Cry, my beloved country – In Touch, The Nation newspaper, 02/11/2020

THE southern protesters mourned those who died in the hands of vicious cops. The northern young battered the air over the rapine of bandits. The youths in both regions marched, but in different directions. One nation, two funerals.

It did not matter that the cops acted like bandits and the bandits acted like cops. A competing impunity. But the drama reveals less the barbarity than how we cry as a people. This is a different kind of cry from the one Alan Paton patented in his novel, Cry, the Beloved Country.

When a nation goes through pain and tragedy, we catch a glimpse of its soul. We find out how it grieves, and, from there, we know if they are one, or if its parts are apart. The #EndSars protests gave us such a peep, and our eyes pop at what we see.

So, when the south was awash with reports of the banditry of SARS, the north watched like bystanders. A policeman raped a girl in Abeokuta, purloined an ATM card in Lagos, ripped apart families in Abuja, shot an expectant mother in Port Harcourt, disemboweled a merchant’s purse in Enugu, or beat a boy insensible in Warri. But the Kano or Borno youth has other concerns. The bandit has just raped a nubile in an uncompleted building in Kano, an old man’s first daughter had just been spirited away in Jigawa, a gang raided and razed a market in Katsina but the governor entices them with amnesty and loans. They want to clasp the goons back into the people’s bosom, to make them part of the society again. It is spoils for spoils. Boko Haram has dislodged another village, and a governor with more valour than temerity has just escaped death from the hands of a militant warlord. Divided grief, divided loyalty.

When the south lamented, the north did not because it was not tormented. It wept over something else. So when the north said, they wanted SARS, it seemed insensitive to the south. But the southern youth did not include solution to Boko Haram or northern crime gangs on its menu. The north only saw the southern uproar as a platform to launch its own rage.

But this is nothing new in Nigeria. When big men die, we see funerals in parts. When Awo died, I recalled it was a southern tragedy, but for most part a Yoruba tragedy. We saw quotes from across the country of big names showing condolences. They were technical mourners, not visceral. It was political obsequy without emotional depth. It was tears of caprice, tears as rhetoric. Awo was admired, but hardly loved outside the West. He attracted envy more than respect. The East did not love him much, and some even in the throes of Yoruba mourning, still remembered the Okporoko and second-hands clothing rhetoric and the civil war acts. What his kinsmen saw as genius, the East tucked away as betrayal. Not even Achebe glorified him, and he held the grudge for so long that he spilled it on his last Hurrah, There Was A Country. Some in the North also whipped the Ikenne sage.

Ditto when Zik passed on. Not many saw the man, the greatest nationalist since Macaulay, as the death of a Nigerian as much as the passing of an Igbo icon. He was the genuine Nigerian polyglot, who learned Hausa before his native Igbo. He was the rhetorician of first taste, whose tongue sweetened with Yoruba and soared with genuine zest among his fellow Yoruba associates and almost ended up as the Western premier.

The one that pained this essayist was the passing of Maitama Sule, the southern media being the first culprit in giving it a coverage undeserving of his grandeur. Sometimes, though, we mourn jealously, disinviting by deeds and by gestural distancing. Soyinka was not allowed to mourn his fellow writer Achebe because of some vermin in social media. They invoked fictional feuds between Soyinka and the author of Things fall Apart. Gani Fawehinmi’s funeral became much more a statement of revenge than healing by the human rights community.

Some commentators have asserted that the only time we unite is when we play soccer against other nations. But it is often a flash of joy, as though from a flimflam of fate. We weep tribe and bemoan for faith before we know what we feel. God and heath have foreclosed our kindred potential. They have made us heathens to each other. No one hears the other’s drumrolls. No one sees the other’s teardrop. We hear Yoruba sob, or see Fulani tears and are deafened by Igbo cry. We hardly hear the Nigerian lyric for the dead.

When such discordant funeral notes happen, it means we don’t have a nation yet. It means we are just making a patchwork of unity. To grieve together is to feel together. It is only those who grieve together than can joy together. Grief is the fragile emotion. It tears into the sanctum of the communal being.

It was amazing that when it was time to protest, the youth were divided. When the time came to plunder, the hoodlums acted as one. From Lagos to Calabar, to Jos to Kaduna to Adamawa, it was one Nigeria in looting. Just as the elite conspire in looting the treasury, the hoodlums did same in open theatre. CA-COVID palliatives became the excuse for a narrative of vengeance.

But it is not essentially true that the elite steal in unison, although that is a myth. You have to belong to the club first. Take the oil wealth, for instance. The oil states see their wealth as going more outside their elites than to the elites of their tribes. This brought out a recent drama. A northern leader Usman Bugaje went viral for once saying that the north owns the oil in the Niger Delta. He backed his view with a distorted reading of geography that questions who was his teacher and if his teacher should not disown him in public. Not long after that revived video, we saw the news of Zamfara Governor Bello Mattawalle, who sold gold bars to the CBN in a somersault of the federal principle. Some Niger Delta youths erupted over violation of the Exclusive List that places mining squarely in the centre. Others can share our oil, but we are barred from gold. Where is Bugaje’s geographical pyrotechnics? So, the hoi polloi may steal as one, but the political elite are less generous.

The tragedy is that we don’t grieve together, because we don’t think Nigerian. “They live differently who think differently,” noted political theorist Harold Laski. This is because from the days of our founding, our fathers were less Nigerian than the country they fought for. They were not Nigerian heroes but ethnic heroes. That was why we descended into the civil war not long after. That explains why today, the north and south have different concepts of grazing routes for herdsmen in the 21st century. And when they steal farms in Abia villages, few tears stain northern pillows.

If we must share our resources fairly, we must mourn fairly. Our tears should be shed in equity just as the principle of sharing. Well, maybe not equally, but at least deep enough, like the mourning of your best friend’s brother.

If we thought as one, we would develop as one. The United States and Britain grew from cooperative geniuses. The US built a myth of a melting pot. We cannot forget the assertion of the English admiral Horatio Nelson that “England expects every man will do his duty.” It was an instinct of patriotism. It is because they love their country first.

We must note that even in both countries today, such fidelity is fading. The roach of decay is eating into the countries and they cannot be as great as they once were.

It does not matter how well we play and how sumptuous our feast, we are not one until our tears fall on the same funeral floor.

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