Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Arms And Amnesty: The Gbagy Is Next Time By Olugu Olugu Orji
Amnesty is the exotic synonym for pardon: that makes it a good and desirable thing. Enduring relationships subsist on giving and receiving of pardon. Every genuine family man knows the wonders the words, “I am sorry,” work. But pardon or amnesty is usually contingent upon repentance and renunciation by the offending party. So the idea of amnesty immediately establishes the fact of a crime or error. It is the acknowledgment of such a crime and the concomitant repentance that gives fillip to amnesty.
In 2009, I had cause to express misgivings about the amnesty granted Niger Delta militants by the government of late President Yar’adua. Aggrieved youths had taken up arms against the state to draw attention to the historic injustice being meted out to the peoples of the ND. I had no problem with offering amnesty to those who laid down their arms. I had a beef with presenting amnesty as the final, permanent solution.
My argument then was that, if injustice was at the root of the ND agitations, only justice – of the broad-based sort –can cure the situation. Amnesty can best be a palliative: an interim measure. Incidentally, the ND is not the only region crying injustice and marginalization. The truth is, the way Nigeria is structured to function, almost all the constituent parts can claim one form of injustice or another. So the long-term solution should be to restructure this whole entity so everyone feels a genuine sense of belonging. And I’d predicted then that, not only will amnesty not solve the ND problem, but that it will foist on us what I call the ‘arms/amnesty’ tango.
Enter Boko Haram just when the ND amnesty party is in full swing. They bomb and shoot: killing and maiming. After setting most of Northern Nigeria on fire, with deliberate unison, the northern oligarchs and their southern collaborators start singing a predictable refrain: Amnesty, amnesty, amnesty…………..
So here’s how the ‘arms/amnesty’ tango plays out. You want to extract some concessions and corner more privileges so you take up arms. After killing a few thousand and generally presenting the whole place as unfit for business, you are begged to the negotiating table where words like amnesty, rehabilitation, and empowerment are freely bandied. In these parts, amnesty translates directly to tons of cash and hubris!
Whether Jonathan will eventually grant BH amnesty is, at the moment, uncertain. One thing, though, is clear: the ‘arms/amnesty’ connection has come to stay and the North and BH won’t be the last to exploit it.
I was studying Architecture in the same period Nigeria was relocating her capital to Abuja. Back then, Abuja was a popular topic of discussion. From geographical, functional and aesthetic perspectives, no better site could have found for the new federal capital territory. But having lived here for over a decade, I have a hunch the choice of this site has more to do with the character of the original inhabitants than any other consideration.
The Gbagyis (also called Gwaris) are the predominant ethnic group in Abuja. They can also be found in Kaduna, Niger, Nasarawa and Kogi states. I have grown to love and cherish the Gbagyis, and they are, in my opinion, the most accommodating and peace-loving nationality in Nigeria. When Hausas say, “mu yi shi Gwari Gwari,” (let’s do it the Gwari way) they attest to the very transparent nature of this most admirable of peoples.
The architects of Abuja must have concluded, and rightly so, that the Gbagyis who were stripped of their ancestral land, won’t pose a threat to the peace in the new city. The other day, a friend was marketing a piece of land in Wuye District of about 2 hectares. The asking price was N2 billion! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This was part of a family’s ancestral heritage that was willingly vacated because they believed it was for the greater good. As I write, most of them have neither been properly resettled nor adequately compensated. And the rest of us are carrying on as though nothing can go wrong. “The Gbagyis are peace-loving and laid-back,” we rationalize.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, anti-Semitism was an established practice in many nations. It was a generally established fact that Jews could never fight back. It was believed they could never muster the courage and consensus sine qua non to toppling oppression. For many generations, their enemies ran roughshod over them and their rights. When Adolf Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews in World War II, he merely industrialized a practice that was already thriving at the cottage level.
When the Jews therefore were feverishly organizing to found a nation, their foes, notably the Arabs, merely gawked. It was thoroughly befuddled Arabs who watched in horror as Israel declared nationhood on May 14 1948. Even at that, few gave them any chance of survival. Nearly 70 years along, the Zionist state is not only waxing stronger, but many of her sworn enemies have either expired or are well on their way!
The existence of Israel should be a warning to all who peddle injustice that pretty soon, when the oppressed are left with no other choice, they’ll spring back at the oppressor.
All the land speculation and racketeering going on in Abuja represent monumental injustice to Gbagyi sensibilities. When they meekly and patriotically moved away from their ancestral lands, I’m certain they never imagined they were facilitating a bazaar where they’ve now become mere spectators. And we will be deluding ourselves if believe they’ll remain on the sidelines of this despicable land orgy. I will be the least surprised if they elect to employ the ‘arms/amnesty’ tool.
This possibility can be avoided. For the Gbagyis, here’s my prescription. For starters, let all land transactions in the FCT be properly monitored and documented so that 5% of every transaction goes into a pool and it should be up to them to know how to appropriate the largesse. And while we’re at it, as a nation, we have to come up with a national template for equitably dealing with these kinds of issues.
The third line of the second stanza of Nigeria’s former National Anthem reads thus: “Help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed.” Unfortunately, there are far too many people and groups who are being shortchanged in the current arrangement. We need to urgently and holistically address these concerns before they degenerate into violent agitations.
But if we elect to ignore this, preferring the expired palliative of amnesty, no one should express shock if it’s the Gbagyis next time.
Olugu Olugu Orji
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters