Before we crucify Gadaffi

Monday, April 5, 2010

REMINISCENCES: By Innocent Oparadike,

In those turbulent days of my editorship of the venerable New Nigerian, a highly placed Nigerian of Northern Extraction reported me to General Babangida the then Military President. He said I was putting a wedge between Northerners, Christians v Muslims.

The General’s response was instructive. He reportedly told this highly regarded muslim leader that it is only where you have a crack that you can put a wedge. Go home! He admonished him; attend to the cracks and there will be no need for or fear of wedges.

That solomonic response of Nigeria’s only Military President is the perspective from which I have decided to see the characteristically undiplomatic comments on Nigeria’s future by Libya’s meddlesome, lifelong President, Col. Muammar Gadaffi.

Gadaffi may be a gadfly, and eccentric but he is certainly not mad. His prescription for Nigeria’s future may be wrong but what of his diagnosis? To paraphrase our unforgettable General Babangida, if he is putting a wedge, it is only because there are cracks.

We have by our acts of commission and omission given the international community the impression that we don’t want to live together as brothers. The person who advises us to go the way of Czechslovakia or Yugoslavia rather than slaughter ourselves is to my mind more of a friend than those who pour out insincere platitudes whenever the madness seizes us.

By our actions, we are yet to take it as a given that if God wanted one ethnic or religious group to populate Nigeria, He would have ensured it. It is obvious that God chose for us our neighbours and the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves is still extant.

In fact belonging to one faith is no panacea, as seen in Northern Ireland where until recently Protestants were up in arms against Catholics. In the Arab/Muslim world Sunni and Shiites have been known to engage in occasional bloodletting. Today Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam, has as its greatest ally USA, seen by the Arab/Muslim street as Satan. Today the Jewish inhuman blockade of Gaza is total and effective because Egypt a leading Moslem country prefers Jewish rulers to his Hamas brothers, as dinner partners.

Here in Nigeria, I recall in the aftermath of Kafanchan riots of 1987, a dinner we had with the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kaduna. He had invited Christian leaders to read the riot act to them. He told them not to count on British support for their cause in the event of a shooting war just because they were Christians and Britain was a Christian country. He said Her Majesty’s government will only intervene if trade was impeded. For illustration, he said that Her majesty’s government had close ties with Saudia Arabia, a moslem country and none with Argentina a Christian country with whom they had fought the Falklands war in the early part of the decade. For Her Majesty, trade came first.

I have always held that living harmoniously with all manner of men is possible when dialogue, compromise and an attitude of give and take are given places of honour.

That was my policy as Editor, New Nigerian and reason for the Shariah debate we introduced. As a newly appointed editor, some compatriots who saw me as a foreigner editing a newspaper wholly owned by the federal government laid some landmines. The first and potentially most damaging was the seemingly spontaneous and vociferous demand for immediate introduction of Shariah with the New Nigerian, edited by a Christian as main organ of propagation. My response was, sure we will have an open debate, moderated by the New Nigerian, tell us why you want Shariah and opponents would have a right of reply in the best journalistic traditions.

The main argument of the protagonists of Shariah was that the existing system was Judaeo-Christian and alien to the Moslem way of life. Christians countered that what we had was English common law that had been weaned of Christian influences. They asked for Canon law if Moslems got Shariah.

Our thinking was that having stated their positions the time was ripe to sit down and fashion out a Nigerian Judicial system that could incorporate aspects of Shariah, Canon law and the Existing English common law. Sudan & Turkey, both Moslem countries followed that route. But this was not to be. Politicians hijacked the debate and it became uncivil and had to be stopped.

When General Obasanjo became President in 1999, the same Shariah trap was set for him. He called what Zamfara smuggled in as political Shariah the type that gives Islam a bad name. It punishes a goat thief with amputation and explains away the siphoning of billions of naira by elected officials and self-selected apostles of Shariah. It can provide witnesses who saw women commit adultery but not see the men they supposedly committed it with. The women are sentenced to stoning and the men with whom they tangoed go scot-free. All in the name of God.

The shariah issue is still unresolved. Acting President Goodluck Jonathan may be confronted with that sooner rather than later, if the past is any guide. Ironically, the Judaeo-Christian judicial system roundly condemned by Shariah advocates is controlled at the Federal level by those in whose name Shariah was smuggled in. If having got Shariah they are unable or unwilling to let go the “Christian” system perhaps there is room for dialogue on forging one generally acceptable system out of the two.

I believe that the neighbours God assigned us to share the Nigerian space with are not just those of our faith and tongue. Every Nigerian is your neighbour, that is God’s will. In my experience of living almost 80% of my adult life outside my ancestral home, I can affirm that your greatest headache can be home-brewed.

Ask General Obasanjo. His greatest headache in government was not political Shariah or Atiku or the highly-priced National Assembly of his time, it was his Yoruba brethren. It was like the Yorubas were telling us, Nigerians, that if in atoning for the injustice done Chief MKO Abiola, you want a Yoruba to rule it must not be an Owu man. There are Yoruba Brahmins. Of course Abiola himself had the same problem. The figurehead used to scupper his inchoate presidency was one such Brahmin. But luckily Nigeria said no. Our attitude was one of “if the Yorubas insist on being king, we insist on being kingmakers”

I applaud that posture because advocates of rotation sometimes have family and friends rather than most qualified in mind when they seek to be kingmakers. Can the kingmaker who made his son a governor and his daughter a senator at the same time truly tell us that every other person was less qualified? Could the late strongman, garrison Commander and kingmaker extraordinaire of Ibadan politics have told us that he chose the best there was for Oyo.

The distortions and imperfections in our system are fundamental enough to warrant a national dialogue. So before we crucify Col. Gadaffi, who incidentally has apologised, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Is there merit in what he said about us?” Today, the only thing we share as a family is money – Niger Delta oil money and Lagos VAT money. On the matter of money we are one nation, in everything else we are Gadaffi’s idea of Ethnic states.

Easter, the time of agape love is a good beginning for national regeneration – One nation in word and deed or many nations sharing common service. Happy Easter!


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