A little over a year ago, the city of Maiduguri started witnessing occurrences of killings by an extremist Islamist sect, Boko Haram which was thought to have been exterminated after the deadly clashes between the sect and government forces in July 2009. These initially random killings gradually became commonplace and as time marched on, so did the sophistication of their attacks. From drive-by shootings of lone soldiers, policemen and civilians such as ward heads and suspected informants, the attacks morphed into assaults on larger groups of security personnel, and the scariest of all, bombings.
What was thought to be confined to the North-Eastern desert city of Maiduguri gradually become a national threat when the sect proved their ability to strike beyond their ‘territory’ when they executed attacks in Bauchi, Kaduna, Suleja and the most daring of them all, in the capital city, Abuja, right within the Police Force Headquarters in Nigeria’s first suicide bombing.
This hitherto insignificant rag-tag collection of extremists has now become Nigeria’s most pressing internal security challenge. Almost on a daily basis, lives are being lost to this insurgency. The city of Maiduguri has become a ghost town due to a mass exodus in the last two weeks. Nigerians now live in perpetual fear of bombs, something that always seemed far away on TV in Iraq and Afghanistan. And to make matters worse, our hope for a respite is faltering as we cannot see an end in sight.
But the most painful thing I have seen during these incidents besides the loss of lives and how my beloved hometown of Maiduguri has lost its soul and virginity is the attitude of Nigerians towards these events.
Rather than Nigerians overlook their primordial differences and coming together to condemn unequivocally these events, we have resorted to name-calling. Rather than we bond together in these trying times and find ways to end this insurgency once and for all and at the same time helping those who have been affected by these acts of violence get up and back with their lives, we choose to engage ourselves in bickering over who and who are to blame.
I have noted with dismay and despair the kind of comments I see from fellow young Nigerians on online newspapers and on social networking sites. A lot of people, especially those in the south have certain nonchalance towards it; some even going as far as to make vitriolic remarks such as, “Let these aboki people continue killing themselves” or “They better not touch any southern corper”. Some even go as far as saying “it is about time that we end this forceful marriage Lugard made between us and these people”. I have had a few people tell me to my face that ‘my people’ want to kill all Southerners; people who I thought were friends, yet never bothered to find out how my family and I were holding up.
This has caused me to start wondering when we became so selfish, so aloof of the worries and troubles of our fellow Nigerians because they are not ‘our people’. Unknown to all of us, these divisions we are creating amongst ourselves is effectively handing this extremists and all other enemies of our togetherness and common good a victory. Unknown to many Nigerians, whatever happens in this country, no matter how far or remote the place it happens has a ripple effect all across this country. That Lagos and Maiduguri are hundreds of kilometres apart physically is no barrier to how events in one city has a reach-over impact in the city at the other extreme.
Nations, like people, are not defined by where they stand in times of calm and comfort; instead, they are defined by where they stand in times of trouble and turbulence. This is a time of trouble and turbulence for Nigeria. Hence, this time calls for all Nigerians to overlook their religious, regional and ethnic differences and focus on the most common factor they have: that they are Nigerians, and come together and act, both in speech and action to fight this enemy of our peace, progress, stability and security. We should keep in mind that the victims of this insurgency cut across every demography in this country. We have lost both Muslims and Christians, Northerners and Southerners, people of different tribes. But the most painful part is that we have lost Nigerians; innocent, good, hard-working men and women who were just toiling in life in order to make a better life for themselves and their families. The last thing we need is that we lose more of these people.
Let this be a moment in which we as Nigerians shall speak and act as one nation under God. Let all talks of secession and break-up cease and rise no more. Let it be that every life lost in this country, every terrorist act carried out shall be met with the same intolerance and condemnation across Nigeria, regardless of where it was carried out or where the reaction is made.
Let us remember that today, it might be Maiduguri, tomorrow, God forbid, it might be somewhere else. Let us do unto our fellow countrymen what we would want them do unto us. It is very necessary for us to keep in mind the idiom that says a house divided against itself cannot stand.
This house called Nigeria must not fall. Let divisions arise no more. Let peace reign in every corner of our country forever more. Let us live as Nigerians, united in thought and action.
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