FEATURE ARTICLE

Rev. Fr. Francis Anekwe OborjiTuesday, March 27, 2018
[email protected]
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)

THE MESSAGE OF EASTER: IMPLICATIONS FOR NIGERIA’S “DANGEROUS MEMORIES” – PART 1

nspired by the traditional message of Easter as the triumph of life over the forces of death and sin; and of truth over falsehood and lies, our reflection takes its’ bearing from the following passages of Matthew’s Gospel:

“When they had met with the elders, they formed a plan. They gave a considerable amount of money to the soldiers. “Say,” they said, ‘His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.’ … They took the money and followed their instructions. And this is the story which is repeated amongst the Jews to this day.” (Matthew 28: 11-15).

In the first place, we begin this reflection by wishing everyone a very happy and peaceful Easter. May the triumph of truth over falsehood through the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, for our redemption at Easter, reign in our individual lives, families, communities and nation! May God Almighty bless us, and our land with his truth, freedom, justice, peace, tranquility, equity, security, reconciliation and true healing that comes from the Paschal merits of the Risen Christ! Amen.

As we all know, the central message of Easter celebration is the triumph of life over the forces of death and sin. Easter is the feast of the triumph of good over evil. It is the celebration of how Jesus Christ through His death on the Cross, conquered sin and death and therefore, achieved the salvation of the world, and made us co-heirs of the Kingdom of His Father, that is his.

Easter is the Christians’ celebration and remembrance of how Jesus Christ defeated death, sin and falsehood by willingly accepting to die on the Cross on Good Friday and to rise again three days later, on the Easter Sunday of the Resurrection.

Our present reflection intends to relate the Easter message of the triumph of life over death to the present situation of things in Nigeria. It is becoming obvious nowadays, especially to knowledgeable people as well as to all men and women of goodwill, that Nigeria as a nation-state, is fast losing its sense of the value of life and dignity of the human person.

As we celebrate Easter to remember the triumph of Jesus Christ, source of our life over the forces of death and machinations of evil men and women, this disturbing situation of Nigeria today must not escape our attention. The recklessness and impunity, with which innocent citizens are being massacred, on regular basis by the terrorist groups and their sponsors in the country, the seemingly incapacity of those at the corridors of power to address this problem, has indeed created a new culture of death and tyranny in the present-day Nigeria.

The article intends to discuss this topic by looking at the negation of Nigeria’s “historical memories” by those who have been ruling the country since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970), as the root cause of the country’s present-day lost of sense of humanity. The ruling elite of the country since the end of the war have remained the same class of the Ex-Generals and their cohorts that executed the war and supervised its’ atrocities.

It is dangerous for posterity sake, for us today to continue to fold our arms and pretend that all is well with Nigerian state without addressing sincerely and with determination, that aspect of our “dangerous memories” as a nation state. It is high time we initiate dialogue with our “dangerous memories” as a people for true reconciliation and healing to reign in our land. Failure to do so is for us to continue to live in denial and negation of truth.

The present article is an attempt to show that the continued existence and survival of Nigeria as a nation-state today, lies on how prepared we are as a people, to heed to this clarion call to dialogue with our “dangerous memories” of the Nigeria-Biafra war. Because, as the saying goes, “our past, in fact, is not behind us. It is in us, present today, tomorrow, and always.”

Easter: The Triumph of Life and Truth over the Forces of Death and Falsehood

From the Gospel of Matthew we quoted above, it is interesting to note the means that these authorities of the state used in their desperate attempts to eliminate Jesus. They used treachery to lay hold on him. They used illegality to try him. The used slander to charge him to Pilate. And now they were using bribery to silence the truth about him. And they failed: “Magna est veritas et praevalebit”, ran the Roman proverb; great is the truth and it will prevail.

“It is the fact of history that not all men’s evil machinations can in the end stop the truth. The gospel of goodness is greater than the plots of wickedness.”

This is the story of how the political, religious and judicial institutions and powers that crucified the Son of God, Jesus Christ, were desperately worried when they heard about the story of the empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus from death. Was it possible that all their planning had come to nothing? So they formed a simple plan; they bribed the members of the guard to say that Jesus’ disciples had come while they slept and had stolen his body.

