Boko Haram: Another Pogrom in the North?
Those of us outside the shores of Nigeria have watched with grave concern the events that have been unfolding , over the past few months, in some parts of Northern Nigeria, Specifically, the seeming targeted killing of Igbo and Christians of various ethnic groups. We have, equally, wondered at the approach of the various levels of the Nigerian government towards this increasingly escalating problem, and there seems to be every reason for doubt at the ability of the government to solve it.
Not too long ago, I warned in my blog post that what Nigeria was witnessing then will escalate in intensity and, as is always the case, diversify in its target and scope. Today, what started as a frustration directed at mostly northern politicians and government officials has spread, and ultimately confined, to Igbos and Christians. Unfortunately, this has become a common theme with acts of violent frustrations in the north. Most of the early 2000s saw this same shift from minor grazing rights squabbles between northern cattle herders, arguments between communities over watering wells, and shouting matches between traders over market stalls, escalate into mass massacre of Igbos and others of southern Nigerian extraction, even when they had no dog in the hunt. Sadly, tactics applied by governments have failed to not only diffuse some of the simmering tension, but actually assisted in their escalations.
The daily images and newsfeed emanating from northern Nigeria is, to say the least, reminiscent of the experience of 1966 and forward. Igbos in Diaspora, in their daily conversations over the continued killing of their brothers and sisters in what is supposed to be a nation where every ethnic group is supposed to have equal citizenship rights, remind themselves of the bus and train loads of dead Igbos coming down from the north; they are forced to explain to their confused children not only what is happening to their uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, but that we as their parents and grandparents had travelled down this road before. Our children are forced to ask us why we choose to live in a place where we are not wanted. As these conversations go on in various Igbo families in Diaspora, resentment towards northern Nigerians grows, even when most of these children may never for one day Nigeria.
The singular question we in Diaspora have been asking is; what are Igbo organizations in Nigeria doing about this? Clearly, the federal government is handicapped and limited to what it could do. According to one senior government official; “you cannot device a solution for a problem you could not define”. No one, not even Boko Haram, knows what it really wants. One thing is clear, Nigeria, including the north cannot de-westernize itself. That is impossible, and too late. We cannot honestly acquiesce to the demands of every sect, religious or ethnic, because to do so would be to invite lawlessness into the country. Nigeria cannot suddenly stop educating her people, provide infrastructure, a modern military, international commerce, and diplomatic relationships, just because a group of people who used to enjoy (and still enjoys, by their use of western-made guns to kill)decided that western civilization is infringing on their rights to practice their religion as was laid out over 3000 years ago.
Unfortunately, an answer to this singular question seems as divided as the question itself. The Igbo leadership, toothless and incoherent in its current form, has no easy answer to this. It faces the same dilemma as the federal government –how does one skin a monkey? People like me who have openly advocated Igbos leaving the north have been confronted with very serious, thought-provoking questions. If Igbos leaves the north, as I advocate, does it mean we are no longer part of Nigeria? Where do we go if the “enemy” carries the fight to our doorsteps? Very legitimate questions, indeed. However, when one considers the fact that our northern brothers, sanctioned or unsanctioned, always seem to device a reason or tactic to draw the Igbos into their personal, intra-ethnic problems, so as to avail themselves of the opportunity to kill us, what does one continue to do in a place where one is not wanted? Privately, many prominent northerners buy my idea; it is not just politically correct for them to voice it.
Continuous stay in the north means a continuation of the gory images of roasted and beheaded men, women, and children that circulate on the internet daily, the chilling narration of the few survivors, be they youth coppers, traders, teachers, suddenly widowed, or civil servants. The very same images I have been seeing since 1966; the same ones I now show to my children on internet pages, and watch them recoil in horror (yes, they have to see it, so it will not be fairy tales to them at old age).
In my opinion, the solution to the current problem enveloping northern Nigeria lies in the hands of the northern leadership; politicians, military, emirs, and religious leaders. So far, the leaders whose voices carry the most weight in that region have been, largely, silent. Could it be because they are truly responsible for the extreme poverty that pervades the north? According to the Nigerian constitution, the state governors are the chief security officers of their various states and, therefore, responsible for the safety of every life and property in their states. To carry out these responsibilities, the governors receive security votes from the federal government. Just like the governors, the emirs and traditional rulers are responsible for the safety and security of Nigerians residing in their emirates, and they, in turn, receive stipends from their state governors to carry out these duties. Where any of these responsible parties fail to carry out their duties, the blame for loss of live and property should lie squarely on their shoulders.
It is very important that government at every level coordinate their efforts to stem the tide of sectarian killing that is spreading in the north, before it envelopes the entire nation. Northern elders, and leaders, should increase efforts and resources to avoid a repeat of the pogrom of 1966, because the consequences this time around will be extremely damaging, and irreversible. As for Igbos living in the north, ultimately, it is your decision to leave or not; just be mindful of the reality that a stubborn fly follows the corpse to the grave.