FEATURE ARTICLE

Rev. Fr. Francis Anekwe OborjiWednesday, April 18, 2018
foborji@hotmail.com
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)

THE MESSAGE OF EASTER: IMPLICATIONS FOR NIGERIA’S “DANGEROUS MEMORIES” – PART 2

Continued from Part 1

ope Francis, addressing the youth in his homily at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican this Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018, told them not to keep silent over the hypocrisy of the older people, when the later may want to manipulate them and the truth, to keep them silent. According to the Pope:

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed, and there are many ways to keep them quiet: to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive … But the youths have it in them to shout, even if we older people and leaders, very often corrupt, keep quiet.” (Pope Francis, “Palm Sunday Homily”, March 25, 2018).

Our starting point remains the passage from Matthew’s Gospel about the efforts in futility of the authorities of that era to silence the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from death, from being announced to the world. (Matthew 28: 11-15).

In this part 2 of our article, we shall continue from where we stopped in part 1. We shall expatiate on the implications of the Easter message of the triumph of life over death, and of truth over falsehood, for Nigeria today. Thereafter, we shall proffer some way out for rebuilding the battered Nigerian political landscape in the light of this Easter message of victory of Christ over death and sin, and of good over evil.

The victory of truth over falsehood is the focus of the article. This, we shall discuss by emphasizing the importance of youth participation in national debate and the need for our leaders and older people not to scuttle it in whatever disguise.

In all, however, the aim is to address the importance of reconciliation and healing of Nigeria’s “dangerous historical memories”, the importance of participation of all, old and young, in national debate for Nigeria’s rebirth. The continued efforts of those at the corridors of power to suppress our historical past and memory as a nation, and to crackdown on government critics, is viewed in this article as an antithesis for the emergence of Nigeria as a truly united, peaceful and prosperous modern state.

As the last “Palm Sunday homily” of Pope Francis cited above shows, it is wrong to shout down on people who tell us the truth, or manipulate them, especially, our youth who are looking for justice and fair-play for their people and nation. In our Nigerian context, therefore, the question could go like this: Who is a Nigerian promoter of hate-speech (or unpatriotic citizen), and who is a positive Nigerian thinker (or patriotic citizen)?

Is an “unpatriotic citizen” the person who denounces the hypocrisy of those old folks and leaders that have been holding Nigeria captive? And “a patriotic citizen” in this case, that individual who keeps silence, conceals, allies with, and paints good the hypocrisy of the older people and leaders?

This means that efforts, sometimes pursued by those in the corridors of power to scuttle youths’ channel of communication and means of participation in national debate, e.g., social media, is ill-willed. The fact is that social media as it is now, is dominated by the younger generation. It affords them the forum and opportunity to be protagonists in the socio-political and economic transformation of their society. The authorities have been doing all in their power to scuttle and control this youth participation in the social and political discussion in Nigeria. But that is for a selfish end of the older generation and leaders, those who have been keeping the country backward. Thus, let us learn to be on the part of free speech for all, and promoters of constructive dialogue, and not condemnation or deceit

Easter: The Feast of “Memoria Jesu Christi”

The primary argument of this article is based on the “memoria passionis, mortis, et resurrectionis Jesu Christi”, as the foundation and center of the faith and life of Christians in the society. In our Nigerian context, the challenge of Easter message is this: how do we as Christians and children of God express and live this faith, the “memoria Christi”, its central and specific significance, in freedom and truth in the country today? It is through witnessing and living out our faith and freedom as children of God that Christians actualize in their lives and society, the “memoria passionis, mortis, et resurrectionis Jesu Christi.”

Johann Baptist Metz, the famous German theologian, had this in mind, when he said, that to be a Christian is to witness to the dangerous and liberating memory of Jesus Christ in our lives and society. According to Metz, through their witness to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians:

“Faithfully remember the testament of his love, in which God’s dominion among men and women appeared precisely in the fact that the dominion that human beings exercise over one another began to be pulled down. And that Jesus declared himself to be on the side of the invisible ones, those who are rejected and oppressed, and in so doing announced to them God’s coming dominion as the liberating power of an unconditional love.”

