Last week I promised the reader I will devote today’s column entirely to some of the reactions provoked by my piece of the week before on the controversial “personal” history of Biafra by Chinua Achebe which he titled THERE WAS ONCE A COUNTRY.
However, man, it is said, merely proposes but it’s only God Who disposes. God apparently disposed through two terrible events of last two weeks that my promise would have to keep for another week. The first was the gruesome suicide bombing of St Rita’s Catholic Church, Unguwan Yero, Kaduna, on Sunday October 28 in which at least 30 worshippers lost their lives and hundreds more lost their limbs or were maimed.
It was indeed a miracle that the casualties were not higher considering the number of worshippers assembled that day and the suicide bomber’s (assuming he was alone in the vehicle) apparent desperation in ramming his way into the church yard through the perimeter fence that terrible Sunday morning.
It was my typical Sunday morning; rising late and taking eternity to have my bath. I was sitting on the toilet seat a little after 9 o’clock when I heard a huge rumbling sound like I’ve never heard before. At the same time I felt the house shake as if the roof and the wall were going to cave in.
Madam who was in the bedroom shouted “Baba, what is it?” Of course I didn’t know what it was but somehow I restrained myself from rushing out, especially since the kaboom was not followed by any physical destruction. However, while still in the toilet I kept thinking what could have caused such a huge sound. In quick I succession I dismissed the possibility of the rock breakers across the road from my house using dynamite and the other possibility that the transformer serving our neighbourhood had blown up.
In the end I concluded it must have been a bomb, even as I prayed to God fervently that it shouldn’t. My prayers were answered in the negative when shortly after my bath one of my kids came to tell us that the online media had been reporting that it was the suicide bombing of a church at Unguwan Yero.
My heart sank just imagining what the casualty would be like; if my house which must be at least two kilometres away from the church as the crow flies, could be shaken to its foundation by the bomb I shuddered to think what could have been the fate of those in and around it.
Terrible as the number of those killed and injured was, it was, indeed, a miracle that the mayhem was not far worse by the time the rubbles had settled.
Predictably, the story grabbed the headlines of the media the following day. Equally predictably, virtually all fingers pointed at the usual suspect; Boko Haram.
This time, however, the security forces acted with unusual dispatch to avert any retaliatory attacks. But even more importantly, in my view at least, the Christian leadership in Kaduna, especially those of the Catholic fold – that of the affected church even more so – acted with greatest restraint in calling on their, no doubt, angry flock not to seek revenge.
As far as I know, Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for the attack but they have remained the principal suspect.
All this was Sunday October 28.
Then last Friday came another shocker. I was about rounding up my lecture to my post graduate diploma students at the Samaru campus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, when a call came through from a former very senior government official and a senior friend. During class I normally leave my phone on silence and pick up a call only when I think it might be important. This was one such call. So I excused myself and picked it.
I had not spoken to the gentleman since dropping a document for him a few days before. So I thought he was calling to confirm receipt. He did confirm receipt but his next words shocked me to the marrow. “Sorry about Shuwa,” he said. “What has happened to him?”, I asked nonplussed. Didn’t I hear he had been killed that morning?, he asked.
That ended my class that evening. Apparently my students too had not heard. They were all shocked when I told them the news, half of which they must’ve guessed from the way my voice and countenance changed. Their shock was not surprising because more than half the class were old enough to have heard some of the probably apocryphal exploits of the (79 year old) general during our civil war of 1967 to 1970. To think that such a person who had survived a war and served his country well would be killed like chicken by assassins who were probably young enough to be his grand children right in front of his house!
If their shock at the manner of the man’s death did not surprise me, the way they all chorused that “dis one pass Boko Haram,” surprised, even shocked me, the more so because there were more Christians in the class than Muslims.
My students are certainly not a representative sample of this country’s population. But it sounds sensible to me that if only one Christian would begin to wonder if there is not more to the bombings of churches and the killings of Christians – never mind the bombings of public buildings and the killing of security agents, serving or retired – than Boko Haram insurrections, one can be forgiven the thought that the official mantra about Boko Haram being behind each and every one of these bombings and killings needs a fundamental re-thinking.
No doubt Boko Haram is real. And its methods are despicable and certainly counter-productive to their objective, to which they are entitled, of Islamizing Nigeria. As they know all too well the Qur’an makes it very clear that there is no force in religion.
However, it has been said again and again that Boko Haram has since become a franchise used by criminals, and for all we know, rogue elements in government and the security services for their own ends. This is one good reason why government must rethink its scorched -earth strategy to bring an end to the insecurity that has pervaded this country.
The scorched- earth policy has not worked and it will not work because it can only worsen the very vicious circle of violence which the extrajudicial killing of the Boko Haram leadership back in 2009 unleashed on the hapless citizens of our dear country.
If only because government has control over the official instruments of violence, it has the greater responsibility for ending this vicious circle. It can start by listening to what Amnesty International said last week about how the public, especially in the theatre of the Boko Haram insurrection, has come to fear and loath our security forces more than the Boko Haram insurgents.
Unless we have a strategy of more carrots and fewer sticks than employed by government, the country could, God forbid, slide into an anarchy of bombings and counter-bombings and high profile killings along religious lines.