By Mike Kebonkwu Esq
“First they came for the communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a communist
Then they came for the socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak for me”
– Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemoller (1892- 1984).
I cannot find a better way to drive this piece on our indifference to the bad politics of using religion to divide the country than the illuminating words of Niemoller above, January, 6 1946. Friedrich Gustav Niemoller was a Protestant pastor who initially supported the Nazis’ Third Reich until the Church lost its power to state authority. He was himself detained by the Third Reich on several occasions. As the saying goes, what goes around comes around.
The dominant discourse in our polity today is religion as the base line of or determinant of 2023 Presidential election. The political demagogues and ruling elites have weaponized religion and ethnicity to drive their ambition. From ages, religion has always been an elixir and opium of the people through which they escape from reality and remain under dominion of their oppressors as if under spell. The ethno-religious dichotomy, insecurity and other domains in the crisis situation in the country today was primed a long time ago but we chose to ignore the signs even as they feed on our fragile unity. We seem to have the DNA of these divisions subconsciously and play the ostrich, thinking it may never get to us but, lo and behold, the entire country has come under relentless siege.
When the Boko Haram insurgents harvested herds of female students in their numbers from Chibok in 2014, we did nothing, except for the “Bring Back our Girls” activists whom the government branded and stigmatized just to isolate them. The movement has since fizzled out while a good number of the girls remain in captivity; married off to people they never knew. They came for Dapchi where Leah Sharibu has remained a martyr of faith and we did nothing. When they came for the school in Kankara, we did nothing. In their own case, fortune smiled on the students as they were in captivity for a more tolerable period; even though some of them vowed never to go back to school. There are several other instances of mass kidnap and abductions of school children and adults alike which are not reported and they remain in captivity.
As time rolled by, the bandits and insurgents upped their game and stake as they launched audacious attacks and derailed Abuja-Kaduna bound train, harvesting people into captivity for huge ransom. That is not to talk about the dehumanizing treatment and torture meted out to children, women and the elderly amongst them. Dozens of passengers were killed in that great train robbery. They have been receiving their check-off in ransom from victims’ families and have made demands on government and threatened to capture or kidnap Mr President and his cousin in Kaduna State if their demands are not met.
We should not take their threat lightly because they have the capacity to drive their threat home and have always done that. They have launched attack on the Kuje Correctional Facility (Prison) in Federal Capital Territory, and have ambushed the elite Presidential Guards, some of the finest warriors within the Federal Capital territory.
Commuting on our roads is the highest risk anyone can take in Nigeria today in any part of the country. You travel with fear and trepidation because you may fall into the hands of the merciless head hunters and terrorists, bandits, insurgents, armed robbers, ritual killers and unknown gunmen. We have done nothing as collectives, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other rights activists. We have not marched on the National Assembly or the Presidential Villa because it has not happened to us. I was billed for an official engagement in Zaria; our good old city hoping to go by road from Abuja. Some of my friends were alarmed, while others felt I had gone bonkers to contemplate such a voyage which, in their mind, they likened to a journey of-no-return like a character in Soyinka’s “A Forest of a Thousand Daemons”. That is how bad it is.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired General and a two time head of government in Nigeria is an enigma of a sort; love him or hate him! Although I am not one of his fans, no one can take it away from him that he is a patriot who understands the anatomy of Nigeria psyche. Chief Obasanjo had the opportunity to arrest the drift into admixture of religion and politics which fuelled the insurgency and banditry in the north. But he dismissed Sani Yerima’s manipulation of religion for political relevance as political Sharia that would fizzle out. Ahmad Sani Yerima chopped off the hand of Mr Jangebi for stealing a goat while but could not anticipate nor prevent bandits taking advantage of solid minerals and gold in the state. “We” did nothing because we thought we were too far away from Zamfara. Instead, the Sharia ideology gained traction when religious and political leaders in the north stood askance, believing that the distractions would cut Chief Obasanjo’s influence to size. There was therefore little wonder that there was broad based support for Mallam Yusuf Mohammed, the founder of the Boko Haram which is now a full-fledged terrorist organization. Recall also that the group once chose General Muhammadu Buhari to represent them in negotiation with the Federal Government.
As things are now, the received religions are certain to undo the nation in its incendiary temper and intolerance. The threat that religion poses cannot go away if we do not stand up to that threat. There is no sitting on the fence in this matter. In his rich and very fertile seminal, “Wretched of the Earth”, Frantz Fanon said, “Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor”. This seminal work used to be the basic students pamphlet for deep insight into the dynamics of imperialism, exploitation and the psychological outcomes in Africa and other third world countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America.
Today, we are up against the local compradors and clannish elite driven by greed hiding under the cloak of religion and tribe who spew and hoist hatred on us. They have appropriated the country as their estate with sense of entitlement. Nigerians must take a stand today because if we don’t stand for something now, we will fall for anything and the consequences will be calamitous. Nigerians should move against the old order with this infantile sense of entitlement of being owners of Nigeria. Nigeria does not belong to any person or group of persons, ethnic or religious. Through bitter ethno-religious campaign and bad politics, we have lost the chance of Nigerian citizenship and have remained cognomen of tribesmen Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba etc.
The Nigerian political class remains the same through and through. Anybody seeing any difference between the two leading political parties of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) probably needs to have his or her head examined. Ordinarily, by our political culture and behaviours, the forthcoming general elections in 2023, especially the Presidential election, should be a clear contest between the two leading parties of APC and opposition PDP. However, due to selfish reasons, the parties have jettisoned their written and unwritten rules that tend to maintain a geopolitical balancing to avoid domination of one ethnic or religious group in government. Geopolitical power equation and balancing even though a conventional practice is very sensitive and divisive when badly managed as we are witnessing today.
This has unwittingly birthed the phenomenal emergence of Peter Obi’s Labour Party and Chief Obasanjo’s Third force in social media hype; and the movement is huge. From their temper and perception, Labour party looks more like outsiders and not properly robed in the garment of the establishment which Nigerians can take to task as a departure from the old order that has held us hostage. We are in a dire strait and we should not be under any illusion that after the elections, come 2023, things are going to improve tremendously overnight. It is probably going to get worse irrespective of whoever emerges as the winner.
We cannot afford to continue after 2023 in the same state of helplessness, unemployment, insecurity and collapsing infrastructure and economy. We cannot afford to continue to live under siege paying taxes and ransom to bandits and insurgents. We cannot afford to yield grounds and space to unknown gunmen, kidnappers, ritual killers and other criminal elements. We cannot afford to have our children and other citizens live in captivity in the forest where they are harvested for ransom with government watching in helplessness. We cannot continue to relish comic stories of animals and insects devouring humungous sums of money in public tills while teaching staff of universities are not paid salaries.
We cannot afford to grow our economy through propaganda and foreign loans that will choke our children’s children while there is no food on the tables of millions of citizens. Come 2023, I want to be able to travel by road to my village in Delta State and buy plantain and bush meat without fear that I will meet bandits or kidnappers. I want to be able to take off to Kaduna by road on a weekend to say hello to old friends and acquaintances without having to write my Will. This is time for every Nigerian to speak out now that we have the opportunity and not sit on the fence because when they come for you, there may be nobody to speak for you. Let us rescue the Nigerian project.
The author is of Koyen – Hi Kebonkwu Chambers, Wuse Zone 5