Laolu Akande's Journal

The outrage is not new, but nonetheless provoking. These people believe that they must always have their way, and in the ignoble pursuit, violence is game, so too is premeditated murder and what not.
Monday, November 25, 2002

Laolu Akande


That has now become a legitimate question.

ou had to listen to the coverage that CNN, MSNBC and Fox cable channels gave the news of the changing of the Miss World venue from Abuja to London. The CNN presenter who sat in for Aaron Brown last Friday said Nigeria is known for injustice. It was the kind of commentary that you were used to from the western media in the gory days of Abacha dictatorship. It is not the kind of commentary meant for a democratic government.

I think the Nigerian experiment is really on the tethers of disintegration again. I do not know, nor would I ever want to understand why the fanatics in the North would have to be indulged this far. It is completely unacceptable and totally repugnant to the good name and lofty aspiration of those who seek out for a strong and united Nigeria.

We all know the story. The fanatics in the North did not want the beauty pageant in Nigeria. They fought tooth and nail to prevent the hosting rights from going to Nigeria. They lost, but did not relent.

It was as though they were looking for a canon fodder when the Thisday story was published about what could be the likely preferences of Prophet Mohammed among those beautiful girls. And after that piece was published the previous Saturday, those agent provocateurs and their evil cohorts must have carefully engaged in a campaign of treachery, mobilising the rogues and those hapless folks to set mischief afoot.

The first question to raise is this: why was there no prevention by the security agencies since, as we all now know that, it took time for those hoodlums and religious bandits to be mobilised? How many of those who perpetrated the mayhem could read and write? It had to take some literate zealots to 'miseducate' the critical mass of the violent protesters who wrought this havoc starting from Thisday bureau in Kaduna and later proceeded to ignite another religious conflagration in other parts of Kaduna and later Abuja. Imagine the lives lost because of such a wanton lawlessness and authoritarian ruthlessness?

In a decent society, those who have issues with the Thisday article would have sought redress in a civil way and there are openings in the Nigerian media and legal system to pursue such redress. But because this is a well oiled hegomonistic, premeditated and orchestrated crisis, they did what they planned to do and eventually laughed away Friday night when the competition was moved to London.

The outrage is not new, but nonetheless provoking. These people believe that they must always have their way, and in the ignoble pursuit, violence is game, so too is premeditated murder and what not.

And why is this always their stock-in-trade? Simple: they never get prosecuted! Have you heard yet about any arrests of those who disturbed the peace in Kaduna, or those who committed arson on Thisday's office? No. But we have heard of the arrest of Simon Kolawole, editor of Thisday on Saturday. Of all those killings in Zaki-Bam and in Jos and everywhere else where there were religious conflicts, how many completed prosecuted cases had been recorded? I would hope to be informed if there were any at all.

So that once there were no consequences for religious violence, then it becomes a regular weapon in the hands of those who wish to use it to make a statement of political ascendancy and imposition. It is a culture of impunity, which is now license for those people to do as they jolly well wish whatever what law is breached.

I have been engaged in private debates among colleagues and friends in the media about the propriety of that Thisday story. I defend the right of the press to report and write freely as deemed fit. But I also advocate some sense of peculiar restraint considering the Nigerian situation.

But we cannot push that too far as to ignore where the real cankerworm lies in this matter, which is definitely not in the media, but in the violent outburst of religious maniacs. It would be a perversion to proceed to detain the journalists in this matter and do nothing to bring to book those who directly broke the law in the most blatant and flagrant manner. I hear some of the journalists involved have resigned their jobs and even apologised. So what about those who took matters into their hands practically, violating, killing, maiming and displacing numerous innocent people?

Truly the problem with those who blame Thisday for this crisis is that in Nigeria we have gotten used to a culture of impunity upon which religious violence feeds. How many acts of vandalism and murder from such crises had ever been pursued to their judicially logical conclusion? We hear people say we should have known that these fanatics would hit the roof and go haywire, and so the press should modulate itself to prevent trouble. I will take that to heart as an interim measure, but would actively clamor that those who break the peace must of a necessity be brought to justice. There should be and ought not be any equivocation or circumlocution about this.

No government is worth its name if it fails to enforce the basic rudiments of the law, namely protection of lives and property. Without that security, society is going nowhere.

But for the grace of God, that country ought to be history, if some people think they can only express themselves with their bloody fists.

Which brings me to the Obasanjo administration in all this. I pity the man. CNN reported him to have made last minute frantic efforts to convince the organisers of the pageant to keep the event in Nigeria. Yes, I pity him, but such fire brigade response is typical of our rulers. I think the pain and the shame that his government must suffer-and the ignominy, which all Nigerians at home and abroad would have to share in all this, would perhaps reveal to him his folly.

God bless the soul of Uncle Bola Ige today. He was about the person who blazed the trail and spoke without equivocation against those Sharia judgements, which condemned poor defenseless, harmless, hapless and oppressed women to stoning. Obasanjo sat there for over three years and dithered on the Sharia rule that clearly portrays this nation as the worst in terms of human rights. Some may say it is not politically correct for him to handle the matter candidly since he wanted a second term. But we thought the guy coming to power for the second time would just do what is right and let the chips fall where they may. I thought that was how generals behaved.

But then this matter goes beyond Obasanjo, and for that reason I would not blame him alone. I would blame every southern politician and leader who has failed to confront this Northern hegemonic dragon that is sure to bring Nigeria to certain ruination at this rate. I would blame all those who have willy-nilly stood in the way of a restructuring of that country. I would blame all those who have campaigned against the idea of Nigerians sitting down as a civil lot to map out the basis of our union. I would blame the National Assembly that lost all expectations of legitimacy in three short years, and who suddenly woke up to the idea of amending the constitution in a way that changes the rule in the midst of the game. Those ones!

The Northern intolerance of opposing views has to stop now. And if you look at it, the ordinary people of the North themselves do need liberation. Their main political elite had simply been parasitic; they live large on the ignorance of their own people. We must honestly pity those poor Northern folks.

In the past few weeks I had been so depressed about the Nigerian situation, that I deliberately took my focus elsewhere. But ironically I still wanted to speak of hope even in that depression. I thought that behind a cloudy layer, there must be a silver lining. I wanted to say that I would continue to root for Nigeria. I wanted to say that Nigeria would survive all this 'katakata.' I was seeking hope from a seeming state of terminal despair. And now this: because some people hate the Miss World Competition coming to Nigeria, they must kill and bring opprobrium to all those who are called Nigerians?

It is a great outrage and I now want to state it clearly without any equivocation, that we can surely forget about Nigeria, if those of us who wish to continue to champion its unity are put in a position that we would have to defend our own humanity in the midst of a decent world. I definitely don't want to belong to people who are ready and willing to stone a woman to death for whatsoever the reason may be. I do not want to belong with a bunch of people who can only express themselves in violence, unmitigated violence for that matter. No, I am by the grace of the Almighty better endowed than that.

Now that they have aborted an event that stood the chance of showcasing what is good about Nigeria to the world, what else is left of a country I strove to love? We shall see.