A worrisome depth of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance

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LAST Tuesday, I was in Lagos to review a new book on Chief Anthony Enahoro. Edited by Lanre Idowu, the CEO of Diamond Publications Limited, which presents Nigeria’s annual media merit awards, the book has 12 contributors.

What struck me as odd was that its authors tried to stress the nationalist credentials of their subject, yet all the contributors came from the Southern part of Nigeria. I interrogated the publishers’ inability (or refusal?) to get a single Northerner to contribute a chapter to a book about a man remembered as having once moved a motion in parliament to seek self-government for Nigeria!

The audience applauded my observation as much as they seemed to have respected my unambiguous rejection of the Southern Nigerian panacea for all the problems facing Nigeria: Sovereign National Conference and Restructuring along Ethno-linguistic lines!

My observation merely confirmed what has unfolded in recent years: the deepening levels of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance in our country today.

The elite have narrowed in their vision of our country; and unable to have a nuanced appreciation of the complexities of our problems and the multi-sided analysis needed to understand them, have stayed at superficial levels of trite arguments for simplistic formulas like ‘sovereign national conference’ and ‘restructuring’ as answer to all problems.

Related is the way “the other” has become so dangerously demonised to levels where we constantly live each day endangered and in touching distance of genocidal killings, as witnessed in the ethno-religious killings of recent years.

I write these lines with a fair amount of trepidation, against the background of the pictures I recently saw, from the genocidal killings which took place in Zonkwa, Kaduna State, after the April election and the manner neighbours set upon people whom they have shared the space of citizenship with for years.

A more tragic illustration of this scenario also came from Southern Kaduna, where a young girl told the government investigation committee that her teacher personally killed her father, because he belonged to a different ethno-religious background. The same teacher then apologised to the girl!

That we have sunk to that level of hatred tells our contemporary story and how far apart our communities have been torn as a result of the collapse of the Nigerian ruling class project.

Vitriol attacks

I have been at the receiving end of some frightening vitriol and undisguised hatred that I sometimes shudder at how damaged many individuals are in our country. My write-ups are posted on some of Nigeria’s internet sites weekly, and it is usual to receive, often uneducated comments, about these pieces. But last week, someone posted, in response to my write up, that he looks forward to and prays for the day I would be slaughtered on the streets for constantly defending Northern Nigeria in my writings! That can only come from a damaged and deeply ignorant individual consumed by hate! Ignorance often leads to the stoking of the base emotions of hatred and fear, which are the building blocks of genocide and pogrom.

Those ruling Nigeria as well as the elite who play the ethno-religious card must wake up to the fact that we are perched on a powder keg of hate which must be carefully dealt with for the sake of the survival of our country. The truth that I have stressed in recent years is that ours is a very young country, with about 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. They were born during military dictatorship and the serious economic crisis that has engulfed Nigeria from the mid-1980s. Our younger contemporaries have not experienced a country which worked and more often than not, have been cultured within prejudiced frames about where the problems of our country have come from: often “the other” religion or ethnic group. There is so much anger bred by frustration and oiled in ignorance, prejudice and intolerance. Many of the killings around our country are a direct consequence of this festering sore of hatred and I have a lot of fear for our country’s future.

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