In the beginning was the word. It came by the agency of a threat. Young men, bigotry in their eyes, swords in the shadows. They said the Igbos should leave. Tension rose. The date was afar off, but that meant enough time for the goons of blood and death to prepare their weaponry of finality. Swords, guns, machetes, daggers. A war loomed.
The rabble said nothing. No one knows who the rabble is until the streets cram with the human instruments of terror, charging, raking up dust, dangling weapons, tongues alive with primal screams, faces tattooed with hate.
Few understand what we might have escaped when the Shettima Yerima-led Arewa youths withdrew their quit notice. So, not a few may underestimate Governor Kashim Shettima’s stroke for peace.For all that menace, impotence crimped the corridor of power. The presidency fumed. The police chief roared. But the threat remained, boiling in patience to the crescendo of October 1.
Peace making is no birthday party. Behind closed doors, face to face. Smile to scowl. Prodding against Stonewall. Persuasions against intransigence. A little browbeating here, a little coaxing here. Good cop. Bad cop. Eventually, it was the triumph of the human spirit, togetherness over the lone wolf, inter-ethnic harmony over hegemony, the sheep outran the cheetah. Words won over the sword.
We can now heave a sigh. But those who know history can recall that most of the times the peace brokered that prevented a conflict is more enduring than when we shoot our way to quiet. In the 1960’s, the pogrom did not enjoy the privilege of a threat.
In the aftermath of the coup and the decree 34 promulgated by Ironsi, the north erupted in hate. If you saw the pictures, or read the narratives, we shall understand what Governor Shettima achieved. We must commend the Northern Governors Forum for not associating with the irate youths.
We have witnessed how peace moves failed, and led the world to flames. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went several times to Hitler and secured a worthless paper of commitment from the brute. Gleeful and naïve, he landed Heathrow Airport proclaiming peace “in our lifetime,” when Hitler’s army rolled into Poland that it called the Sudetenland, and Austria.
Tragically, more times peace tends to answer to force. Harry Truman decided to use the atomic bomb of Hiroshima after the suicide bombers, otherwise known as Kamikaze, destroyed American ships after ships. Even though Einstein noted that “peace cannot be kept by force,” Japan’s case has proven relative. MacArthur, the great general, who loved war more than peace, presided over the restoration of the warrior nation to silence.
The man who was fired because he almost led the world to a Third World War in the Korean Peninsula, said in his sober moments, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” He was a contrast to another general, George Marshall, in whose name the biggest war recovery plan was couched. He was a man of war often respected as a lover of peace. Winston Churchill described him as “the noblest Roman.”
In the 1960’s, the northern establishment looked the other way while fellow humans, not only Igbos, but also many from the Niger Delta, fell. Heads lopped off, expectant wombs cut open, fear and trembling turned the streets of the north to a slaughter slab.
It was obvious that the threat was growing like a mass of worms beneath the surface. A song with lyrics of malice was circulated, making the Igbos into sub humans, demonising them with stereotypes, distorting our history as a nation, levitating the north as a hegemon. It also drew condemnation all around, including in the north.
No one knows the author of that subversion. Neither has our secret service announced it was after the author or authors. Mere condemnation will not do. A song is no small way to mobilise. It catches the soul of a people, flatters their secret hopes, warms their blood, promises a nirvana. All the great hate groups have songs.
As Borno State Governor, Shettima knows a thing or two about war and peace. He is the noblest Borno man at the moment. In the heat of Boko Haram, he raised the alarm over the army’s ineptitude and the shameless corruption stopping the Jonathan era from a sincere fight against the ethnic militants. Boko Haram was only a few miles away from the state house in Maiduguri. He did not faze or whimper.
With Boko Haram less potent now – although it seems to have had some new and intermittent life – Shettima is presiding over a time of relative peace. With its own mini Marshall plan, he is rebuilding the lives of his people, schools, roads, healthcare programmes, etc. The CAN leader once eulogised him, a Muslim, as a great balancer of the faiths, giving the Christian greater leverage than any past governor in the state.
His profile makes him ideal to broker peace with the incendiary young men. The man met the moment. He was like the metaphor of the Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: “Like a fluttering candle into a Stormlamp, I place myself there inside him. A glow becomes peaceful.”
No one wants to see a rabble. We have been rattled by quite a few. It is unthinking, savage, murderous. Nobel laureate Thomas Mann shows, in his great novel Buddenbrooks, an upper-class man suffers his first intimations of death just by the sound of them outside the council building. He kept muttering the word ‘rabble’ until his death when he was disembarking from his vehicle. Shettima has fulfilled Churchill’s famous line that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
Ajimobi: A royal economy
The country has watched with fascination the row and celebration over the inauguration of new Obas in Ibadan. Former Governor Rashidi Ladoja and Olubadan have regretted the boost while a string of Obas are awash with glee. GovernorAbiola Ajimobi knows he has pulled off a masterstroke, both politically and economically.
While the Olubadan thinks his position has shrunken, others are thrilling to their new status as kings. Those formerly known as chiefs can now be addressed as kabiyesi. What elation. But that is not all. With the now about two dozen Obas, we will expect a new royal economy. We shall see contracts out for the building of new. Those who want to become chiefs or heavyweights in their new kingdoms can now start unleashing cash for projects.
We might even have competition. Some Obas may start saying, my palace is bigger than yours. Labourers will get jobs, architects will design, tailors will loom, painters will boom, interior decorators will invent, Dangote or his competitors can start loading cements around Ibadan. Even “mama put” will entrench herself around the construction sites. We need the Federal Office of Statistics to crunch the numbers, so Oyo State can also eye some IGR boost.
Those hankering for chieftaincy titles can easily get it. It is a boom for egos. Every palace will also have its own chiefs. I anticipate palace intrigues. Who will be senior chiefs or subordinate ones?
Ibadan began as a republican enclave, a fierce tribe of warriors. The town of Balogun Latosisa was broken into war divisions or garrisons around town as it duelled its foes to the death. Like the Roman General Cincinnatus, who turned from soldier to statesman, the warriors changed to kings. Washington followed his role model Cincinnatus’ path.
The Obas will now become instruments of political mobilisation. The chiefs, palace, their followers will, from now on, become part of the party machine. It does not have to be APC or PDP. While Ladoja may have been naïve here, Ajimobi may have rebuilt not only a feudal fortress, he just rejigged a modern political machine.