But did these killers of Jesus Christ succeed in their plan of spreading falsehood and lies about message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Certainly no! The fact that after over 2000 years of that event at Golgotha, we still celebrate the feast of the message of Easter, shows that falsehood and lies will never triumph over truth. Falsehood and lies have no future. It shows further that attempts of evil men and women to suppress the truth for selfish ends, is an effort in futility. Because at the long, truth will always prevail.

In spite of bribery and lies formulated by the authorities of the state against Jesus Christ and His resurrection from death, the message of the ‘empty tomb’ has continued to resound in the hearts and minds of billons of men and women all over the world for the past 2000 years. This is the triumph of truth over falsehood and lies. It is the triumph of good over evil. It is the triumph of life over the forces of death and sin.

Living this triumph of truth over falsehood and lies, and of good over evil, is the memoria passionis, mortis, et resurrectionis Jesu Christi, which we celebrate at Easter. Living this memoria Christi, the triumph of truth over falsehood and lies, is the source of life of every believer. To negate the truth of the Paschal mystery is to negate the source of our life as human beings and created reality.

The message of the “empty tomb” which those authorities at Jerusalem attempted to suppress but failed, is the historical memory, we Christians celebrate and reenact at Easter every year, and during the Eucharistic celebration every day. The mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the center and summit of our Christian faith and liturgical celebration. It is the center and heart of our faith in Jesus Christ; the bedrock upon which God inaugurated the new creation founded on the same Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ.

This is the message of Easter: Christ is our life since he has saved us from the shackles of death and sin. He liberated us from the machinations of the evil one, the principalities and powers of this world. He made us free citizens of the Kingdom inaugurated in Him by God the Father. We are free and liberated citizens of heavens and earth through Christ.

This is the freedom Christ has won for us by dying on the Cross for our salvation. No other authority, in heavens and on earth can take away the freedom and liberation, which God has granted to us through Christ. Our freedom and liberation as children of God through Jesus Christ, are now at the hands and protection of God Himself. No power on earth can ever oppress the children of God and go free from the wrath of God and our savior Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The Danger of Suppressing Nigeria’s “Dangerous Memories”

Let us state straight away that our aim in this article is not so much to criticize or take sides. Certainly no! Rather our aim, as it were, is to stir those at the corridors of power, especially our political leaders and elites to wake up to their responsibility and focus on people-building and oriented programs, built from bottom-top instead of the present top-bottom political structure and style of governance which has enthroned culture of impunity and recklessness in Nigerian political ecology.

We must always bear in mind that in whatever we do or say, people matter, people counter. There will be no Nigeria without the Nigerian people. Moreover, no Nigerian citizen is more important than the other. No region of Nigeria is also more important than the other. All Nigerians and their regions should be treated and seen always as equal citizens and regions with equal rights and privileges.

Once any Nigerian, group or region of the country begins to feel marginalized or short-changed by the system or leadership of the country, the leaders are obliged to fine-tune immediately, the system and leadership style to carry all citizens and regions of the country along. Nigeria as a nation state ceases to exist, once any section of its component entities or ethnic-nationalities, perceives that the country’s political leadership and structure are not neutral to all its citizens and regions. That the country has betrayed its founding principles as a nation-state.

Again, let us not be very harsh and sentimental in our reactions to the frustrations of many people today, especially our young people on the social media for their reactions and comments over the present reality of the ‘failed’ Nigerian state. Otherwise, it would look like canonizing the evil deeds of those at the corridors of power and continue not yet acknowledge the atrocities committed by them for what they really are. The perpetrators of atrocities that are still very fresh in our historical memory, as a nation will continue to behave as heroes and to suppress their evil deeds in Nigerian history, by committing more impunity and bloodshed.

The question is: Is the suppression of our dangerous memories as a nation-state, the best way forward? This puts into question the rationale behind the effort of those at the corridors of power to criminalize free speech in Nigeria through the so-called “Hate-speech Bill”, recently sponsored in the National Assembly by the federal government. Often times, it is forgotten that what they have termed “hate-speech” is nothing else but free speech of ordinary citizens in social media through which our young people are beginning to participate in socio-political debate of their country.

