JOS: CHANTS OF A VIOLENT DIRGE
A dirge, too heartbreaking and rendered in a disturbingly violent tone is being chanted from Jos, but it appears Nigerians are pretending not to hear it. I am not talking about the cries of the bereaved from the crisis in the tin city. At the outset of the 'war' the tears from the widows, widowers, and orphans evoked a great sense of pity from all of us. But with time, it appears we no longer find the reason to show that pity. Our hearts are hardened.
It is no longer news that the crisis in Jos has pitched men and women who for decades had lived together as brothers and sisters in an apparent endless war where one party is turning the sword against another.
The mass media feasts on it. We hear it every week on radio, watch it on TV, read about it the papers, and – yet except for those directly affected – the majority of Nigerians now appear indifferent or is it that they are just getting used to the stories?
Can a people in a nation not at war appear to get used to tales of attacks and reprisals by fellow citizens whether Fulanis/Muslims against indigenes/Christians and vice versa? The casualty figures keep increasing every month, the pictures emanating from the scenes gory and pitiable. Defenceless civilians, innocent women and children murdered in their sleep.
Can we all be so familiar with this tragedy that we pretend it is one of those fictions or happenings in one of the distant war-torn countries? We read the news in the paper and throw it away into the trash bin, not bothered. I have tried to reason out why the voices of dissent against these killings have been so low – that is if you compare it to how we protest other vices like a hike in prices of petroleum products, mass sack in government or private establishments, election rigging etc. To me only one reason explains this indifference or the large scale pretence: the majority of us are neither involved nor affected. We know no one who was murdered; no brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, aunty, uncle, or friend!
So let the killings and destructions continue, let the invaders reign.
But I am afraid of the dirge. I am deeply worried. And I have reasons to advance why this dirge should worry every Nigerian and in fact every stakeholder in the polity.
First let me play a recorded version of it I bought from a local CD marketer.
'Who killed your father? – soldier!' Who killed your mother? – soldier!' Who killed your children? – soldier!' 'Who raped your daughter? – soldier!' 'Who burnt your house oh!' – soldier' 'Which country soldier? – Nigerian soldier!' I say which country soldier – Nigerian soldier!' Liberian soldier? – Nigerian soldier!' Algerian soldier? – Nigerian soldier!' 'ECOMOG soldier- Nigerian soldier!' 'They come at night – Nigerian soldier!' 'They mask like friends_ Nigerian soldier' 'They feign to protect – Nigerian soldier!' 'With guns and bullets – Nigerian soldier!' 'They hack us down – Nigerian soldier!' 'In which city – in Jos city!'
Are you still pretending not to have heard this latest music vibrating in the Nigerian airwaves? Its composers are the courageous women of Jos.
In a retrospect, the credit should be given to the first composers, whose roots can rightly be traced to the civil war era; when such songs were permissible, even under the military. But it is certainly an aberration under a democracy. Sadly, since 1999 when we launched into democracy, the music keeps reverberating. First in Choba, Rivers State; next Odi, Bayelsa; Zaki-Biam; Benue; Gbaramatu and Ayakoromo both in Delta – women who inhabit these lands have all composed these same songs.
In silence princes and princesses rejected the services of the palace guards. 'They are turning the guns against us,' they complain. Yet the king and the kingdom feign ignorance, all is well. With no other better option, they have resorted to air their pitiable plight in musical tones laced with dissent. 'Away with the palace guards!' 'Relieve us of their presence – they are evil, murderers.' 'If we must die, let us die knowing no one really guards us.'
A war veteran (who should know best) Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo gave us a clue as to why the women of Zaki-Biam sang this song, and typical of our hypocrisy, we swept the involuntary clue under the carpet.
'When you have a situation where soldiers are invited to guard harmless sheep and goats from an invading predator rather than the Police they are used to,' the parable says, 'the local shepherd who sought for the protection from the Supreme Commander of the soldiers takes full responsibility for the (mis) conduct of the soldiers.'
Hear Obasanjo's candid explanation on how the sheep goes down with the predator enemy from the protector's bullets.
'The enemy you shoot to frighten to go away is the same that will stand to fight you tomorrow. The military are not trained to shoot to threaten; they are trained to shoot to kill. If I send soldiers to the war front and they come back to say they have shot at the enemy to frighten them, they will be court-martialed because they are not sent to shoot to frighten the enemy but to kill the enemy.'
If you did not catch the logic or you are still wallowing in pretence of not understanding simple parables, what Obasanjo said was this simple: 'Outside the barracks if you see a company of soldiers in your community consider the area an enemy territory and yourself an enemy and flee!' 'Evacuate your family and belongings to the exit the place.' 'Warn your children to be careful how they play with stones, kites and other toys capable of flying into the air.' 'For if the toy lands in their midst, they will encircle the entire community, destroying everything at sight – animate and inanimate.' 'The soldiers you see have no culture of patience and skill to fish out the predator from the prey in danger.' 'They care-less if the guns and bullets were purchased from the sweat of your taxes.'
'Have never been taught that you and your family have a right to life under the constitution.' 'Are not bothered about the perception in the public about their conduct.' 'Don't read the news that they are tarnishing the image of the country at home and abroad.' 'Cant comprehend that they wear a uniform so symbolic of the strength of a country and its people.' 'So childish to acknowledge that there is NO BRAVERY or HEROISM in being perceived to have killed innocent women and children in a country where you swore to protect same no matter the circumstances.' 'Wont agree that the casualties are not just the dead but even the living which even included them.' 'And in any case they will never be sanctioned by anyone on earth.' 'Just run away for dead men have no voice.'
In Odi, Zaki-Biam, Gbaramatu, and Ayakoromo they did not get this warning – and they all fell in ignorance. And when the survivors complained, those who know better drowned in an ocean of laughter while the rest opted to remain quiet.
Will the dirge from the women of Jos change anything? I doubt. The spate of the killings in Jos has been going on for so long without a resolution.
Even the Federal Government appears helpless or is it not? Because I am very certain if the killings took place inside Aso Rock or even its environs, a solution would have been found long ago.
You only needed to have been at the PDP convention in Eagle Square Abuja to see the extra-security measures put in place to forestall the outbreak of violence or bombings. Nothing was spared in securing the lives of delegates and observers – and of course these are not the ordinary folks in Jos. The bourgeoisie will always find a way to secure themselves.
To the mourning women, families and people of Jos my heartfelt condolences. I wished I had a solution to offer than this: flee to safety and tarry for a while till the crisis abates.
The pretence you notice from all of us may never end soon. The truth you are likely not to be told is that unlike in other nations of the world where citizens hold their heads high and expect the state to protect and defend them, there is no strong evidence historically where the Nigerian state has shown that required obligation to protect its citizens or speak up for them because that protection is usually guaranteed where all component parts of a nation agree without any iota of doubt there is state – in the first instance.