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By: Emmanuel Yawe  
 Published January 26th, 2012

My son came to me last Wednesday with the distressing news that he has decided to take his wife and son home. I sought to know why since they just came back from the Christmas and New year holiday. The answer was Boko Haram. His house in the Federal Capital Territory is located between a Mosque and a Church. With the worsening security situation in the country, tension has risen in the neighbourhood between the two faiths. It was made worse with the arrival of northerners who stopped nearby as they travelled in a convoy of six lorries from the south – running away from reprisal killings in the wake of Boko Harams killing of Christians and southerners up north .This heightened tension between the two groups that have always lived in peace.

It brings to me painful memories of 1966 as Nigeria inched towards the civil war. Then I was a small boy and a villager, hardly aware of the issues that precipitated the upheaval. All I knew was that my grand father under whose care I grew up turned his residence into a camp for fleeing Ibo tribesmen. We the kids gathered around them by the fireside at night to hear horror stories of what happened to their less fortunate tribesmen who couldn’t make it to that safe haven. As the situation became worse, even my grandfather, an ordained priest, had to abandon his Good Samaritan policy. Armed soldiers had found their way to the village and were issuing menacing threats to invade our house to wipe out not only the Ibos but our entire household!
He saved many lives, regardless.

My life has gone round a full circle. Today I am an educated adult, a grandfather and a town dweller. The issues driving my country to war are not strange to me at all. But I am helpless in the circumstances. I can only write in a newspaper in a hopeless effort to stop the slippery drift to a religious war, a war I know will be worse than the civil war we fought before. If those who are responsible for this slide read me at all, it is clear that I do not make any impression on them. It makes me jealous of my grand father. He at least saved lives of complete strangers, the way the Good Samaritan did in the Bible. But I cannot do that now; not even to my grandson who left at six am this morning, and as I write now is fleeing from a danger he does not understand.

When he grows up, my grandson will in all probability be baptized as a Christian. He has little choice in the matter. Since the South African Boer missionaries came to my great grandfather’s village in 1911, Christianity has become the root of our religious life for the past one hundred years plus. If he were born to a Kano family, the probability is high that he would be a Moslem; again without a choice.

In Nigeria and more so in the northern part of it, people are born into religious beliefs. The failure to accept that it is not a crime to be born into a religious sect is what has made religion a divisive issue in this part of the country, shattering the unity of not only the region but of the whole country. One great impression the Yoruba of the South West made in my life for the four years I spent there as a student in the 70’s is that they are the most tolerant people when it comes to religion. Almost every family is split down the line between Christians and Moslems and they celebrate Sallah and Christmas with equal gusto – ‘and co’ attires are worn by family members of both faith and they attend endless parties together. It is a way of life I cherish; but I look for it in vain up north.

The Boko Haram group has come out with a simplistic solution to this problem. They have ordered all Christians to move down south and Moslems to come up north. They have followed it up with an intensified war, murdering Christians in the north abundantly. They have so far achieved what they set out to do: Northerners are migrating back just as Christians are moving down south.

The situation would have been saved if we had a strong and sagacious President. Again I look for these qualities in Goodluck Jonathan but I look in vain. His recent pronouncement that Boko Haram has infiltrated his Cabinet, the Legislature, the Judiciary, Armed forces and security agencies has knocked the bottom out of what he calls a government. By this pronouncement, he has infantilized the rest of us. If our President with all his awesome powers is so helpless, what are we going to do?

The Boko Haram group has responded in strength with more killings and for the first time an internet broadcast. We couldn’t have been nearer the precipice. And so what happens if Nigeria breaks up along religious crack lines. I am tempted to say the South West would be the safest place to be. But it is not such a straight forward case. There are Yorubas all over Nigeria and their sudden return to their homeland will generate new conflicts. There will be pressure on land and the arrival of northern Christians will raise new issues. As tolerant as they are with religion, the Yorubas are quick to recognize an ‘Omo Gambari’ when they see one.

There will be religious purity in the South East and South South where almost 99% of the population is Christian. But the northern Christian should not expect to find home there. The land mass is small, too small for the highly fertile and reproductive Ibo race. More importantly, the Ibos have not forgotten the horrors of 1966 when they were massacred by both Christian and Northern Moslems. The wounds of the civil war have never really healed and even my best Ibo friends knowing my background very well often refer to me at my back as ‘onye Hausa” – a Hausa man.

What all these means is that the Northern Christians will be left on their own. There will be a blood bath in the north, worse than what happened in Sudan. Israel, the US, the UK etc will come in to help the Christians while Iran and the Middle East will fight for Moslems. At the end of the day, there will be no victor and no vanquished. Northern Nigeria will be an expanded graveyard. Not to worry; the survivors will become Nigerian refugees who will swamp Africa and flood the world. It will be left for history text books to remember that a country was once called Nigeria.

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