“We must never let the wreckage of our barbaric past keep us from envisioning a peaceful future when law and democratic freedom will rule the earth.”- Gregory H. Stanton.
Sometime in the 90s, Bola Ige wrote a controversial but landmark essay called, "The Road To Kigali." He later developed it into a series of essays published in his Nigeria Tribune Column, Uncle Bola’s Column, and so many other newspapers and magazines.
If you skim out the controversies as it relates to who is playing the role of the Tutsi and who is playing the Hutu in the case of Nigeria, the late lawyer and an agitator for a National Conference, argued that, left on the same path Nigeria was on, the people of Nigeria were headed for the same fate that befell Rwanda. The core of his argument was that a country that is structurally flawed, inherently unjust, where impunity reigns, and law and order means nothing to anyone, would constantly flirt with doom.
For those who have forgotten, Rwandans have lived in a fractured country with unresolved citizenship and rights questions, crawling from one crisis into another until 1994 when they killed 800,000 of their own compatriots in 100 days.
Bola Ige later became the Attorney General of Nigeria and was murdered at his home in Ibadan.
And Nigeria moved on, as we often do.
But the issues he raised have not died. Nigeria unfortunately continues to dangle between the Road to Kigali and the Road to Rio de Janeiro.
Remember, Bola Ige wrote when Plateau state was still peaceful; when the state had not been turned into a killing field where ethnic and religious conflict had not led to the death of thousands and the destruction of towns and villages. Ige wrote of the Road to Kigali when nobody in Nigeria could fathom that a group of Nigerians could rise up and call themselves Boko Haram and start destroying towns and villages, killing schoolboys, kidnapping schoolgirls, blowing themselves up and wiping out villages across the North East.
According to Gregory H. Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, there are ten stages of genocide. He tagged them as Classification, Symbolization, Discrimination, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Persecution, Extermination, and Denial. He said these stages do not follow any particular order. They can occur concurrently.
In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide started when, on April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. It killed everyone on board. The next day, genocide against Tutsi and moderate Hutu started.
President Habyarimana, a Hutu, had signed a ceasefire agreement called the Arusha Accords. It was aimed at ending the Rwanda Civil War. Hutu extremists who opposed the ceasefire agreement shot down the plane as part of the move to frustrate Habyarimana’s move to share power with the Tutsi dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front. But when the incident happened, Hutu extremists blamed it on the Tutsi. It became an inciting tool in the hands of Hutu leaders who were determined to wipe out Tutsi people in Rwanda.
Jean Kambanda, a banker and an economist, directed the genocide that followed. As the leader of the Mouvement Democratique Populaire, he directed the execution of what they called “the final solution of the Tutsi problem.” The Hutu set up roadblocks and apprehended Tutsi people and massacred them. They distributed machetes and Hutu militias, soldiers and regular folks, hit the streets, killing and maiming and destroying properties belonging to Tutsi. In 100 days, over 70% of Tutsi in Rwanda were killed.
1994 was not the first time Tutsi had been massacred in Rwanda. It happened in the 50s and 60s. For the Hutu extremists, the Tutsi have dominated the country’s economy and power for generations and must be stopped. To accentuate their narratives, the Hutu tagged the Tutsi as foreigners, oppressors, ‘native colonialists, and even called them cockroaches. In each of the past instances of killing before the 1994 genocide, Hutu government officials have been at the forefront of organizing and supervising the massacre. But more importantly, in their rhetoric before the massacres, they prepared the masses for gruesome acts against the Tutsi.
In Rwanda, journalists who promoted hate on radio were later tried for inciting genocide. One George Ruggiu of Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines was sentenced to 12 years in jail. Inciting genocide and complicity in genocide are all crimes in violation of international law. So were army officers who led gangs that massacred people equally punished. Major Bernard Ntuyahaga, the commander of the Presidential Guard, received 20 years in prison for his role.
Genocide does not happen out of the blue. There is a long period of time prior to the actual killings when the populace is prepared for genocide. The first step in the preparation is to classify the potential victims as ‘them’ and the potential perpetrators as ‘we’. The set up is the classic ‘we’ versus ‘them’. The line could be drawn along ethnicity, religion, race, and even class. The ‘them’ are next given a symbol. They are discriminated against and then, dehumanized.
