By Femi Aribisala
I was fifteen years old when the civil war broke out in Nigeria. Although we were living in Ibadan in the South-west at the time, my sympathies were totally and unequivocally with the Igbos. When a people have been so brutally butchered by their countrymen as happened to the Igbos, I felt they had no choice but to insist on leaving the country. Therefore, I understood why the Biafrans went to war and what they were fighting for. But I could not, for the life of me, understand what those on the federal side were fighting for. Why would anybody fight for Nigeria?
I lost a first-cousin fighting on the federal side during the civil war. I wish I could have found out first-hand from him why he gave his life “to keep Nigeria one.” Did he really believe in Nigeria? I doubt it. Why then did he join the army after the war broke out and die in the war? What about those who fought and did not die? What was in Nigeria for them? How did Nigeria justify their sacrifice of blood and gore after the war?
Fighting for Nigeria
The question is still pertinent today as we mobilize to fight the scourge of the Boko Haram. Why would anybody fight for Nigeria? What is in Nigeria for us? There is a difference between joining an army for career purposes and believing in Nigeria. There is a difference between joining the Nigerian army because you need a job and dying for Nigeria. There is a difference between going to war and getting killed and dying for Nigeria. For a man to die for Nigeria, he has to believe in Nigeria. For a man to believe in Nigeria, Nigeria has to mean something for him. Nigeria must have something to offer him.
John Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That is all well and good; provided we have fulfilled the first requirement which is to identify our country. Most Nigerians have yet to do this. We are Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and every other possible abridgement or classification but not Nigerians. We are Christians and Muslims but not yet Nigerians. Even after 54 years of Nigerian independence, and after 100 years of Nigerian amalgamation, most Nigerians still do not really consider themselves to be Nigerians.
We can acknowledge the assistance of the Americans, the British, the French and others. But the truth of the matter is that only a Nigerian can fight for Nigeria against the Boko Haram. Only a Nigerian can have the necessary commitment to endanger his life in fighting against the insurgents. However, there are few Nigerians in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, most Nigerians are Boko Haram in one fashion or the other.
I was upset when I read about a Nigerian who died fighting in the U.S. Army in Iraq. He not only became an American, he fought and died for America. Every year, thousands of Nigerians play the American lottery, hoping to relinquish Nigerian nationality. Every week, thousands mass at European, American and other embassies, hoping to travel out of Nigeria for good. I even met a Nigerian barber in poor Gambia and wondered what he was doing there. What was he doing in Gambia when there are better business opportunities for him in Nigeria; unless anywhere else is better than home?
The Lamido of Adamawa threatened that if things don’t work out in Nigeria, he would simply pack his bags and move to Cameroon. It would appear then that the Lamido is actually a Cameroonian living in Nigeria. Most countries go to war to secure more territories for themselves. The Russians recently used the opportunity of a little crisis in Ukraine go annex the Crimea. However, Obasanjo gave away a big chunk of Nigeria’s Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. It did not matter to him that the people of Bakassi are Nigerians and not Cameroonians. While we are shouting “Bring Back Our Girls” today, we forgot to ask Obasanjo to bring back our Bakassi Nigerians yesterday.
Hatred of Nigeria
So many theories have been adduced as to why the Boko Haram prevail in Nigeria. Some attribute this to the acute poverty in the Nigerian North-east. However, there are countries in the world far poorer than Nigeria, and they don’t have their own versions of the Boko Haram. There are countries with greater income disparities than Nigeria, and they don’t produce the Boko Haram. No matter how poor are the states of the North-east, they are not poorer than the adjoining countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon. And yet, there is no Boko Haram in these poorer countries.
There is also nothing really Muslim about the Boko Haram. Other Muslim countries in Africa and beyond don’t have Boko Haram. When the Boko Haram plant bombs in market-places; the bombs are not programmed to differentiate between Christians and Muslims. Recently, the Boko Haram attacked some Emirs, killing one of them. Surely, the Emirs were not Christians but Muslims.
