Of prejudices and siege mentality

PHOTO: IndianExpress

I lost a very dear brother, Nathaniel Akinola, on December 9, 2017. I had decided, as a mark of respect to his much-cherished memory, that I would not be engaging in public discourse until his funeral is done with and the period of mourning over.

But then came a rather distressing call from a compatriot, alleging a grand design to suppress the ethnic group to which he belongs. He urged others to have a say on the matter.

Considering the fact that my late brother was passionately patriotic, it is in consonance with his aspiration of a fair and just society that I would want to address this fear of others.

Of course, the Nigerian civil war ended in 1970. Reasonable Nigerians who witnessed that era of conflict will not wish for a repeat of it. Even those of us far away from the war fronts felt the heat. Not once or twice was I stopped at the checkpoints mounted by soldiers and ordered to prove my identity. I did this by singing highly- indigenous songs, songs that could only be understood by the locals. It suddenly became a virtue to have tribal marks, something that was uncommon with Nigerians on the other side of the conflict.

It was a great relief when the war was declared over. No matter the reservations of others, I think General Yakubu Gowon took good advice in ending the war on a rather conciliatory note. The fact that no one was hanged in the public square ensured the wounds of war would not fester for too long.

The decency of Gowon will be appreciated when his response to the hostilities is juxtaposed against the enthusiasm with which some of his successors had executed real or perceived coup plotters. We thank God for Nigeria that none of the extremists was at the helm of affairs during that dark moment of our history.

But the wounds of war have yet to heal. The prejudices that have been the bane of our relations seem to be one unwanted banner we have continued to hand over from one generation to the other.

While prejudices exist everywhere in the world, the duty and responsibility of the state is to ensure that such prejudices are denied both verbal and physical expressions. It is dangerous if those charged with the responsibilities to maintain peace and order in society constitute themselves as conveyors of the prejudices that exist within the larger society.

The law enforcement agencies of any given society must attain the highest level of discipline and professionalism for such a society to achieve its goals of peaceful co-existence and development.

Some events occurred recently that made some people to continue to assume others were out to undo them. The manner of the arrest of Chief Innocent Chukwuma, CEO of the Innoson Group, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, raised disturbing ethnic issues.

The wife was made to wonder if it was because they were Igbo that others were so disrespectful to them. There was also a report, published in some newspapers, that some alleged criminals in the Southeastern states had bullets fired into their private parts.

Some of these alleged criminals were said to have bled to death. There were not a few who believed it was because these people were Igbo that such barbaric and extra-judicial punishments were meted out to them.

When a society is unjust and unfair, there cannot but be some kind of siege mentality developing in the citizenry. Chief Nna Nwodo, President of Ohaneze, was quoted recently in a major newspaper as saying that the scarcity of petroleum products at Christmas was targeted at the Igbo by the Federal Government. We have always had fuel scarcity in Nigeria, a few times during the leadership of Goodluck Jonathan.

No one said on those occasions that they were targeted against any particular group. The point one is trying to make here is that while it is extremely urgent to address the issues of disunity in our polity, political and religious leaders must desist from whipping up sentiments or emotions that create fear and hatred in the citizenry.

Much as it is desirable to preach unity in Nigeria, unity is not just about preserving the territorial integrity of a nation. There must be a bond of oneness in the people, in terms of access to opportunities and behaviour to one another. Our educational policies would need to be redesigned with a view to nurturing a new generation of patriotic and well-cultured Nigerians.

No Nigerian would deserve to be punished for an offence that has not been sanctioned as such by duly constituted authorities.
Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.

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