Instead of sponsoring legislative bills to address the criminality of “ethnic-hate” which was and is still one major thing underpinning Nigeria’s progress and social development, our leaders are busy sponsoring bills (of the so-called hate-speech) to control the participation of ordinary citizens, especially, our young people in national debate.

Accept or reject it, “ethnic-hate”, NOT hate-speech led to the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970), where over 3.5 million of innocent citizens, were brutally starved and killed. Furthermore, “ethnic-hate” other than the so-called “hate-speech”, is responsible for the continued socio-political and economic stagnation and instability of Nigeria. In other words, “ethnic-hate” is the major reason Nigeria has remained under underdeveloped, and ruined by incompetent leadership, after about sixty years of political independence from Britain.

All this means that public discourse on why Nigeria is not moving forward as a modern nation-state should not be stalled in any way at all by those at the corridors of power. We need an open debate in the spirit of African palaver, participation of all citizens, old and young, men and women, on how to move Nigeria forward.

This leads us to examining some of the genesis of the reasons why many people are outraged about the way things are presently going on in Nigeria’s political landscape, the failure of leadership to address issues bordering on our “dangerous historical memories” as a nation-state.

The Biafra Question!

The architects of the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra war, unfortunately, have been controlling the affairs of Nigeria ever since. Till date, Nigeria is being governed by the same class of people, Ex-Generals, who executed the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970) and its attendants Biafran pogroms. These are the key participants of that sad page and history of Nigeria. The Ex-Generals and their cohorts, have continued to control the affairs and governance of the country. Through it, they have continued to keep the war situation on in Nigeria without the actual open combat. They see this as a way for them to continue to hold graph and control of the country under whatever disguise.

Nobody may become somebody in Nigeria today without passing through the approval of these Ex-Generals that executed the war. It is like if Nigeria is owned by them. Nigeria has continued to remain under their hostage, fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra war.

Fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra hostilities, Nigeria is still governed with structures of suppression and domination of the war victims, which those executors of the war had put in place as victors, in the first place. The executors of the war themselves have also refused to leave the stage for Nigeria to breathe fresh air and relief. Again, they are still calling the shot in the country, maintaining the war situation without the actual open field combat.

Therefore, when one shouts down on our young people and those courageous individuals who denounce the ugly situation of things in the country today, what in essence is one doing? Are they saying that the people doing positive thinking for the country as patriotic citizens today are those who sweep under carpet these unaddressed dangerous historical memories of Nigeria and the evil intentions of our Ex-Generals who want to continue to call the shots in the country, uninterrupted?

Again, nobody can become anybody in Nigeria today unless you go through these Ex-Generals and their cohorts. They control the nation’s wealth (oil plots), economy and politics. This is what they want to protect when they say, “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable.” This gives credence to the fear of some who are of the opinion that these “Ex-Generals are the problem of the country … As long as they are there and are still controlling the music, Nigeria will know neither peace nor progress.”

These are some of the aspects of Nigeria’s dangerous and pathetic memory and situation that our young people and some other courageous individuals are beginning to realize are at the heart of Nigeria’s myriad of problems. They are the things causing the continued slopping of Nigerian state into state of anarchy and recklessness of our leaders.

It is also the reason many of our young people are leaving the country in large numbers and prefer treated as “slaves” in Western countries instead of living under such terrible situation as we have it today in Nigeria. It is also the reason the country is increasingly becoming a laughing stock in the community of nations.

These are some of the issues, our young people and some courageous individuals are discussing in the social media and among themselves at the grassroots level. As long as they are not violent and do not carry arms or kill people, they deserve to be heard and respected. The older generation and those at the corridors of power should not shout them down. If at all, we, as elders, want to correct them in case of excesses, there are other better ways of doing it rather than proscribing or labelling as “terrorism” their non-violent approach, while the real terrorists, Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militants are moving freely unmolested.

In other words, no serious attempt has been made since after the war in 1970 to initiate dialogue with the nation’s “dangerous historical memories” for true national reconciliation and healing to occur. The war that is said to have claimed not less than 3.5 million lives of the people of the former Biafran enclave, cannot be wished away just like that. Thus, it is not right that since after the war, Nigerian state has been living in denial of its war atrocities against the people of former Eastern region, the defunct Biafran enclave.

