50 (96) YEARS ON: WHOSE CHILDREN ARE WE?
As I tried to look at Nigeria two Saturdays ago on whose children we actually are, I keep getting more facts to make me think deeper in the matter.
A week after the first segment of this piece was published, a certain reader who identified himself as President something (that is actually his name as he said) called to rake and scream venom on all manner of perceived enemies of the geo-political zone he comes from over the presidential slot for 2011.
The argument was on zoning and the related matters. He poured all manner of curses and asinine epithets on the people he is cross with. This vociferous tirade lasted 16 minutes and 55 seconds. At last, I could not make any serious sense from his anger because he defied every entreaty to be calmed down to answer some vital questions. But the encounter left me with further conviction that we need to be associated with a father and that we need it so badly. All the man coughed out were vituperations, scolds, invectives and anger conveyed in most uncivil words. I nodded my head at the end of the debacle that yes, we are really fatherless. The cacophony arises from the rancour and riot of bastardry. Our relationship is pure and simple that of a people not related in any form - affinity or consanguinity. It is a loose lumping of individuals and groups.
But considering the fact that this has lasted some 96 years, I keep getting this strange feeling that the error has been so old to crystallize into a set of entity that would be easier to mend than unmake. Not minding the inadequacies, Nigeria has its seams and sutures knit together, though loosely, for such a long time that tearing the pieces apart to go back to what they were 96 years ago would be an arduous impossibility. Consider a situation where a man who died 96 years ago is brought back to life today. You will have no doubt that such resurrection, no matter how so well cloaked in fine linen, would amount to grave punishment. One coming back to jump into a world of imagination from what he knew 96 years ago is impossible. Even an imbecile at birth would learn a million times faster than such. If you sew two patches of cloth together for that length of time, they must have glued together that separating them means shredding them out of use entirely.
That is how I feel Nigeria is. Some years ago, I had the disposition that the best for Nigeria is severance of the odd and incurable union. But today, I think differently - that it can be cured with the right medication. That right medication will come in reconciliation, true federalism, entrenchment of punishment for wrongs, an assertive populace that would not take all manner of nonsense, and a deliberate rule to phase out some set of people to allow for a fresh breath.
I start from reconciliation. And that takes me back to the South African model - Virtual Truth and Reconciliation headed by the Rabble Rouser for Peace, as a book I have called Desmond Mpilo Tutu.
On that day Chief Olusegun Obasanjo mooted the Oputa Panel idea, that same day, he stepped on the path of healing Nigeria. And whatever made him step back, revived the curse of disunity upon Nigeria. Since the failure of the Oputa Panel, there has been heightened collapse of the hope of mending the festering sore past offences of each other brought Nigeria.
View it from religion or African culture, blood of the innocent defiles the land. You may be religious or not. You may be philosophical or anti that, but the truth and settled fact of existence that the blood of the innocent defiles the land is sure. Until the defilement is atoned for, the wrath and sword of vengeance is never turned back. Think well since independence at least and count the number of times innocent Nigerians have been slaughtered either in power corridors or on the streets. In our culture of bloodshed, the killers remain adamant and those not directly affected see it as non-issue. As a result, no one thinks it is a problem let alone finding solution to it. We live together as we claim but each with bottled-up anger and curses in our every breath. While we try to relate like brothers for a minute, the old rage surfaces as your brother Nigerians callously call you those derogatory names because of where you come from. The old anger makes the man from Edda who was born and bred in Ado-Ekiti all the 60 years of his life to remain an Igbo man before the Ado-Ekiti man he has known all his life even though he has never spent more than two straight weeks in his parents native place. It applies to the Funtua man born and settled in Umuahia, the Ile Oluji man born and living in Damaturu and the Ibesikpo man who has lived and married Okrika woman. While you fill a form for any official issue they ask you to indicate your state of origin to know the extent of victimization you will suffer in the process. Because of our tenacious hold to this retrogression, we, without inhibition fall through one crack after another in disunity. And it looks like our destination is an abyss unless someone puts the wedge now.
I recall to you the story in South Africa of a boy in the National Geographic story that languished in jail for murder but languished in worse jail in his conscience because he longed to say sorry to the family of the man he killed in apartheid hate. But ironically, he never knew the roots of his victim as to know who to channel his apology to. Because he insisted and persisted, he at last met by providence through the instrumentality of an NGO the unknown family persons to apologize. And because the annoyance had ebbed over time, the victim's family wrapped their hands around him in forgiveness.
The wounded souls were mended and they existence in love bolstered by forgiveness ever after.
At the Oputa Panel sitting I witnessed the many incidents of apologies and how old grudges ended in embraces of love and forgiveness. One of the major instances in the Lagos venue was one police officer, Zakari Biu who after a long argument to persuade him see reason why he could not have acted the way he did in the Abacha days at last felt touched by Justice Oputa's fatherly entreaties and said to Chris Anyanwu (now senator) that he was sorry for his deeds. In an impulse, Anyanwu dropped more things she intended to table before the panel, walked across and embraced Zakari Biu, assuring him that she has forgiven. It ended there and the crowd clapped in joy. I know sincerely that as Chris Anyanwu admitted before Nigerians that day that she forgave the offender, she won't revisit the case. I know also that Biu would have learnt a turnaround lesson from that to be a different officer to Nigerians.
Consider how greatly and wonderfully this charm would have worked on the Nigerian relationship if from Ilela to Kukawa, from Maruwa to Idiroko, from Ibeno to Badagry, from Lokoja to Birnin Kebbi, and Ikom all minds vibrated at the same frequency of reconciliation, love, unity, revival of brotherly love and the nation came back to start on a new note. Nigeria would have been healed that year.
I remember the suit initiated by IBB against the panel for his personal interest. I bite my finger in regret how one man for his isolated benefit denied the entire nation reconciliation and healing. His case dragged from the Federal High Court in Lagos to the Court of Appeal later Supreme Court. He had his day in the court of technical justice. Not only did he frustrate coming before the panel but in making sure he got an injunction to stop the entire Oputa panel report from taking effect. If we had a sensitive court that considered the good the wider nation would reap from Oputa panel findings and reconciliation, the court would have tilted the scale of justice to the balance of convenience in favour of Nigeria. While granting IBB his prayers to be preserved from appearing, the report would still have been released.
Sometimes I ask: Did Obasanjo intentionally tether the Oputa panel to a legal wobbly pedestal whereby his clan would go to court and rubbish it by setting it up not based on strict legal grounding?
We remain fatherless. We steadily drift because we have not yet got a father. Otherwise we would have listened to his beckon and come back to our senses.