While Nigeria has always had a problem with insecurity, the recent spate of bombings in the country ‘have remained largely faceless, with no one claiming responsibility or offering an agenda’, argues Tunde Oyateru.
Many novelists and indeed artists when penning or composing their craft rarely realise the lasting impact or genius their work might have. Often words and musical movements that have inspired generations were crafted entirely by coincidence or largely because they fit nicely into the overall body.
The work of one Mr Baum and Mr Fleming has provided one of the most memorable quotes in popular culture, while at the same time spurning a cinema classic. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is memorable for many things, the least of which isn’t the line ‘Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’
The Federal Republic of Nigeria celebrated 50 years of colonial independence on 1 October 2010, and while many lined up, as critics and analysts are wont to do, to deride the somewhat ostentatious celebrations and the growing list of failures the republic had recorded to date, others, this writer included, found reason to at the very least acknowledge the hallmark, if not extol and celebrate it wholesale.
Democracy is still the best form of representative government in practice, and till groundbreaking research dispels this, it will continue to be the governing principle in wide circulation. It is, however, a system that is predicated largely on everyone having a say, even if in the end the majority holds sway, democracy posits that the soapbox is never too small for many more feet, the microphone never too few should you choose to avail yourself of it.
In the abstract and academic, this is what democracy holds, as Nigerians living the everyday Nigerian experience have found, when this system is superimposed against a background of different nation-states, ethnicities, cultural realities and expectations, language barriers, suspicions and power-lust, it can lead to shoddy experimentation.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria over its 50 years of self-determination has tried and failed on many occasions to instil the basic tenets of democracy; to ensure that the soapbox is never too small to accommodate, and that the microphone is never short in supply, and after many false starts and choked attempts, the Nigerian Fourth Republic has been stable, if tumultuous. This was the background of the jubilee anniversary, and the debates about the virtues and failures of our republic couldn’t have been underscored with more emergency than the twin bomb explosions that rocked the capital, Abuja, a mere 500 metres from where the president observed the national defence capabilities as part of the celebrations.
In the melee that ensued, there were accusations and counter-accusations as politicians running up to elections in 2011 called the president weak on security, and ethnicities slugged each other with conspiracy theories of all colours. In the end the blame was placed at the doorstop of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a movement that champions the development of a region the current president hails from; in one swift motion MEND denounced the violence and blamed a rogue faction headed by a member, Henry Okah, in South Africa.
Fast forward five months and Nigeria is winding up what has been hailed as the freest and fairest elections since the annulled elections in 1993. However, it has been marred by the constant breakouts of violence and skirmishes, but perhaps more morbidly, the reports of bombings leading to and during the elections.
Already there have been bombings in Niger, Kaduna and Borno states and several scares elsewhere. Violence in the Nigerian experiment, unfortunately, isn’t a new inclusion; the forces that pull the Nigerian contingent together and push them apart have from time to time broken out in rash and sweeping protestations.
However, what many have noted with fear and grave concern is the growing trend and habit of detonating explosive devices on unsuspecting and largely innocent targets. In the midst of their concern and frustrations with the direction of their country, Nigerians have always prided themselves on their lease on life and their faith in a better day; it is what is jocularly referred to colloquially as ‘e go better’ philosophy.
It is then with consternation that they receive news of Umar Farouk Abdulmuttallab hoping to martyr himself, or the rampant spread of bombings – self-destruction is patently not Nigerian. The same psyche of hope and belief in a turnaround in personal misfortune, even in the face of dire and sometimes impossible circumstances, is the same way most Nigerians enter the Nigerian polity, hence their record tolerance with the gross misgivings of the Nigerian state.
But now removed from the televisions and 24-hour news cycles are the scenes of gore and destruction caused by inordinate bomb explosions; they now play out on the cover spreads of Nigerian newspapers and news magazine. Perhaps more insidious is the way it is becoming part of Nigerian life. Witness the parent telling their ward not to stay out late for fear of random bombings, or the trader closing shop early to avert a bomb scare – real or imagined. Witness how inexplicably easy it is to shut down a city by spreading bomb scares on social media sites and mass text messages.
This isn’t to paint a sudden state of emergency; Nigeria has always had a problem with insecurity, from gruesome armed robbery to abductions and kidnapping, escalating conflicts in the Niger Delta and the Jos crisis. However, it can be argued that all those cases had a motive, a cause – but the recent spates have remained largely faceless, with no one claiming responsibility or offering an agenda, and while this fits nicely into the mould of terrorism which is at its most successful when it alters the psyche of a nation or community, as it remains faceless and without manifesto it makes it incredibly difficult to identify or rationalise. Once again, self-destruction is patently not Nigerian, and one thing is clear: the situation recalls the eponymous catchphrase, ‘we are not in Kansas anymore’. This is new ground.
The vexing thing about this new form of expression – not that some philosophical argument would soothe its wounds – is the victims. It is taking the lives of innocents; the recent editions of these bombings have been targeted at election offices often staffed by members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Nigeria’s mandatory paramilitary service year for recent graduates. These young men and women have paid in blood, that which their country was never going to pay in promise or deed even if they had remained alive. To the observing public these men and women are unnecessary heroes in a country that has an eerie penchant for taking one step forward and many more backwards.
The current administration has been accused on many occasions of being weak on national security. Some pundits have mused that the spread of bombings might be an attempt to weaken the government on security, but its curious lack of skill at pre-empting the situations – when oftentimes they are apparent to us commoners – is doing just that. The obvious conclusion to draw from a certain people feeling that the soapbox is no longer big enough for them is that they will grab on to the closest arm or leg in an attempt to keep from falling or a more sinister attempt to take down as many as they can reach – the end result is the destabilisation of the soapbox. If they cannot reach a microphone, they will make sure that others are silenced.
If the trend isn’t curbed, the labours of our heroes’ past might account for little as the space for heroes present will become deliberately lonely. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, and the sooner the government realises this, the quicker we wake up from this nightmare, or we could just follow the bloodstained brick road to the wizard, as we pray for courage, a heart and some common sense.
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