Therefore, as Christians, one must know that the “memoria Jesu Christi” does not dispense one from taking risks for the future in his or her society today. The “memoria Jesu Christi” is no bourgeois counterfigure to hope. “On the contrary, it holds a particular anticipation of the future as a future for the hopeless, the shattered and oppressed. In this way, it is a ‘dangerous and liberating memory’, which badgers the present and calls it into question.”

In other words, the “memoria Jesu Christi” which we celebrate at Easter and during the Eucharistic offering on the altar, does not remember just any open future. On the contrary, it remembers precisely this future – the dangerous and liberating memory of Jesus Christ, the “memoria passionis, mortis, et resurrectionis Jesu Christi.”

This means that our witnessing to, or rather remembering the dangerous and liberating memory of the Risen Christ, is a call to mission of Christians in the society. This is because it compels believers to be in a continual state of transformation of themselves and their society in order to take this future into account in the present. “The criterion for their being authentically Christian would thus be the liberating but also redemptive dangerousness with which they introduce the remembered freedom of Jesus into contemporary society, its forms of consciousness, and its life praxis.”

Christians, therefore, are the public memory of Jesus’ freedom in the “systems” of our suffering and emancipating world. This means that Christians and churches should always remember that they are indebted to this freedom – the dangerous and liberating memory of Jesus Christ. In short, this is the mystery Christians remember and celebrate at Easter.

In other words, Easter is the celebration of how Jesus Christ achieved the redemption of the world and humankind through the event of the Cross and Resurrection, and through it, entrusted us with the task of transforming our lives and society shaped by the Paschal mystery. It is the feast of how Jesus Christ through the Cross-Event, cancelled our sins which had separated us from God and His original plan of salvation for us and the whole world. Easter is the Christians’ celebration of our reconciliation with God through Christ who died on the Cross for our eternal salvation.

By accepting to die on the Cross for our salvation, Christ separated us from that which had separated us from God. After the ‘original sin’ of the first parents of humankind, Adam and Eve, human beings lost the beatific vision and the filial relationship with the Creator. Since then, sin entered the world and human beings lost the beatific vision. By dying on the Cross for our salvation, Christ separated us from sin (which had separated from God), and once more, reunited us with God.

Therefore, because of sin, human beings lost the grace and strength from God to save themselves and achieve their redemption. This sorry situation of human beings, which was not the original plan of God for His created world, could only be redeemed by God Himself by sending His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to the world as our redeemer, reconciler and savior.

Jesus Christ achieved all these things for humankind by dying on the Cross, and through it defeated sin which caused the fall of humankind and brought death on earth in the first place. By defeating sin and death through the Cross-Event, Christ reconciled us with God and restored us to our lost friendship with God Himself, which sin tried to damage.

Therefore, through the Cross-Event, Christ became the mediator and protagonist of our salvation. Through it, He made us participants of the inner-life of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Blessed Trinity. He made us co-heirs with Him in the Kingdom of His Father, which he inaugurated for us through His incarnation, life, passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection.

What is the relevance of the Easter message in addressing the ongoing rage in Nigeria today?

Easter Message and Nigeria’s Dangerous Memories

Through the ongoing terrorism of the dreaded Boko Haram and deadly Fulani herdsmen militants marauding all over the country, almost every segment and region of Nigeria is beginning to experience what the people of former Eastern region that constituted the Biafran enclave, experienced fifty years ago and continued to experience ever since.

Be it in the North-East, North-West, North-Central (Middle Belt, Southern Kaduna), South-West and the Mid-West regions, all are now experiencing the result of the failure of the Nigerian state to address the Biafran question with justice and fair-play. Unfortunately, these regions united among themselves fifty years ago to wage the war against Biafrans. Today, it would seem, is their turn to experience something closer to the fate of people of Biafra, fifty years ago at the hands of the same Nigerian state, these other people fought to protect.

Today, almost all of those regions, which united to wage war against Biafra are beginning to see what the people of Biafra saw fifty years ago. Each one of them is now asking for justice, freedom, equity, and security of lives and properties for their people in their respective regions.

