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Nigeria: Our Collective Amnesia, Our Bane, By Hassan Gimba

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Hassan Gimba

The way things are happening at almost the speed of light in Nigeria is alarming. Most of them trace their roots to injustice and the inability of our leaders to address it. Once you hear of something, before you chew it over, swallow and digest it, another thing comes up. Nothing gets settled, and in more cases than one, settled matters do not get foreclosed through due process, but by our collective amnesia. Circumstances have made us deliberately amnesic.

Why will you not choose to forget what you have no power over? Why should you keep in mind what you know the authorities will not see-through? If it were the authorities alone, perhaps you would keep reminding them of their duties, but even those affected forget. Perhaps to mitigate the pains, Nigerians have learnt to let go.

But are the pains mitigated? Are they banished? No. Only justice can mitigate pain. Therefore, the silence of a man denied justice should not be misconstrued as forgetfulness, let alone forgiveness. Such a man will just lie low, deceiving all that he has forgotten. But any slight opportunity for revenge he sees, he seizes. This is the nature of man. Well, most men.

The revenge, not done legally, even if justifiably, breeds another desire for revenge from the other party. It continues ad infinitum as long as authorities have not waded in and dispensed justice. One sure action some people take when authorities show reluctance to protect them from their assailants, or to punish the culprit, is for the victims to seek revenge.

Do we read a pattern in which, for instance, Boko Haram insurgents who have taken arms against the state, killed and maimed innocents in tens of thousands, displaced people in millions and destroyed private and public property, are being “forgiven” and resettled in towns? Their children from illegitimate consummations will be freely educated while other children whose schools they had burnt are in IDP camps with their parents. They are being “resettled” with vocations while they have destroyed those of others. They will get houses after they have burnt those of others. And they are getting a new lease on life while they have snuffed that of others. All courtesy of the government that should prosecute them if not for their crimes against humanity, to set an example for potential brigands. Yet we want peace in our country!

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This is how non-state actors seize opportunities to manipulate disgruntled people.

Plateau State is a case in point. There was a time the state prided itself as The Home of Peace and Tourism. No more. I doubt if there is anyone who will pick offence if it is now called The Home of Strife and Terrorism.

The state has been in turmoil since the current political dispensation. Perhaps human greed is at the root of the evil that seems to have settled in that temperate location in a tropical country. Distribution of scarce resources through our representative politics of winner-takes-all is also not helping matters.

This brought to the fore new political terminologies, “indigenes” and “non-indigenes”. Suddenly, people who have been living in a place since their great grandfathers’ time were designated “settlers” and thus cannot aspire to offices or secure some basic rights. This has been causing a lot of communal conflicts that have affected not only residents but innocent passersby. From 2001, when the first major riot communal clash occurred after over thirty years, to date, thousands have lost their lives.

In 2010, Dogo Na Hauwa, an economically bubbling Hausa settlement, was attacked and people killed in their hundreds. The assailants threw many dead bodies into wells that became their graves. Riyom and Barikin Ladi also witnessed deadly attacks on Hausa settlers. These also became causes for revenge as those aggrieved carried out reprisal attacks. Thus, a cycle of revenge ensued. This war of attrition was to even cause the death of a senator. In the long run, the communities, who couldn’t sleep having murdered it, embraced peace and started sleeping with both eyes closed.

We should also not forget that the Eid-ul-Fitr day of 2011 was also one of the saddest in the history of violence in Plateau State. Ramadan Sallah day fell on Monday 29 September. Assailants attacked the Muslim faithful on the prayer grounds in the Rukuba area. They killed many, their bodies desecrated, with some assailants roasting and eating some of their body parts.

Most of these crimes were video graphed, yet no one was punished accordingly. The same fate was meted out on Major General Idris Alkali exactly three years ago at Dura-Du District, Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State. He too was cannibalised. Those who committed that atrocity are free on bail.

To quote a social media commentator, “And with each new round of violence comes another round of a flagrant display of lack of political will to punish, which gives birth to a mutated and a more deadly generation of murderers who are wired to believe ethnic cleansing is an easy tool for resolving knotty social conflicts with a little societal irritation as a side effect, instead of the repulsive anathema it is to the rest of the saner world.”

While those were with the Birom, we are now witnessing another round between the Fulani and Irigwe. Just last week, Yelwan Shangwam was raided, apparently in a reprisal attack. We can say this started from when Muslim travellers from Bauchi were lynched a few weeks ago. No arrest was made and, perhaps, people believed that, as usual, the authorities will just sweep the hideous crime under the carpet.

And so the fight of attrition will continue in a seesaw-like manner between Muslims and Christians, as long as those concerned continue to treat the unfortunate situation with levity, punishing no aggressor.

The government must wake up and start dispensing justice in a timely fashion if our descent into bestiality must be halted and reversed. For how long will we remain watching people being killed for no other reason than that they belong to another tribe or religion? Why should we accept a situation where people will take the law into their hands and avenge themselves on one who was not a perpetrator but was unluckily passing by at the wrong time?

But it may constrain one to ask: are our leaders ready to dispense justice? Do they feel for the downtrodden? Do our elite, who are influencers in the corridors of power, love our nation?

Someone somewhere said, “It’s something to fear speaking because you could say something wrong, but it is agonising to self-censor because you fear you might say something right that is not allowed.”

We need to ask questions and we need to talk. If not for our sake, for our nation and the future of those we brought to this world.

Take the case of the Salihu Tanko Islamiya school pupils kidnapped in Tegina, 91 of whom they released last week. These pupils, aged four, five and above, spent three months in the kidnappers’ den. Six of them have already died, while some parents have also died of a heart attack.

There are also the Federal College of Forestry, Kaduna, students still in the custody of their abductors. We also have the yet to be released girls from Federal Girls College Yauri.

With the Islamiya pupils, their abductors asked for N100 million, which was negotiated down to about N70 million. The parents sold what valuables they could sell while the school’s proprietor sold off half of the Islamiya to raise funds for the ransom. The Forestry College students, too, are held captive pending the payment of ransom. Recently, some heart-wrenching video clips of the abductors torturing the students went viral. Some were being slashed with knives and others were beaten with horsewhips! Typical of us, we feign forgetfulness! Understandably, what can we do if those concerned are more engrossed in what soothes their fancies?

What soothes the fancies of our leaders is what massages their big egos. Recently, the son of our president got married and all the elite were falling over themselves to outdo one another in spending for the couple. The money spent was enough to bring out all those kidnapped in Nigeria.

Agreed, we should not pay kidnappers because it strengthens them and emboldens others to take to that ignominious trade, but the money is enough to train a vigilante army that can confront them as well as buy the gadgets to track them.

The money is also enough to take off the streets and into schools potential kidnappers and insurgents. All those out-of-school kids are the recruitment base for all criminals.

This behaviour of our elites makes one question their love for the country. Do they love the country, one may ask. But perhaps they will continue in their ways as long as those they are doing such “eye services” for do not frown at such misplaced priorities. Leaders must always be circumspect. A leader must reason where those outdoing themselves for him now were before he became the leader, or whether they will be there after he leaves office.

Where were they when, in 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari had to take a bank loan to buy his presidential nomination form of less than N30 million? Where were they when the poor folks who believed in the messianic attributes of the president – but now at the receiving end of insecurity – were buying airtime to raise funds for the president’s campaign? Why should they be merry when many parents are in mournful moods over their kidnapped children, or when schools are forced to close?

It is daily becoming clear that our elites pour their money on what ultimately may not be in the interest of the people.

Hassan Gimba

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