On Friday, November 22, 1963, while riding along with a presidential motorcade on a street in Dallas, Texas, US President, John F. Kennedy, was shot by a sniper. Kennedy was sitting inside a Lincoln Continental convertible with his wife, Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally’s wife, Nellie, when the bullets from Lee Harvey Oswald’s high-powered rifle flew in. Oswald was arrested seven hours later in a Texas theater. Two days after, while Oswald was being escorted to a car for transfer to Dallas County jail, he was shot in front of live TV cameras by Jack Ruby, a night club owner.
It was the dark days of American politics when the nation was embroiled in a Cold War and a devastating war in Vietnam. As details of Kennedy’s assassination emerged, so did conspiracies that laid the blame on the CIA, the Soviet Union, organized crime, the Secret Service, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, the KGB, military industrial complex, right-wing groups and so on. At issue was that Americans could not believe that a drifter like Oswald killed a whole president of the United States. Not even the Warren Commission could put the controversy to rest after a ten-month investigation that concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he killed Kennedy and that Jack Ruby acted alone when he killed Oswald. It did not balance out that a regular guy could just kill a president. And because it did not balance out there must be other intrigues hidden behind the headlines. There were questions about a second gun man, a mystery bullet and other circumstantial occurrences common in life.
Similar narratives are now playing out in Nigeria over the destruction being wrecked by Boko Haram on the nation. With almost 3,000 people killed this year alone, including the February slaughter of 29 school boys in Damaturu, one can still find Nigerians who doubt that the Boko Haram group actually kidnapped the over 200 Chibok school girls.
And then came the Wednesday incidents in Kaduna.
Since December 31, 1983 when the junta that sacked the Second Republic made him the leader of the succeeding military government, Nigeria has been trying to kill General Muhamadu Buhari.
Buhari is different things to different people. To some, he is the epitome of that group of generals who truncated our democracy under the pretense that they knew better than the rest of us on how to correct our maladies and put us on a different orbit. To some, he is nothing but a member of the long ruling class from the privileged part of Northern Nigeria. To others, he is one of the few actors in Nigeria willing to wipe out corruption and all the allied ills wrecking the country. There are those who see him as an Islamic fundamentalist eager to turn Nigeria into an Islamic country. Some see him as one of those born before Nigeria gained independence in 1960 who have held tight to the leadership of the country ever since and won’t hand over to the next generation. Whatever he is to you, there are people who are willing to kill him for that.
The event that happened on Wednesday last week in Kaduna was just a physical manifestation of something that has been going on, figuratively, for over three decades.
As we speak, the event of last Wednesday is being debated. The only thing Nigerians can agree on is that there was a bombing. Who planned it and for what purpose have divided Nigerians. Some believe, including Buhari himself, that it was Boko Haram. But which Boko Haram? The political Boko Haram, the criminal Boko Haram or the religious Boko Haram? And for what goal?
Some believe it was a bogus attempt planned by Buhari or the APC to erase the perception in some quarters that Buhari and the APC are the sponsors of Boko Haram. Amongst the distinguished men who believe this narrative is the Niger-Delta militant, Asari-Dokubo.
And then, there are those who believe that it was planned by President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP to eliminate the most formidable opponent of their party in 2015 election. This is the most dangerous of all the theories.
Everyone holds on to his or her own belief in spite of what the reality suggests. The reality is that Nigeria dodged a bullet on Wednesday. If Buhari and Sheik Dahiru Bauchi had been killed on Wednesday, several scenarios would have played themselves out. The least of which would be a sequence of unpleasant events that would have led to President Jonathan declaring an emergency rule across most of the North. At the very least, it could have precipitated a military takeover of the government of Nigeria.
Some would say, “That is not possible. The military can never rule Nigeria again.” After you say so, look over to Egypt and ask them how they sacrificed blood and sweat only to go from a 30-year old dictatorship of a former military officer to starting another dictatorship of a former military officer. The military that inherited the Egyptian revolution did not appear in a vacuum. And so it could have been if what happened on Wednesday had taken the life of Buhari. It would have been a series of unfortunate events that would have culminated in an end we did not envisage.
