The fanatics murder sleep

By Okey Ndibe


In murdering dozens of innocent people in
Maiduguri, Borno State, the rabid fanatics who
posed as a pious mob yet again burnished
Nigeria's reputation for excelling in impunity. A
report by Njadvara Musa for the Associated Press
told it all: “Nigerian Muslims protesting
caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked
Christians and burned churches on Saturday,
killing at least 15 people in the deadliest
confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim
anger over the drawings.

In effect, in one fell swoop, the butchers of
Maiduguri bested all-comers in bloodiness and
savagery. They broke the world record for the
largest tally of casualties since aggrieved
Muslims around the globe began demonstrating
against an irreverent cartoon drawn by a Danish
cartoonist. The cartoon in question, depicting
the Prophet Muhammad as a
death-dealing terrorist, appeared several months ago
in a Danish newspaper. Muslim ire against the
profanation of Islam’s iconic figure has led to
widespread arson and deaths in such major Islamic
addresses as Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria,
Iran and Afghanistan. Even so, until the mayhem in
Maiduguri, the casualties had stayed mostly within
single digits, and had usually come from the stampede
of demonstrators retreating from police fire.

Trust some Nigerians to bound for the stage and
claim a dubious, gory title. As it happened, the
initial toll of fifteen dead was a gross
understatement. By
Sunday, estimates of the dead had surpassed fifty—and
the number was widely expected to rise. The agents of
death in Maiduguri seemed determined to set a record
that the rest of the indignant Islamic world combined
could never dream of threatening. Not only did they
covet the Guinness Book of Records, they made an
audacious bid as monopolists of savagery. And all
this, we are meant to believe, supposedly for the love
of their prophet?

Let’s call what happened by its proper name:
unholy crap compounded by impious carnage. In
their blind fury, the Maiduguri mob behaved as if
they had received divine revelation that the
Danish cartoonist was hiding somewhere in their
blood-hungry city,
disguised as a pastor or some Igbo trader. Rabid and
vengeful, they fanned out, combing churches, business
stalls and the homes of infidels. They snuffed out and
mutilated unarmed citizens, men and women, children as
well as grown-ups. Their victims’ only crime, or
should we speak of sin, was belonging to a different
ethnicity and religion. In a country where the
president’s chief attack dog has declared that
non-believers don’t really count as full humans, these
avengers of the prophet had no qualms destroying the
lives and property of those they considered of errant
faith. To ensure that the masked Danish cartoonist did
not escape, these killers by presumed divine mandate
mowed down as many “suspects” as could they lay hands
on. In their wake was a charred city littered with
corpses and filled with grief, bereft of hope.

Once again, Nigerians are left wondering what, at
bottom, drove this orgy of violence, this banquet
of blood? It could not have been holy rage at a
that reasonable people everywhere agree was in poor
taste. If the killers, maimers and arsonists of
Maiduguri were out to rebuff a Danish reviler of their
faith, they might have taken other paths. For one,
they could have done what other protesters elsewhere
in the world did: targeted the Danish embassy or the
economic interests of Denmark. They might have
symbolically burnt the Danish flag, sworn off Danish
goods, or even pronounced anathema on Danish citizens.
Instead, they picked on the softest targets around. I
bet that the majority of those who lost their lives in
this senseless and inexcusable affront knew little
about the Danish cartoon. I’m even willing to wager
that many of them would have disapproved of the
cartoonist’s temerity. Given the steep decline of
Christianity in Europe, there is a good chance that
the offending cartoonist, far from being a Christian,
is an equal opportunity traducer of all sacred

The blight in Maiduguri invites Nigerians to
serious soul searching. What has been exposed
here, once
again, is the very incoherence of the Nigerian idea.
Those who are victimized by these periodic descents
into gratuitous, bloody madness cannot be convinced,
by any twists of logic, that Nigeria is a sound
proposition. A state that lacks the capacity, or will,
to protect the lives and property of all citizens
cannot long persuade its citizens to repose faith in
that nation’s viability.

The menace in Maiduguri is the latest sordid
chapter in an established and obscenely bloody
pattern. In late 2001, shortly after U.S. troops
began their
bombardment of Afghanistan to dislodge that nation’s
Taliban rulers and their Al Queda guests, miscreants
in several northern cities, rallying under the banner
of Islam, set upon Nigerian Christians, slaughtering
more than five hundred. How did the Nigerian state
respond? With conspicuous nonchalance and cold
indifference, thank you. Traveling abroad while his
country burned, President Olusegun Obasanjo told the
foreign press that he was not surprised that some
religious extremists would use the U.S. blitz as a
pretext “to make a statement.” It is a tragic nation
whose leader would euphemise the deaths of hundreds of
citizens as an innocuous “statement.” The next year,
even more Nigerians perished as some zealots made
their own “statement” against their nation’s hosting
of an international beauty pageant.

Last week, in the aftermath of the cartoon wars, Abuja
sunk to a new low in cold-blooded indifference. A
headline in The Guardian of February 20 was emblematic
of the disconnection. “Presidency, leaders advise
against religious riots,” went the caption. Noting
that the death toll had risen to 51, the report
informed readers: “The Presidency as well as religious
leaders yesterday deplored the development and called
for restraint.”

Who spoke for the Presidency? Rest assured, not the
president, for the man was no doubt too busy
overseeing the perfection of his third term plot to
bother with a trifle as marginal as Maiduguri’s
“statement.” Never mind that this macabre statement
was scribbled with the blood of scores of innocents.
Aso Rock’s reaction was voiced by Information and
National Orientation Minister, Mr. Frank Nweke Jr. Had
not a single life been lost in Maiduguri, the
minister’s statement would still have struck me as
unforgivably tepid. In the event, the ministerial
statement was insouciant, nothing short of shocking,
indeed an insult to the dead, the maimed and the
bereaved. Said Mr. Nweke: “The situation out there is
regrettable. The Federal government, while it does not
begrudge any group the right to defend their faith and
religion, also believes that certain actions such as
burning of churches and all of that are not the best
way to protect their belief and faith.” You don’t say!

If the presidency won’t be aroused to outrage and
decisive action, where then does hope lie? Suggest the
police and you’d provoke Nigerians to pained laughter.
Of course the police announced that 144 suspects had
been arrested in Maiduguri. They also implored
citizens to “go on with their normal lives.” Indeed!
Only those unfamiliar with the odious record of
prosecuting killer squads of religious fanatics and
arsonists would be tempted to applaud. When a nation’s
highest political authority glamorises those who
presume to kill in God’s killers as mere makers
of “statements”, it should surprise no one that
participants in this horrific spree are hardly ever

Wish the nation had astute leaders, secular and
spiritual. It is the place of adept political
to create a society that is impregnated with
hope, a polity where recourse to violence would be
unattractive. Nigeria, alas, is unlucky in that
department. It falls to Islamic clerics to
the point that their faith espouses peace and
good will. It is time they drilled this message
into those
within their fold quick to reach for the axe and
bayonet. This indiscriminate killing of innocents
cease, or Nigeria faces the peril of a bloodier whirlwind.