I wrote this piece originally on Friday March 2, 2010 as a note on my Facebook page after the Jos mayhem. We have had a relatively minor but still disturbing eruption in Jos since those days of rage and tragedy.
10 years ago, I wrote views about Nigeria which were subsequently published in the now defunct The Comet, a national daily set up to compete with the venerable The Guardian. This was during the germination era of Nigeria's current democracy, when hope filled the air after 16 unbroken years of military dictatorship. I concluded at the time that Nigeria lacked a civil society properly so-called. My meaning of "civil society" drew from the classical definition of Socratic times where civil society was synonymous with the good society wherein the citizens dedicated themselves to the collective good and civic virtues of moderation, wisdom, justice and equity held sway.
If you buy into the Ashanti saying "the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of her people", then it logically follows that whatever flows into or out of a nation-space begins in the homes of that nation's people. And this includes the much-reviled politicians of whatever political grouping, coloration, ideology, half-baked ideology or absolute lack thereof whose primitive rapacity and myopia has denuded the polity of the hope brought forth by the appearance of electoral self-determination just 11 short years ago.
Samuel Johnson coined the phrase "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". Although it is not definitively known in respect of whom that statement was directed, evidence suggests that Johnson had Edmund Burke very much in mind.
On Burke, Johnson is known to have said: "Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest." And on another occasion, Johnson said of him, "In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in public life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong; that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that Burke acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by their conviction."
Sound like some living politicians you know, right?
Jos burns. Innocent lives lost. Nigeria's tragedy: the blooming promise of youth truncated by fire and by iron under cover of darkness. The flowering promise of youth, deformed emotionally by primordial hatred, murders. The promise of youth, convicted and sentenced on genuine confessions or confessions procured on the point of death, will rot in prison. Or be snuffed out at the gallows. The hate festers. The cycle continues. And in the capitals, in their gilded suites, in the softly-carpeted comforts of their corridors, the air-conditioned confines of their sanctums, far removed from the alien, back-breaking labor of the hoi-polloi inured to the African sun, the politicians of the ruling party and the politicians of the opposition parties issue sterile pleas, directives and declarations.
IT IS BETTER TO MAKE THE WRONG DECISION THAN NOT TO MAKE ANY DECISION AT ALL -- Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, former military dictator, 1985-1993; circa 1990.
At the height of Babangida's popularity in 1985, Naiwu Osahon warned the polity "IBB is a crook". He was shouted down by a fawning populace. Babangida himself opened a slight window into his personality during that time when, speaking about his war college sojourn in India, he said the Indians explained that his middle name "Badamasi" meant "crook" in Hindu. The rest, we know! So you ask me, where does Babandiga fit in the Jos scenario?
I quote you this:
The Commission that probed the riots that has turned the Jos area to one of the most volatile spots in Nigeria has identified former dictator, Ibrahm Babangida, as the reason why peace relocated from Plateau State. It says Babangida's creation of municipalities was not done with the people in mind.
The Justice Bola Ajibola Commission of Enquiry on sectarian strife in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State faulted the creation of the local government area by Babangida, observing that the local government election of November 27, 2008 in Plateau State was not the cause of the crisis, but only gave impetus to the Hausa/Fulani community to perpetrate mayhem since they felt that they were about to lose their primary source of economic and political dominance.
In an Executive Summary obtained by The Punch in Jos, the panel said that the local council, which was created through the States (Creation and Transition Provision Decree No 2 of 1991), was not done in consultation with the people.
The panel recommended the splitting of the area into three sustainable local government administrative areas.
The commission observed that when the indigenous people rejected the creation of the local government, the then Gen Ibrahim Babangida administration did not do anything about it until the regime left office.
The commission said that the 2008 election was just an excuse by the Hausa/Fulani population to cause trouble.
The conditions which enabled and precipitated bouts of rioting in Jos over the past decade of civilian rule were the conditions created by Babangida's "better the wrong decision than none at all" in 1991, because of which thousands of innocent lives have been destroyed with the real possibility of more in the future. Amid these facts, the task which confronts these politicians is as simple to define as the mug of rooibos tea before me is pleasing to drink: undo Babangida's damage. Without this, more will die after an uneasy peace.
But do these politicians have the clarity of vision and genuine patriotism to do what is right by their people? Time will tell.