The Oiling of the Cartoons Riot and the Riotous Cartooning of Nigerian Violence
The news of the recent events in Nigeria confronts one with the grim realization of the meaning and shortness of life. The sad enthronement of traumatizing graphic violence as sacrosanct and towering norm in settling scores within Nigerian society is troubling. The utilization of violence often privileged by particular regional sections and factions engaged without conscience as unhindered and brutal bestiality portrays the reality of the culture of death that has enveloped Nigeria throughout the military era, and even slightly before. One wonders, why a state defined as the controller of violence seats still muted in steeled silence when violence pervades and reign supreme across the territories of a nation that defines itself in glowing rhetoric as the “giant of Africa.”
Much as the Niger Delta is now associated with volatile eruptions, Maiduguri is fast shaping itself as the Islamic eruptive center of contemporary Nigeria, thus displacing places like Kaduna, Kano, Zaria, that use to be the stoking centers of previous religious violence. Apart from being one of the scenes of the Maitaisine riots in 1982, the resurging Islamic militancy around the area gives crass cause for concern. It is around this area that the Nigerian Taliban manifested and carried out their ill-fated actions attacking police stations and killing innocent citizens, not too long ago. It was here too, that when the Americans went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq that the Muerazzins called for potent prayers that would lead to the fall of the global giant, often perceived in the Moslem world as “tyrannically anti-Islam.” Thus, the United States had cause to wonder about Nigeria becoming the next Afghanistan.
Therefore, it is with sadness that the news of the recent violent events in Nigeria, the crowned by the mother of all riots- the cartoon riots. Among the victims was a colleague and my contemporary St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos, Fr. Michael Gajere, a priest of the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri killed last Saturday, in his rectory, by fanatical militant Islamic rioters. Fr. Gajere becomes the third Nigerian Catholic priest to be so brutally killed within this evolving madness of religious bestiality.
Fr. Gajere, now stands alongside his other vocational confreres, killed in previous religious riots in Northern Nigeria. Frs. Clement Ozi Bello, a Priest of Kaduna Archdiocese, was killed in 2000, few months after his ordination to the priesthood. Brutally killed and his eyes were dastardly gorged out, and was left to die in a muddy gutter. Ironically, his patrikins were Muslims from Okene, a town in Kogi State, and a predominantly Muslim enclave in the Middle Belt (Central) Nigeria. Another priest of Kaduna Archdiocese, Fr. James Iyere, an elderly former Military Officer and retired Army Chaplain, was killed in a parish in Kaduna, in 2003, following the Miss World riots that year. In fact, it was alleged that the same Muslim youths he used to feed led the assault on his life. Beaten, stabbed, his house was burnt, and he was left to die. He died few days after in a Kaduna hospital. Now, it is Fr. Gajere.
The irony is that Fr. Gajere is a representation of also of religion. His life was in the service of God and his function was to vouchsafe for the truth of religion, yet he is also a victim of the schemes of truths he espouses and expound, albeit, not his own faith. In the name of God dies a man who invokes the same name of God to justify a transcendental reality, in whose pursuit he led others. Bestially annihilated, slowly smoked-alive, and he was roasted unto death. This phenomenon is stretched in time. Memorable among other brutal accounts targeting Christians is the 1995 case of the beheading of Gideon Akaluka, an Igbo trader, in Kano. Akaluka was accused of desecrating the Holy Koran in 1995 and subsequently held in jailed detention. While, there militant Islamic fanatics stormed the prison, seized and killed him. Impaling his severed head on a stick they matched triumphantly in festive celebration around Kano City. What a death, and what a civilization of bestiality!
Fr. Gajere is a man, I know too well. He was a contemporary in the Seminary of St. Augustine, Jos (located in Laranto or Katako). He was a quiet and peaceful man. He minded his business and was very friendly. He was hardly noticed but he was a man of deep faith, spirituality, and vision. That a peaceful person can meet such a violent fate is one of the ironies of our human existence. In a way, like the Christ he served, their tracks crossed. A peaceful person can, in the characteristic orgy of madness that defines power and powerless, craze and bestiality, ignorance and mob-mentality, meet a violent fate in death.
