particular have a saying: Obiara nke m abiagbula m. Mgbe O na ala ma mkpumkpu apula ya n’azu. “May my visitor not bring me misfortune. On his way back, may he not grow a hunchback”. No true Igbo man will attack an innocent visitor-settler in his domain, so long as that settler is law-abiding and peaceful. The idea of killing an innocent settler in the vicinity over killings elsewhere does not usually or easily resonate in the Igbo psychology.
The only time it happened was during the Sharia riots in the North in 2000/2001. And that was because there was a well-politicised and armed vigilante on ground in Abia State called the Bakasi Boys. The same political authority that armed them for his selfish political pursuits deployed them to stage reprisal killing of northerners in the South East; the first time it ever happened and the last since.
As ghastly and regrettable as that episode was, it however, sent a message that no group had the monopoly of violence. In fact, the confidence of northerners in Igboland was shaken to the point that they solicited, and were allocated, an ethnic enclave (the only one in the whole East) along the Port Harcourt – Enugu Expressway in Lokpanta, Abia State (just outside Okigwe).
The Bakasi Boys vigilante has since expired. The presence of a ready vigilante makes attacks or reprisals easy to stage. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is not yet a vigilante as their agitations are, for now, non-violent. They cannot do the dirty job of Bakasi Boys. Culturally, the Igbo man does not believe in hit-and-run conflict or gang-up or mob fights often experienced in some other Nigerian cultures. He believes in man-to-man open engagement and let the stronger party win. That is known as “fighting like a man”. The Igbo man is long-suffering, but when he gets going it is for broke.
It is not a sign of weakness that Nigerians affected by the terrorism of Boko Haram have not staged reprisal attacks on Northerners in their midst. They must continue to be patient. Let those who will be mad be mad and let those who will be sane remain sane. Those who want to evacuate their families from the Boko Haram theatres of killings and destruction should do so. Boko Haram and their cowardly facilitators will fail in their declared and undeclared intentions, even though they take lives they cannot replace.
I end this short piece with a quote from Col. Abubakar Umar’s recent declaration entitled: Nigeria Is Not Easily Reversible: “we will say this openly and frankly and without fear of contradiction, that given the spread and depth of our integration as a people, it is futile to expect the Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba or any ethnic group to relocate easily or peacefully to their ancestral lands, even if Nigeria were broken up”.
I rest my case.