In effect, the Boko Haram is a wonderfully Nigerian phenomenon. There is something in Nigeria that provides a fertile ground for the Boko Haram. That thing is not limited to the North-east. That thing bedevils the whole of Nigeria. That thing is lack of national identity. That thing is hatred for Nigeria and for other Nigerians. The hatred of Nigeria by Nigerians is so deep and ingrained in us North and South; East and West. We are Nigerians, but we hate Nigeria. We are Nigerians, but we see nothing good in Nigeria. We are Nigerians, but we would rather be something else. If push comes to shove, we would have no qualms picking up a gun and killing another Nigerian in the name of whatever other allegiance we hold dearer.
Battle for independence
Because there are actually very few Nigerians in Nigeria, it is difficult to fight against the Boko Haram. To fight against the Boko Haram is to fight against ourselves. Every Nigerian is either a Boko Haram or a potential Boko Haram. A Boko Haram is a Boko Haram because he does not believe in Nigeria. The rest of us are Boko Haram because we also do not believe in Nigeria. We hate Nigeria with a passion. Murtala Nyako can fight for his citizens of the North. Femi Fani-Kayode will readily call his Oduduwa Republic to arms. MASSOB will easily rally the troops for Biafra. But there is practically no one left to fight for and defend Nigeria.
Only Nigerians can fight the Boko Haram, but there are few Nigerians in Nigeria. That is why it has been difficult for us to close ranks in the face of the Boko Haram onslaught. That is why it is easy for the Boko Haram to get new local recruits in the fight against Nigeria. That is also why it is difficult to identify the Boko Haram among us. The Boko Haram and the potential Boko Haramite is anyone and everyone who hates Nigeria and does not wish Nigeria well. That means the Boko Haram are practically every one of us.
The fight against Boko Haram is a belated fight for Nigeria’s independence. In order to fight the Boko Haram successfully, we have to become Nigerians. Other countries fought for their independence but we never did in Nigeria. Suddenly, we are now saying “Bring back Our Girls.” But these Chibok girls were not “Our Girls” before they were kidnapped. And even if, by the grace of God, we were to secure their release tomorrow; they would immediately cease to be “Our Girls.” This makes us no different from the Boko Haram. The Boko Haram kidnapped these girls because they are not theirs. Neither do we consider them to be ours. They cannot be ours as long as we do not believe we are all Nigerians. Therefore, all our “bring back Our Girls” posturing is just for show.
Nigerian Boko Haram
Nigerians only become Nigerians in the rarefied context of a national football match of short duration. But even while we are united in supporting the Super Eagles, we equally support Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs in England. There was no report of any Spaniard dying as a result of the recent Champion League football match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Nevertheless, two Nigerian supporters of Real Madrid died out of anxiety arising from the match. Because we are Boko Haram, we even kill ourselves over matters that don’t pertain directly to us. I am still waiting for the day that I go to London and find Britons wearing T-shirts with Enugu Rangers or Kano Pillars football clubs emblazoned on them.
Because we are not Nigerians, we readily adopt foreign “nations” that don’t recognize us and call them our own. Because we don’t believe in Nigeria, we are easily seduced to take on other “nationalities.” Because we are don’t believe in Nigeria, we can easily be led to believe in another “nation.” We are easily persuaded to become Boko Haram. Because we hate Nigeria, we become Boko Haram instead of Nigerians. We plant bombs in the market-place. We bring Nigeria down instead of building Nigeria up. Since the children of Chibok are not our children, we steal the money meant for enhancing their education and use it to send our children to school abroad.
The Boko Haram is not only the man who blows up buildings and kills the innocent. The Boko Haram is also that man who ensures that fake drugs are sold in our pharmacies, and that our hospitals are places where people go to die and not to be healed. The Boko Haram is not only that man who says “Western education is a sin.” The Boko Haram is also that public official who sits while our universities are closed down for six months over an industrial dispute. The Chibok incident has brought all these tendencies into sharp relief. We are the Boko Haram and the Boko Haram are us.