The structures put in place, both during and after the war, are still governing Nigeria, fifty years after. These structures were put in place to serve two main purposes, namely: a) to suppress the historical memories of the victims of the war, and b) to shrink, suppress and dominate in perpetuity the victims of the war, isolate and short-change their geopolitical zone as nonentity in the scheme of things in Nigeria.

The creation of 12 states in 1967 and abolition of regional system by General Gowon, his consolidation of unitary system of government, signaled the beginning of the culture of impunity and suppression that had ever since short-changed the great Igbo people of the South-East region in Nigerian history. The region became landlocked through sustained federal government systematic structures and tactical subtle policies of suppressing the region and its people. Propaganda and deceit began to be employed by those in power to ember a kind of hate and unhealthy relationship between the minority groups of former Eastern region living in the riverine areas and their Igbo brothers and sisters in the upland of South-East.

Since then, subsequent Nigerian governments in their relationship with the people of South East and their neighbors, have continued to consolidate and build upon this structure of suppression, hate and domination of the region and its people put in place during the Gowon era. Boundary adjustment carried out after the war, tried to ensure that no part of South-East with oil reserve is located within the region.

Economic stagnation of the people of the region has remained the order of the day since the frozen of their bank accounts by the federal government immediately after the war in 1970. Properties of people of South-East which they had in some parts of the country before the war, were declared abandoned properties.

Moreover, marginalization of South-East region in the location of federal government developmental projects and infrastructures have not changed much, fifty years after the war. In all these, the most scandalous remains, the continued absence in the South-East, of functional federal government roads. South-East has no graded International Airports, Sea Ports, and modernized Railway lines. There is a total absence of any significant federal parastatals and factories in the region. No offices of foreign agencies and embassies are located in the region. It is hard to note that commercial cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba have no International (or even local) Airports, Sea Ports and Railway lines. Painfully too, is the fact that for over twenty years, the federal government has been paying a lip service to the construction of the Second Niger Bridge.

The region has the least number of states in the federation. This has consequences in revenue allocation, employment opportunities, and admission into federal schools, high institutions and universities. In addition, South-East states have the highest cut-off marks for admission into federal government schools and universities. This means that children and students from the South-East begin early in life to experience the state-sponsored discrimination attitude against their people in Nigeria.

In terms of inclusive government at the federal level, whether in the executive, legislative and judiciary arms of the government, South-East is totally sidelined. This is a region, all the census done before Nigeria’s political independence from Britain in 1960, ranked as number one, population wise, in the country. Today, they are not only treated as minority but are totally short-changed in the present scheme of things in Nigeria due to government’s anti-developmental policies directed against them as a people and geopolitical zone.

The federal government marginalization and anti-developmental policies directed against the people of South-East assumed an alarming proportion under the present administration. Not only is no one from the South-East considered worthy to be part of the three-arms of the present federal government, but there is no Igbo person among members of the state security council of the nation and the Service Chiefs, composed of the Nigerian army, air force, navy and police. This also applies to Nigerian Customs and Immigrations, among other major federal parastatals, companies and directorates.

Under the present federal government, almost all vital federal offices and departments are occupied by people from a particular zone and religion, the Muslim North of the country. Moreover, when the present administration came on board, its first act was to retire hundreds of senior military officers of the Nigerian army, air force, navy and police force from the South-East. This policy of mass retirement was extended to people of South-East in Customs and immigration departments, among other federal government parastatals and companies.

Therefore, before one accuses one of bigotry or ethnocentrism, let us bear in mind that suppressing our “dangerous past” in the name of being politically correct today is not the right strategy. Because if we do not today dialogue with the past and present mistakes, correct them, they will continue to surge up with relative ease at any least provocation, and hurt us daily. This is the reality, the root cause of what citizens of different ethnic groups in the country are beginning to experience under the present administration.

As the saying goes, ‘God is truth. Whoever chooses truth chooses God and what is of God.’ On the contrary, suppression of the truth comes from the Evil one. Falsehood is from the Devil and things of the Devil. Only the evil ones, enemies of life (and God, source of our life), prefer falsehood to truth. The children of God, live in spirit and truth (John 4:22-24).

– TO BE CONTINUED

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