It is clearly evident that Nigeria is at war. It is a second civil war. The north is not safe, and the east has become a no-go area. The west is as silent as a volcano about to erupt. The Niger-Delta does not know peace. Nigerians are being abducted and killed by “unknown gunmen”.
Nigeria’s second civil war, not unlike the first, has been ignited by the political class. We are abundantly reaping the fruit of massive militarization of our young ones during every election season. At the end of elections, demilitarization is hardly considered. Bullets and guns procured for the militia, the “youth wing” of political parties, remain in circulation.
In every war, the first casualty is truth. But we cannot get out of this mess without admitting the truth. Those who kill know those who have sent them on their mission, and those who have sent them on their mission know those who kill as well as their whereabouts. That is why they know where and how to negotiate with them.
The war in Nigeria, to use the words of St Augustine of Hippo in his City of God, is a war in which selfish love is gaining the upper hand over genuine love. According to St Augustine, “Two loves have built two cities: the love of self to the contempt of God has built the earthly city; and the love of God to the contempt of self, the heavenly city” (City of God, 14.28).
Augustine began to write City of God in 413 and completed the work in 426. Parallel to that, or almost parallel, was his work on The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which he began writing in 401, that is, twelve years before he began writing City of God. He concluded the Literal Meaning in 415, that is, eleven years before he completed writing City of God. One is therefore not surprised that the same analogy of two cities is found in the two works.
In The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine wrote: “There are, then, two loves, of which one is holy, the other unclean; one turned towards the neighbour, the other centred on self; one looking for the common good, keeping in view the society of saints in heaven, the other bringing the common good under its own power, arrogantly looking to domination; one subject to God, the other rivaling Him; one tranquil, the other tempestuous; one peaceful, the other seditious; one preferring truth to false praise, the other eager for praise of any sort; one friendly, the other envious; one wishing for its neighbour what it wishes for itself, the other seeking to subject its neighbour to itself; one looking for its neighbour’s advantage in ruling its neighbour, the other looking for its own advantage. These two loves started among the angels, one love in the good angels, the other in the bad; and they have marked the limits of the two cities established among men under the sublime and wonderful providence of God, who administers and orders all that He creates; and one city is the city of the just, and the other city is the city of the wicked” (Book 11, ch 15).
It would be unwise to dissipate time, energy and money fighting symptoms while ignoring the cause. Nigeria’s ailment is not insecurity. The insecurity in our land is symptomatic of the kind of politics we play. Political actors in Nigeria, with almost no exception, elevate private interest to be detriment of the common good. In pursuit of private interests, every election season is used to mobilise all manners of militia—“youth wing” of each political party. These young Nigerians, and some foreigners, are recruited, armed, and used to cause mayhem during electioneering campaign, at polling stations and at collation centres.
What is at stake for our politicians is not the common good but access to Nigeria’s oil wealth. When you have a constitution that places all mineral resources under the exclusive control of the federal government, whoever controls the federal government controls the wealth of Nigeria. Control of the federal government becomes a do or die affair. Our first civil war was over control of oil, our second civil war is not different.
In other to gain access to corridors of power, a dangerous politics of identity is deployed. Ethnic, regional and religious affiliations are exploited. The Nigerian falls victim of politicians who use identity to get into office but neglect their constituencies as soon as election is over. Ethnic entrepreneurs posture as liberators while they already show their lack of democratic temperament. But those who get carried away by their rhetoric cannot see it. The Nigerian needs to learn that the fact that the president or governor is from his or her ethnic community is no guarantee of good governance.
But selfishness is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is the ailment in our wounded human nature. It is overcome by cultivating virtue, by making good laws, and by cooperating with the grace of God. We, for our part, have repeatedly neglected cultivation of virtue. Instead, we think our country will develop with technocrats lacking in ethical competence. Instead of making good laws, our legislators make good money. Despite our loud and extravagant religiosity, we obstinately refuse to cooperate with the grace of God.
Perverse love of self is not peculiar to members of any ethnic, religious or regional community in Nigeria. It is important to stress this point given our propensity to sanctimoniously point accusing fingers at members of other ethnic communities. No ethnic community in Nigeria has a monopoly of selfish individuals. None has a monopoly of saints either. If only we would learn this, we would stop this war in which we shed blood with our bullets, our mouths, our pens, and our irresponsible postings in social media insulting each other’s ethnic or religious communities.
No one is winning this war. At the end of the first civil war, General Yakubu Gowon declared: no victor no vanquished. But that declaration was false. A declaration of truth would have been: no victor, all vanquished. All are vanquished when and where the perversity of propaganda elicits belligerence in the hearts of people. And as Pope Saint John Paul II said on Christmas Day 1990, during the build-up to the first Gulf War: “War is an adventure of no return.”
Celebrating this Sunday the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ — food of angels — calls to mind an insight of German political theologian, Johann Baptist Metz, who said this food will heal us by first purging us of our selfishness, our destructive self love.
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale, OP, is the Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.