Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Cost of Identity Politics

The Cost of Identity Politics
Today is Democracy Day, but I shall not dwell on it here as many other commentators will surely do justice to the subject. I will instead discuss on the cost of politics being played along the lines of identities like ethnicity, religion and so on. The trend is quite rife in Nigeria and we shall demonstrate its impact on our national life, with the handling of the Chibok abduction as an example. After the girls were abducted, the natural expectation is that every relevant – I say relevant – information about the abductees be released. Such briefing would not be out of place.
But nothing was released other than the fact that they had been kidnapped; and the simple reason for the non-information is because of their presumed identity as Muslims – at least that much the President himself said in his media chat as noted in my last piece. Kindly note that by this time, whether anybody likes it or not, the president is directly in charge of security in Borno State, as with Yobe and Adamawa, because of the state of emergency declared on them and, therefore, any and everything concerning the security of those states is under the direct purview of the president. But the president, with all the powers of his office, did not provide any such information and in fact never quite made any comment on the abduction until after almost three weeks.
Yet again, in spite of the emergency rule in Borno, even if for the simple reason of morality, the state governor, Alh Kashim Shettima, had and still has a responsibility to his people because it is him that they voted as their governor and he still is the governor with administrative powers in the state. He also has a responsibility to support the president in the restoration of peace and stability in his state. And by the virtue of his expected better understanding of and closeness to his people and their diversities as it were, it also behooves on him to support with every piece of information that will lead to the recovery of those girls and the amelioration of the general security of the state. Therefore he could have provided their details even if unsolicited. But for whatever reason he did not.
In the face of these failures at these two levels, it is only natural that people find a way of letting their voices out and their cries heard if they are in pain of any sort. Chibok is predominantly a Christian population as with the south of Borno State in general. If the Nigerian state and Borno State which have the constitutional responsibility of listening to and addressing their distress fail to do so they would turn to other means to let their voice out. They have an identity as Christian and under this identity, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) came to the rescue: CAN at least gave a voice to their cry by compiling the names of their missing children and presenting them to the whole world. Uncomfortable as the action of CAN appears, it is legitimate.
So then one asks the question: why did Gov Shettima fail to, in his own capacity, produce as little as a list of the abducted girls? Is it simply because of the fact that the emergency rule has effectively stripped him of the role of “Chief Security Officer” of his state? Or did he fall victim of the false thought that, because a crime has a certain identity colouration, information should be withheld – in the name of information management – so as to avoid a backlash or reprisal elsewhere? But it is true that what has brought these backlashes and reprisals is very much because leaders in the past have failed to dispense justice. Leaders, and people in general, think that it is a given that if Muslims kill Christians or vice versa, there will certainly be reprisals or backlash of sorts, but where justice and rule of law reign, that is not true.
Let us look at the converse picture. Everybody now knows that Boko Haram has gone maniacal; they bomb market places and motor parks where innocent people of all persuasions and identities converge. Therefore if Gov Shettima himself had come out with a list of the Chibok girls as soon as the abduction happened, with a call to the FG to go for them, he would have received a hero’s applause because the list would shown the fact that most of the girls are Christian; and he being a Muslim, in spite of Boko Haram putting on an Islamic toga, ready to fight for all of his citizens is a good signal of his commitment to justice and equality for all. He would have won the confidence of the Christians in his state. CAN would not have had to take it upon themselves to present to the world any list. He would have begun to challenge the theory in some quarters that Boko Haram is a grand design by the Muslim north, or even Islam, against Christian elements in Nigeria or Christianity. He would have given the Muslim community an opportunity to be spared of the bad image Boko Haram and their ilk are giving to Islam. But the governor failed, on the moral count, to take advantage of a good opportunity.
The long and short of this is that identity politics ruins any society and the best way to deal with it is with good governance, equality before the law, equity to all citizens and the prompt and transparent dispensation of justice t all times. Otherwise it is a lose-lose situation both for the ones that have the upper hand and those that have the lower.

Published on BLUEPRINT Newspaper; May 29, 2014

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