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A nation at war with itself

By Donu Kogbara

NIGERIA has never been so riven with unfraternal toxic tensions. Deep, dark suspicions about Islam and its adherents are commonplace in Christian areas and gatherings. Many Muslims also harbour extremely uncharitable thoughts about Christians.

Shiite
National Emergency Management Agency’s vehicles and outpost near the Federal Secretariat set ablaze by members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (a.k.a Shiites), during a protest which turned violent in Abuja on Monday (22/7/19). The Shiites are demanding the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention for alleged murder since Dec. 2015.

Northerners and Southerners are rarely on the same page and nearly came to blows that could have led to a civil war at the height of the recent controversy about proposed RUGA settlements for herdsmen…who are constantly accused of mass murder and being killed in retaliation – or pre-emptively in some instances.

And it’s not as if each religious, regional, tribal or political bloc is an oasis of harmony, internally. Within the North, there are a whole heap of burning issues dividing the Hausas, Fulanis, other ethnic groups, Sunnis, Shiites, etc.

Within the South, there is little love lost between South-easterners, South-westerners and South-southerners. Within each of these zones, there are bitter enmities and rivalries galore. Within states like Kogi, Benue and Rivers, the strongest tribes feel entitled to run the show selfishly and at everyone else’s expense. The strife is endless, the widespread fear and anger palpable.

Hate speech abounds. People think nothing of dehumanising and demonising entire sub-sections of the general population. A European businessman told me that he was shocked when a Northerner who is close to President venomously informed him that all Niger Deltans are “greedy criminals and violent animals”.

Meanwhile, photos – fake products of photoshopping in my opinion – of men allegedly having sex with cows are being circulated online as “evidence” that Northern cattle herders are depraved bestialise. OK, so bigotry exists everywhere; and every country on the planet has been through or is going through various forms of turmoil.

And thankfully for some countries – the currently dis-United Kingdom, for example – the crisis is something that only happens occasionally when ugly dramas like Brexit rear their heads. But there are countries in which crisis is constant and ongoing, with no end in sight. And, sadly, Nigeria fits into the latter category.

 

Positive will

High-octane bigotry and bad blood and turmoil and crisis and angst aren’t inevitable. These negatives can be eliminated and mitigated by wise leaders; and Nigeria is, if you ask me, in a particularly bad place at the moment because President Buhari is generating so much poisonous ill will and woefully failing to tackle problems effectively.

The Sheikh el-Zakzaky saga is a case in point. Until Buhari came along, I wasn’t aware that there was more than one type of Muslim in Nigeria, never mind that the Sunni Muslim majority and Shiite Muslim minority were at loggerheads! OK, so I was too ignorant for my own good; and I’m ashamed that I once knew so little about the indigenous Islamic landscape. But I’ve had plenty of Muslim friends and work colleagues since youth; and none of them ever, until recently, thought it important to mention any Sunni versus Shiite frictions to me. So my lack of education on this front can perhaps be partly forgiven.

At any rate, Sunnis who never once uttered the word “Shiite” to me for decades are now telling me every week how terrible Shiites are. I find it hard to believe that el-Zak zaky deserves to be imprisoned because he and his followers are intrinsically evil and dangerous.

One of the allegations against them is that they are funded by Iran as if this fact proves that they are guilty of treason. But many faiths receive external support from their co-religionists in other parts of the world!!!… Catholics from the Vatican in Rome, Sunnis from Saudi Arabia, Anglicans from the Church of England; and so on.

Meanwhile, the standoff between the mainstream Muslim establishment and an enraged sect that feels that it has nothing to lose is escalating alarmingly and coming to ahead.

This week, a Shiite demonstration in Abuja led to multiple deaths and injuries. And I dread to think what will happen if el-Zak zaky or his wife, who has also been incarcerated, dies in custody. I urge the President to descend from his ivory tower and manage this situation – and other equally divisive scenarios – more skilfully.

Nigeria is a nation that is at war with itself; and while Buhari cannot be blamed for everything that has gone wrong since Independence, he can certainly be blamed for certain exacerbations.

The RUGA fiasco was totally avoidable and has stirred up so much corrosive rancour and made Fulanis so unpopular that when I told some normally reasonable Southerners the other day that innocent stick-wielding herdsmen might be attacked because the bad gun-totting ones have caused so much devastation, I was furiously assured that “there is no such thing as an innocent herdsman.”

If Buhari continues to allow things to fall apart on his home turf and beyond, he will go down in history as the head of state whose main claim to fame was his talent for bringing out the worst in Nigerians and making as many people as possible miserable!

In more civilised and developed nations, leaders who are not doing well are ditched by members of the political parties they lead.

Theresa May has just been ousted, by her own Conservative Party, as the Prime Minister of Britain…because she was deemed too weak to deliver the exit from the European Union that they had voted for.

If Nigerian politicians were less cowardly, Buhari would be trying harder, to prevent APC stalwarts from giving him the boot!

Last year, he looked as if he was suffering from cognitive and physical decline and I was convinced that he was on his last legs. But he has now perked up miraculously. So can we please see some dynamic action that will reduce divisions and enhance unity?

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