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Black Tuesday and this impossible country

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Black Tuesday

By Yinka Odumakin

The Punch newspaper had an interview with me on January 12, 2019 on the “occupy Nigeria “ movement that we held for five days in January 2012. It was an opportunity to recall details of events of the five days that shook Nigeria to its foundation and make some forecasts which had come to pass:

Were the objectives of the protest achieved?

I would say that it was achieved in a way because it showed that social mobility in Nigeria was not frozen and that what people needed was leadership. They just needed people who would guide them along the right path. If it were a political rally, they would spend up to N1bn.

But Nigerians are still facing hardship. At the time, fuel price was increased to N87 per litre; now it is N145. Why was another protest not staged?

Unfortunately, many civil society players who we knew many years ago have kept quiet. It is as if they have even left the country. We also now have a quasi-military regime in place that is selling a culture of fear into the lily-livered. Look at the Shiites protests; they were massacred.

We all saw what happened to Daily Trust some days ago, whereby soldiers took over their offices because of a story which they did not say was false. Our society is increasingly becoming militarised and unfortunately, we are calling it a democracy. Then, nobody was arrested unlike what we have today.

That is my fear. I recall that in 2015 when Jonathan was leaving office, AIT had a programme and I was invited as a speaker. I said that our country would be lucky if the next President to succeed Jonathan would have his temperament because he remains the most abused president of Nigeria but nobody went to jail and no one was killed because of it.

Look at what they are doing to Senator Dino Melaye today; when the All Progressives Congress was campaigning in 2015 and Melaye was in their party, he went everywhere and there was nothing he did not say against Jonathan and there was no consequence.

Can someone do that today?”

Twenty hours before the Lekki massacre, I told colleagues on a political platform to expect a bloodbath against the protesters, drawing on the democratic short-fuse of this government and its little regard for human life.

And so it happened that a Lieutenant  Colonel allegedly led troops on Tuesday night on the protesters.This government would be angry if cows were shot at that way. It would take time to ascertain the number of casualties of that cold-blooded murder as the cover of the night allowed games to be played with the dead bodies .

The government at the centre has so far remained silent over the incident .Even when the President was pressured to give a speech to the country 48 hours after the massacre, he left people speechless with his silence on the massacre .

He rather displayed bravado that his accepting the demands of the protesters was seen as a sign of weakness which allowed the protesters to continue to poke their fingers in his face. He issued all kinds of threats, in the order of military rulers, justifying the decision of a national newspaper to address him as Major-General and call his administration a regime.

The implication of the Lekki massacre is heavy for this overstressed polity. Those with a sense of history would recall that Boko Haram was an open organisation until its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was murdered by the state.

They changed gear and moved to the NEXT LEVEL. They became a terrorist group that has claimed thousands of lives .The Wall Street Journal once published that the regime paid them three million Euros which must have aided their capacity building.

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It has also been dancing around, dialoguing with them as they are both equally matched in terms of force. It is a dangerous thing when many more young people come to the conclusion that they need to be fully armed to engage their government .

The massive outrage that followed the killings in terms of burning and destruction of public and private property of those linked with government was a dress rehearsal of what I called a-quarter-to-midnight last week.

It takes only the daft to think we have seen the end of it all with the brutal massacre of peaceful protesters. What was done was purely sowing the seed of more discontent and the harvest time shall surely come.

Part of the reason why this land has become so arid and unable to grow productively is the unconscionable shedding of innocent blood over the years. The Tuesday massacre is a bloody addition to the curse on the land.

Only fools will assume that anything good will germinate on a soul that drinks the blood of the innocent that way.The blood of those young souls will cry for justice and the repercussions will be consequential. All those who participated in the bloodshed or who aided them will have their just share of the repercussions.

And any idea that Nigeria has any chance of survival died and was buried that Tuesday night. It is now clear except to only those benefitting from the rot that the whole idea of running a multi-ethnic country from Abuja has become a serious anathema.

For any serious student of disintegration, there is no missing how Nigeria is becoming a replica of “The Impossible country: A journey Through The Last Days of Yugoslavia”, captured by American journalist, Brian Hall

Kenneth P beautifully wrote that in 1991, author Brian Hall had extensive contacts throughout Yugoslavia. He had friends in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. He had friends, acquaintances in Montenegro and Kosovo. These contacts enabled him to travel extensively and to hang out with Yugoslavs of all ethnicities at a time when tensions were building and war seemed a distinct possibility.

As Yugo-politics became poisonous, Hall’s emphasis remained with the people around him. His queries among friends were guarded yet focused. People on the street, the bus, the train, offered pertinent opinions. A certain clarity emerged: each ethnic group seemed to be fostering a growing cynicism and distrust of other groups.

Leadership was lacking. Serbia’s Milosovic and Croatia’s Tudgman threw gasoline on the embers of nationalism. Ugly stereotypes sprang from the hearts of Yugoslavs who had lived in peace for decades. It became easy and convenient to categorise people, to file them away into nasty little boxes.

A Serb in Belgrade and a Serb in Nis would utter epithets against Muslims with foolish, identical language. Croats and Muslims were at the same game. At one point the author was scribbling into his notebook when a Serb, overlooking, said: “Ah, you Americans are all left-handed.”  Yes, it became that farcical.

The strangest phenomenon is that all of the stereotyping, pigeon-holing, epithet-hurling that emerged from Serb, Croat, Bosnian– well, it all seemed to come from the same voice. Eventually they all sounded the same, like a collective Slavic whine. It was as if Yugoslavia had contracted a fatal auto-immune disease that turned against itself, hell-bent on self-destruction. Brian Hall explains none of this. He merely bears witness, skillfully, quietly leaving it on the page for us to see.

What is not crazy is the careful structure of The Impossible Country. The first half of the book shows the growing erosion of trust between people, the acceleration toward conflict. The last half gives us absurdity, farce and war.

But the finest chapter of the book lands precisely in the middle when Mr. Hall spends a day with his friend Mustafa, a Muslim from Mostar, Bosnia. Mustafa drives Hall out into the country where his family owns an ancient cherry orchard. It is the bucolic town of Cim, once entirely Muslim, now 99% Catholic. Mustafa says, jokingly: “I think you need a passport. We’re entering Croatia.”

It is while picking cherries that Hall sees Yugoslavia as it once was, as it could be. It becomes an idyllic throwback afternoon where the author sees, from the top of a ladder, spread out before him, the city of Mostar which would soon be destroyed from the east by Serbs, from the west by Croats.

Mustafa says: “Five years ago I never thought about who was who. Croat, Serb, Muslim… Why would I care about something like that? I didn’t even know what some of my friends were.”

Yugoslavia broke up before Hall published. Federalism could have averted Nigeria travelling this course.

VANGUARD

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