One of the lasting outcomes of the polarizing 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria is the heightened level of ethnoreligious tension and division. This toxic brew of religious and ethnic friction is being compounded by a carefully orchestrated message of fear from some social commentators, religious and political leaders. Fear-stained hatred has been polished and presented to the impoverished peasant Nigerians scattered in our rural areas as well as the depressed citizens on the streets of cities struggling under the tough economy.
And talk about trouble coming in threes; add “killer” Fulani herdsmen to this boiling pot of animosity and you will get a perfect recipe for catastrophe – surging of fear and hatred. And when hate surges, life is no longer precious. As more and more country dwellers and city people of sever economic exclusion are injected with an overdose of fear and hatred on how other religions and ethnicities are coming for them, they succumb.
Do you know what happens when a society succumb to the “fear of the other”? It explodes.
From the massacre of dozens as they slept in Zaki-Biam; the killings in Kwande; the slaughter of hundreds in Southern Kaduna.; and the heinous crimes in Ile-Ife over simple dispute; hate crimes in Nigeria is increasingly becoming dreadful and a daily constant.
The atmosphere of hatred in Nigeria that is emboldening human beings to utterly annihilate one another in the name of ethnic and religious difference is troubling. These crimes are not isolated incidents. The slaughter of hundreds in countless episodes of ethnic conflicts has qualified Nigeria as a country where life is no longer precious.
The progression of these senseless killings may be slow but the danger is that there are thousands of Nigerians led by the delusional brother Femi Fani-Kayode who have vowed a daily fight for the destruction of the Nigerian State. The improbable goal of these fanatics is to achieve ethnic and religious purity.
Unfortunately, these propagandists have only succeeded in making Nigerians terrified of themselves. Now, the same “Nyamiri” that have lived in your community for years, speaking Hausa fluently is now an enemy whose head must be chopped off because he worships a “different” God. Suddenly the same “Aboki” man that you have been buying suya from for years is now a prime suspect, one that must be scorned, feared and hated. Now, we are in a terrible position where we no longer believe in reconciliation after disputes.
I will paraphrase former US President Barack Obama here: there is no benefit in pretending that ethno-religious hatred doesn’t exist in Nigeria. There is no benefit avoiding a discussion about it. The fact that this hatred keeps surfacing in our communities means we can solve them.
As a society, civilized or not, we are faced with two options; do something or let the promotion of hatred in some mainstream media like Vanguard Newspaper and fake news on social media go unchallenged.
Even if we no longer care about ourselves, we owe it to our progeny, to look deep for solutions to the problem. So, what steps should we be taking as Nigerians to significantly reduce, if not eliminate the surging of hate and subsequent senseless killings?
We should be promoting a change in perception, particularly for the young generation. We need the Nigerian youths to improve their appreciation of people who are different from them, come from different places, have different backgrounds and worship different gods. To achieve this, however, the government at all levels should consciously stop stroking suspicion. Sectionalism should not be perceived as a federal policy in any form of guise or disguise.
To this end, we should challenge President Buhari to demonstrate to all the Nigerians that the “killer” Fulani Herdsmen cannot be allowed to freely roam about as weapons of mass destruction. Just like Boko Haram was branded a terrorist group that does not represent the majority of Muslims in Nigeria, the “killer” herdsmen should be isolated from the everyday herdsmen and treated as terrorists.
President Buhari should, therefore, demonstrate the same resolve and success in fighting Boko Haram with these “killer” herdsmen. There is no doubt that he can succeed if he sees this as a matter of urgent national importance. At the same time, the bulk of the responsibility of reorienting the mindset of these herdsmen away from horrendous violent acts rests with the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
We understand the existence of the problem of cattle rustling, but that cannot be addressed by the wanton destruction of human lives. Similarly, ACF and MACBAN should re-structure the mindset of the extremists in their communities away from the provocative and ferocious acts of beheading and subsequent display of victim’s head. The resort to violence at the slightest disagreement must be condemned. ACF and MACBAN should reach out to members of their communities that are susceptible to hate crime and prejudice and inculcate lessons of tolerance.
We should challenge our religious leaders to start promoting inclusiveness and diversity rather than hatred and division. It represents our strength. We should challenge the political class to fight the spread of hatred by ensuring equity. It is one way of crippling the campaign of fear led by brother Fani-Kayode through Vanguard Newspapers. Most importantly, government officials at all levels, in collaboration with communities and the herdsmen should agree on concrete steps that will take the cattle off our streets and farmlands.
Let’s be clear: promotion of hatred and demonizing other ethnicities does not strengthen our ethnic nationalism. Rather, it weakens us and exposes us to hatred with some palpable effects; it tears communities apart; it results in prejudice against groups and individuals because of their ethnicity and religion; it removes the option of peaceful, non-violent negotiations towards equitable resolution of conflict; it prevents actions that promotes interfaith cooperation and mutual respect in our religiously diverse country.
The final outcome is that everybody is afraid of everybody and everybody less safe – including you.