A Letter to that Nigerian-Palestinian

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Dear Friend,

Before you accuse me of finding nothing worth praising about you and yours, let me quickly empathise with you, and of course myself, over the killings in Gaza. You, as a humanist, one whose empathy has no border, are a citizen of the world, one of the reasons the earth is still habitable by the sane. It would be morally irresponsible for anyone to frown at your frantic advocacy which seeks an end to the killings in Gaza, only that commonsense demands a man whose house is on fire to rush for the extinguisher for his own dwelling first, before attending to a similar fire elsewhere.

London stands up for Gaza, because London is not bereaved. New York Stands up for Gaza because New York isn’t being threatened by hurricane-somebody now. Palestine would not stand up for Chibok because they also have a strip of misery in which they are just as worthless: Gaza. And the young Malala Yousafzai who came and roused the conscience of her fathers in Nigeria, was not here as a Pakistani as you have announced in defending your geographically insensitive activism from my “secular advocacy”. She was here as a Birmingham, England-based NGO owner, to stand with the girls of Nigeria in whose education Malala Fund has invested thousands of dollars. She has, as the news says, even “offered to partner with the UN efforts to mitigate the impacts of the abduction and help the girls (whose welfare is a responsibility of her NGO) return to school.”

You see, it’s not the way you internationalise your empathies that disturbs me, it’s this seeming pretence that all is well in your backyard while you weep over the blazing fire in faraway Gaza. If you, and others like you, had been half as passionate and emotional in your reaction to local tragedies as you are over the killings in Palestine, the troubles in the northeastern Nigeria wouldn’t have escalated to its present extent. The Palestinians, and their global solidarity soldiers, have gone berserk over the burning of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair, their citizen, and you, amnesiac activist of a burning nation, have also been losing sleep over Khudair, ignoring the tens of Khudairs who die in your backyard every day!

It’s not the internationalisation of your empathies that disturbs me, it’s your lack of wisdom to understand that Khudair has his fighters — and he’s fully named, his age too revealed –while all the killed and abducted Dantalas and Asma’us and Johns and Naomis of Yobe and Borno are seen as mere statistics, unworthy of collective advocacy by you.

Ours is not a criticism of the northern establishment, but that of its hypocritical allegiance to “brotherhood of faith”, which is what you say in your solidarity with the Palestinians, ignoring that we’re just as bereaved here, and unknowing that Palestine is also a home for non-Muslims. But, wait, what sort of a human being is responsive to the tragedies that fall upon just the people of his faith?

Ours is a criticism of the collective, not of a specific group. This is a reminder that we have not done enough, not a declaration that we have not done anything at all. It’s a criticism of me and you who, safe from the bullets of Boko Haram, have not done anything comparable to the emotions shown in the sensitivity of our countrymen to the happening in Gaza. Are you, my dear global citizen, trying to say that we, especially resident northerners, need CNN and Aljazeera to remind us that there are carnages going on in our backyard before we acknowledge them?
Haven’t we all lost friends and friends of friends and relatives and relatives of relatives in this madness? What media is more effective than being actually bereaved? The most effective media is our emotions, and on this I dare say that we haven’t shown and done enough. My participation in #BringBackOurGirls shows me the hypocrisy of our Muslim brothers and sisters who, dismissing our hashtags as a gimmick, are now loud champions of #FreePalestine.

See, we are as bereaved as the people of Palestine and it’s quite ironic that, instead of gathering our lots to empathise with ourselves first and demand solutions and justice, we pretend as though all’s well in our house. Why are the people of Palestine not empathising with the people of Borno if our “brotherhood of faith” is actually reciprocal? Why? I repeat: why aren’t the people of Palestine extending their “brotherhood of faith” to us in the hours of our bereavements? The Palestinians have never stopped fighting. They have their men up and running against oppression. Who’s up fighting for us, especially for Chibok and the larger northeast? Why leaving these campaigns against Boko Haram’s terrors to just the members of Civilian JTF and #BringBackOurGirls campaigners?

You even said that no atrocity is more than that going on in Gaza, and I ask: is there an experience worse than having minors abducted, savagely raped and impregnated by terrorists? Saying that no atrocity is as bad as that in Gaza means that the sanctity of a Palestinian’s life is higher than that of a Nigerian’s. And that, fellow countryman, is an unfortunate and disturbing utterance.

Similarly, you have to be really careful in your advocacy. At least get relevant history books to properly understand the religious and political complexity of the territorial conflicts that have turned Gaza into a prison-mortuary. Your alignment with the Palestinians, your brothers-in-faith, may lead you into something called antisemitism. And you also need to understand that it’s the peak of such misguided hatred that resulted into the formation of a racist ideology that once sought to promote the “Aryan” German race as the best of humans. Nazism, consequently, championed the killings of the innocent Jews, who were considered threats to proposed German nationalism.

In your analyses of the happenings in Gaza, you have, quite sadly, pandered to a way of the Hitler-led Aryan racists who considered the Jewish race abolishable pests.

