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Of hate speeches and consequences

By Muyiwa Adetiba

At a breakfast meeting of veteran journalists the other day, the host asked his guests, many of whom were former Editors and top columnists, what they thought of the ‘Quit Notice’ issued by the Arewa youths to the Igbos in their domain.

The answer almost to a man, was that it was a reaction to an action. The host, himself a veteran of many years, seemed surprised at the near unanimous answer. ‘You mean that quit order was not wrong? He probed further. The answer he got was that it was wrong only because two wrongs don’t make a right.

Of course, it was wrong to order any Nigerian out of any part of the country. But it is the kind of reaction you get when you goad and needle a people the way Kanu and his Biafra adherents have been doing in the past two years. To be fair, all the other regions, not just the South-East, have always had their pressure groups which are sometimes used by politicians to score political and economic points. Then Nnamdi Kanu came along and raised the ante.

He acquired, or was handed—depending on which version you believe—a radio station to propagate the ideologies and push the awareness of Biafra. One of his strategies was to insult, denigrate and dehumanise the rest of the country while clothing his people in robes that were obviously oversized to the discerning.

Like all propagandists, he used half-truths and out-right lies to push his messages of hate and dis-ingenuity. But he found traction in the minds of young, impressionable and gullible people who became convinced that a Biafra would end all their economic and social woes.

It was brinkmanship gone too far at best and a dangerous, perilous game with unseen but likely unsavoury outcome at worst. Our people say that when a young man throws a stone it is the elders who know where the stone would land. But where were the Igbo elders in this instance? Were they there to caution on the outcome of this stone throwing spree? No.

They bathed instead in the after-glow of this brave, lion-hearted Igbo man who ‘dared to say things that needed saying.’ One ‘venerated elder’ even said the day he met Kanu was one of the happiest days of his life. Then came the ‘Quit Notice’ and everybody panicked. Like someone observed at that breakfast meeting, the quit notice was a TKO; a boxing slang meaning ‘Technical Knockout.’

While we were still grappling with the ramifications of the quit notice which the Arewa youths have refused to call off till date, an anti-Igbo narrative went viral. I have listened to it and find it quite distasteful. But then, I have listened to three or so anti-Nigerian videos that Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB had released in the past and find them all distasteful.

We must ask ourselves whether the nauseating anti-Igbo video would have been made had the earlier anti-Nigeria videos not existed. After all, one preceded the other and was probably again, a reaction to an action.

If the Igbo leaders had acted promptly in calling Kanu to order, they probably could have nipped the proliferation of hate speeches in the bud. And for all the noise about how an average Northerner gets away with murder in Nigeria, how many people north or south, can do what Kanu has been doing since his release and get away with it? He has violated his bail conditions with impunity. He has openly challenged and defied the sovereignty of Nigeria.

He has challenged the democratic process of a State and by inference, the country. He has needled, taunted and goaded other Nigerians. Kanu by his words, actions and even bearing, believes an average Igbo man is superior to other Nigerians. That is a supremacist belief that makes him dangerous and puts him in the same grouping with KKK, Ultra- Right and Neo-Nazis. His tribal bigotry also puts him in the same grouping with religious bigots like ISIS and Boko Haram. These people have one thing in common with Kanu. They preach hate, intolerance and ultimately violence.

Those who acquiesce or even applaud him and his northern counterpart should be made aware of the consequences of these hate speeches irrespective of where they are coming from. One consequence is the economy.

Money is a coward. It runs away from violence and instability. Investments, local or foreign, will take flight away from the spectre of war and violence. Another consequence is that they serve as a distraction at best. As we are finding out every day, we are unable to come together as one to find joint solutions to the myriad of problems afflicting the country because of distrust. And the more we wallow in hate speeches and self-loathing, the worse our situation will become.

A more serious consequence however, is on the emotional level.  We have had so many years of inter- tribal marriages that this new doctrine of East is good and West is bad or vice versa can only scramble the lives of the products of these liaisons.

On a personal level, my children have first cousins, and I mean first cousins, from East, North and South-South.  And until a couple of years ago, my son was going to marry his sweetheart from Maiduguri. It meant, if her father hadn’t put his foot down after years of dating, that I would have acquired a daughter from the North-East and grandchildren with Kanuri blood. This rainbow coalition of tribes—Yoruba, Igbo, Idoma, Esan, Efik, Igbira, Edo, etc—are supposed to meet frequently at family gatherings and treat each other with love and respect.

I am sure I speak for thousands of families in my situation when I warn about the effect of these hate speeches on family fabric. We have become too inter-woven to be easily disentangled without dire consequences.

But the gravest by far of the consequences is the possibility of war. Students of history or indeed, anybody who has ever witnessed war will attest to the fact that war has no redeeming feature. War consumes and destroys. Period. Both the victor and the vanquished will forever bear the scars of war. And many of the young ones who are propagating hate speeches and romanticising war today will be the first casualties.

Again, I use the proverb; when a young man throws a stone, it is the elder who knows where the stone will land. A word is enough for the wise. Our elders should know the consequences of these hate speeches. And we, who forward these hate videos from chat groups to chat groups, should be aware of the consequences of our actions. If we cannot disabuse the minds of these supremacists and separatists, we should at least resolve not to help disseminate their hate speeches. Otherwise, we are guilty of aiding and abetting.


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