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The year of identity

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Throughout the year, we have been riveted on the bias that draped the United States presidential election. We bewailed Trump and his incendiary rhetoric. We bemoaned the sartorial evil of France of liberte, egalite and fraternite that would not let women free to wear hijab on the beaches just as we moaned when young zealots razed down lives in pubs and stadium.

We looked with horror the tents in Calais that tenanted the tears of a rootless people, what Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul designated as a people without a place, in his novel, In a Free state.

Brexit led an island nation in rebellion against one of its own Poet John Dunne, and denied it is “a piece of the continent.” Italy that traffics fancy shoes and dainty suits to other nations booted out its international leader, Renzi, and voted like Britain. Russia with its Putin is not wary of an uprooted world order and stretches world equilibrium by staking bullet after bullet, air raid after sorties to dare a quiescent Obama. Austria narrowly escaped the harmer of disharmony, but just narrowly. It looms in next-door Germany where Hitler is getting a revival in the great mall of its great city Berlin.

In all these, we as Nigerians show horror at the prejudice in a world that should canonise harmony. Yet throughout the year, we committed the same sins. We did not, could not, look in the mirror. But just like Macbeth who saw the vision and prophecy of his own bloodletting but willed himself to more malevolence, we did it week after week, month after month.

It was a year when the militants were angry, whether driven by ethnic rage or religious bile. They fought in the Niger Delta, but like invisible forces. They told President Buhari that they belonged to the place that once produced the president. They did not want peace except on their own terms. So, until that peace comes, bombs would go off. And they did go off, and they went straight to the jugular of lazy largesse: oil. They blew pipeline after pipeline.  So, even when the price of oil rose modestly, we had no reason to laugh. Starvation stoked by scarcity makes the states pine for a little draught of financial air.

Yet, the president, who was weaned on the profession of guns and bullets, thought it weakness to bow. So, the militants blew, but he did not bow. What bowed? Our prosperity, if we ever had it. Shall they sit on the floor or at table? Would the president not even do humility the courtesy of visiting the Niger Delta to appear to understand? We never had it. Same applies to MASSOB and how they made streets boil in the East. No Nigerian project is good enough. No one has approached them with the language of conciliation.

Everyone, the militant, the MASSOB and the president, sat in their little covens. It was the same President that belongs to everybody and nobody. That is the very definition of soullessness. I am everywhere but I am nowhere. Translation: now you see me, now you don’t. Perhaps that’s why he has flown more to other countries than he has to states under his watch.

So, we suffer, while each party sinks in self-righteous despair. Up North we see the same thing. The religious bigots under El- Zakzaky understand themselves and no other. The Sunni majority understands Allah the way the Shiites don’t. But all inhabit the same pious space, worship the same God and invoke that same God against the other. This is against the logic of Boko Haram that sees a theocratic vengeance in every bomb, in the willowy menace of the girl bomber and the muscular stealth of the boy bomber. All of them talk to a people not happy to live together.

We also see in southern Kaduna where a people are subject to the routine savagery of a band of bandits. They burn houses and slaughter in droves. At the last count, 102 persons have been consigned either to heaven or hell, or purgatory, or whatever. Houses and hectares of land gone. They see no government presence to help, and the governor claims a group that has never been publicly paraded or evidentially convicted as culprit. He invokes similar rapine in Zamfara State. By claiming the victims there are Muslims, he exonerates the herdsmen. No evidence, so no excuse. But the larger blame lands where the Army is. They probably have not enough men. So, we ask, why not provide self-defence in the absence of official defence. Just as we have vigilante where the Police is absent.

The herdsmen were a story of our lack of mutual understanding. Herdsmen say they have the right of way, and it has translated into the right to maul, kill, rape and steal. They want life and more abundantly at the expense of the land owners. The federal government even flirted with the idea of giving them the land that belongs to others. In the Middle Belt, the herdsmen would revenge those who rustled their cattle. That I move illegally should not make you a thief of my cow. Right. So, no understanding except bloodshed.

Even in our electoral politics, the story is the same. In the Edo as in the Ondo and the Rivers State near-war electoral contests, it is a people who bear the same nation, sometimes the same name, fighting to the death against the other. Each group is either pelting the other with the charge of lack of good faith or good taste. But what is not good is our fate because of the flawed process and we have accepted it as an emblem of our flawed existence or coexistence.

We are not better than Trump, or the Brexiteer or even the Manila villain Duterte. Or the French who disavow hijab. We just saw them as excuse to levitate ourselves as moral superiors. But what does this tell us, that this is a year of identity. Everyone wants to assert who they are without pretence. It is the boldness of the bigot, the murderer, xenophobic. But they also claim they are not. They claim to be fair. They may genuinely feel so, and that is the conundrum.

Some who voted for Trump say they loath his divisive rhetoric but love his trade bill or just loath Clinton’s hypocrisy. It is, therefore, the year of Shakespeare’s best play by critics, or at least the most contemporary: King Lear. When many saw Trump as a devil, his followers said, like one of the best lines in the play, “the prince of darkness is a gentleman.”

No one who voted for Trump or voted for Brexit, or calls for immigrants to go, would call themselves racists. Nor will a herdsman call himself a murderer. They are just doing right. Hence the 21st-century person defies definition, just like when Lear, in a clarity of madness, asks: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” The clarity eludes Harvard theorist Samuel Huntington who calls it “the clash of civilisation.”

Yet the irony, they speak the language of the bigot. Trump calls Hispanics rapists. The British foreign minister used the word, piccaninny when Obama visited the United Kingdom to lobby against Brexit. They “speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Another shot from King Lear.

So, we like our little cubicles. We talk to ourselves, smell the same, sound the same, and would not accept the other just the same way it happens in King Lear. Hear this: “Come, let’s away to prison. We two alone will sing like birds in a cage.”

Irony, large numbers don’t think like this. But the frightening thing is that they have the important numbers and they are the most mobilised. They have dredged up the wrong identities. As we go into the new year, need not push away the other tribe or faith or face, but we need John Dunne’s cry to prevail: “I am involved in mankind.”

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  • Published: 2 years ago on February 7, 2017
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  • Last Modified: June 20, 2017 @ 1:39 pm
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