The unprecedented, horrific events of the Woolwich killings of a British soldier, James Rigby, in broad daylight, on a London street last week forced a massive shock, not only in Britain but the rest of the world. The straw that broke the camel’s back (if you will) is the fact that both the suspects are of Nigerian descent and the dimension of the revelation further revealed that they are Nigerians from the southern part of the country.
The fact that they are not Muslims from the northern part of Nigeria gives a more complex perspective to a phenomenon that would otherwise have been labelled by Nigerians especially as a Boko Haram terrorist activity. The overzealous and fascinatingly diverse conspiracy theories spun by Nigerians in the media, especially of southern descent, on dissipating the forensic evidence on the scene of the crime have been gigantean in nature.
This is not the first of such unfortunate activity on an international platform of which a Nigerian has been involved. But in the first of such case, the media, especially those of southern descent, never expressed or entertained the possibility that the first case, which involved a northerner, could also lend itself to a conspiracy theory.
Similarly, the recent preposterous outburst by the ridiculous Asari Dokubo, where he threatened fire and brimstone primarily targeting northerners drew anger from a wide spectrum of Northern leaders. While it goes without saying that Dokubo is nothing better than an ignorant and mad bumbling fool, who has directed his personal frustrations towards bigotry, the outrage of many northerners to the utterances of the ‘rabid dog’ has been as revealing as the complacency southerners treated the onslaught.
But the truth is, even though the manner and approach adopted by Dokubo was, to say the least, crass and uncouth, several northerners have, in the not so distant past, made statements not so dissimilar to Dokubo’s. But when they did, northerners didn’t see fault in it and didn’t articulate outrage in the same way southerners haven’t reacted to Dokubo’s statements. The theory all the time, in each instance is that there is a conspiracy where all regions adopt the posture of victims whose existence and wellbeing is threatened by some tribal covert grand design. And that in itself makes a conspiracy of the theory.
The reactions to the Woolwich killings and Dokubos statements may not seem connected, but they are; in the most crucial manner. Assessing these diverse events and the reactions that have followed them, one can’t help but conclude the navigation of ethnic sensibilities. When such conspiracy theories came into the fold in Nigeria, one can bet that there is an assessment of tribe and our natural denial of anything that reflects negativity of anyone that comes from the same tribe as us. Instead of universally labelling inciting statements of both northerners and southerners wrong, instead of accepting that murdering extremists are nothing less than murdering extremists, we make excuses when our tribes are concerned; use conspiracy theories to rationalise bad behaviour.
When it comes to conspiracy theories, we here in Nigeria are the sharers out of nations. So dependent we are on story telling for our survival, especially in connection with tribal issues, we have lost the codes of rational reasoning and to properly and reasonably articulate our outrage.
Don Delera, one of the most outstanding contemporary American writers, once said of conspiracy theories, “If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme; silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act.”
We do this to an art form in Nigeria. So easy is it to take refuge in the shadowy world of maybe or maybe nots. To blame all our failings on bogey men, on the ‘other’ tribes, on anyone except ourselves. It saves us the trouble of confronting reality. It saves us the trouble of having to take responsibility, of conserving our identity and our country; which we destroy so quickly and so shamelessly. It saves us from taking accountability for our actions and decisions and in the long run, we assassinate the potential of our young Nigeria in the span of one short lifetime. And it saves us from demanding better from our feckless rulers and depriving them of their overbearing and overwhelming power over us.
It is becoming harder and harder to escape the sense that the narrow-minded idiosyncrasy we apply to the issue of tribe is the core threat to our development and existence. Being unable to assess issues objectively without giving it a tribal and ethnic dimension is disturbing and a further reinforcement that what we have got in Nigeria is a most disunited and leery order. As a people, our way of reasoning requires a stronger focus on inconvenient truths which are much too often swept under the carpet in exchange for an optical illusion that exonerates what we consider to be ‘our own kind.’
It honestly is a woeful decree in the assessment of Nigeria that, a century since our formation; we are still unable to shed the garb of suspicion, intolerance and disparity. Still, unable to see beyond ethnicity, religion and regional origin. We; the black race, the people of Africa, Nigerians far and wide want to be accepted and seen as equals by the Europeans, the Americans, by the Caucasians all over the world. We complain when the Westerners make documentaries depicting our nations decline.