The truth of the matter about Nigerian nation state is now at the doorpost of people of those other regions that participated in waging the war against the Biafrans, fifty years ago. The same people that used them to wage the war against the Biafrans have now turned against them. All the segments of the country are now experiencing the same plight for which the people of Biafra were massacred and labelled rebels fifty years ago. It is as if “karma” has befallen the nation because of mistakes of the past.

In other words, people of those regions used to wage the war against Biafrans, are now advocating the principle of “self-defense through arms struggle.” Some of them have gone to the extent of saying, “everybody to his tent.” This could be likened to a call for ‘anarchy’ in the country, but God forbid. However, it all points to the present reality of Nigeria as a nation state. It is as if Nigeria is already a failed state, a nation looking for redemption and savior.

For example, just few days ago, the Nigerian Newspapers and social media were awash with the rage of T.Y. Danjuma, former Minister of Defense, and one of the key actors of the war against Biafrans. Following the recent incessant killings of his people of Taraba State in the North East region by the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group, Danjuma is calling on his people of Taraba State to begin to ‘carry arms for self-defense.’ Both the federal government officials, extremist Muslims, the military and some individuals did not take it kindly with him for advocating such a thing at this time of Nigeria’s fragile history.

Be that as it may, and as is often the case with sentiments of this kind in Nigeria, some individuals from the Eastern part of the country had to remind Danjuma of his role as a key participant in the execution of the Biafran pogroms and killing of the then head of state, General Aguiyi Ironsi, fifty years ago at Ibadan. Danjuma was reminded by his critics, that he is yet to atone for the crime against humanity he committed against the people of Biafra during the Nigeria-Biafra conflicts. This is just to see how charged the Nigerian political landscape, still is, fifty years after the civil war.

Paul Unongo of Benue State was reminded similar thing following the speech he delivered during the mass burial at Makurdi of over 70 persons killed by the Fulani herdsmen militants in Benue in early January this year. Unongo spoke of how Benue State was the highest contributor of men and women to the Federal troops that waged the war against Biafra between 1967 and 1970. In lamenting the killings of his Benue people today by the same Fulanis with whom they allied with, fifty years ago to execute the war against the Biafrans, Unongo said that, “Benue people have still the capacity to raise one million armed men and women as soldiers in a day today to defend themselves against the marauding Fulani herdsmen militants.”

However, critics were quick to remind Unongo of his people’s active role in the Biafran pogroms during the war. He was also reminded that as a Chairman of the Arewa Elders’ Forum, he Unongo castigated the pro-Biafran youth movement, IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu, supported the Federal government and Nigerian military operation (codified Python Dance II), invasion of Abia State in the South-East in August 2017, that led to the massacre of many Igbo youths.

Those mass killings of Igbo youths in August last year 2017 at Abia State carried out by the military is still to be atoned by the Nigerian state. And the fact that the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB since the military invasion of his ancestral home in Umuahia, during the Python Dance II military operation, is yet to be accounted for and acknowledged by the Federal Government and the military, complicates the case all the more.

These are just few examples of how charged the Nigerian state is today. There are many of such examples, the war of words and language of anger and bitterness being exchanged today between people (especially, and painfully too, among younger generations) of different regions and ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Nigerians of different ethnic nationalities today exchange those bitter words at any least provocation, simply because the older people and political actors do not want to address the nation’s “dangerous historical memories.” As long as we ignore that aspect of Nigerian history, it will continue to hurt us daily and remain a potent toxic weapon that may blow off the country anytime, unless when addressed and resolved here and now.

The present polarized and charged socio-political atmosphere in the country is very much visible in the selective way, individual Nigerian media houses, Newspapers, Television and Radio stations, whether online or traditional, often choose whose authors to accept their contributions for publication, while ignoring the other. These days a good number of Nigerian media houses, Newspapers, Television and Radio stations are just on business to serve a particular purpose of the ethnic group or political party of their founders and proprietors.

