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May 29 Special: The Evil of Prejudice

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By Jide Ajani

Prejudice!  Wicked prejudice!  The consequence of the wickedness of prejudice is the present spate of criminal activities passed off as terrorism in some parts of the north of Nigeria.

inauguration  buhari
Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari (L) sits beside his wife Aisha, as he signs after swearing to an oath during his inauguration at the Eagles Square in Abuja, on May 29, 2015. Buhari, 72, defeated Goodluck Jonathan in March 28 elections — the first time in Nigeria’s history that an opposition candidate had beaten a sitting president. AFP PHOTO

To fully understand the sometimes deadly effect of prejudice, please follow this near-death real-life instances (as detailed in World’s Weirdest (Newspaper Stories), which were first published in 2015, when  Muhammadu Buhari settled in as newly sworn-in President and Commander-in-Chief:

“According to the Charlotte Observer of 1926, the Reverend Mr Taylor and the Reverend Mr Dick conducted a learned public debate at Edenton on the question: ‘Will the Negro retain his present colour in heaven?’ Mr. Taylor contended that the Negro’s colour will change.

“It is not clear what scientific evidence Mr. Taylor marshaled to support his argument; the report merely illustrates how weirdly racial prejudice may affect otherwise intelligent people. But cases of individuals’ skin changing colour have occurred; and in places where facial law operate, the results can be disquieting.

“In January 1970, Mr. Alphons du Toit, for example, a South African White, was stung from head to toe when he walked into a swarm of bees in the middle of Johannesburg. He turned black. A housewife was shopping nearby when the incident occurred, and declared: ‘He was unrecognisable.’ Another passer-by telephoned for an ambulance. The official at the other end of the line asked: ‘European or non-European?’ The passer-by replied; ‘Non-European – I think.’

“Accordingly, Mr. du Toit was put into an ambulance for non-Whites and driven to the non-White section of Johannesburg General Hospital for treatment.

“While the patient was being given emergency treatment, however, the nurses discovered that he was white. Should they carry on regardless, or interrupt treatment to have Mr. du Toit moved to the White section? Prejudice won; and in a desperate state, the unfortunate patient was wheeled out of the non-White area and into the White. His condition was critical.

“The vagaries of apartheid were further exposed by the case of Mrs. Rita Hoefling, a white South African woman who had an operation to remove her adrenal glands in 1969. After the operation her skin turned progressively darker and darker, discoloured by pituitary secretions. A Cape Town hospital worker, Mrs. Hoefling found herself being treated as a black maid, ordered off Whites Only buses, subjected to countless slights and humiliations. In January 1978 she wrote a formal letter to protest to the South African Premier, John Vorster, to tell him ‘what apartheid is doing to my life and those of others’.

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“Skin changes may, of course, work in reverse through a pigmentation disorder, Eddie Mae Kearney of New York changed from black to white in 1959. In 1981, she turned black again – spot by spot”.

In today’s Nigeria, prejudice plays a major part in virtually every aspect of its daily existence, particularly since 2015.  And it is nowhere more pronounced than in the political sphere where there are sharp divisions between supporters of President Buhari and those who do not believe in him.

The trajectory between the apartheid story, the attitude of some leaders of political parties in Nigeria, and the present state of war in the north can be located in the staccato and tongue-in-cheek pronouncements from the early days of Muhammed Yusuf’s ragtag evangelical group, to the infancy of members of Jama’atu Ahliss-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (western education is evil), otherwise known as Boko Haram, and to today’s band of criminals terrorizing the nation, including but not even limited to the spate of kidnappings and killings.  Going through the indifference and reckless statements made in those very bad, sad early days of Boko Haram – and even as lately as the campaigns for the 2015 and 2019 elections – would not bestow any scintilla of decency on this presentation, because most of the speeches, hate speeches were products of prejudices of some individuals.

Prejudice has created cultivated chaos!  That is what Nigeria is today.  And that is what the President and Commander-in-Chief would have to deal with in the next four years, having allowed it to fester in the last four.

From Wednesday, May 29, 2019, Buhari would have all of 1461days to change the narrative.  He cannot change that.

When John Maxwell said “people want to go along with people they get along with”, he did not mean it in the context that makes it difficult or impossible to make changes when things are not working.  President Buhari has explained why he didn’t change his Service Chiefs in four years, despite the obvious failure, a decision which further cemented the pre-conceived notion people had of Buhari as a man who allows things to fester.  But does he? In some quarters, this attitude of Mr. President has created an incubating contraption for disgruntlement and angst.  Disgruntlement! Angst! These states of mind do not bode well for any system – be it the corporate world or the murkier platform of political governance.

Up until 16th Century Britain and after, there were fierce, bloody battles over economic and political control, the seeds of which were sown centuries earlier.  Because of the circumscription of the political space which was largely in the grip of the monarchy and political elites, consequently manifesting in the type of monopolistic economy of that era, nothing other than a stifling political atmosphere and an asphyxiating economic environment were created.  This situation led to a competitiveness that created monopolies.  There are some Nigerians who insist that the last four years have created a new set of lords of the manor.

In their celebrated book, WHY NATIONS FAIL, The origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson revealed how, by 1621, there were 700 monopolies granted to a few business and political elites of that era.

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Indeed, the English historian, Christopher Hill, explained the choking and destructive dangers of a monopolistic economy:  “A man lived in a house built with monopoly bricks, with windows… monopoly glass; heated by monopoly coal (In Ireland, monopoly timber); burning in a grate of monopoly iron …. He washed himself in a monopoly soap, his cloths in monopoly starch. He dressed in monopoly lace, monopoly linen, monopoly leather, monopoly gold thread…. His cloths were held up by monopoly belts, monopoly buttons, monopoly pins.  They were dyed with monopoly dyes.  He ate monopoly butter, monopoly currants, monopoly red herrings, monopoly salmon, and monopoly lobsters. His food was seasoned with monopoly salt, monopoly pepper, monopoly vinegar….  He wrote with monopoly pens, on monopoly writing paper; read (through monopoly spectacles, by the light of monopoly candles) monopoly printed books.”

Acemoglu and Robinson then concluded:  “These monopolies, and many more, gave individuals or groups the sole right to control the production of many goods.  They impeded the type of allocation of talent, which is so crucial to economic prosperity”

It was gratifying to hear Buhari in his inaugural address in 2015 declare that “I am for everyone and I belong to no one”. Either on the godfather front or on the ethnic or religious front, Buhari’s statement can be likened to John F. Kennedy’s “think not what your country can do for you, but think of what you can do for your country”.  Did Buhari prove not to be for some people but to be for everybody?

In the following interviews, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo explains the gains of democracy in the last 20years; Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed sheds light on his four-year research on insecurity in the North West; while Supo Shonibare, a pioneer member of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, speaks on opposition politics.  It is all about looking back.

And looking back, there were errors of omission and commission that have brought Nigeria to this sorry pass. Can things be better? Of course yes!  When Nigerians, generally, exorcise the ghost of prejudice against one another, people will begin to see things clearly and work for progress of the nation, rather than selfish ends for pro or anti Buhari.

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