One of the lamentable irony of such events is that many of us African clergy of denominations like Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and others are often considered as fringe personalities among our adherents of our own faith in western nations, often cast in differentiated declensions that label us in pejorative nomenclatures by deliberated paralyzing idioms such as conservatism and others intended to create factual dissonance. Within such distantiated and bifurcated idioms of faith dichotomization within which resides the privileges of power that defines superiority of persons, faith practices, and ideologies, therefore arrogating significance to he faith trajectories of the West as the ideal, and our western brothers and sisters in the same Christian faith as the objectified normative canon of faith expression. Therefore, it is not surprising that many of us ministers within such congregations resident in the West reside on the margin, with tenuous affinity with the centers of our own faith institutions. Such marginality defines whether a priest or minister can become a pastor within certain “choice” churches or religious institutions, especially within the suburbia, without the being confronted by the human censoring that predicated upon certain racial stereotypes and judgment intends to put one in one’s place.
Yet, these religious personnel are like being between a rock and a hard place. In many parts of the world, including in our different homelands such as in Nigeria, Pakistan, and others, being representatives of Christianity, we are often stereotypically identified as agents of cultural alienation and scions of western cultural imperialism- much the same as McDonalds and Coca Cola- thus taking the blunt of the antagonism of our own fellow nationals when swallowed in the demented choreographic orgy of madness that sadly directs our desecration and vilification We have seen this in Pakistan, with attacks on Churches and Christians in the early days of the war on terror. The same reality is true in Iraq whose minority Christian populations are the objects of denigrated and targeted violence. In Nigeria, we have continued to experience this unabated, the climax of which was the riots in Maiduguri. In addition to this insane acts, in its aftermath has come the Onitsha riots targeting Northerners in that commercial city. The cycle of violence, the weapon of the weak and cowards continue to dance to the rhythm it sets for itself. It is a spectacular maddening array of marshaled bestiality in full display, in its ritualization of death and deconstruction of the value of life.
More factually, Fr. Gajere, and the cohort of victims of this senseless killings, like other nameless victims of previous religious, political, and ethnic violence in Nigeria, are in fact, victims of the Nigerian state, who failed them, refusing to protect them, and making them hostages in their own homes and homeland. The blood of folks like Fr. Gajere is an unnecessary wastage, a wastage that the failure of Nigerian governance has made all too familiar. It is even more wastage because justice in Nigeria is a mirage, and killers and perpetuators of bestial acts rampage through the land strutting the shoulders, in pride and arrogance.
But while we reference the sad tale that seems to indicate Islam as the perpetuator, within the Nigerian space this is not always the case. Christians stand equally accused of vilifying human life. The 1995 Otokoto incidence in Owerri, where so-called Christian religious ministers, were involved in a string of ritual killings, sometimes with human heads buried underneath altars, as well as the nascent Okija shrine events in Eastern Nigeria, all indicates the shallow depth of diverse religious entities in Nigeria to respect and sanction the dignity of human existence.
It is even more painful that the Nigerian security apparatus so vest in intelligence reports, that can scuttle coups and helm in enemies of government, can be oblivious that riotous events of such magnitude was in the making. This, again, is a sad testament to the failure of everything called government as the protector of the lives of her citizens in Nigeria. It is a megalomaniac witchcraft that allows the blood of the innocent to flow, to allow for the feasting of the Godzilla mega-stars in power. This event once again represents a sad day for Nigeria. Once again the blood of these martyrs of faith and nation has ignominiously inked governance in Nigeria in the crimson paints of abysmal failure.
The Nigerian space has been displaying glittering tensile and vacillating moods for several months now. Different spates of violence acts manifest across its vast spatial configurations. Armed robbers, hired assassins, and the Niger Delta militants are no longer news. Added to this fueling of violence is the recent incidence of the Cartoon riots that drew the ire of the global Moslem Umma (Community), as a reaction to the Cartoons drawings that depicts the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in pejorative terms. From Pakistan, Indonesia, Libya, and other parts of the Middle East the reactions was swift, with protests, arson of embassies, and diplomatic maneuvers pervading to show the anger of the Moslems. Unfortunately, the Obasanjo administration is so caught up on its own noxious and subtle schemes of self-succession and term-elongation bids. Within this script, nothing matters, and as in the days of Abacha Nigeria has become so privatized and personalized in the ideologies of Babatocracy and morbid sole-messianic idiosyncratic idolatery, that even when danger looms, the flow of blood, offers a beaming ritualistic endorsement of the mirage-aspirations of the solar-King.