Again, due to intimidation from the government, some of the Nigerian media houses are increasingly assuming the role of propaganda outlet of those at the corridors of power, while maligning the other hated ethnic group. Hardly do the mainline media houses and Newspapers nowadays, publish contributions of some courageous social critics and especially, of writers from the Eastern region, who discuss most of these core issues that are still holding down Nigeria as a modern nation state.

These things happen today, largely, because of those unhealed wounds of Nigeria-Biafra war. No matter how we may attempt to suppress them, they all point to the naked truth and fact that all is not well with the Nigerian state. Pretending otherwise, is like living in a fool’s paradise.

Therefore, the best way out is for everyone to come clean on these issues so that we can begin national dialogue for true reconciliation and healing to happen. To address the present-day problem of Nigeria we need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past, dialogue with our “dangerous memories” as a people and nation. Only in so doing, shall we be in a position to see the need for justice to victims of the Biafran pogroms as well as to those of the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorism in recent times.

Again, the aim of such a dialogue will be to correct the mistakes of the past for true national reconciliation and healing of our “dangerous memories.” This is the essence of national dialogue and reconciliation. It pains that fifty years after the Nigeria-Biafra war hostilities had ended, no “mea culpa” of any kind had been contemplated by the wrongdoers of that war.

Painfully too, is the fact that no national monument or cenotaph of any major significance is erected to honor the victims of that war. No compensations of any kind had been paid to the survivals of the Biafran pogroms. What all these mean is that the victims of that war, both the living and the death among them, are still crying for justice.

Furthermore, it is very painful that the Nigerian state is treating with hand gloves the cry of the victims of the activities of the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen terrorists. The abusive use of semantics by those at the corridors of power and their cohorts to describe as mere ‘herdsmen/farmers clash’, the ongoing Fulani herdsmen terrorism in various parts of the country, is a sign that majority of our leaders and elites have decided to succumb to the deceptive tactics of the devil.

Furthermore, the fact that Federal Government is using negotiations, amnesty and payment of ransoms of billions of Dollars to engage with the Boko Haram terrorists’ group instead of confronting them fire-to-fire as Americans are doing with Al Qaeda and the ISIS, and the Kenyans with the Al Shabaab Islamic terrorists’ organizations, complicates Nigerian problem all the more. It beats the imagination to think how Nigerian government may be boosting the financial strength of the Boko Haram terrorists’ group with the money it pays them as ransoms for the release of their captives or for the so-called negotiated cease-fire and amnesty.

By the way, why was the Nigerian government quick in proscribing IPOB, the non-violent pro-Biafra youth movement, tagging it terrorist organization? The IPOB members in all their rallies and activities have never shed any blood or disturbed the public peace. This is a non-violent group asking for self-determination of their people through the legal means of referendum. All that IPOB was seeking and asking for was a legal means to determine the way forward for their people. Why Nigerian government has refused to engage them in dialogue and negotiations still beats the imagination!

But the same Federal Government that was quick in proscribing and tagging IPOB terrorist group, have never condemned or tagged as terrorists, the Fulani herdsmen militants who move about with AK47, killing people and destroying farmlands with their cows. None of these herdsmen militants and killers had been arrested or brought to justice. Rather for the present Federal Government of Nigeria, we should all accommodate these killers-herdsmen in our neighborhood as fellow citizens and brothers.

Fulani herdsmen militants move around freely all over the country. Not even ordinary and peace-loving citizens are allowed to carry arms for self-defense. But the Fulani herdsmen militants move around freely with AK47, killing innocent citizens without fear of being arrested by the security agencies. What type of country can allow such a thing like this and expect to have peace and progress?

Again, Boko Haram terrorists that were put in prison under Goodluck Jonathan administration are today given amnesty by the present Federal Government. But many Igbo youths of IPOB arrested during their non-violent and peaceful rallies since the present administration came on board are still languishing in various Nigerian prisons. Again, why come it that IPOB, a non-violent pro-Biafra youth movement, is proscribed as terrorist group but the Arewa youth that issued the pre-genocidal quit notice last year to the Igbos to quit the North or risk been massacred, were not proscribed or even charged to court till date? This is one Nigeria! What a country is this?

