In no other issue that I can quickly recall now is the collective moral tone of Nigerians so focused, so targeted, as in our rejection of the horrors, and the terror ethics of the Boko Haram group. This is partly due, I will argue, to the fact that they have inflicted unquantifiable damage on our moral psyche. Our collective moral pain is loud and total regarding this evil.
Evidence of the venial proportions of Boko Haram is best illustrated in the fact that it lacks the moral courage to come out openly into the Nigerian public sphere and have a morally worthy dialogue with the country. Its facelessness is its moral weakness and what shows the banality of its evil acts and agenda.
Yet in opposition to its moral vacancy is the enormous moral courage of Nigerians as represented and condensed in the voices of women and men of courage in Nigeria and in the Diaspora. I am moved to isolate one particular example of the pointed, and apt deployment of this moral courage in the person of the esteemed national hero, Wole Soyinka. I find embedded in his moral voice the eventual and ultimate resolution of the evil that Boko Haram represents.
I am using Wole Soyinka’s voice as the moral metaphor to show that we Nigerians can resolve Boko Haram, and that irrespectable of the current provocations, we should be ready to do so. This is how I explain it: Beside the mass murder being committed by Boko Haram, it is also conducting an immoral and unjustifiable war against our collective moral psyche and image as a people. It is inventing an incalculable moral damage of painting us to the world in an image that is not ours. The challenge before us as a people today is to vigorously reject this intensely false and malicious Boko Haram pseudo narrative about us. Here in lies the soundness and validity of Soyinka’s moral voice.
Soyinka’s proposition is subtle, simple, but profound. Given its subtlety it is possible we miss his message. He argues: Do not retaliate. His premise? Boko Haram wants neighbors to turn against neighbors. His conclusion? We are neighbors and so shall we be. So do not retaliate, do not kill for you are not what Boko Haram says you are. The twin side of this is: protect your neighbors. If they are Muslims protect them from Boko Haram. If they are Christians, protect them from Boko Haram. If they are neither Christians nor Muslims protect them from Boko Haram. If they are “northerners” protect them from Boko Haram. If they are “southerners” protect them from Boko Haram. If they are “non-Nigerians” the more reason why you should protect them from Boko Haram.
It is worthy to note Soyinka’s carefully chosen words in his moral voice. Thousands of miles away from the site of this evil, I do know this griot, Soyinka must be in deep pain at the attempt by Boko Haram to tell us who we are not. Soyinka says “neighbor”. Soyinka does not say “southerner”, “easterner”, “northerner”, “westerner”. Again, he says neighbor. In Soyinka’s African knowledge system, ??r??, which is roughly, but inadequately translated as “word”, is a vibrant, living experience of meaning –not arbitrary. The truth in Soyinka’s moral voice is derived from the African fragment that “When you throw a stone into the market, it is your neighbor that it will hit”. So? Do not haul a missile. Do not rise against your neighbor because of Boko Haram. Protect your neighbor.
Thus, in resolving Boko Haram, Soyinka is calling our attention to the fact that being neighbors is our primary experience in Nigeria and this implies a rejection to be atomized as “southerner” or “northerner” or “Christian” or “Muslim” or “non-Christian” or “non-Muslim”. Being “southerner’ or “northerner” “Christian”, “Muslim” are all divisible and dissolvable. While being neighbor is indivisible. As Nigerians and as neighbors we see ourselves in one another. When I look at your face, I see myself in you so I will not let Boko Haram destroy you. When you look at me in the face you see yourself in me, so you will not allow Boko Haram to destroy me. My face touches your face while your face touches my face. And this is not about the country as geography. It is an important ethical issue where you as my neighbor necessarily extend into me and I as your neighbor necessarily extend into you. This is the African ??r?? in Soyinka’s moral voice as the griot of the moment.
The moral point against Boko Haram is concrete, real and directly perceivable. It is not self-righteousness. It is not the injunction of turning the other cheek. It is not the regular plea of being asked to take the “high moral order” which is not bad in itself. However, Soyinka’s moral point and our moral point against Boko Haram is an affirmation of who we are as a people. Boko Haram is an agenda of moral wreckage, implosion and dissolution. And that is not who we are concretely and historically. That the moral point against Boko Haram is real, concrete and rooted in our collective moral psyche is well illustrated by two events during the protest of the masses of Nigerians against the so-called “withdrawal” of oil “subsidy”.
During the strike in Kano- in the North–Muslims built human walls around Christians to protect them against Boko Haram. In Lagos-in the west- Christians built human walls around Muslims during the Jumat Friday prayer to protect Muslims. Such moral human walls of neighborliness in Kano are who we are. Such moral human walls around one another as neighbors in Lagos are who we are. From North to South, East to West, these are the moral walls we should and must build. Let every state governor take a lesson from this street wisdom and go all out to protect every single soul in their states and neighborhoods against Boko Haram. Let grass root and community organizations go all out and morally protect neighbors against Boko Haram. Do not rise against your neighbor. Protect him or her. These are the moral walls worthy to hand over to our children. These are the moral walls that can, should and will resolve Boko Haram. These are the moral walls in Soyinka’s voice. And here in lies the future of our country for moral meanings are prior and superior principles to the geographical representation of a country.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org): Africana Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.