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Besides the obvious and imminent danger, in the form of the immediate and constant personal threat to life and limbs, that it continues to pose for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in or around crisis prone areas, the current prolonged state of insecurity in the land is gradually destroying our respective individual and collective humanity. ’
It is often said that whenever people do bad things, it tests your faith in humanity; that faith is tested even more when people continue to commit those bad things in a coordinated and sustained fashion.
To paraphrase the words I picked from an in-flight magazine I read recently, almost on a daily basis nowadays, Nigerians – both the old and the young among us – are constantly being exposed to gory scenes of extreme violence that are “almost surreal in their severity, as well as being almost normal in their everydayness”.
These range from those arising from the fallouts of the ongoing insurgency campaign in parts of the North East; violence as a result of the perennial religious, ethnic and communal clashes in some North Central states, as well as in Kaduna and, more recently, Taraba states; the systematic mass killings and wanton destruction of life and properly under the guise of the more recent phenomenon of cattle rustling in parts of the North Central and North West; violence arising from armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual murder cases in the South West and South East, and; violence as a result of the jungle justice being visited upon kidnap and ritual murder suspects by angry mobs in parts of the South West and Kwara State, among many others.
The inherent danger in all of this, which may not be very obvious to many of us at the moment, is the fact that we are slowly but gradually being stripped of our respective natural human instincts of empathy; so much so, that these horrific acts will inexorably become normal, tolerable, or, worse still, even acceptable to us at some point.
One would hate to even contemplate how nasty, brutish and short life would become under such a Hobbesian state of nature, where everyone is at war against everyone else. This is because even those directly responsible for the ongoing needless carnage, and several others who may insidiously be stoking it from behind the scenes, will eventually come to regret living in the kind of society they would have helped create for themselves and the (un)fortunate ones among us that would have survived long enough to witness it!
It is thus very helpful, at this point, for all of us – the perpetrators, innocent victims and security agencies alike, who are saddled with the primary responsibility of quelling it, – to constantly remind ourselves of the inherent message contained in a popular refrain that says, “be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true!”. It is simply in our own enlightened self-interest to ensure that we keep doing so; and, as sad as the recent kidnap of hundreds of school girls in Chibok, Borno State is, it may well turn out to be the major turning point in this whole protracted problem of insurgency and the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity in the country. This is, however, not to make light of other even more vicious acts of violence committed in the past, such as the cruel and unconscionable slaughter of fifty-nine innocent male students at the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, in Yobe State.
But the Chibok incident can only represent that ideal turning point we have long been yearning for, if we, as a nation, endeavour to take full advantage of the prevailing sense of urgency and unity of purpose, which the mass kidnap of these innocent girls has generated both at home and abroad, to make a final push towards nipping this seemingly intractable festering crisis in the bud. Thankfully, the international dimension this issue has assumed now guarantees that even the hitherto nonchalant countries among those we share common borders with are now fully obligated to join forces with us to help bring this menace to an end. It is, however, very distressing to note that, rather than view this problem as the collective menace that it truly represents, a few individuals among us have made a conscious decision to continue to rub salt to the injury of both the victims and their parents by publicly questioning and even dismissing the entire kidnap narrative. This rather strange and most bizarre stance, even in the face of all the visible and verifiable facts that are literally screaming at all of us, must indeed rank a very close second to the actual act of the kidnap itself, in terms of its vicious and malicious intent!
One cannot but wonder aloud as to how precisely we got to this sorry pass; a situation in which people now deliberately choose to react to issues on the basis of whether or not they have any direct bearing on them at the personal or communal level. Nowhere is this more self-evident than on the social media, where issues that should ordinarily concern us all as human beings and as compatriots, are no longer dispassionately analysed and debated purely on the basis of what is right or wrong. It is now very common to see fellow Nigerians, including products of Federal Government Colleges, taking delight in needlessly insulting and tearing one another apart, as they often view issues through the narrow prism of ethnic and/or religious affiliations, thereby making a complete mockery of the noble idea behind the entire concept of unity schools. Things are now so bad, to the extent that once something does not affect us or our community directly, some of us even go to the bizarre extent of publicly gloating over a misfortune that may befall another community. In essence, any nation building and nationalism research fellow in search of clear examples on how NOT to build a nation need not go any further than a social media site frequented by Nigerians to obtain tonnes of them! But the pertinent question we must all ask ourselves is: where on earth is the common humanity that we all share? Each and every one of us must have at one time or another come across the age-old mantra that says, what affects one affects all. So, when and how did things get this bad? Whatever happened to the popular creed about being our brother’s keeper?
In his provocative post-war period poem, the German theologian, Martin Niemoller (1892 – 1984), had copiously addressed the cowardice and possible complicity of the German intellectuals and members of the clergy, following the Nazi’s rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen target, group after group, when he wrote:
First 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
The import of the inherent lessons embedded in Niemoller’s highly instructive poem must never be lost on us. This is because any lingering notion in the minds of some of us that the ongoing insurgency campaign is a localised affair, having been ‘successfully contained’ in a particular section of the country (as if to suggest that Nigerians living in those places are not entitled to live their lives in peace!), would have quickly evaporated with the apparent expansion of the theatre of violence to other areas hitherto considered safe. Moreover, with the present high rate of mobility among the nation’s population, it does not really matter who you are or where you come from; all that is required for any of us to fall victim to these precipitate acts of violence – be they on account of the insurgency, armed robbery, kidnap (whether for ransom or for ritual purposes), ethnic, communal or religious crises – is simply for one to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even those in high places appear to be safe anymore, as many of them have equally fallen prey to the antics of the kidnappers, who appear to be targeting their parents, siblings, spouses and children for handsome ransom pay-offs. Violence, it would seem, no longer discriminates.
We must, therefore, endeavour to put all our differences aside and take advantage of our collective resentment towards this latest kidnap saga to work together to end the ongoing madness, in all its various forms, and halt our agonizingly slow but gradual advance on this perilous journey along the dreadful road to our own Golgotha. Indeed, as the famous China-based US novelist, Pearl Buck (1892 – 1973), rightly observed, “every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied”. That critical half-way for us, it would appear, is right now. May God, in his infinite mercy, save us from ourselves by granting us the courage to seize the moment, while we still can, and arrest this needless and avoidable slide along the dangerous path to our self-inflicted ruination!