The reason isn’t that Buhari’s life is more important than the lives of those who have been killed in Nigeria in the past, including MKO Abiola. People who hold on to that notion to dismiss the danger in what happened on Wednesday are forgetting something important: the context. There have been some gathering clouds across the Nigerian sky before, but never has the elements come together in this way that a little trigger could lead to a perfect storm. In Nigeria today, the forces of evil lurking in Nigeria would easily overwhelm the system if pushed into the arena all at once. The forces are alert. The cracks on the nation’s core are wider than ever. The tremor will bring down the pillars. The forces are so potent that the perfect storm could happen as early as tomorrow.
It was therefore great that President Jonathan recognized this when he said on Sunday that Nigeria would have been in turmoil had Buhari and Bauchi died in the attacks. But contrary to what the president said, there is nothing to celebrate in Buhari’s narrow escape. With scores of Nigerians killed each day, the next question for the president is what is he going to do about it? A country can dangle at the edge of the abyss for a while. If it stays there for too long, eventually, it will ultimately break and fall in.
Instead of focusing on these realities, Nigerians are engrossed in their new found game: conspiracy bating. We can even say that Nigeria has officially adopted a new religion. It is called conspiracy theory. The intellectual space of Nigeria has been overtaken by the weed of conspiracies. It is the final stage of a society that is submerged in darkness.
Considering the depth of the darkness in which we have been wallowing in for years, it is easy to understand why it’s difficult for us to think outside the box. We are boxed inside a terrifying world of crude intrigues and betrayals. The acts are often so simple and the motives so mundane that we don’t believe what they are pointing to. We want to believe there are higher meaning and deeper depth to things. And when the meanings are higher and the depth deeper, we wish to hold on to the simplified interpretation of things. In Nigeria today, those ‘who are not lost in the understanding of their confusion are lost in the confusion of their understanding.’
But it should not be surprising. Our experiences come from the things that have happened to us. Our prejudices come from our fears. We assign motives to other people’s words and actions based on our prejudices. We interpret our experiences to support our prejudices. We choose a social circle that reinforces our prejudices. In the end, our prejudices taint our judgment. We cannot break out of this quagmire until we learn to examine motives outside the scope of our prejudices.
A man who has readied an army of fighters eager to make the nation ungovernable will not grab a microphone and announce it. When Bola Tinubu talked about roasting anyone who would try to rig the gubernatorial election in Ekiti, he did not have an army of men with kerosene and firewood ready to roast people. It was a foolish talk by a politician wary of possible rigging of an election.
We can fail in the task of uplifting our society. We can equally fail in the task of inspiring the young. But we cannot fail in the task of preserving rational thinking. The consequences of such a failure would be devastating. Our demise will not happen because some mad men are killing us. We will finally get our acts together and vanquish the mad men. We will become extinct when our minds fail us or become so crowded with proliferating conspiracies that reason eludes us.
Looking at the trend in our democracy of today, would an uninterrupted democracy since 1979, in spite of Umaru Dikko and Adisa Akinloye and others, have led us to somewhere better? If we eliminate corruption in Nigeria, would all the other ills and injustices be easily resolved? Despite suggestions of some on the fringe, is it practical for any group to Islamize all of Nigeria? Has the control of power been in the hands of the elite of a particular ethnic group for so long in Nigeria that they have assumed that it is their right? When will the generation that came into prominence during the colonial era give way to those born after independence? Fair or not, Buhari’s name, as well as his essence, is mentioned in an attempt to answer any of these questions and many more of the Nigerian questions.
We can keep trying to kill Buhari for the simple reason that we have used our tongue to count our teeth. With Buhari, dead or alive, Nigeria will continue on its tragic trajectory until we use our teeth to count our tongue.