Chris OnuorahMonday, November 25, 2002


o Nigeria is back in the news. And as usual, it is all for the wrong reasons. Even as I write this, we are told that a body count is going on in Kaduna following days of mayhem unleashed by muslim extremists there. Their reason? Outrage over a newspaper publication suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed would have approved of beauty pageants. For our muslim brothers, a beauty pageant is unislam, immoral and downright unacceptable. By Sunday, reports said the victims of those days of violent rioting had climbed beyond two hundred. Pity the innocent. Even more, pity Nigeria.

It was as if we knew. Just a few days prior to the riots, we warned about a nation in dire straits. We risked being branded prophets of doom. We predicted the possible implosion of a country left in the hands of inept and self-centered people parading themselves as leaders and custodians of democracy. We warned, in the words of Bob Dylan, that "a hard rain is gonna fall." That hard rain is falling now and, believe it or not, it would leave in its wake a great deluge. Unless…

What kind of country is Nigeria? With such great human and national resources, why is it more convinient to destroy than to build? Even the wise ones like Professor Chinua Achebe are agonizing. Only this week, he spoke these words: "We have been given so much abundance by providence that it just seems extraordinary that we should do nothing but shoot ourselves in the foot." Maybe the great writer who once told us "The Trouble with Nigeria" regrets being a Nigerian. Maybe not. But who would blame him if he did?

We are told that the beautiful ones at the center of the storm have left Nigeria for London. Why not? In a country where millions are going hungry and social amenities are almost non-existent, Nigeria had no reason hosting a beauty pageant. This is a classic case of the beauty and the beast. Nigeria, looking so unnecessarily ugly had no reason seeking to share the same bed with these beautiful ones. The queens were smart to have hopped a flight to the civilized world since their hosts had set their house on fire. Somebody should have had a better idea at image-laundrying.

But forgive us if we ask. Were our muslim brothers from the north right to picket the beauty pageant? Yes, if they felt it offended them. Did they reserve the right to protest against their prophet being abused? Sure. And were they right to take the lives of innocent people? No! Don't you smell some hypocrisy and a hidden agenda here?

Kaduna has become one of the flashpoints of Nigeria. Like Kano, Bauchi, Sokoto and other muslim strongholds in the north, it is fast becoming the killing floor of the common man. Remember the sectarian violence that pitched muslims against christians not long ago. Some of us who visited the city after the bloody clashes could not believe the appetite of some for the blood of their fellow human beings. The streets of Kaduna was littered with thousands of burnt corpses. Deep wells once used for domestic purposes were filled with bodies of men, women and children drowned by their assailants. Reminds you of Algeria where islamic fundamentalists wipe out whole families daily. Rows of houses and cars, now dark with soot, stood as evidence of man's dark heart. And to what purpose? To prove man's undying faith in his religion. Well, allahu akbar!

We must acknowledge the fact that the Nigerian media is now filled to the brim with those who found no room in other professions easily passing as journalists. It was irresponsible journalism for a newspaper to have put out a piece disparaging the founder of a certain religion. But retractions having been published more than once, somebody should have sheathed his sword. Again, those still aggrieved could have exercised their right of reply. But this was not to be. Which is why we now have a show of shame on our hands.

The Kaduna riots have very serious implications for Nigeria. It confirms the fear that this country is in serious trouble. It confirms the fact that the islamic north, having lost grip on political power and perhaps the military, would do everything to regain both. Sharia is only one of the many routes to achieving that aim. Mallam Jengedi was amputated for stealing a cow. Amina Lawal must be stoned to death for having a child out of marriage. Things are not much different here from the Afghanistan we witnessed under the Taliban. But who is the judge and who is the jury? The same rich and powerful political class who are stealing their states blind and keeping harems all over the country and overseas? Imagine!

Those of us who have been in the north can tell long tales of men in white caftans who rush out of the mosques after Friday afternoon prayers to nearby christian dominated states. For what? To keep a date with young and willing ladies of the night waiting patiently in furnished apartments rented by alhajis. Check it out. Hotels in the christian parts of the north are always filled to the brim come the weekends. And you know who the guests are. Alcohol is handy too, even inside the kettels meant for washing the faces, hands and feet during periods of fasting. And you know who the consumers are. So what are the sponsors of sharia trying to prove. That they are holier than thou? Please. Saints are rare these days. Bishops and priests are confessing everywhere to all kinds of crimes.

What is clear is that thousands of idle, uninformed but easily influenced minds are being used as ready tools to achieve the devious schemes of those few who see Nigeria as their private property. It does not matter to them that the blood of the innocent is spilled with abandon. It does not matter to them if the nation implodes. All is well as long as they stash their Swiss accounts and remain in firm control of things.

It is a wonder how the curent administration has failed to check the spread of islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria. After the events of September 11, it became clear that religion, especially of the islamic kind was no longer the opium of the people. It is now the plague threatening to devour one and all. Somebody should have raised an eye-brow when state governors began endorsing the amputation of limbs and stoning to death of citizens for common crimes. Someone should have listened when former heads of state now seeking the presidency like General Muhammadu Buhari vowed to die for sharia. Elder statesmen who should preach peace and co-habitation advised those who disapproved of sharia to leave the north. It is not for nothing that the rooster crows at noon. We must warn yet again. The last bad news is yet to be heard of this troubled country. With the crisis spreading to Aba, Owerri and Okigwe, your town could be next. In these days of anarchy, no place is safe anymore.