The cartoon riots remembered one of the Salman Rushdie affairs of the early 1990. However, the fundamental difference between that time and now is the simmering but veiled sentiments nursed against the West and its perceived symbolic representations, such as Christianity and cultural emblems like McDonalds, especially undergirded by the present lingering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even subtly the reactions against Iran nuke’s project and the Hamas-led Palestinian government. For instance, in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ victory at the polls, Israel initially withdrew some funding derived from Tax rebates, acting alternatively some Arab countries offered to fiscally support the Palestinian people. Such pan-Arab sentiments seemed evident within the modes by which the erstwhile Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, notably was alleged to be a vehement supporter of Palestinian’s human bombers cause.
The transmogrification that oils the Nigerian cartoon riots must be seen within the cartoons of the oil violence in the Nigerian Niger Delta. These two events grimly locate the interstices in which local and global processes continue to inflame the cognitive but demented actions of either the Nigerian government or people, or certain segments of these. In the case of the religious issues that has consistently and persistently continue to plague Nigeria, is the fact that the major disruptive religious entities and idioms are themselves products of cultural interactions and intersections within the global and the local arena. Therefore, within such contraptions that privileges their aboriginal source they continue to perpetuate schemes that are neither fully local nor fully global, and functions neither toward the cultivation of independent cultural variables that fully recognizes the local realities of Nigeria, as a plural state.
The sad ironies of such fateful event only help to premise the fatality of its syllogistic conclusions. Human lives are lost and debased. The culture of death pervades over the culture of live, and the culture of death offers a vulture festive trail. The illogicality of religion is that each religion claims to sanction lives, but yet paradoxically, each predicates a stance that can lead and often do sanction violence. Over and again, the Nigerian scene has offered a synoptic view of specific religious entities as sanctioning the culture of destruction.
The irrationality of religion, notwithstanding, religion has often privileged rationality. One has to think about the role of Christianity in the formation of learning in the West, especially in Europe, and also of the Islamic religion in fathoming the creative production of knowledge, in such settings like our now ruined Baghdad. Islam was fundamental in the building of the University in Timbuktu, in the old era of Mali and Songhay long-demised empires. In fact, Islamic intellectuals like Avicenna and Avierroes were significant in re-imaging the great Greek Philosophers- Plato and Aristotle, among others to the West, such that the West was able to appropriate these source origins to develop the rational basis for the development of the humanities and sciences.
Therefore, it is sad that religion has becomes the idiom of stigmatization and debasement of meaningful human existence. It is time again that Nigeria and Nigerians stand up against the oddities of their government and sickening religiosity that debase the values of life and civilization, within their polity. No nation buries itself in sticky mud and comes off clean in furthering the aspirations of meaningful human existence. It is time to call a spade a spade, and therefore, for men and women of consciences to “arise, O compatriots, Nigeria calls obey.”
One fact is sure, namely that it is an oppressed people that resorts to violence, because the only norm of liberation that they know is one burnished in violence. All these eruptive violence constitutes a veritable statement to the malaise state of governance and the porosity of action by state administrators whose paucity of legitimation is masked by hollow rhetoric. Let the people who have power, sound the trumpet, to say enough is enough, that we are either capable of living as one nation, or it is time for dissembling the porous arrangement that is Nigeria, and from that from the ashes of its ruins, a phoenix-like Nigeria, the land of the free would emerge.
It is time we think twice, it is time that in which ever Nigeria we want, the true meaning of freedom and respect for the sanctity of human life, would be the core values that would guide us in constructing a great nation. We cannot stand too long waiting for the promise of tomorrow we must ensure that that promise is either now or never. Nigeria must be taken back from its selfish, unfaithful and greedy leaders, whose egocentric pursuit of the “politics of the belly” cannot permit them great insights and allow them function toward protecting the citizenry under their care. In this, the bloods of Fr. Gajere and the martyrs of faith, would not only rally the faith, but would also rally the revitalization of a new ideal of nationhood, and the meaning of belongingness. The blood of a Christian, or a Muslim, or of any one for that matter spit is one too many, as any senseless bleeding decimates the very ideal of nationhood to which Nigeria aspires. Therefore, building the nation is our joint task, hollow rhetoric and pretentious logic can never solve this Janus-hydra monstrosity facing our nation.