Considering all these, it is obvious that the country cannot continue with ‘business as usual.’ Something urgent needs to be done and quickly too. People of almost all the segments of the country are now bitter and annoyed by the situation of things in the country, especially, with regard to issues of security, freedom, justice and equity. The key to addressing these issues lies in dialogue with our suppressed “dangerous history and memories” as a nation state. This is the truth of the matter!

The Rage of the Nigerian Youth

The issues discussed above are gradually, being talked about today, especially, by our young people through the social media and among themselves. The older generations and especially the leaders should learn to accommodate and listen to them. The salvation of Nigeria is not far from these issues talked about today by our youths and other courageous individuals in the social and some traditional media or press.

Government should stop witch-hunting these courageous men and women of the country who are making their contribution to the national debate through the social and traditional media. They are doing an essential work for the Nigerian state and all of us. Without their courageous constructive contribution and criticisms, the country will sink deeper and deeper into abyss: It may soon or later, become a fully blown tyrannical and dictatorial fiefdom, a failed nation state, if we do not take care.

The fact is that after over fifty years of Nigeria-Biafra war the ghost of the atrocities committed during that war of fratricidal is still very much with us and not ready to go away. This means that something urgent need to be done to heal those wounds of the war, otherwise the country will continue to live in denial.

Yes, truth is bitter. But it is only truth that will set us free. Let us as a nation state stop being afraid of the truth about our dear country, otherwise one may, by commission or omission, be perpetuating tyrannical culture and dictatorship in Nigeria.

Things are the way they are today in Nigeria, because of the denial of history by our successive leaders who have been piloting the affairs of the country since after the war. As we said before, they have continued to maintain the war situation in different disguise through draconian government polices directed mainly against the people of the region that lost the war. This is the situation today.

Keeping silence over these issues today, or suppressing them, and pretending they do no matter, while in reality they are still the bedrock upon which modern Nigeria had been functioning, is like living in perpetual denial of our “dangerous past and memories.” No nation can progress living in denial of its past and historical memory.

Therefore, one would like to suggest, now that open discussion have resumed in all sides and all regions of the country are beginning to experience what had been the lot of the people of the former Eastern region in Nigeria since 1966, we should learn to listen to all sides for real dialogue to commence.

In this way, we shall be preparing ground for new crop of leaders imbued with people oriented-wisdom and healing project to emerge at the Nigerian political scene. Employing abusive words, military impunity and recklessness, and illegal crackdown on individuals who are expressing their frustrations on the way things are presently going on in Nigeria, is not the right strategy. Infesting our towns and villages with the terror organizations such as Boko Haram Islamist extremists and the marauding Fulani herdsmen militants, in a desperate bid to maintain power by a particular region and ethnic-nationality, has proved to be the worst thing ever to have happened to Nigeria since 100 years of its creation as a nation state by Britain.

Therefore, silencing government critics is not the best way to move Nigeria forward. Government should rather, learn to listen and accommodate all sides, even when it hurts. This is the essence of democratic rule.

Moreover, as things are today in Nigeria, no knowledge or discussion of how to move the country forward should be dismissed with a wave of hands. To do so is to submit ourselves and people to the evil machinations of those who are behind all the bloodbath and killings of innocent citizens that have become almost the second nature of Nigeria since the present federal government came on board.

Although, no one should subscribe to raising of alarms where it is not necessary, however, knowledgeable individuals know that in Nigeria today, human life, especially those of Christians and non-Fulanis, are not given adequate protection and security they deserve from the present administration. To deny this naked truth about Nigeria today is to live in a fool’s paradise.

The country is today in a very critical situation where those entrusted with the leadership of security of lives and promotion of welfare of the people have reneged in their constitutional duty. The events since the last few years, for example, indicate that the leadership of the country has lost sense of humanity and value of human life.

So, any credible information and knowledge of our history as a nation state that may be coming out from the social media discussion nowadays, should not be handled with hand-gloves. They need serious attention as they need also scrutiny before rejecting them as a mere propaganda or fake news.

