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The Nation logo The Nation 01/02/2021 Akintunde1

By Sam Omatseye

We are living in the age of the tribesman. An age of biceps, the dagger and the caveman’s eyes. Pity has no role over a corpse. Nor laughter after a slaughter, except to scorn. The tribe is now the refuge, the high tower of the person. The commonwealth has regressed into an antique. Only the mouse goes there. The strong roar: To your fortress, O tribesman.

Hence today, the men with bandwidths of fame are not the frontline workers in moon clothes, or the doctors on the danger list of Covid-19. It is the people who issued a quit notice to a Bishop for expressing his views like another cleric in another time, in communist Poland, Father Jerzy Popieluszko.  Or a man undistinguished, except for three slashes on each jaw and his resort to counter-hate, sends a group out of town. Both meet a past master in the ring.  He is a young man in solemn attire and a priestly face but whose phrases boil fear into arms.

So, we hear of the rise of a shadowy man called Sunday Igboho in the west, and an ethnic entrepreneur in the east called Nnamdi Kanu, and in the north, we see quite a few of them who now issue quit notices. It should surprise no one. In Hausa language, it is lokachi. In German, it is zeitgeist.

It is a time when we extol and serenade hate of the other, and Jean Paul Sartre captures it in an apocalyptic register: “Hell is other people.”

The pity is that they all have cheerleaders. It is not just a pity. It is the tragedy. Quit notices did not begin today. Not a few years ago, an activist Shetima Yerima issued a quit notice to the Igbo living in the north. It raked up dust of fury from the elite, and it turned out to be another non-event, like the irritant of a fart. It set a precedent though, and now it has become a scourge of the day.

The fellow from the southwest, Igboho, hit the news wave like a folk hero. He upstaged his governor, the showy Seyi Makinde of Oyo State. Igboho’s people in Ibarapa wanted a voice. They had lived in fear and trembling. They had farms but they could not reap. They had wives, but they were defiled. They had homes but could not sleep in peace. Bandits from another land had snatched away their sovereign pride. They have wailed, but no official ear listened. They became a people without a help. Like V.S. Naipaul’s novel, In A Free State, they were going to be a people without a place. They needed a hero. When Igboho came, they embraced him. They had found a hero. Marxists would not agree that a hero can transcend a people, but the Igangan people will differ. The Marxist Playwright Bertolt Brecht wept in his play Galileo that “unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” The people would spit at the German’s taunt. Igboho was their man. He embodied their aspiration. He was a messiah in flesh and blood.

He is a hater. But they see him as their lover. He is the one who made the world know that their community was a kidnapper’s haven, that the marauder enthroned impunity. They made feast out of their sweats, their leader made fortune out of their absences and servitude. Their red-blooded men played David’s eye on their Bathsheba and were smitten by their Babylonish garments. So they raped and were free enough to rape again. And they could do nothing.

Bonfire ensued, the settlers fled, and their leader dethroned forever. The Seriki Fulani was accused as the broker over the broken. He fattened on their misfortune.

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu had attracted the Governors to his state, and they agreed that open grazing was not allowed. They gave great speeches. But to this essayist, it was a cosmetic show. Who was going to enforce the law? The headlines did not say that what Akeredolu issued was legal. It did not say it was not legal. They just came to make peace, to paper over the crack. They did not address the bonfire in Ibadan or the incident in Ogun State when soldiers led herders to defy villages like Iggua and Eselu in Yewa North Local Government Area. Neither did they have the power to do anything other than rhetorical grandstanding.

The place to address the matter is not Governors Forum. They have shown they can do little to ease tensions. They do not control the police. They have no power over the army. They can only cry. Governor Akeredolu’s order was a cry from his people’s marrow. The Ondo State governor was not the sort of chief executive to undermine Abuja. He was under pressure. He must have felt deeper worry when the presidency countered his order out of illiteracy. He did not order them out of the state as another newspaper headlined. The editor of that newspaper, in a professional moment, ought not to retain his job. It was the sort of headline that could set a nation on fire. Newspaper headlines have done so in the past. Like the Spanish-American War in the era of Yellow Journalism. Publisher William Randolph Hearst had said, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war.”

The Governor’s Forum forgot a big, wailing elephant in the room: The presidency. Rather than play umpire, Garba Shehu was playing irredentist. He thought he was being a fair interpreter of the governor’s order. He turned out the man was stoking the flames up north. He was doing that on behalf of a president I am sure did not see the release. Or they did not explain to President Muhammadu Buhari the true import of Akeredolu’s words.

As Barrister Femi Falana (SAN) noted in my television show it was an act of hypocrisy – my words – for anyone to berate Aketi’s order while we are witnessing droves of almajiri being evacuated from state to state in the north. No uproar came from Shehu that someone was violating the children’s rights. The ongoing NIN exercise is a security measure, but no one complained that it was wrong to register. Yet all the Ondo State governor asked for is to register.

Up north, some fellows have exhibited the same spirit of eviction. Some of them are so-called professor, like one Isa Maishanu  and Abdul Azeez Suleiman. They are riding the wave of xenophobia. Bishop Kukah has said all he has said as a bold man should. But the tribesmen are bristling and drooling. They are baying for blood.

Nnamdi Kanu must welcome the new firebrands. The Igbo warrior must hug the Igbohos and Suleimans. But they are the warlords of the day. They are not patriots of Nigeria. They are subverts and warriors in closets. They are men of hate. They are opportunists of fear. They are not Nigerian heroes but closet haters. But they are saints to the locals, arbiters of their impulses, channels of their grief. In the words of Poet W.B. Yeats, “He, too, has been changed in his turn/Transformed utterly/ A terrible beauty is born.”

But they are filling a void. They are replacing a leadership that the centre has left a vacuum. There is an important work to be done. It beckons for a fair and firm control of the proceedings. Ibarapa area is still stark with rage and fear. After a week of silence, fresh attacks were reported. It shows we are on a thin rope between peace and violence, authority and anarchy.

The Governor’s forum did not give any template of peace and cooperation. I advise them to seek one of their own who is executing a blueprint: the Lalong model. When Governor Simon Lalong became Plateau State’s chief executive, he set up a rubric for all the contending forces. It ensured each group accounted for its own role when peace was breached. It is imperfect, but the difference between his stewardship and what he met tells the story.

The real danger is making anyone feel less at home when at home. We cannot be seen as a people without roots. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her tome, The Origins of Authoritarianism, “Rootless persons are always violent.”

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