The price of our silence and tolerance of evil is gaining momentum and gradually shaping the way we may have to get used to in order to live and survive in Nigeria; a once great and glorious land of privileges, moderate religious and tribal tolerance.
In 2013 Igbos and many moderate Nigerians in what appeared to be a unified attempt to stop tribal bigotry condemned the expulsion of Nigerians from Lagos Nigeria to Eastern Nigeria by Lagos State government. The government claimed that the victims of that inhumane and degrading treatment were mentally challenged people who were living in abject poverty, poor health and other deplorable conditions. The state government therefore picked them up off the streets and rehabilitated them. As many of them volunteered to be returned to the East where they will be reunited with their families, they arranged that journey with their consents. In other words it was an assisted voluntary return.
What was not clear was whether their loved ones and families lived on a dangerous high way which is known as “Ekwusigo” meaning that once you are trapped there that is your end. The victims themselves complained about ill treatment by Lagos state government who packed them like sardines in an articulated Lorry and then abandoned them on that dangerous high way.
Igbos took serious offence. Many people like me saw it as deportation of Nigerians from Nigeria by Lagos State government contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Not much happened but the Lagos State Government later apologised. That was not without justifying their action on the claim that they wrote to the then Anambra State Governor asking them to agree the best way to return and resettle the victims but they failed to respond. This opened the Pandora box revealing that many other state governments including Anambra state have been at it too.
The main issue for Lagos state government was alleged to have been that following extensive beautification of the state, the presence and looks of these Nigerians no longer march the assumed aesthetic looks of the state. They of course denied it. The only good thing that came out of the madness was that after all the lies and usual political games the Lagos State Governor Fashola was honourable enough to express regrets. Whether the victims were eventually resettled in the East or Lagos and duly compensated is a matter which sadly I cannot say. I won’t be surprised if nothing has happened and these people are dead or living rough on our streets.
Now few weeks ago a group of Northerners travelling together just like Many Nigerians travel regularly were stopped, arrested and accused of being members of the deadly Boko Haram sect on a mission to further their deadly mission of causing havoc in Nigeria. They were detained for a while and then eventually released. I have heard nothing about justice for them or compensation for unlawfully detaining them. I sincerely do not think that this will ever happen.
Although I cannot authoritatively confirm the motive, I suspect that they were simply profiled as Boko Haram because they are from the North and possibly Muslims. Now I hear that some Eastern Nigerian state governments are issuing or thinking of issuing ID cards to Northerners living in their states. Thankfully our legislators have condemned and criticised this idea as tantamount to regional and tribal profiling contrary to the spirit of the provisions of our constitution which says that we all have the right to live anywhere we like in Nigeria. Sadly but not surprising, many Nigerians especially Igbos approve this unlawful practice. What this category of people forget is that Igbos are the most migratory people in the world. Therefore if this sort of practice were to be tolerated, they would be most affected. I do not think that they are thinking about this.
The consequences for Igbos notwithstanding, I am interested in finding out how we may have to deal with this new development while still pretending to be one Nigeria. Why is it that Nigerians are not united in the condemnation of these practices and yet expect peace and religious tolerance to thrive in Nigeria?
During the brouhaha about deportation from Lagos, it was clear that many Yorubas supported it while many Northerners were silent. Now it is the turn of Northerners, many Igbos and a few others who are not of Northern extraction supports the idea. Northerners are on their own threatening hell and thunder which sadly like Igbos they cannot carry out because justice is not usually for the poor in Nigeria.
I think that it is time we begin that conversation about what we want to see and have in Nigeria as one people or otherwise.
Whether you are from the North, South, East or West, no one has the right to put any condition on your place of residence in Nigeria. Anyone that does or tries that is committing an offence and must be prosecuted and adequately sanctioned. There is no point turning a blind eye because these people may be thieves or Boko Haram terrorists. Many honest Muslims have condemned the activities of Boko Haram and must nit be profiled as Boko Haram but this is looking impossible as many of us have already made up our minds that anyone from the North or looks like coming from the North is Muslim and Muslims are terrorists.
We must endeavour to enthrone democracy and justice by treating others the way we would like to be treated not the way we think that they should be treated because of their religion or tribe. Doing otherwise is recipe for hatred and continued national discord. Additionally, faith leaders must find a way of teaching their followers what us right or wrong and do their best to always immediately distance themselves from conduct which tends to enmesh the name of their religion with violence or of any form of hate crime.
JCO © July 2014