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Published On: Mon, May 26th, 2014

And now, the ecumenical city of Jos? (1)

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By Wole Soyinka

This was how I knew Jos from childhood – the ecumenical heart of Nigerian humanity. It was this distinct, all-embracing character that family and friends rhapsodized about the city and her laid-back disposition, as they returned home for periodic family reunions, trading sorties, and seasonal festivals. There were no strangers in Jos: that was the summative, unstated ethos. It was in this condition that I reconnected with Jos at the end of my studies abroad half a century ago – traders, teachers and students, tailors, carpenters, petty contractors, long distance drivers, railway workers, photographers and of course, expatriates. This was the city of open arms that I criss-crossed as I toured the nation (and West Africa) in pursuit of indigenous theatre traditions. Only Kaduna came a close second. Jos was the pre-eminent choice for extended school excursions and casual retreats, its lush hills, its temperate weather, shimmering plateau, but above all, its benign, neighbourhood humanity drew all towards her like a mystic magnet.

Today, so soon after Nyanya, Jos has turned into yet another national abattoir, the current fate of so many of our towns, villages and other once thriving habitations across northern parts of the nation. Perhaps at long last, the government and political leaders will FULLY accept what many have been declaiming for upwards of two, even three years: the nation is at war. There can be no further evasion, indeed it is criminal folly to attempt to disguise or fudge this reality. We are at that point in a people’s survival where there is no choice but to mobilize in an unprecedented manner, to place the entirety of the population on a national alert and on invitation to sacrifice. This is a pressing undertaking for President, governors, local governments, institutions of every shade and purpose, businesses and individuals. This requires an inculcation into citizen mentality of the plain fact that nowhere now should we accomodate the tranquilizing mode of ‘business as usual’. It is time even for that drastic, unpalatable creation of: A War Council!

The non-partisan mandate that many have called for, to combat the menace of Boko Haram, must ingested and manifested both in pronouncement and deed, calling for an unaccustomed discipline and a level of public morality that does not make a mockery of the innocent dead, maimed and bereaved. It is that kind of state of peril where the illegal appropriation of public resources should translate as nothing less than an act of treachery against the people, treason against the state. Derelections of the past in the sphere of public responsibility in all fields must now count as hostile engagement and, above all, a security consciousness at all levels as instructional undertaking, not as incidentally imbibed or trickle-down awareness into citizen mind, should be a priority of ministries and parastatals, and voluntary organisations. That private sanctuary, the individual homes should take the lead. One waits in vain for an accentuated discipline of watchfulness to be inculcated, energized through a public education process on young and old, so that every individual becomes alert to any unusual event in his or her neigbourhood. Let it be understood that I am not advocating meaningless and banal slogans, or regimentation, but the imaginative development of citizen structures – work places, clubs, trade unions, schools and colleges, religious bodies, sports fields etc. etc. – in enhancing security sensibilities and educating the population on the now unarguable nature of the enemy.

We have warned. Now even the pores of the most calloused skin have been forcefully opened for listening, and absorbing reality. This is no time for recriminations. At the same time however, it will be foolhardy to fail to recall today some signal failures of the past, missteps, complacencies, evasions and denials, if we accept that re-building a nation should come sooner than later. Confronted especially with the resident nightmare of the abducted schoolgirls, that insolent and brutal climax of the serial targeting of the female gender under theocratic misteachings, and given the context of an ongoing National dialogue, let it be acknowledged as imperative that we commence the process of internal questioning and cleansing. This cannot be done with avoidance of contributive factors to the present crisis wherever relevant, else we carry into the future the same destructive seed whose burgeoning deservedly threatens to wrap the nation in a seamless shroud of mourning and lamentations.

I shall quote from a warning that I issued about two years ago, after yet another spate of signal declarations of Boko Haram’s ultimate destination that many preferred to believe were mere rumbles of transient discontent. Death and mutilation, at the time, were still counted in single, then lower double digits. This was during those lulling pauses, when the arrest of two or three malefactors was guaranteed to encourage sighs of relief. The crude home-made, yet even then deadly devices were considered to be finite. A senior military officer, rank of general I seem to recall, was sufficiently dismissive as to urge the nation to relax, because the faceless enemy would soon run out of those devices! Even if that were true, does a temporary shortage of weaponry necessarily spell the end of any insurgency?

We must not allow ourselves to forget that the diligence of security agencies did net some high-profile individuals who even occupied governmental and elective posts. They were caught in flagrante as collaborators of Boko Haram and were duly charged to court. How many still recollect or can assess the significance for a nation, when a number of their regional colleagues rallied round to demand that the charges against them be dropped, even as a mere foot soldier in the same terrorist ring was successfully tried and gaoled. Do we have to be reminded of an occasion when, after a lull in attacks ended and attacks resumed, some “Elders” figuratively shrugged their shoulders and declared, “We told the government to drop the trial of that legislator, but they didn’t listen, so let them go and solve the problem by themselves”. If ever there was a blatant demand for the enthronement of impunity, or arrogant pronouncement of self-indictment, that, and allied forms of conduct were sufficient warnings of the remorseless march of the looming, orchestrated menace. There were, of course, hundreds of other signs, but I repeat – post-mortems can wait.

Wole Soyinka is a professor of literature and Nobel laureate.

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