We all must be worried about the direction our country is heading. We are becoming an intolerant nation where the language of debate, if we can still call it that, is not just crude but hateful, inflammatory, and inciting. Across the land today, issues are hardly discussed without viewing the matter at hand from the prisms of religion and what we usually refer to as ‘state of origin’.
Merit has given way to how long you stay in a church, mosque, shrine or temple and the ‘geopolitical zone’ you come from. It is doubtful if former vice president Alex Ekwueme who is generally credited with the introduction of ‘geo-political zone’ into our lexicon at the constitutional conference convened by late maximum ruler, Sani Abacha, could have imagined how divisive and polarising it has become.
On social media and phone-in programmes on our radio stations, the inanities people spew out are getting increasingly worrisome. And our politicians who are rabid opportunists are exploiting these divisive tendencies to maximum advantage. Partisanship has reached such a level that the common good of all does not feature in the consideration of those leading us. Sure, the point could be made that we have always been a not-so-united country especially since the civil war ended in 1970 but it is doubtful if it has ever been bad like now that citizens are more conscious of what makes them different from others in a particularly negative way.
Some actions of our politicians recently have deepened our political fault lines and our country is the worse for it. Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan obtained the PDP nomination form to contest the February 14, 2015 presidential election and expectedly it was carnival-like atmosphere. Nothing bad with that except that I was taken aback when people started singing Christian songs at the occasion. What was the motive of those who raised such songs at that place on that day? Will President Jonathan be president for Christians alone? Can the votes of Christians propel him to office again next year?
A few days before that, on Saturday, October 25, Governor Rotimi Amaechi organised a so-called ‘mega rally’ at Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital which cynics believe was a show to prove to APC top honchos that he can pull crowds and would be a better fit as running mate to whosoever emerges as the party’s presidential candidate. At a point, former head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, was called to address the rally and he gave a very short speech but closed with alhamudulilahi and I wondered whether there were only Muslims at the gathering. Why can’t our politicians keep their faith to themselves? Why must they continually exploit religion in order to garner votes and use the same instrumentality to keep Nigerians perpetually subservient to their idiosyncrasies?
Consider the length of time we have spent debating the merits of a ‘Muslim- Muslim’ ticket or a ‘Christian-Christian’ ticket as though this will take many citizens out of the endemic poverty they have been consigned by these same politicians? The reality on the ground today is that no religious group can boast of enough votes to put anybody in Aso Rock, it is just not possible. But when we play on people’s gullibility, we make our country more susceptible to eternal divisions and put it at a precipice. Recent examples of Liberia and Rwanda should be strong warnings to us that we cannot afford a religious or ethnic war, as our country might not recover from such horror.
Journalists too have a responsibility in drawing attention to the way politicians harp on what divides rather than what brings us together as the situation is not better in our states. For instance, a talking point of the governorship election in Lagos State is the so-called desire of Christians to lead the state. Nothing about competence or skills or record of service but only whether someone carries a Bible or Koran. Painfully, our politicians do not live their lives in ways that reflect the virtues of the faith they claim to profess. Someone’s religion is a private matter and while public service should, and does not preclude a leader from practicing the tenets of his faith, his actions must reassure people of other faiths that their interests are well protected. That is the way for the future we crave for where everyone feels secured and our march to greatness can continue unhindered.
Sadly, the ruling class does not discriminate among themselves when they plunder our commonwealth. They do not allow religious or tribal differences to stand on their way when their interests are involved, others must learn from that too. Just consider a picture released last week, President Jonathan and the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi exchanging banters at Aso Rock when the emir visited him. That’s the way of our leaders.