Do have restraint in understanding that the happenings in Israel is not a crime perpetrated, and supported, by the whole of Jews. It’s a crime perpetrated by a monstrous ideology championed by a people of Jewish identity, just the way Nazism was not supported by the whole of Germans, but by a small but powerful National Socialist party clique. If you’re to adopt this form of flawed thinking in portraying ethnic or religious groups, obviously the whole of Muslims should be similarly persecuted for the crimes of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabbab, the Taliban and even Boko Haram who all pretend to be advocates of rights for the Muslim!

Hate the Israelis who, under zionism, did to Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews, but do not go close to hating the whole of Jews. Saying I hate the Jews means I hate some significant figures that shaped me, mine and the larger world. Saying I hate the Jews means I hate Jesus, who in my theology is Isah (AS), needed to authenticate my belief; saying I hate the Jews means I hate Moses (AS), similarly needed; saying I hate the Jews is an ingratitude to Albert Einstein’s contribution to science; saying I hate the Jews is an ingratitude to Sergey Brin, the founder of Google, whose invention has redeemed me in ways I’m incapable of repaying; saying I hate the Jews is also an ingratitude to Mark Zuckerberg whose innovation is the reason you and I are “friends” – even though we’ve never met – sharing thoughts on the ways of the world.

As long as you’re on Facebook, and employ Google to aid your quests for knowledge, both creations of inventors of Jewish identity, declaring that you hate the Jews is a contradiction, a joke clearly on you. And, as Muslims, your faith is threatened the moment you withhold your love for Jesus and Moses.

Don’t let a criminal be a representative of his race, religion and nationality. This approach, this dangerous stereotyping, has been the reason for these many conflicts we are still unable to resolve in this damned world. We must embrace our humanity, the only thing we all have in common, if we’re indeed interested in resolving our racial, religious, political, regional, territorial and ethnic conflicts!

Unlike you, whenever I see a group of people, the first identity that strikes me is the human, not the religious, not the political, not the racial, and obviously not the ethnic. Aside from my immediate family, my next closest family are the righteous people, people always in pursuit of Justice without discrimination, and of their other identities I’m unmindful.

I’ve long overcome the naiveté of hating a people based on the crimes of a group of which they are non-compliant members, just the way I don’t owe any non-Muslim and southerner apology for the atrocities of the Boko Haram. I only owe them explanation, defence, solidarity and empathy. My seeming silence over the killings in Gaza is simply because I’ve also been mourning, and also holed up in a mess of immeasurable depth. The Palestinians, I know, have global solidarity soldiers fighting for them. But, beyond hashtags, who are actually fighting for the redemptions of this place in which we don’t need a visa to reside?

This week, at our Abuja’s #BringBackOurGirls sit-in, as I listened to Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a woman whose public service records never really attracted my curiosity, but I’ve come to like as a humanist and patriot of impressive resilience, lament on the fate and conditions of the abducted girls and the dysfunctionality of the system in charge of our safety, something within me collapsed. So I withdrew from the crowd, hoping that could stem it, but I still couldn’t fight the tears. And that was how I left the sit-in, broken. This is because, in the cruel politics of migrations in this century, I have no home other than Nigeria, and the tragedy that befalls a fellow countryman, irrespective of his/her religious and ethnic and regional affiliations, is a shared grief.

I’m not inconsiderate to your reference to “brotherhood of faith” in standing for the people of Gaza, but I will never ever stand for them simply because we’re of the same religion. My own version of that excuse of yours is: “faith in the universal brotherhood of Man.” I only empathise with them because of a shared humanity. As for those who rightly explain that humanity has no border, which I also endorse, my belief in yours may only be confirmed if you also recognise the conditions of the Iraqi Christians who’re now fleeing Mosul, for they have been told by the ISIS animals to convert to Islam or lose their lives. Many of you are in Abuja, but participating in #BringBackOurGirls is seen as a “waste of time”, insulting those who defy the tasks of their 9-to-5 daily to be a part of the campaign, ignorant of the impending dangers, the danger of becoming refugees in your own city!

Yet, some of you have sought to typify my refusal to label corpses in order to know which deserves my empathy as simply a bid to earn a medal from the non-Muslims I’ve been struggling so hard, according to you, to impress; some of the same non-Muslims who, in a spark of mischief, have in their turn called me an “Islamic propagandist”, whatever that is, for condemning the profiling of northerners in the East, for endorsing a Muslim as presidential candidate… But I’m indifferent to their malicious labeling just as I’ve been to yours because you’re both incapable of denying me the rights to such expressions.

Humanity is still a joke because of this army of cerebrally malfunctioned brothers and sisters to whom we’re seen as hypocrites merely trying to impress the non-members of our group, for exposing a form of oppressive hypocrisy. Well, my dear friend, I don’t write to influence or change you; my writing is a sport that seeks to prove that I don’t think the way you do, and that the way I think is independent of yours. I hope this would be taken in good faith. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)

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David Umaru: the Last Man Standing in Niger

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Surviving as the opposition in the political culture of Niger state is a feat possible only for the tough and the extraordinarily resilient. Over time, as a keen observer, I’ve watched and studied the comings and goings of certain dramatic figures who have emerged to challenge an incumbent government and have all either fizzled out on realising the impossibility of shaking the establishment or sold out, either by defecting and accepting to join forces with the incumbent or serving in the system they could not fight long enough to oust.