Discrimination comes in various forms. Those who intend to perpetuate genocide often begin by finding ways, using laws and customs, to deny rights to the group they intend to slaughter. As it happened to the Jews, full citizenship was denied. What often follows is restriction on employment, political participation and empowerment. In the Nigerian contest, the issue of indigeneship versus citizenship comes to mind. Discrimination can advance to what Prof. Alan Whitehorn called stigmatization. A targeted group is given a stigma on which they would be hanged.
It is important to the future perpetrators of genocide to dehumanize their victims. They need to be dehumanized so that their eventual killings would be guilty free or guilty-lite. The Germans discriminated and dehumanized the Jews. They fabricated stories blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s economic woes of the country. Another tool used by perpetrators of genocide is to create elaborate stereotype of the victims and put every member of that targeted group into that jacket. Good examples are: they are all thieves; they all love money; they are all dirty; they worship the wrong God etc. The massacre of Muslims going on in Central African Republic at this moment comes to mind.
In effect, part of the preparation for genocide is to induce hate for the targeted group through vile simplification of complex human issues. For instance, if some members of a group are mafia leaders, the problem is a law and order one and law enforcement will do well to treat people as individuals and hold them accountable for falling afoul of the law. It is not something that demands the generalization of the group in question. A good example is the mafia problem in America in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Though most mafia leaders were of Italian descent, America did not tag every Italian-American a mafia. In fact, one of the people that brought the mafia in New York City to its knees was an Italian-American prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani.
That’s how it is done in a society that wants to progress. But a lazy society will rather scapegoat every member of a group and, in the process, jeopardize cohesion and advancement of the whole society.
Nigeria is a lazy society where a negligible number is interested in the heavy lifting needed to actualize the ideals of the nation. Majority simply wants a shortcut that will secure permanent advantage for their group over others. The lack of genuine nationhood feeds all the vampires out in the field. They spend time scheming and searching for whom to blame for their unpleasant life.
"Stereotypes are not necessarily malicious," once cautioned Chinua Achebe. "They may be well meaning and even friendly. But in every case they show a carelessness or laziness or indifference of attitude that implies that the object of your categorization is not worth the trouble of individual assessment." That’s how the action of a man or a group of people is often ascribed to the action of an ethnic or religious group.
Organizing genocide starts from those with power. It could be governments, local chiefs and extremists groups. And there are many in Nigeria. What is needed is for the environment to be ripe and the agitators for the elimination of a group that have been labeled undesirable to give a nod. The militia and other agitated groups in the society would take it from there. The leaders in their mansions, castles and palaces do not have to come out on the streets to direct the operation.
The first sign that genocide is about to start is when the moderate voices within the perpetuating group are silenced. That is needed for the extremists to take over. The extremists do not mind killing and arresting moderates within their own group to make room for their intention. It happened in Rwanda. The Hutu extremists first eliminated moderate voices within the Hutu society to ensure that nobody stopped them.
Of course, perpetrators do not come out and announce that they plan to commit genocide. They find a code name or metaphor to mask their real intentions. It could be as mundane as fighting terrorism or fighting crime but the ultimate goal is to eliminate the targeted group.
The actual operation could entail lynching, deporting, segregating, confiscation of properties and coldblooded killing of innocent men, women and children under any pretense. In situations like this, it is often difficult to contain and in a short period of time thousands of people could be killed by a brainwashed angry mob.
The final stage of genocide according to George H. Stanton is denial. He said that it is an indication that future genocides are going to happen.
“The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses,” he wrote. “They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile.”
Nigeria is a known area of conflict. It has a long history of killings and massacres that fit perfectly well into this genocidal model. And Nigeria has done everything to deny it which means future genocides are going to happen. Instead of acknowledging killings of the past, Nigeria blames the victims. And those who committed those atrocities rather than being driven out continue to oversee the affairs of the Nation.
That’s quite unlike what happened in Rwanda where an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up in Arusha, Tanzania to try high level people involved in the genocide. It complimented the Gacaca Court system that tried over 3,000 cases. Twenty percent of the defendants received death sentences while another thirty-two percent received life in prison. To ensure that the people of Rwanda do not forget, the government has built monuments to remember. It also passed laws against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. Each year it marked the anniversary of the genocide with events that start on April 7th until July 4 called liberation day. The first week of April 7th to 14th is called week of mourning.
