Kennedy EmetuluTuesday, November 26, 2002
London, UK


aduna, the poster-town of intolerant mass murders has struck again, its bowels yielding forth the morbid frothing of fundamentalist wreckers, who, like overstaying vampires stalk the noonday streets, dripping in blood - blood of the Innocents. By now, anyone with mega-tons of emotional valour has already thrown his/her hat in 'The Ring of Confusion Regarding What To Do With Nigeria From Now On!' But, as usual, after this spate of needless bloodletting - Nigerians killing Nigerians in Nigeria, in the name of religion and ethnic origin, trust me, we'll all soon be back to the graveyard shades, tuning our ears towards news of a repeat. Deja vu may be too mild a term to describe this circular dance of death.

After the last round of killings and mayhem, and with the rumblings coming from the violent protectors of the Prophet this time around - protectors who never hid their intention to be lawless in their protest against Nigeria's hosting of the Miss World pageant, you would have thought a thoughtful government would have mobilized security-wise, especially in the known hotspots, amongst which Kaduna is undoubtedly first. Yet, it only took this excuse of an article in a national newspaper for the prepared script to play out and for the usual security lapses to be exposed.

When I say, "prepared script", I proceed from my understanding that these so-called religious and/or ethnic riots are not spontaneous. In other words, they are part of a calculated reaction, engineered by interest groups and persons who have something to gain from the situation. For instance, from the facts available so far, these latest riots did not start spontaneously with the immediate publication and circulation of the newspaper in question. It took a concerted spreading of the message amongst the violent cadre and injunctions from the mosques. It also involved SMS technology, something not available to the poor and uninformed usually blamed for the killings. We also note how as ThisDay continually churns out apology after apology, so-called Muslim community leaders with official recognition were still not appeased. The government and the security forces again saw the build-up, but did nothing.

Now, let's ask the unpalatable questions. When we speak of these riots, for instance on the religious level as this one is sure to be interpreted, are we talking of the whole or majority of one religion (in this case Muslims) fanning out from all craters in singular pursuit of people or persons of other faiths (Christians, traditional worshippers, etc)? If this were so, it would be an uphill task to explain why after every riot, the Christian/Southern population remain in these places, waiting for the next massacre. How would they be able to justify putting themselves and family at such obvious risk - plan their lives, nurture their ambitions, do their businesses, go to the same market, intermarry, educate their wards and in fact, do all the things that humans who are domiciled in a particular place get to do?

Or is it that a particular core of people, this time large and evidently growing in number, for reasons deeper than they profess, seek and most times get ways to visit violence on particular groups as ways of making political, economic and social statements? Certainly, such a group - the one that organises and executes the violence cannot possibly be acting for themselves, for obvious reasons. If they were, the political leadership of the North as we know it today would have been sunk. This therefore raises the next logical question: if they are not alone, who are those behind them or with them? Why have they remained this successful in disrupting the already testing rhythm of life in our nation? Why does our government react so cowardly to the impulses generated by these happenings from the North?

The answers to these are not far-fetched; in fact, they stare us in the face. We do not have to scratch deep. The godfathers of this violence are the same godfathers of the last and the ones before which have their immediate roots in the politicisation of the Sharia. Whether you choose to believe this or not, the violence, the arrest of the paper's editor and the shifting of the Miss World contest to London is being ticked off as another victory for Sharia. This is not general though, but in the context of the political battle going on in the North, it is significant. The establishment of Sharia by the political leadership was the final battle between the conservative northern political establishment and radical Islamic leaders. Time was when only men like Maitatsine, El Hadj Zaky or Sheikh Gumi could have raised a mob. Their strident indictment of the political leadership, its syncretism and apostasy and the constant warning that they remain the primary targets of the Musli! m Umaa did not go unnoticed. Of course, while the military was still in government, it was still possible to play containment politics with them, but with the return to democracy being muted and indeed organised, the fearful political establishment of the North quickly hatched the plan to hijack the most volatile issue, Sharia, and play the champions. This was their best bet, because, realizing that they could be swamped by the radical preachers, who indeed are their foremost political opponents, seizing their agenda was the easiest way to win over their followers and ensure political survival. Of course, this they couldn't have done if a Northerner was President for obvious reasons - this is about spheres of influence, a Northerner with a national constituency, even if only a convenient claim, will not brook any challenge, religious or otherwise, certainly not from his own people. That was why the predominantly Northern leaderships of the nation were able to contain the rad! ical school all these years.