No doubt, because of recent happenings in the country, a good number of our people have resigned to their fate. Majority of the people are no longer interested about any media news from Nigeria. This is because news coming from Nigeria these days, may be anything but negative, reporting on daily basis, the ongoing bloodbath and violence of terrorists groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen militants against innocent citizens, and the inability of those in power to address the issue.

However, as citizens we should not shy away from what is happening in our country. It is our onerous duty and responsibility to address the issues besetting our country, in whatever legitimate way one can as a citizen. We should not succumb to resignation. Neither should one tag any disturbing news about the country, propaganda or fake, without getting an informed knowledge of it. It is our duty to inform ourselves of what is going on in our country, and to use our God-given wisdom and talents to address the challenges facing us as a people and nation.

In other words, we should be careful, no doubt, in swallowing any news out there, especially in this digital age of social and corrupt traditional media and press. Yet, let us not dismiss with wave of hands, any disturbing news about the present precarious situation of Nigeria.

So whoever has some useful and authentic information or news report about the happenings in Nigeria or on how to move the country forward, should not shy away from sharing them with the rest of brothers and sisters. Your information, for example, when shared with larger society may be the ‘saving-grace’ for the survival of the uninformed poor masses and society in general.

Suppressing the Truth Is NOT the Answer

Often times, we human beings have the tendency to suppress the truth when it does not serve our particular and narrow purpose. As the gospel of Matthew cited at the beginning of this article teaches us, human beings prefer falsehood to truth just for a selfish end. Falsehood, as we know, serves a very narrow goal and negates the general good of the people.

Falsehood and lie go together. A liar, as the saying goes, ‘has no long memory but a very short one.’ A liar does all in his power to suppress the truth in order to promote falsehood. A liar has no sense of history. He has no memory. He negates the ‘historical memory’ of the people and chooses the path of falsehood and lie. Even where he knows the historical memory of the people, since it is not in his favor, he does everything in his power to suppress it, even if it means shedding blood of the innocent.

Falsehood and lie are cruel and wicked. They produce tyranny and dictatorship. Again, falsehood is not people-oriented but evil. Indeed, it is death-oriented. The tendency to choose falsehood over truth is from the Devil.

Conclusion

Easter is the Christians’ feast of the triumph of life over death and sin through Jesus Christ. Cognizes of what our dear country Nigeria is currently passing through, the Easter message of the triumph of life over death is very crucial for us in Nigeria today. It is the message that confronts us with the courage and challenge of dialoguing with our historical memory, even if that historical memory is not sympathetic to our selfish and narrow ends.

As a people and nation, our resurrection and rebuilding of our country could only occur when we begin to address our “dangerous history” in truth and spirit. We shall continue to deceive ourselves and retard the development of Nigeria as long as we continue to suppress the “dangerous historical memories” of the country. As the saying goes, “there is salvation in history.” The salvation of Nigeria lies in its history, especially, in its ‘suppressed history.’

Nigeria needs urgently, a political structure and leaders that will prioritize inclusive leadership, freedom, honesty, equity, peace, justice, reconciliation, healing, security and love of all citizens irrespective of differences in religion, ethnicity, political or philosophical inclinations. May God through the merits of the Paschal mystery of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, help us to work out people-oriented political structure and give us good leaders! Amen.

Today, Nigeria’s political landscape is crying out for people-oriented leaders, imbued with wisdom, foresight, strength of mind and character, leaders that value life, dignity of human person, and respect the diversity of the Nigerian people. May God help us in Nigeria to get such leaders! Amen.

Finally, may the blood of innocent Nigerians slaughtered by the terrorists Boko Haram insurgents and their Fulani herdsmen militant counterparts, find rest and peace in the Risen Christ! May the merciful God through the merits of the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, console all the communities and families of those who lost their loved ones through the murderous activities of these terrorists groups in Nigeria! May God save our land and people from the activities and evil machinations of these terrorists and their sponsors! Amen.

This is our Easter prayer and good wishes to everyone and the nation.

Happy Easter to all. – CONCLUDED

Continued from Part 1

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