That is quite different from the story of killings and massacres in Nigeria. In 1945 some Northern elements in Jos rose up and massacred Igbo people. When it was repeated in 1953 in Kano, the British inquiry reported that, "No amount of provocation, short-term or long term, can in any way justify their (Northern Nigerians) behavior." The British report went further to warn that, "the seeds of the trouble which broke out in Kano on May 16 (1953) have their counterparts still in the ground. It could happen again, and only a realization and acceptance of the underlying causes can remove the danger."
Of course, it happened again. It happened in all of northern Nigeria in 1966, Kano in 1980, Maiduguri in 1982, Jimeta in 1984, Gombe in 1985, Kaduna & Kafanchan in 1991, Bauchi, Kastina, & Kano in 1991, Zango-Kataf in 1992, Funtua in 1993, Kano in 1994.
In Northern Nigeria of 1964, there were calls in the Northern House of Assembly to revoke forthwith all Certificates of Occupancy from the hands of the Igbo residents in the region. Lawmakers stood up in the assembly and promised to find ways to do away with the Igbo. Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, O.B.E and Minister of Land and Survey, told the assembly in March of 1964 the following:
"Having heard their demand about Ibos holding land in Northern Nigeria, my ministry will do all it can to see that the demands of members are met. How to do this, when to do it, all this should not be disclosed. In due course, you will all see what will happen. (Applause)".
The Northern People's Congress, NPC, followed Alhaji Gashash's promise by issuing a booklet called SALAMA: Facts must be faced. This booklet portrayed the Igbo in a very bad light and gave the masses in the North the sense that the Igbo were the source of all their problems.
The military coup of 1966 presented a pretext to carry out a plan that had been laid out years before. It was a plan that aimed at a total extermination of the Igbo or, at least, their containment. The pogrom and the brutal war that followed was the final solution to the perceived Igbo problem in Nigeria.
Based on the above, for the Igbo, the utterances of the Oba of Lagos last month that Igbo people who failed to vote for his candidate in the Lagos State governorship election should be thrown into the lagoon was a warning sign. It fitted well into the pattern that leads to genocide.
The matter was discussed and those that the Oba’s utterances made uncomfortable urged that we move on. The nation moved on. Then xenophobic killings in South Africa began. Like genocides of history, it was triggered by the utterances of the King of Zululand. The king blamed foreigners for the difficult life of South African blacks.
In the course of that discussion, a Texas-based cardiologist, Dr. Adeniran Abraham Ariyo called for xenophobic attack against the Igbo in Nigeria the way foreigners were violently being attacked in South Africa.
“You see how they are being slaughtered in South Africa,” Dr. Abraham Ariyo wrote. “That’s what’s going to happen to them in Lagos…When are they not going to be slaughtered in Abuja?…God might have put a curse on them …We will continue to bus them to Onitsha.”
It was a surprise to many that a cardiologist in America could come so low as to suggest that the solution to whatever issues he has with the activities of some Igbo people in Lagos was a call for xenophobic attack. History, however, showed that well educated people like Rwandan Jean Kambanda advocated and subtly and openly promoted the carnage that ordinary people later carried out.
When the heat was put on Dr. Ariyo, he came out to claim that his Facebook account was hacked. In his thesis as to why he could not be an advocate of genocide against the Igbo, he listed all his Igbo friends and how he had helped a lot of Igbo people along the way.
Dr. Abraham Ariyo knows the truth. Despite his public posture to save his name and maybe his career, he will ultimately answer to his conscience and his chi.
But as history tells us, the promoters and perpetrators of genocide do have friends within the group they are targeting. Some Hutu who were married to Tutsi killed their Tutsi wives and even children they had with Tutsi women just to show their commitment to the total elimination of the Tutsi. So, doctor, that you have Igbo friends is not an alibi.
In Monday’s appearance on The Late Night Show with David Letterman, President Barack Obama said that, the first step in solving any problem is being aware of it, diagnosing it and not denying it.
By now, Dr. Ariyo is surely aware of how genocide comes about. He is also cognizant now of how educated people become perpetrators of genocide. But, more importantly, he is familiar with the consequences of such actions. He may not come out to acknowledge it but you can be sure that his Facebook account will not be hacked again. Ever.