I have been greatly jolted by the vicious hate exchanges of the last two weeks, between brothers and sisters of the south-east and south-west of Nigeria. Forget whatever the cause is; it does not really matter to me. It got to a point that I stopped reading altogether; main writings and comments alike. I was jolted because it finally dawned on me that I may have been living in a fool’s paradise, thinking that we were actually brothers and sisters; people who no doubt were brought together, not by deliberate choice but by design – God’s design I dare say. Somebody may say that I must be a poor student of history – lacking in the history of colonial and independent Nigeria, and the past existence between the brothers and sisters of these geographies of Nigeria –to think of brotherliness, design, and all that. I am not I must say. It is just that my upbringing, my childhood and my relationships in the last 3 decades of my life (by the way, I belong to the post war era), has virtually made it difficult to think otherwise, in spite of all the history that I have packed into my brain.
A few days ago, I was on the phone with a bosom childhood friend of mine, from the south-west; one that I am proud of till tomorrow. We were short of weeping over the phone discussing recent events in Nigeria – we never cease to do so each time we talk. We recounted our growing up days in south-south Nigeria, where design first brought us together. In our little society then were children from all the geographies in Nigeria that you can think of. We did things together – good, bad, ugly. We competed, fought, settled, forgave one another quickly and moved on, schemed, dreamed together-all in very healthy circumstances. When necessary, as you will expect with children/teenagers/young people, we formed our small groups based on attraction/content of character as we saw at the time; not recognising which region the other came from. The others’ idiosyncrasies were interpreted as being of the individual in question and had nothing to do with his race or tribe or ethnicity or colour or parentage, etc. – there were no such in our dictionaries at the time. We influenced each other in our different ways. Of course you will expect some to have certain character trait that was stronger/more positive and which naturally stood out, influencing more. This cut across all the children in my little community – we still talk of these with some fondness today, and appreciate each other for the influences we had on each other which have contributed immensely to our lives today.
I was glad that I had this contact/orientation before I read much of our chequered history and listened to stories. My father and subsequent guardians for one never told me any tales of hate (my father was a teacher and great story teller). My father’s war stories were more about display of valour and fortitude in the face of daunting difficulties than that of a hate combat. I was later to read on my own of the real and remote/underlying causes of the war. Was I sad about the things I read about? Yes I was and still am. To think that the generations before me could not live in the atmosphere I did in my growing up days and possibly carried on same into adulthood was and still is saddening. To think that our tolerance for one another could so easily decay, allowing us to betray, kill, counter-kill and then take up arms to destroy/kill same persons that a week before, were our immediate neighbours – persons we ate and drank together - were unthinkable to me. All I read could not completely change my opinion of my childhood friends from ethnic nationalities different from mine, hard as such tried. My experiences as a growing child were the most real and objective to me; what I read were before I came on the scene – they were the accounts of others.
You can see my pain, when the volcanoes of these past weeks started erupting. To think that such deep seated hate exists in the hearts of a people who have co-existed this many years was unbelievable. To also think that many of the dramatis personae of the past years of hate have passed on – meaning that the agents of the present are mostly those of my near or immediate generation - and yet this hate persists is even more worrying. Could it be the case that they did not have the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of my growing up days? But I have also heard others, who grew up in other regions of the country; recount their experiences similar to mine. Is it that they have simply been overtaken by the accounts in history/story books – the books I have refused the opportunity to overtake me? Or that they do not see any design/divinity in our co-existence? Or they have been made lesser men/women by the forces of hate, prejudice, impure jealousy and all such despicable vices that so easily enslave men and women?
I have had seasons to doubt our co-existence, but my reasons have never been strong enough to truly convince me; the experience of my growing up days is always one big factor that fights my doubts to a standstill. Above all else, I am convinced that this is by divine design. All continents, regions, countries, races, ethnicities, tribes, etc., need each other; if not today, certainly tomorrow. Just like the master today, may someday need his or her servant of today and vice versa. This is Gods design and it is forever.
Our past leaders have (as in many other areas), failed us in not promoting strong mutual co-existence. Their recorded utterances, decisions and conducts at various times negated the fact that we have been brought together by divine design and so must seek to outdo each other in deep/whole hearted tolerance, trust, respect, forgiveness and love. They have not sought to harness the great benefits of our peculiar diversity, even at great pains. I saw the beauty and strength of this diversity in my growing up days. I looked through the year book of my children’s school recently and discovered to my joy that my last son’s best friend was from the south-west. I also looked up another child who chose my son as his best friend and again discovered he was from the south-west. This was the atmosphere during my growing up days and it made me very happy. I must confess that I would have been greatly disappointed if all of my sons’ best friends were from their geographic divide; it would have saddened me the more in the light of recent happenings in the country and my reminiscences.
In discussing with my bosom friend of nearly three decades recently, we agreed that our generation must rise up and win where our past leaders failed – pursuing strong bonds as a people brought together by divine design. This goes beyond lofty speeches and claims in write-ups, although out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The convictions in our speeches and write-ups must be demonstrated by our daily utterances, decisions and conduct, in every place and situation. We must seek to harness the positives in our brashness, cockiness, flamboyance, tact, suaveness, loquaciousness, etc. for our common good and in building a solid and prosperous country. Truth again is that we are here for the long-haul, in whatever arrangement – regional, federal (fiscal, etc.). Even if we chose tomorrow to exist as smaller independent units, we will still co-exist in some unique respect – there still will be elements of divine design in our cross border relationships.
I ask every member of my generation to henceforth cease engaging in these unpleasant hostilities. Let’s direct our writing energies in articulating the way forward as we prepare ourselves for taking over the mantle of leadership; some have already done so – in business, industry, academia, politics and governance, etc. Those who have been dragged into these murky waters of ethnic hate and bigotry must retrace their steps immediately. We must engage our intellects again in searching out the very principles and dynamics of human co-existence. All of us are wanderers; we were at different places at different times. This may certainly not be our last places while still here, you never know.