The plan could only have been possible with a Southerner as President and its success could only have been guaranteed by an agreement-touting Southerner, who has a record of always doing their bidding, eagerly and sometimes grudgingly, and who can be trusted to look the other way while the Northern political leadership do battle with the radical school, an enemy of both the Northern arm of the Nigerian political establishment and its Southern counterparts and, of course, an enemy of peace-loving and law-abiding citizens everywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if Obasanjo had signed 'something' on Sharia in his dealing with the North. The idea may have been sold to him as some kind of coup by the Northern political establishment, his benefactors, to claim the 'moral' high ground from the feared radicals by taking Sharia to the Umaa (even if its hurriedly-put-together provisions in each of the practicing jurisdictions is directed against these same common people), who, in the euph! oria of such 'victory' becomes divided in loyalty, breaking their ranks, amassing political capital for the hitherto hated political establishment, marginalizing the radical leaders while claiming their followers. Of course, Obasanjo with his obvious ignorance of the Constitution and over-dependence on his notorious one-man-wisdom and commonsense may possibly have seen the political gains of the Northern arm of the establishment over the radicals as a means of taking mainstream politics and political thinking to the North (and I say this knowing how paradoxical it sounds). But, what his commonsense may have missed is that when you make a deal with the devil, it is sealed in blood, innocents and all, and you do not make any gain for yourself or anyone else in the real sense of the word, because every beckoning success turns a morbid liability at each closer look!

With the installation of Obasanjo, the Northern political establishment defeated the powerful radical preachers of Islam threatening the normal feudal order with their insistence on a theocracy. By the time they stole the Sharia issue and seemingly made a success of it, they effectively sealed their victory. Yes, they've inherited large numbers of the followings of the radical school, but the bulk of these, like bloodthirsty hounds have to always have opposition and if there isn't any, they'd just have to create one. Religious and quasi-religious activism of the extremist kind is the only thing keeping them 'relevant'. These periodic killings are means of satisfying entrenched cravings of these animals, the cravings they've developed and nurtured under radical Islam of the most negative variety (I say this, because real radical Islam is actually seeking the political mainstream and employing reason and modern political ideas to chart a new anti-establishment course). That is! why we see also that Iran that was and possibly still is the hotbed of the negative breed is also in the forefront of the positive radical school. Anyone following the confrontation between the Mullahs and the reformists there now would know what I mean. In Nigeria, the radical school is lost in a time warp and its following is as fickle as a reed in the wind. What the Northern political establishment did was to throw that following a massive bone, set about playing a Pavlov with them, making them dependent. Yes, they'd continue as before, yes, go out there and kill the 'infidels', but only at the behest of the political leaders, who, having mastered the British formula of indirect rule, pass the message through the mosques and prayer grounds, the same forums the radical preachers had employed with some considerable success before now. However, now, the killer mobs are more organized, because the spin-off of this situation is that there's some official backing. The politici! ans now only yank and release the security services in dictation to the interest of these people, who effectively are the extended arms of their new masters, the political establishment. After all, the only thing the political leader has to do to keep their 'trust' is to build a mosque and, every evening, after he's had the best tuwo shinkafa with his own family in the confines of his palisade, comes out in the open and make a show of sharing what is effectively remnants with all manner of men, beggars, disabled, the down and out. And in all this, Kaduna has to be the catalyst, not only because it used to be the political capital of the old Northern region, but also because here's the only city where virtually every politician and political power broker from the North has a home. This is necessarily where they have to meet with their accursed footmen and organisers, before they fan out to other parts to do their evil biddings

This is the surest way to kill ambition. By this, the Northern political overlord has avoided being asked about the state of schools, hospitals, roads or the people's socio-economic well-being in real terms. Superstition steals the face of God and proclaims him a leader - someone who has been put there by Allah, because, if that weren't the case, he wouldn't be there in the first place. Yes, circular reasoning that makes great sense to people not used to asking many questions. The problem of Nigeria is that the Northern political establishment has mastered how to keep down its own people and unleash sections of them on others at will to make political points. Yes, the actual perpetrators are some kind of victims, but why should they care anymore when now they're no longer hunted as undesirable, but protected in their crimes, and when every evening they're sure of three mouthfuls of tuwo and a mosque to exhibit their 'piety'? Why wouldn't they think the political leader God a! nd the Imam his prophet? Ignorance? You can say that again, but in the North, it works like a song!