The times of these men, and they have all been men, have been interesting: from the emergence of Isah Ladan, a big spender who initiated dazzling political fireworks before he fizzled out, with no words heard from him again, on to Mustapha Bello, a beneficiary of Abuja’s covert intervention in our local politics, who emerged to frustrate the reelection bid of the then incumbent Governor Abdulkadir Kure. The same Abuja interference that once backed Mustapha Bello was the same factor that produced the current Governor, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, when the ambition of the Kure-backed candidate was defeated on charges of corruption by the EFCC.

In Niger State, everything revolves around the government: it’s not just about the credible lie that it’s a “Civil Service” state with moribund economic life, but the reality of its people’s disinterest in political resistance. This dilemma is a creation of a system that keeps them economically dependent on government, such that the only industry in existence in Niger state right now is Sycophancy. In his perpetuation of this lie, Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who has been screaming himself hoarse in telling the world that the recurrent expenditures of the state are what eat up our budgets, has gone on and created needless agencies and ministries to engage the sycophants and cover up his declarations. I think it’s unfair to cry out that our salaries and emoluments eat up your funds and yet go on to create new channels through which taxpayers’ monies are drained.

One interesting story that captures the misery of opposing the establishment in Niger State is a certain encounter with a relative who used to be belligerently against under-performing governments. “Why,” I asked, “have you been quiet over this mismanagement of the state by the Governor and his cliques?” His response was a depressing narrative. He could not, and would not, oppose the system because the government is the biggest patron of his wife’s businesses, which include a chain of restaurants. Dissenting would mean severing his ties with government and consequently sabotaging his wife’s businesses because the patronage would stop. So many families and people are gagged by such beneficial dependence, stirring up a cultural sycophancy.

The coming of Barrister David Umaru ended this tradition of short-lived popular opposition forces and, especially, emergency governorship contenders who come, vie and disappear or sell out. Appearing on the political landscape in the build-up to the 2007 governorship elections, first as a member of the ruling party, the PDP, before joining ANPP to embark on this journey against aberrations, he formed strong networks at the grassroots and unwavering urban campaigns that, for the first time since the return to democracy, signaled the possibility of ousting the ruling party in Niger State.

Like the others, he did not stop being a politician, a formidable opposition figure, when PDP was declared winner of the 2007 polls. He contested the results, which were collations of witnessed irregularities, in the court, and remained undefeated even when the election was upheld. In the mean while, he remained a firebrand critic of the state government, exposing its mismanagement of public resources and having these published in several advertorials in the national dailies. He put up another fight in the 2011 governorship elections with a clearly unpopular Governor Aliyu whose last-minute appeal to the vulnerability of the people, embarking on distributing food items and money to the electorate, became the subject of many political comedies.

As an indigene of the state who has, on several occasions, openly registered disappointment in the performance of Niger State, I benefitted from the facts and figures on the administration of deceits and frauds in the state revealed in the advertorials signed by Barr. Umaru. He stands out because he refused to let go, refused to give up in struggling for the redemption of the state, refused to underestimate the place of the opposition, refused to allow the Establishment loot in peace. He has remained the symbol of resistance, an assurance that the atmosphere of sycophancy is crushable.

It is, however, expected that his candidacy was deconstructed by agents of polarisation who sought to stoke ethnic and religious sentiments in order to try and disconnect this live-wire of the opposition from the people. That is the low to which politics in Niger State has descended. As a state in search of the progressive elements, it’s disquieting to see the alternatives being stopped on the bar of their religious, ethnic and even zonal affiliations. I must make a case that, away from politics, religion is hardly an issue among the minority groups of the so-called Middle Belt where siblings follow different faiths without love lost in the family. The Nupe, who are largely Muslims, elected their Christian brother Professor Jerry Gana as legislator and the old Nigerlites elected a man who was not Nupe, Gbagyi or Hausa, Dr. Musa Inuwa, as governor, years before these agenda-driven religious fanatics, ethnic bigots and regional ambassadors repainted our fading disharmonies. The Gbagyi, of which Barr. Umaru is a member, are thankfully immune to polarisation along the line of religions. Which is why his popularity couldn’t be diminished by propagandas of the powers that be.

Now a new challenge has been set with the passing of Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta: the seat of Niger East Senatorial District. And it’s quite commendable that Barr. Umaru has been called, and he has accepted, to fill the void. It’s this news that someone capable of stopping the “retiring” Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, who is also interested in the seat, from being given another platform to exhibit his oratorical skills, in lieu of promised development, that comforts me. With zoning formula in place to frustrate Barr. Umaru’s governorship ambition in 2015, the Senate is the perfect slot, especially in consideration of his influence as grassroots politician of commendable intellectual integrity in the zone. There he can build a stronger force in this bid to demolish the political conservatism of a state possessed by too many sycophants. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter