In his last hours, the venerable Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India was planning a trip to Pakistan following his frustrations. The Indo-Pakistan conflict was spiraling out of orbit. There appeared not to be a way out of the religious discord between the Muslim-dominated Pakistan and the Hindu-dominated India, who were not only accusing each other of being evil but were busy enacting a daily drama of fratricidal carnage mostly at a cost to innocent lives.
In a memorable scene captured in the movie directed by Richard Attenborough, where Gandhi was played by Ben Kingsley, we encounter him adding a few details to a document in a file, his old face plastered with a mischievous glint, and, not far afield, his grand children, adopted daughter, as well as an American reporter who had come to interview him were all trying hard to compress a tense column of time with presumed indifference.
Suddenly, like one who’s had a “Eureka” moment, the reporter looked up and said to Gandhi “You’re going to Pakistan!” It came more like an accusation than the question it was meant to be, but acting a bit indifferent, the old sage answered in the affirmative, and, wearing an amused wrinkle on his face, he shot back at the reporter, asking if she thought he was unduly courting risk. Horrified, she replied that this was perhaps the craziest thing to do. “No” shot back Gandhi. “I just want to prove to them that the only devils that are running around are the ones in their hearts”.
It is impossible now to ignore the relationship this draws to my troubled homeland. My mind went into a rapid picture sorting session: the heated agitation from the removal of oil subsidy; the total collapse of security in every unit of the country; the inadequacy of virtually all machinery of government; the lack of basic infrastructure, and not to talk of the pervasive corruption that has enveloped the land. My mind simply sank. Where does one even start to ask where we went wrong? It sounds so ludicrous because here is a country that has all going for her but which appears to have chosen simply to self-destruct.
Nothing is scarier than the notion that our predicament is devoid of a diagnosis, no thanks to our media which have been saturated with shallow analysis and porous insight on how to make a head way out of this confusion. If I attempt to say that the real problem is selfish interest I bet it wont take time describe me as naïve, with my background [such as state of origin and religion] brought into service to ignore the substance of the debate.
But facts are stubborn things and the infamous Boko Haram offers a classic example of the complexity of how to manage diversity. While it is true that in a country with multiple cultures, religious and social backgrounds groups like these are expected, but the essence of democracy and a multi-party political system is that if you feel strongly about your ideology and principles, and you disagree with the general norm, you have the right and choice to register your group, campaign and build up your platform and make it strong enough to offer you the majority that you need to implement your goals and policies in a civilized manner.
Secondly, the so-called intellectual class cannot absolve itself of responsibility for all the problems. Although they remain absent for the better part of the time with respect to effective engagement, however when it comes to debate, oratory and analyses on what the problems are, they are experts at the game of “pointing fingers”, prescribing the “perfect” formulas but never getting at those uncomfortable truths and answers.
How about talking concretely about poverty? Is it so difficult to locate the fundamental root of this problem in poverty? It sounds simple, but poverty is the worse form of humiliation everywhere and unless we all stand up against it, its shock effect will ultimately consume us all, certainly not sparing the so called intellectuals who already suffer their own version of intellectual poverty. We can help matters by infusing a little more rigour in our analysis, and by moving beyond the simple blame game of holding an amorphous cabal for the failure to provide a life of dignity for our brothers and sisters.
My people say: “when a needle falls into a deep well, many people will look into the well, but few will be ready to go down after it! Truth is that the alleged “Giant of Africa” is the needle now in the bowels of the well. Gandhi died before he could remove India from the well but at least there was an effort and there were disciples. Now it is our challenge to see democracy not only as a system of government but an active mechanism for conflict resolution and the management of diversity.
* Pinado Abdu-Waba, a radio Journalist, writes from Bonn in Germany