Anyone listening to Gana and his boss accuse the international press of conspiracy blah, blah, blah would know it is typical of an abdicating administration, lost in the fog of its self-inflicted helplessness. Of course, the international press is a sensationalist delight any day, but it does not have anything to gain by Nigeria not hosting the over-hyped Miss World affair. From that Bloody Thursday till this day, I have seen full front-page alarms, op-eds and the like giving the impression that Nigeria is an unreconstructed jungle, but that is how the press operates anywhere. It lives and survives on sensation; just give them an excuse! And, Obasanjo and Gana ought to know that this isn't reserved for Nigeria, this is the constant diet. This is how they treat even their own domestic news! It is only a weak government that seeks to blame others for its own obvious failings or clutch on to that pathetic excuse, rather than do the right thing by investing in preventive securit! y and the people's well-being. I do not think the organisers of the pageant are in the business of wasting money by first coming down to Nigeria, spend that much on the publicity blitz and preparation only as part of a so-called conspiracy to finally return it to London. They left because they know that the government's constant mouthing of adequate security is not true; worse could still happen. Rather than endanger themselves and the poor girls in their charge, they opted to leave. After all, what did Obasanjo expect, when, as Kaduna and Abuja burns, he remained ensconced in Lagos and eventually, the first thing he was going to do as a reaction was to appease murderers and rioters with a promise to deal with ThisDay! Obviously, the organizers' security wasn't a priority, so they took the hint and left. Frankly, the way we are quick to see 'international conspiracy' everywhere, one wouldn't be surprised if Obasanjo wakes up tomorrow and, as a means of buttressing this consp! iracy cook-up, points to the fact that the beauty queens were ferreted to London on a chartered Cameroonian airline as proof! After all, Cameroon was the last beneficiary of another Obasanjo-declared international conspiracy at the World Court! Even Abacha did not lose international friends this fast. I think it's time people who love him let him know that he's the one keeping the investments away - him and his peculiar style of responsibility-abdicating leadership.

Lastly, I wouldn't end this without commenting briefly on the tendency for people to constantly call for the balkanisation of Nigeria once we've had any of these shameful bouts of killings. This time is no different. The ethnic-mongers are having a field day telling us, "We told you so". I've heard people speak of the North as "barbaric", proclaiming that there's a "chasm" of civilization, which cannot be bridged, the only solution being for the North and South to go their separate ways. I've heard people speak in very stereotypical terms about Muslims and what they believe and so on and so forth. And, of course, these are not new - these are the things they say each time we come to this sorry pass. But aren't they avoiding the real issues? Should a group of people, not representing the whole of the North or Muslims hold us to ransom? Why aren't we speaking of the responsibility of government to prevent or arrest the situation before it came to this? Why aren't we talking ab! out this same government's abdication to political Sharia, even as the Constitution limits its practice and jurisdiction to only certain civil matters? Is the so-called South that homogenous that we should expect a honky-dory relationship between all its constituent parts when the hated North is excised? Would God-fearing, people-friendly politicians and institutions suddenly sprout from its grounds once the North is gone?

The truth is, it is a waste of time and effort to always go back to balkanisation as solution, if for nothing else, for the simple reason that those who are calling for it today are not in a position to effect it psychologically and physically (if we are talking a peaceful split) and if we speak of this as outright wars of secession, terrible must be the only word that comes to mind. We would do well to channel our anger and energy towards insisting on constitutionalism and the rule of law, no matter whose horse is gored. We have nurtured this idea of Nigeria long enough to know that the problem is not between individual Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Birom or Igbo man or woman. Left to themselves they get along fine, as our history of pre-colonial trade, intermarriages and cultural and social interaction shows. But, when the vote-seeking but criminally inept politician comes along and plants his only assets, which are the seeds of discord and divide and rule, what you get is what we ! have.

This, to the inept and thieving politicians is the surest way of ensuring that civil society remains unable to build and nurture the solidarity needed to challenge them successfully and right the wrongs they have visited and are still visiting on our nation. The day we the angry people of the South, the North, the East, the West, the South-South, South-East, Middle-Belt, North-East or wherever realize that our enemies are not our neighbours, but those fumbling characters and ruling 'dynasties' that have seized the centre, and once we the short-changed people decide to do something about it, rather than these impotent periodic outbursts or the endemic routine of just flowing along in the wind, that very day, Nigeria will begin to look like the country of our dream. And, in achieving that dream, the cry for balkanisation is effectively a diversion, which plays nicely into the hands of the national bloodsuckers. Of course, I say this without prejudice to those who are calling f! or a national conference, a weak centre, confederation or any other kind of arrangement meant to balance the skewed structure that is Nigeria. I think these ones must be encouraged, because anyone with an elementary sense of justice must agree that the Nigerian federal relationship, in theory and practice, needs a massive review for us to actually begin to achieve our national potential.