Nigeria, Land Of The Unknown – By Anthony Akinwale, Guest Writer
I have just recently begun to learn that, unknown to many of us Nigerians, Nigeria is land of the unknown.
In 1977, when Afrika Shrine, residence of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was burnt down, the military government set up a panel of inquiry. At the conclusion of its sitting, the panel concluded that Fela’s residence was burnt down by an “Unknown Soldier”.
It was the military government’s way of abdicating a double responsibility: the responsibility to protect the life and property of a citizen, and the responsibility to identify, apprehend and prosecute its agents in military uniform who committed the crime of setting a citizen’s home ablaze. Fela would later sing about the incident in his album, “Unknown Soldier”.
Also, in the same year, at about the same time, Jamaican reggae musician, Peter Tosh, whose original name was Winston Hubert McIntosh, sang in “Equal Rights”: “Everyone is talking about crime. Tell me, who are the criminals?”
The many crises Nigeria is facing, particularly the multifaceted situation of insecurity in this country, makes one ask from time to time this and similar questions: everyone is talking about corruption. But who is not corrupt? Everyone is talking about insecurity, who is responsible for the insecurity? Everyone is talking about kidnappers. But, who are the kidnappers? Everyone is talking about unknown gunmen, who are the unknown gunmen? Everyone is talking about oil theft in Nigeria. Who is stealing the oil?
There are three possible answers to the question: whether there is a God? The answer of the theist is in the positive, that of the atheist in the negative. The agnostic says he does not know whether or not there is a God. It seems we in Nigeria are agnostic or pretend to be agnostic when it comes to the matter of insecurity. Such was the case when a panel of inquiry published its agnostic finding pointing accusing fingers at the famous “Unknown soldier”.
But why and how is it that those who ought to know become agnostic when crime is committed? We have the army, we have the police, we have an assortment of security agencies. Why is it that they either don’t know or pretend not to know?
Once again, we are witnessing the drama of electioneering campaign. One does not know whether to call it a comedy or a tragedy or a tragicomedy. The scenes are familiar: the carnival atmosphere, the aso ebi wearing party faithful, the vote buying and selling, the violence and the empty promises.
A season of electioneering campaign is a time promises are flying all over the place. Quite often, promises are made by politicians with little or no intention to keep them. In fact, the maker of the promise knows that he has neither the capacity nor the volition nor the means to fulfill the promise. This season is a time to ask those who are canvassing for our votes not just what they will do when they get into office, but also, how they will accomplish it. If they say they are going to tackle insecurity, we must interrogate them on how they intend to tackle it.
Indeed, every candidate is promising to tackle insecurity. But, as we ought to have learnt from experience, it is not sufficient to make a promise. It is necessary that we know whether you as a candidate know the cause of the problem and whether you know the solution to it. But we Nigerians are not asking pertinent questions. We are preoccupied with trading insults instead of trading ideas on how best to run the affairs of this country.
We are not looking for a President, we are looking for a messiah President, and those who are asking for our votes repeatedly tell us that they are the messiah Nigeria needs. It is rather intriguing that, at a time of crisis, Nigerians are not interested in thoroughly assessing the candidates. Many Nigerians have already made up their minds on which candidate will get their votes. We are not looking for solutions to Nigeria’s problem. We are looking for a President who is a boy of the clan, a President who must not only come from my ethnic community but must come from my village.
Nigerians’ quest for a messianic President is mixed up with a sense of entitlement on the part of some candidates. An entitlement presidency is a dangerously shallow and fallacious argument which will take Nigeria nowhere. It needs to be said loud and clear that it is neither the turn of any candidate nor the turn of any ethnic community to become president of Nigeria. It is the turn of Nigerians to elect their President. The sterile conversation currently building around entitlement Presidency in this campaign season points to the fact that the outcome of next year’s presidential election is already being determined by kingmakers other than the Nigerian voter.
We descend into incivility when some people describe others with divergent political views as bastards because these others do not support the candidacy of a member of their ethnic community. It is morally objectionable to label as bastards those who hold the view that a voter is under no obligation to cast a vote for a candidate of the same ethnic affiliation as the voter. Sameness of ethic affiliation does not suffice for having my vote.
We equally descend into incivility, and it is also morally objectionable, when some insist that members of other ethnic communities are traitors simply because they do not intend to vote for a candidate from the ethnic community of those who call them traitors. If you decide to vote for a candidate because he is of your ethnic group, you have no moral grounds to castigate others who intend to vote for a candidate of their own ethnic community.
There is no moral or legal obligation that members of the same ethnic community espouse the same political views or make the same choice of candidate at the polls. If such an obligation were to be imposed on anyone, it would amount to a gross violation of freedom of conscience of the one on whom it is imposed.
Let us come back to the issue of oil theft. It did not begin today. It has been happening for a long time. It happens, not only when the oil is transported in ships, but also when the wealth of Nigeria ends up in the hands of those who steal Nigeria’s wealth, those who have ensured that Nigeria bear the sad distinction of an oil-rich land inhabited by impoverished human beings.
On a final note. Those who set a ship ablaze because it was bearing stolen oil committed a crime. Their crime was to have acted in a way that concealed a crime. Why have they not been apprehended? In our land of unknown soldiers, unknown gunmen and unknown kidnappers, are they unknown? Agnosticism again.
Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Anthony Akinwale, OP, was pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Dominican University, Ibadan, Nigeria.