Return of the Southern ghosts

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Nigeria is a country haunted by ghosts. By our President’s insinuated definition, a ghost in this sense is a faceless terrorist outfit targeting our security forces and institutions. It sneaks around selectively murdering Nigerians and kidnapping foreigners over some real or asinine grievances.

When President Goodluck Jonathan visited Maiduguri, the epicentre and native home of Boko Haram insurgency earlier in March this year, he responded to the elders’ request for negotiation by saying he would not discuss with “ghosts”, insisting they must come out first.

As the dust on that was settling, a court in South Africa sentenced the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Henry Okah, for his role in several bomb attacks on Abuja and Warri after the amnesty programme had gone into effect.

In anger, a moribund MEND rose from its three and half-year-old hibernation and threatened to resume hostilities.

As if true to its threat, on Friday, April 5, 2013, a group of policemen sent to provide security during the funeral of the mother of one of the ex-commanders of MEND, Kile Selky Torughedi at Azuzuama in Southern Ijaw LGA of Bayelsa State, were attacked en route and 12 of them killed. MEND claimed responsibility.

It was clearly an act of terror by a MEND that is now totally faceless; a veritable “ghost” from the South as opposed to Boko Haram, the “ghost” from Northern Nigeria.

And now, MEND appears to have expanded its self-assigned mandate. It has responded to the obdurate Boko Haram campaign of terror by threatening that come May 31, 2013, it would start bombing mosques, hajj camps and assassinating Muslim clerics, especially those known to preach hate against Christians and Southerners and provide support for Boko Haram.

Some Southerners and Christian groups and youth organisations have responded with excitement to MEND’s new mission as their “defenders”. For a very long time now, as Boko Haram and other Islamic Jihadists and militias bombed, beheaded, staged gun attacks and raided well chosen targets all over the North (especially Christian and Southern targets), the lack of reprisal emboldened the terrorists and their backers.

They increasingly frightened moderate Muslim leaders into calling for amnesty for the terrorists. In fact, since the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar joined the plea for amnesty for Boko Haram about a month ago; it triggered a stampede of groups making similar calls and forcing a swamped President Jonathan to promise a committee to look into the viability of the proposal.

It is an irony that MEND should give itself the tag of avenger for Christians and Southerners given the fact that it is spiritually rooted in Ijaw sea goddess, the cult of Egbesu.

In those days of armed militancy, each time MEND or any of its affiliates scored heavily against the oil companies or our security forces, the President of the Ijaw Monitoring Group, Joseph Evah, was fond of describing their exploits as the handiwork of “Ijaw gods”. Does an organisation spiritually devoted to a pagan god have the legitimate right or mandate to fight for Christians? I doubt it.

That Christians and Southerners have maintained restraint in the face of extreme provocation of being targeted in the North, desisting from venting their ire on innocent, law-abiding Northerners among them is not a sign of weakness.

It is such restraint, even in the face of provocative demands for amnesty for Boko Haram, that is keeping Nigeria one. Christians and the South have always paid heavy prices to keep Nigeria one even though the North will suffer much more should the country disintegrate.

There are two main reasons for this self control. Number one is that by their cultures and religious orientations, Southerners and Christians are not easily moved to harm strangers or settlers among them, unlike in the North where anything can be an excuse to kill settlers and people of other faiths in their midst. Secondly (and most importantly) the Islamic terrorists have managed to keep their nihilist campaigns within their home zones in the North.

Southern militia groups, such as the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, MEND and the O’odua People’s Congress, OPC, have managed to hold themselves in check and watch the unfolding menace in the North where their people are targeted.

It is the prayer and hope of well-meaning Nigerians that Northern leaders, if they really are serious about the continued unity of this country, will reach the Islamic insurgents and persuade them to drop their unviable and laughable quest to convert Nigerians into Islam by force.

Some people might be tickled by the idea of MEND standing up to fight for Christians and Southerners by killing Muslims and destroying their places of worship. I am not. It will not solve the problem. It will only exacerbate it. A religious war in Nigeria is un-win-able. Southern Muslims (especially those from Yoruba land) are not the enemies of Christians and Southerners, neither are law-abiding Northern Muslims.

Among the Northern Muslims, the vast majority are law-abiding, patriotic citizens who want a peaceful atmosphere to carry on with their legitimate pursuits. Targeting such people and their places of worship will be an act of wickedness equal to the transgressions of Boko Haram. If you engage in that, you will be an enemy of Nigeria, just like them.

Nigerians need peace. But peace will only be possible when the owners of this country – Christians, Muslims, Northerners Southerners, Majorities and Minorities – all resolve to maintain the peace.

But when a section of the commonwealth seems forever implacable, always causing trouble and dragging the nation backwards, time comes when the rest of the stakeholders will say, wait a minute, is this union still worth it?

Nigeria is a beautiful idea if we let it work. But Nigeria is a very divisible and dissoluble country.

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