We curse and cry bias when they refuse to grant us visas to their countries and when fellow Africans label us parasites, criminals and 419ers. Who are we to accuse anybody else of prejudice against us? We have no right to claim discrimination when we fail to exhibit the equality and understanding that we yearn from outsiders to our own people and in our own home. Through actions and words, all ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria are equally as guilty as each other of promoting the disharmony that is now drowning us.
There is no doubt that we are a different people with different cultures, religions, languages and traditions. We eat different foods, wear different clothes and look different. It is true that we have had to cope with the colonial legacy that lumped incompatible ethnic groups into one. But even amidst our differences, we are a people with the same story, with the same history, with the same plight. And even within each ethnic group, each village, each community, dichotomy and odium still thrive. The treasure of any nation is formed from the union of the people within its territory and its worth is characterised from its variety. The diversity and range of our different cultures and beliefs is where our strength lies and our weakness comes from our non-recognition of this fact.
In any society, ideological face-offs are encouraged, pride in identity is essential, but the ethno-regionalism and ethnic fundamentalism that is so rife in this atmosphere is just so darn unhealthy. In any forward-thinking society that adopts fitting ideals, zonal and religious sentiments and emotions are not abused in the way they are in Nigeria. In a cultured setting, individuals, not the tribes they originate from, would be responsible for their actions and Nigerians would cease from viewing every challenge through jaundiced eyes.
The vast majority of us seem to have massive blind spots when it comes to our ability to tame prejudice and subjectivity when tribe and ethnicity is involved. And the vast majority of us find it hard to castigate a fellow tribe member from wrongdoing, preferring instead to find coherence in the irresponsible or criminal act by believing in a conspiracy theory, thus exonerating the fellow tribesman.
To be honest, I did the same in the early days of the Boko Haram offensive. I found it very difficult to believe that people who had the same identity as me would commit the type of atrocious crimes that Boko Haram did against fellow human beings, instead preferring to believe that there were a group of tribal covert men in grey suits who sat in some sort of a secret society to design these events in order to achieve some end result. And while, there are other dimensions to the Boko Haram phenomenon to be discussed for another day, I have had to come to terms with the reality and call a spade what it actually is.
This primordial and regressive ethnic thinking that we all seem to be slightly guilty of has no place in any future, even if we don’t remain as one nation. But since, at this present time, we are one nation, we must recognize that before the need for a good leader or the need for electricity, what Nigeria needs first and foremost is a united atmosphere that will improve our sense of belonging and give each of us the opportunity to flourish. In order to have that, each of us has to stop forming part of the chain that preys on ethnic and religious identities and sentiments.
It’s time to get our acts together so that diverse groups can develop a cohesive and genuine democracy fostered by federalism. A democracy where our differences will be split along ideological lines not ethnic insularities. It is by Gods’ will that Nigeria came to be made up of a variety of religions and 250 ethnic groups. It is up to us to be grateful for this gift and make this country work.
The downfall of any multi ethnic country is usually enhanced through the flaw of reasoning, social dogma or ignorance. Unless we are able to overcome our flaw in reasoning and ignorance that accentuates our ethnic distinctions, then we will remain unable to address our troubles, because even though we clearly see the truth, as Don Delera says, it will “forever be closed off to us since we can only see ourselves as the innocents trying to find coherence in some criminal act.” Let’s wake up and recognise that; “the real theory of the conspiracies lies in the conspiracy of the theory,” and it has nothing to do with a real rationale but everything to do with our prejudiced tribal sensibilities and denials.
So as we come to terms with the emergence of a converted Muslim extremist of southern descent, as we enrage about comparable inciting tribal statements from northern personalities and Niger-delta militants alike, we might just need to take a minute and look for fault from within, give the conspiracies a break, put tribal sensibilities aside and lay blame where blame is due…, even if it is on our doorstep.
Ms. Musawa writes a syndicated column from London. Follow her twitter handle on @hanneymusawa
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