Nigeria: Divided in Flesh, United in Spirit, By Hassan Gimba

Hassan Gimba

This article, first published in 2018, speaks to the ruckus kicked up in the polity by recent comments of prominent political and religious figures once again exposing our major fault lines as a country.

An outsider, especially foreigners and Nigerians in Diaspora, may be excused to think the bubble would burst any time soon and Nigeria would go to war with itself. They may well be forgiven for thinking so, especially if the social media is their only means of gauging what obtains in Nigeria.

In the Nigerian social media space, battles are fought 24/7. Politically, those who stand with President Muhammadu Buhari are at daggers drawn with those who think the apostle of “change” should be changed. Those who want Buhari to give way are also rooting for their various heroes. Muslims and Christians do not see eyeball to eyeball while at the same time contending with intra religious quarrels.

In that ‘war-front’, the three major ethnic groups are battling one another, and the minor tribes are fighting everyone. The citizenry sees the security agents as enemies; the security agents view everyone with suspicion. Even traders see their customers as awuf seekers; conversely, the customer takes the trader for a fleece.

Politicians see the electorate as one who seeks to take advantage of his sheepish following. Still, the ordinary man looks at the politician as one who has monopolised his rights. The husband views his wife as one who noses into his affairs; the wife suspects the husband of hiding things from her.

The Keke NAPEP driver is full of envy for his oga who “eats” from his sweat, unmindful of how the oga sweated to buy the Keke. The oga suspects his employee is keeping what should have come to him to buy the new cloth he saw on his back.

This mutual suspicion ranges from the harmless and hilarious to the most dangerous in which insults and curses are hurled back and forth, with the gods invited to release their wrath to deal with “enemies”.

Religious and tribal stereotyping to the outright request for Armageddon to fall on Nigeria is what one usually encounters on the social media.

There is a total lack of respect and decorum.

But do all these reflect what we, Nigerians, genuinely are, think or wish for one another? No, not all. We are among the most desirous of peace and development among the nations of the world. Most Nigerians are really miffed that we are where we are despite the abundance of human and natural resources the God of creation has blessed us with.

Nigerians know that many countries have taken, or borrowed our resources or copied our templates and are now miles ahead of us. Many of our sons and daughters have gone to foreign lands and excelled. For instance, the designer of many models of Ford vehicles we cruise in is a Nigerian. The developer of GSM’s 3G and 4G is a Nigerian from Fika, Yobe State. Nigerians have discovered or improved on theorems and theories in foreign lands. Nigerians have broken records in foreign schools and have achieved remarkable breakthroughs in medicine, engineering, architecture, sports, entertainment, name it.

Nigerians are proud of these beacons of light and hope, not minding their tribes or religions, but they at the same time, cry, “Why can’t we do it here?” While giving vent to their frustrations over the country’s seeming lack of direction, those with little control over their emotions can invariably descend to gutter language. For others, it is due to low intelligence. Such persons are not able to think up ideas that would bring solutions. For them, it has to be rofo rofo at the expense of truth.

However, by and large, Nigerians love each other and rejoice in happiness and sympathise with one another in sadness.

I was impressed by the volume of sincere, heart touching condolences that poured my way on social media when I lost my wife in March this year. Show of sympathy from both Christians and Muslims, a majority of whom were total strangers who I do not know.

When Chibok girls were kidnapped, even though politics and religion played a substantial role in its condemnation, Christians and southerners stood against it. I saw southern, Christian mothers crying and calling on the government of the day to do something about it. The other parts of Nigeria stood with the North East during the siege on it by Boko Haram. Again, due to politics, religion and regionalism, the North West is not receiving such concern. Even from the North East it (North West) “hated” the then ruling party for its travails.

Looked at deeply, issues of national pride, such as sports and academic achievements, unite us as one, while politics, religion and ethnicity are what push us to reach for each other’s jugular. As a nation, the challenge before us, especially our leaders who use them to promote their interests, is to divorce them from governance.

We need to understand that Nigeria is practising a system of governance that is neither Islamic nor Christian – in other words, secular. Having a Muslim or Christian as the president does not make the country Islamic or Christian. The reason why a Muslim leader does not begin minuting on a file with bismilLahir rahmanir Rahim just as a Christian president will not start with ‘In Jesus’ name’. Any favouritism based on religion or region is entirely due to the selfish interest of the leader who swore to govern without it.

Many a Muslim leader has enriched his Christian girlfriend, her family and friends while his fellow Maimuna is surviving through selling akara and groundnut by the roadside. Many Christian leaders have empowered their Muslim girlfriends, family, and friends while Cecilia is eking out a living by selling recharge cards and bread by the roadside. But when canvassing for votes that would confer on them the licence to dip their itchy fingers into the public till, they wear their Abayas and Cassocks and run back to the gullible citizens who will kill in the name of false piety. Even our religious leaders have wormed themselves into the hearts of those in the corridors of power. They have swarmed all over our politicians due to the lure of lucre. If only Nigerians would see through them, the better for all.

People want their own in office, but this is because leaders, save for few, have always been partial, not abiding by their sworn declaration to serve without fear or favour. They give appointments and contracts to kith and kin in the guise of trust. A leader will shamelessly say he trusts certain tribes over others.

People always want “theirs” in office because leaders have become partial, not abiding by their sworn declaration to serve without fear or favour. Therefore with “theirs” in power, the right to state patronage becomes “theirs”.

The village of a leader is taken care of. It gets more than a reasonable share of appointments and projects are sited there. It more or less becomes the “doyen” of villages in the community.

If our leaders were to abide by the constitution governing the country, treat citizens as one, be fair to those who vote for or against them, not allow their governments to turn into a clan of family and friends and allow justice to take its course on anyone that contravenes the law of the land, the average Nigerian would clamour less to have his own in power.

When that is achieved, the intrinsic fellow feeling in us will show up and shine brightly.