“Everybody wants to go up to heaven I say
But none of them wants to die-
(Like Jesus, like Jesus...)
And you know what
There won’t be no peace
Till man gets equal rights
Equal rights and justice...”
- Peter Tosh
Gideon Akaluka was a young zealous Christian preacher.
One day, he had a call, “Who shall I send? Who shall go for us?”
He answered, “Here I am. Send me.”
And he was sent.
In Kano, he began to preach the gospel. He was a like a sales man trying to market a product in an area where it wasn’t the most patronized. He tried to compare products. He tried to do road tests to show the superiority of his product. He was of the opinion that Nigeria was a free market where each producer was free to pitch his product to consumers anywhere. He tried to demonstrate the weakness of the predominant product of the Kano market but never lived to tell the different.
Akaluka was seized. He was accused of blasphemy. The authorities kept him in prison cell pending trial. Then, the fundamentalists stormed the prison, picked Akaluka up and beheaded him. Thereafter, they paraded his severed head through the streets on a spike.
That was in December of 1994.
That incident alone called for the emergence of a Martin Luther King Jr. But nobody answered the call. The injustices deepened. And today, we are talking about Bariya Ibrahim Magazu, a 17 year old teenage girl awaiting 180 strokes of cane for having pre-marital sex. And Nigerians wonder why there is no peace when they cannot guarantee equal rights and justice.
The Niger Delta is crying out for a Martin Luther King Jr. The Zango-Kataf people are crying out for a Martin Luther King Jr. The suppressed Igbo people are crying out for a Martin Luther King Jr. The Christians in the North are crying out for a Martin Luther King Jr. The battered minorities in the military, the poor masses in the north, etc all crying out for a leader.
If you ask Martin Luther King Jr. to describe what is happening to Nigeria, he would say that Nigeria is approaching a spiritual death. Analysts have found out one problem with Nigeria- poverty. It is poverty of the mind, poverty of material and poverty of men. What most analysts have left out is injustice. It is injustice in Nigeria that killed patriotism. It is injustice in Nigeria that fuels all the social and political ills of that country. Nigeria needs to wage a war against injustice. Martin Luther King Jr. called himself “a drum major for justice”. Nigeria needs one of them. A drum major who would fight for economic justice. Someone who believes in Nigeria’s potential to end poverty. A drum major who knows how to use the power of organized mass action.
King described his mission as one aimed at “disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed”. The Nigerian masses are so disturbed. They need to see the comfortable disturbed. It is the first sign that the journey toward justice for all has begun.
In his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech, King said that he “refused to accept the view that the bright day of peace and prosperity can never become a reality.” Nigeria needs men and women who would uphold and demonstrate such a belief. Men and women who know how to resurrect the spirit of a fallen country. The comfortable and the privileged who constitute the bulk of the establishment must be made to understand the inevitability of a change in the status quo. The whole structure of the Nigerian society must be radically altered in a way that the aspiration for freedom and human dignity for the generality of the Nigerian masses could be attained.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King Jr. articulated the bases of his philosophy. He wrote that “Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and ... when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” In the Nigerian context of today, there really is nothing like law and order. By extension then, there really is no justice. King lamented that “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” He complained that “one who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.” Nigeria has continued to be led by men of such disrepute.
In his short life, Martin Luther King Jr. did the equivalent of exposing racism in its ugliness for the world to see. Nigeria is in need of someone who will expose its injustices for the world to see. Someone who will awaken and instigate the Nigerian people into fierce anger. Nigeria needs someone who will embarrass her. Someone who will embarrass her with the truth. The kind of truth that will frighten her and force her to do the right thing or risk final annihilation. The kind of truth that will free her from the trap of her history. Nigeria needs her own Martin Luther King Jr.
On Dec. 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up a seat on a public bus, Martin Luther King Jr. was a 26 year old preacher. When the Montgomery Improvement Association chose the young preacher to lead the hours-old bus boycott, little did he know that it would change his life and the destiny of his people forever. Later on, King wrote that the unanticipated leadership happened so quickly that he did not have time to think it through. “It is probable that if I had, I would have declined the nomination”, he later wrote.
In the course of the struggle, King did put his life on the line. He used the power of good to fight the power of evil and hatred. He believed in the victory of good over evil. He had vision and that vision he made real to all. He made it possible for people to feel it, touch it, and taste it, and own it. Nigeria needs men like King who are ready to put their lives on line until equal rights and justice are granted to all Nigerians.
No doubt, Nigerians are disgruntled and discontented. They are alienated from the promises of their own fatherland. They yearn for somebody to provide them with a voice. Somebody to express their innermost feelings for them. The lack of this visionary is the reason why the ideological uncertainty that followed the granting of independence led to the current political uncertainty of today. The Nigerian will continue to procrastinate, will continue to manage, to suffer, and to understand until someone comes up to wipe up the sense of rebellion in them.
Nigerians need to know that prayers are not enough. They need to know that reading the holy books can never be substituted for taking action. It may help guard them against insanity, but their ultimate destiny is in their hands to make or to mar. Nigerians need to be reminded of this. They need a man or woman of integrity to lead in this struggle. The Nigerian masses are ready to move. They just need a leader to show them the way. They can no longer wait. If a leader fails to emerge, they are going to take to the road by themselves. And anarchy would be the order of the day.
Martin Luther King Jr. signified the search for justice, reconciliation and redemption. The only alternative to that is revenge and retaliation. It is more exciting, and more satisfying in the emotional sense. But also more damaging to the collective dream of a people. But in the absence of a King, it shall come to pass.
Those in doubt should look up and see the Malcolm Xs creeping out of the trenches.
This piece was first published on January 13, 2001.