Kanu, hate speech and our ostrich attitude

By Nnamdi Okosieme

Before I address the issue above fully, let me a few points clear.

1. I do not think much of Nnamdi Kanu; I am not a fan of his; I do not agree with his methods but concede he is entitled to seek a better life for himself and his people.

I also think we would have been spared all his drama, shenanigans and tantrums if our president had not been heedless enough to arrest him instead of finding a more workable approach to tackle the challenge he presents.

2. I believe that those who call for tinkering with Nigeria as it is presently constituted not only have every right to do so but are indeed right for there is a lot that is wrong with this country. That tinkering can come either by way of geopolitical restructuring or constitutional amendment or whatever works best. But tinkering? Certainly!

3. I believe that it is wrong to threaten to lop of someone’s head or disembowel him simply because he does not subscribe to your views. In that regard, Kanu and others threatening people with death are way off the mark and dead wrong. In the main, rather than advance their cause, it actually diminishes it.

Now, to the issue above. Hate speech is decidedly abhorrent for if left unchecked engenders violence and spawns genocide in the end. When Hitler was threatening Jews and pigeon-holing them, the rest of the world went about their business unperturbed. Europe and America which had the political and military might to intervene looked the other way until the chickens came home to roost.

Nigeria is not a new comer to hate speech. It certainly did not begin with Nnamdi Kanu and his present day opponents in the Savannah belt of Nigeria.

The thing is we are just pretending that it is just happening or that it has just become a danger to our corporate existence.

Between 2010 and 2015 leading figures from the northern part of this country including no less an individual than our current president, spoke and acted in ways that suggested that the unity of this country did not matter. We had leading clerics and university dons including a former Vice Chancellor of a leading university in this country, who spoke carelessly with utter disregard to the effect that their comments would have on the rest of the country. One man in particular, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, the former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), carried on as if he had divine mandate to cause disaffection among Nigerians. Even today, he has not repented of his folly and was one of the first individuals to endorse the ‘quit the north or die order’ handed the Igbo by an Arewa group.

As Abdullahi and his ilk were firing salvos from the north in the build up to 2015, their like-minded brothers in the Niger Delta were matching “fire for fire”. In between, Kanu, was stoking embers from London with his vitriol.

At the time this was all happening, Nigerians were too engrossed with politicking. 2015 was the summum bonum to which everything, the unity, peace and corporate existence of Nigeria must be sacrificed. We got our 2015 but we also got left with a fractured country, a country riven across ethnic and religious fault lines.

Yes, hate speech is bad but if a professor and former administrator of a university revels in it, why should an upstart looking to polish his image and aggrandize himself at the expense of millions of his mainly uninformed followers, also not make it his favourite past time? Why won’t he when leaders in the east have for years abdicated their responsibility of speaking up for their people, providing for them and guiding them? There was a gaping void, a yawning vacuum and Kanu settled nicely into it.

And for those of us now getting our hackles up at the flowering of hate speech in our country, one way of addressing it is by raising our heads up from the sand. We must quit playing the ostrich and address the issues, which have engendered it.

Nigeria is a haven of injustice. Practically every tribe in Nigeria has a tale to tell, has been at the receiving end of the skewed and unjust system presently been run in the country. Whilst some tribes for reasons not of their own making are unable to express their feelings or agitate for improved treatment, others for reasons of size, exposure, clout and financial muscle are able to do so.

The question then arises: is it wrong or out of place for a group of people to agitate for better treatment within a union they find themselves in?

Even if to all intents and purposes, their demands may be considered a bit outlandish or presented in a way that offends the sensibilities of others, is outright denial of their right to so aspire the best response?

Today, it is Kanu and his IPOB that are considered villains. Two decades ago, it was Ken Saro Wiwa and his MOSOP that were deemed the bad guys. For daring to challenge an unjust and oppressive system that denied his people room for flowering of their talent and enjoyment of natural resources freely given to them by their creator, Saro Wiwa was murdered by the Nigerian state.

At the time, many save a few in the media and the human rights community considered Saro Wiwa a trouble maker of sorts. They did not align themselves with his vision, which though particular to his people, was actually pan Nigerian in scope in the sense that success for the Ogoni would have opened the way for a more humane and responsible treatment of other smaller tribes. But Saro Wiwa was killed and the momentum halted until heedless, swashbuckling and gun-toting youths burst out of the Delta seething with anger and wreaking havoc.

Today, the east is stirring and Nigeria is responding the same way it has always responded-by living in denial and hoping that by demonizing the agitators, murdering some and clamping others in detention, the problem would go away.

Kanu may be an opportunist cashing in on an opening presenting itself; he may be a misguided hothead fomenting trouble and upsetting the fragile peace existing between Ndigbo and the rest of the tribes but can we all say in clear conscience that Nigeria is one blissful El Dorado where everyone is getting his due? And does Kanu not have followers in their numbers who have totally and completely for good or ill, keyed into his vision? What is to happen to these people? They will all be thrown into jail?

We must find answers to these question and quickly too!

OKOSIEME is a journalist based in Abuja

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