Monday 1 December 2008

Nigeria: Gone is the Jos I knew

Memories long gone

One of the dangers of sweet memories is to allow them to dictate your view of contemporary events. However, it is a lesson in life to appreciate fully and embrace the good memories on which to build expectations of the future whilst leaving behind those memories that shackle you to experiences you would rather not relive.

In fact, Demi Moore expresses [1] that sentiment better by saying, “The key is to hold onto the love you had and what you gained and don't get attached to what you lost.”

A time of adventure

The news of riots [2] in the city of Jos, Nigeria fills me with regrets of paradise lost, some of my formative and excitingly adventurous years were lived in the suburb of Rayfield, Jos.

This was a place where I could read a Famous Five [3] or Secret Seven [4] adventure and think this is possible in my backyard, then go out to have fun on my bicycle with friends.

I cannot understand what has become of Jos such that in the past decade there has been these religious riots pitting Muslims against Christians [5].

Jos was idyllic, temperate, it had in the 1970s a good proportion of Caucasians and it was probably the most anglicised city in Nigeria.

The then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon was from that area and I remember the many times he visited his hometown that we went out to the railway crossing at Bukuru waving Nigerian flags as he passed by.

The divisions emerge

Indeed, I could not have known that much about rivalries between the tribes, but there were songs that depicted some of the animosity between them, the Birom, the Angas, the Jukun and the Tiv as inhabitants of the then Benue-Plateau State.

There were the Hausa and the Fulani but they represented the union language of the region just as Muslims and Christians seemed to co-exist without malice, rancour or schism.

One can only lament the way that political forces that have no consideration and concern for their followers have exploited subtle differences between the people to foment savagery in rioting, unnecessary mob violence and killing.

The power brokers whose selfish interests are to fill their pockets and those of their sycophantic minions have been unconscionable to the extreme; as far as they are concerned, hell can reign in Jos if they cannot hold the reins of power, lives are dispensable as collateral damage to meet their needs but none of them would be found culpable for the heinous crimes that have been committed.

No concept of being Nigerian

One is also saddened that after 48 years of independence and after 94 years of the existence of the entity called Nigeria, the concept of Nigerian-ness has not taken root in the psyche of the people.

Tribal and religious affiliations still matter to many and they become the fodder for barbarian plunder, such that the riots brought on by one political party not winning a local election has been reduced to religious fighting between Christians and Muslims.

It begs the question why Nigerians cannot break free from primitive identities of tribal and religious affiliation to that which is borne out by progressive ideas, vigorous discourse, healthy debate and civilised engagement.

Is there a broad-based coalition?

The impression was that a Christian party had won in what was a predominantly Muslim area – the concept of a Christian or Muslim party must be abhorrent enough, but could there have been a case where the supposedly predominantly Muslim area did think that the other candidate was better?

This question would seem to elevate the standard of Nigerian politics to a level never attained before, but the possibility is there.

For self-appointed leaders of ill-repute to portend that they know the wishes of the voters long before they have cast their ballots would be to make the idea of democratic determination a moot point and completely irrelevant; this needs to change.

Seeking redress with civility

Ideally, there should be ways and means of challenging results of an election in a civil manner and processes put in place to verify to the satisfaction of all concerned if the tally of votes represents the clear wishes of the people.

That level of civility is unfortunately not in the capabilities of our political leaders and the ability to trust the results of our electoral processes has never really been in the gift and abilities of our electoral officials.

The opportunity to seek appropriate redress is ditched in favour of appealing to our basest instincts, excite the latent savage and feed the dormant beast, let the usually restrained animal lose on the innocent and defenceless and carnage reigns without bringing us anywhere near a solution.

The ungodly pretending to be religious

Hundreds of people killed in country where if God were to have a nap He would not find a nanosecond to blink for the number of times He is presumably called upon is amazing – people had replaced their prayer beads, rosaries, bibles and Korans with machetes and impliments that inflict grievous bodily harm and death.

The shocking thing is some leader would find ayah or verse to justify these actions in the name of God and all that is good.

I submit that the perpetrators are hardly Godly people by any stretch of the imagination, they believe they call on a deity and are in the service of some higher being but this is no religion, it is a just a horde of animals seeking a label of sorts and the greater shame it is of Nigerians to be portrayed in such bad light.

As for the childhood memories I have of Jos, they have become memories only - almost never to be the reality for kids in Jos today or in the near future – it is a sorry and sordid state of affairs, unfortunately.


[1] Demi Moore at UK premiere of Flawless – Telegraph

[2] Nigerian city counts its dead after days of Christian-Muslim riots | World news | The Guardian

[3] The Famous Five (series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] The Secret Seven - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[5] BBC NEWS | Africa | Nigerian city tense after riots

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