- Post 12 December 2012
- Last Updated on 12 December 2012
- By Idang Alibi
One of the reasons Nigeria has not grown into one strong, unified and peaceful country 52 years after independence is partly attributable to the absolute lack of principle on the part of our people, especially the elite who ought to know better, on issues that affect other citizens who are ‘distant’ from them. When some things affect fellow citizens negatively you will see a shocking display of insensitivity, extreme callousness and a complete lack of fellow-feeling on the part of those who think they are not affected. I cannot help but think that a people who want to live together as a civilised lot and grow their country to become a haven of peace, progress and stability cannot afford to have this type of attitude and hope to become great.
At the height of the Niger Delta insurgency some six or so years ago, the Federal Government mooted the idea of buying what they called amphibious drones to use to kill the militants and the communities harbouring them. When the issue came up for discussion among my circle of friends, I was shocked beyond speech when I listened to my friends from the North who were very happy that the drones will be used to annihilate the militants and their people who were foolish enough to harbour them.
When I complained that if the idea is to contain the militants why adopt a strategy and instruments that will also kill innocent villagers who had no choice but to harbour the militants, one of my friends who portrays himself as an activist and ‘conscience’ of the nation, laughed me to scorn arguing that do I not know what is called collateral damage in war? He felt so happy with what he was convinced was a great piece of wisdom on his part and wondered to me why I sounded so foolish. When I reminded him that the people he was talking so unfeelingly about were fellow Nigerians and not some distant citizens of another country, he asked me to keep quiet because I did not seem to know what I was saying. Topmost on his mind and the minds of millions of others ‘unaffected’, was the urgent need to remove the irritants who stood as obstacles to the flow of oil revenue.
I was filled with great agony when I heard my Northern friends speak like that colonial District Officer in Chinua Achebe’s classic novel Things Fall Apart who, after witnessing the sad but proud and dignified demise through honour suicide of Okonkwo, that hero, patriot and ardent defender of his land and its value, said with a hint of triumph in his voice that he was going to write a book to be entitled The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
I know so much about the biblical law of sowing and reaping. Whatever goes around will certainly come around. Now, the shoe is pinching on the other side of the leg. About three years ago, an insurgency more grievous and more difficult to understand and contain than the Niger Delta one has arisen in the North with the towns of Maiduguri and Damaturu as its hotbeds. It is the Boko Haram. Unfortunately, it is now the turn of the North to suffer from callous unfeeling from fellow citizens of Nigeria from the South. Some Southern intellectuals and the powerful Southern press have been stridently calling on President Jonathan to give the Odi and Zaki-Biam treatment to Maiduguri and Damaturu.
Sounding very nostalgic, you hear many Nigerians, especially Southerners, say that they wish Baba (meaning former President Olusegun Obasanjo) was still around. That if he was, he would have by now given orders to the troops that have been occupying Maiduguri and Damaturu to level those towns and put an end to this ‘’Boko Haram nonsense’’. Jonathan is called upon to Obasanjorise himself and give orders to the Joint Task Force that is accused of behaving like an occupation foreign troops in those places to level Maiduguri and Damaturu the same way Obasanjo’s order ensured the sacking of Odi and Zaki-Biam.
Borno Elders and other men and women of conscience have cried themselves hoarse pleading that the troops be withdrawn and more peaceful approach adopted to solve the problem because soldiers deployed to contain insurgencies end up committing even worse atrocities than the insurgents they are sent to contain.
Herein lies the sad irony of our unprincipled stance as a people. When the Joint Task Force (JTF) was in the Niger Delta region, I cannot recall Borno Elders or minors from the North or anywhere else in other regions other than the Niger Delta pleading that the occupation force be withdrawn because they were needlessly killing innocent and vulnerable persons. The problem was very far from everybody else except the Niger Deltans. People of other areas rested secure feeling that they were far from the madding crowd, the theatre of war. Their attitude was that those in the Niger Delta who wanted trouble should face it.
As I said, what goes around must come around. The heat is now on the peoples of Borno and Yobe. Why should Niger Delta Elders or minors now rise in defence of the beleaguered towns of Maiduguri and Damaturu when Borno Elders did not deem it fit to speak for them in their times of agony and grief? Can you see what I mean? Fellow-feeling begets fellow-feeling and apathy, mute passivity and callous indifference in the face of tyranny, as Wole Soyinka would put it in his English, will beget its kind.
My aim here is to show Nigerians that this type of attitude is irresponsible, foolish and extremely short-sighted. Whatever seed you sow, you will reap it one day; may be not in your life time but surely one day, it will get to you or your successor- generation. May be not in the exact form you sowed but you will surely get a dose of what you sowed one way or another. If you sow the seed of callous indifference to your neighbour’s plight, be prepared that sooner or later you too will reap the fruit of indifference when your own trouble comes.
When Nigerians call on a president to order troops to level certain towns and villages in order to destroy a few miscreants, they often forget that even in wars between nations there are laws regulating conduct. When you call for a levelling of anything that breathes, moves or stands, what you are calling for is genocide and it is a war crime. Even common sense tells us that you cannot set fire to a building because you want to deal with the few rats that trouble you. Wisdom dictates that you set traps to catch the rats and spare your house and the fullness therein from destruction.
It is tragic that the only Nigerian of note that often rises up above our clannishness to speak on the basis of principle is Professor Wole Soyinka. He did that during the unfortunate Civil War and paid a price for his stand on principle. And he still does it every once in a while. But we need more people to speak for Nigeria and not for their ethnic, regional or religious enclaves. Destiny has, for whatever reasons, put us together. In our collective interest, we must show an inclination to speak against what is wrong irrespective of who is the victim or else one day we too will become victim of the crime we failed to condemn when it was visited on those we thought were not our own.
President Goodluck Jonathan has won my heart by maintaining that he will not give the Odi or Zaki-Biam treatment to the people of Maiduguri and Damaturu. It is better for him to be thought weak and indecisive than for him to order the killing of innocent people because the Boko Haram insurgents are a menace to our country. It should worry Nigerians of conscience that since the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999, an estimated 20, 000 Nigerians across the land have been killed by communal wars and largely by the atrocities of soldiers and policemen who are sent to restore order.
The doctrine of collective and unjust and unfair punishment which some thoughtless Nigerians seem to favour as exemplified in the clamour for the Odification and Zaki-Biamisation of Maiduguri and Damaturu is not only dangerous but is also completely ineffective. As Jonathan rightly argued in the Presidential Media Chat of Sunday November 18, if the levelling of Odi was the solution, why did the Niger Delta insurgency grow even after that and was only brought to an end through negotiation and appeasement of the aggrieved?
If we say that the Boko Haram people are wrong in that they kill innocent persons in order to achieve their political objectives, why should so called law enforcement forces be asked to kill innocent persons under the guise of the pursuit of the Boko Haram insurgents? I am sure that if Jonathan heeds the call for the Odification and Zaki-Biamisation of Maiduguri and Damaturu, there are some of our compatriots who will, like that colonial District Officer aforementioned, will write a book with the title The Pacification of the Religious Zealots among the Primitive Tribes of the Upper Niger.