My World

February 29, 2020

Another reminder; lest we forget


Nigerian Flag

Nigerian Flag

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I learnt a lesson about 40 years ago that has stayed with me since. It was during the anti-apartheid days. Nigeria had hosted a three or five day ‘World Action Against Apartheid Conference’ which I had covered as a reporter. Little naïve me was exasperated that there was too much rhetoric and very little ‘action’ at the conference.

I expressed my frustration to a top Nigerian diplomat during lunch break. He looked at me and explained slowly as if talking to a child, that the fact that the whole world was stopping as it were for the better part of a week, to address the issue of apartheid in South Africa was in itself a victory. True to his words, apartheid began to crumble thereafter as those who did business with apartheid South Africa slowly began to develop cold feet. One of the lessons for me was about the power of focus; the power of a concerted attention to an issue.

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday; a day the whole of Christendom focuses its attention on. It is the first day of a 40-day journey of fasting, praying and alms giving known as the Lenten season. But more than that, it is a day ash is pasted on the forehead of the faithful as a sign of penance. Or more significantly, as a sign of our nothingness.

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At every Ash Wednesday, we are reminded again, lest we forget, that we are dust and to dust we will return. The day our backs hit the canvas—to borrow a phrase from pugilists—all our possessions, power and earthly glories are left behind. Our mansions will be replaced by carved wood and our world,by six feet of earth. No more choice food; no more choice wine. In fact, we become food for worms and manure for earth. It is the ultimate humility. It is the ultimate reality. We are brought down to earth, literally and with finality.

Ash Wednesday, is also a day all practising Christians, not just of the Catholic disposition, identify with their faith. It is not unusual to see massive crowds around the churches on the day. It is not unusual to hear fraternal greetings in banks and other public places among people who identify with the ash sign on the foreheads on the day. It is not unusual to have media outlets spending a moment or two on the significance of the day. I am reminded again, of the anti-apartheid lesson on the power of a concerted attention….

It is probably in line with this belief in the power of concerted attention that Catholics were enjoined to wear black this Ash Wednesday, as a sign of mourning for our departed souls in different parts of the country. Many of them have been ruthlessly cut down in their prime by soulless youths who are being fed on a steady diet of hatred, rape and death.

To have a large assemblage of people wearing black was unprecedented—some priests wore black under their cassocks. Even I who normally don’t like to be in a complete black ensemble, was glad to identify with the cause. There have been too many killings in the land. To have a solemn day as Ash Wednesday and to make a solemn statement on one of the most solemn of issues as death on the day, was for me, very significant and for the nation very poignant.

A cynic told me the day would pass like any other because our leaders were callous and unfeeling. I disagreed with him. But even if they were, I am reminded of the anti-apartheid lesson and the power of concerted attention. Millions of Christians wearing black on the day could not but attract national and hopefully international attention. I do hope that this would be one of the many things that would make us wake up and turn the security page in the country.

To turn the security page however, the leadership must be humble enough and pragmatic enough to accept that the methods they have been using need a re-appraisal. Even as a layman, I am aware that money—lots of it, man power – lots of it, and a strong ideology fuel and sustain terrorism. I do not know where the source of money is from in our case.

But I should hope that the government knows that by now. It is however sad that the man power being used to rape, maim, kill and destroy homes are in the main, Northern Nigerian youths. In other words, Northern Nigerian youths are the ones destroying Northern Nigeria, and by extension the rest of the country.

Let me say it more slowly, the homestead called Nigeria, is being destabilised and destroyed by her own youths—the clichéd future of the country—through agents known and unknown, for reasons partly known and unknown. As for ideology, it is easier to believe Western education is haram when you have hardly been exposed to it. It is easier to believe in martyrdom when you are searching for a meaning to life. It is easier to be shorn of compassion and empathy when you have had little parental, family or even societal care. In other words, the environment in which these people are nurtured makes them susceptible to radicalisation.

The Northern elites must be told that they created this environment. For years, they have exploited the religion and culture of their people to their advantage. They have used the challenges of the region to negotiate a better life for themselves and their offspring while the vast majority continue to wallow in poverty.Even now, despite the fire on the mountain, majority of them are still playing the ostrich. It is still all about political power.

It seems to be the only game in town. The elites cling to power while the rest of their people cling to an illusion of power. Unfortunately, misdirected power leads to corruption and impunity. The chickens were bound to come home to roost at some point.

One thing Ash Wednesday will always remind us of is that even the best of us is nothing but a flower that blossoms in the morning and is withered by the end of day. So why this obsession with power? Let our leaders make power count for their people. I will end with this line I saw in the Punch newsroom as a young reporter. It said: ‘lead, follow or get the hell out of the line.’ It’s high time the rest of the country quoted this line to the northern leadership.