Is there a place I can scream? If I am allowed to scream, will someone be out there to hear me? And if someone hears me, will he be human enough to find out what is wrong and take action to my rescue? I am not the author of the first sentence. It was borrowed from Harold Myra’s collection of “Prayer Under Pressure”. This, to me, sounds like the scream of our Motherland Nigeria, a country where, originally, it was thought that though tribe and tongue may differ, there was an overwhelming bond of brotherhood. We were supposed to untiringly work towards the greatness of our country and to move from country-hood to nationhood. Ultimately, we should have worked to hand over to our children a banner without stain. Yes, a banner without blood stains, the stains of corruption and overwhelming greed and impunity that have engulfed us all.
These days, the news in the print and electronic media or the oral conversation of Nigerians cannot be complete without the gory details of the number of casualties of the onslaught of terror groups, organised mass murders, arson, grand stealing nicknamed as corruption and acts and omissions that border on man’s inhumanity to man and the loss of our collective sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We have lost our sense of shock and outrage to the extent that anything goes and anything is possible. The right to life is the most basic of the fundamental human rights. It is the fulcrum upon which other rights revolve and one cannot enjoy any other right except he is in the land of the living. But, extinguishing life has become our routine activity and diet to the extent that it is difficult to keep a count of the number of lives lost in the last couple of weeks in Kano, Adamawa, Jos and Borno. It appears hell has let loose its angels of death and they have turned my beloved country into a killing field.
Kenya’s 2007 elections went wrong and the ensuing violence claimed about 1,200 lives. The people of Kenya thereafter unanimously said “Never again” and vowed not to allow a repeat in subsequent elections. Today, top politicians and prominent citizens have been indicted by the International Criminal Court including the President-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta. The people of Kenya have held another election which by all accounts has been peaceful. Yes, there was that unanimity of purpose to come together and resolve national challenges without degenerating to further bloodshed. The church, mosque, media, NGOs, women’s groups and indeed communities resolved to move forward even though some challenges of national integration exist. How many souls have we sent to their early graves in Nigeria and we are still spoiling and baying for more blood as if we have not shed enough. Definitely, more than 10,000 times the figure in Kenya. From the lives lost in the First Republic in the Western Region crisis to the first and second military coups, the pogrom against the Igbo in the North, the estimated two million lives lost in the civil war, the military coups of the 1970s, incessant riots and religious uprisings, the Ogoni crisis, to the massacres in Odi to Zaki Biam: When shall we say our own “Never again”?
Government exists basically to protect lives and property. It should ideally be the product of a social contract. But we are in a state where there is a government in place but that which is fast losing control and authority over vast stretches of its land, water and air space. As a matter of fact, no one seems to be in charge and it is only God that apparently holds this country together. Law as a command of the sovereign backed by sanctions has lost its sanction mechanism which should have been activated by intelligence gathering, investigation and prosecution. The supremacy of the constitution and the aphorism that no one is above the law now belongs to a distant past that has no link to the current reality. Nigeria now looks like the jungle where the lion is king and devours whoever is on its way and is accountable to no one but its conscience.
How did we get to this sorry state? Where did the rain start beating us, as Chinua Achebe would ask? And what can we do to retrace our steps before it is too late to turn around? This is not the time for apportioning blames or conjuring grand theories that will lead nowhere. It is a time of pragmatism and enlightened self-interest because we are all on the same boat and we will swim or sink together unless we do something to salvage ourselves. But let’s respond to a basic question: Are we doomed to fail as a nation? Are we programmed or did we programme ourselves to end in bloodletting and destruction? Is there something inherently wrong with us as a country that only leads us to the path of perdition? My straight forward answer is that there is nothing inherent in us decreeing that we are doomed. But the decision to swim or sink is one that we take consciously through our actions and omissions.
A time like this calls for statesmen and elders who will soar and tower above the prisms of our small worlds of ethnic hatred, religion and the different schisms dividing us. We need real patriots who can understand that violence can never bring peace and development. We need elders who can move beyond the self and project into the shared communal space and consciousness that defines our common humanity and seek to elevate the bonds that hold us together as against pointing to the cracks in the wall. Unfortunately, I only see a few selfless elders who are qualified for this task. But I see a lot of young men and women who can rise up to the challenge. We do not need politicians who are perpetually fixated with the cycle of elections and sharing the perks of power without a thought for the welfare and peaceful development of the people.
Nigerians need to talk, to engage one another and tell ourselves the truth, purge ourselves of bitterness and hatred and decide to live together or if the basis of the relationship has been irretrievably damaged beyond repair, to have a peaceful divorce. President Goodluck Jonathan needs to act fast before the prophets of disintegration beat their chest in self-fulfillment. In collaboration with the National Assembly, the President must devise a way to convene a frank dialogue of the true representatives of the different segments of the Nigerian people. The groups to participate in the dialogue could range from representatives of political, ethnic, religious, professional, academic, workers, women, youths, physically challenged, traditional institution groups, etc. Whoever is deceiving himself that we do not need to talk should provide a workable remedy to the myriad of life threatening challenges facing the nation. Yes, we have leaders outside the current political circles who need to be part of this dialogue and that informs the listing of groups to be represented. If those currently in power are convinced that they can solve the problem under the extant constitution, let them take steps to resolve this crisis soon. Clearly, the existing political structure of the country has failed to provide remedies to our challenges.
Eze Onyekpere (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Article culled from Punch