It is surely not some breaking news that Nigeria is a country divided among ethno-religious lines. One does not need to look too hard before they find many validations. All one just needs to do is to get on social media or probably read the online version of newspaper reports, then scroll down to the comments that follow.
An absurd news item like ‘Cockroach dies while tasting sugar’ might have no relevance to us as a nation. But then, that is until you get to read the comments that follow. If it is not one Igbo man accusing the cockroach of being a Yoruba cockroach, it is one Hausa man talking about how they will kill all the Igbo if they are given the opportunity to do so. The Yoruba people in turn will accuse the Igbo of different things and insult their generations.
All of these happen in the same comment thread on a simple and irrelevant news item talking about the death of a cockroach. It is very obvious that if this must be addressed, there is an urgent need for a large scale, altruistic and holistic national re-orientation. The cankerworm has eaten so deep and it is now hard to see any Nigerian outside that prism of religion or ethnicity.
The reason why we need to urgently address this cankerworm is because it comes down to a question of picking the wrong battle and fighting the wrong opponent. Religion and ethnicity are not our problems as a country. The challenge is that we make them to appear so and we build a whole lot of avoidable paranoia around the very things that should unite us. If you ask me, religion and ethnicity ought not to separate us.
I will tell you why. The problems we have as a nation come down to socio-economic problems. What we have in Nigeria is a question of class difference. The elite have one religion and they belong to one ethnic group while the poor belong to a different religion and ethnic group. The former make up the predators while the latter make up the prey. As one friend of mine said, the only religion and ethnic group the elite know is power. As long as they are in power, everything is fine. Whenever they are not in power, they whip up sentiments and give their ambition a religious cum ethnic colouration and then, voila! The prey that should be finding a way to dethrone the predators will take up arms in defence of these same predators all in the name of kinsmen and ‘spiritual brothers’.
Any attempt to call them to order becomes a witch-hunt and some form of persecution. These helpless prey will take to the streets, burn houses, kill fellow humans and wreak havoc all in a bid to protect the predators while these same predators are either in the comfort of their houses of faraway in some distant land, oblivious of (or definitely unconcerned about) the people that have to die while trying to defend them. The cycle continues and we never really make any progress.
Bringing it home to our current realities, can we ask how many people have died while trying to defend both PDP and APC? Of all these people that have died, how many of them were rewarded in death? Did their death change anything? Did the predators they were fighting for stand up to fight for them in death? For all the youth that take to the streets to protest the ‘unfair treatment’ of their predator kinsmen, how many of their children do you see on the streets? When will we begin to agree on common denominators for measuring good governance? Does a man become a good leader simply because he is from my village or because he provided us basic amenities? How much longer will we have to put up with these predators before we start asking logical questions and bringing them to account?
The sad truth is that until we move away from this miasma of myopic analyses and begin to ask the right questions, we will never move forward. And then, until we stop this self-destructive practice of predators being protected by some myopic prey, we will keep having endless sacrifices of blood and charred flesh wasted on the altar of nothingness. Nay, on the altar of folly. I am tempted to conclude by saying that a word is enough for the wise but in our case, I hope a million words will do.
• Dike, poet, author, public speaker and political analyst lives in Lagos