BY Chukwunwike Nweke
Past remarkable happenings are always worthy of news. Ditto for remarkable humans. When remembered, they evoke a certain pleasant nostalgia for what was and offers unlimited hope for what, potentially, can become. The idea of memorialising the dead is a worthy practice whose history dates back to humanity’s early beginnings. Pre-Christian Rome had memorial days dedicated to their dead warriors and emperors. On these days, servile works were suspended. Statues and other icons were erected in honour of the dead. Ancient Greece was not left out in this. Hero cults arose around foreign warriors. Believing that their heroism gave them some immortality, they worshipped them in designated shrines as higher mortals. The Aztecs too, they performed annual memorial ceremonies with a special focus on the cult of their warriors and heroes. These annual memorials held deep significance for them. It is therefore not out of place for the dead to be remembered or for them to be honoured by countries with national holidays.
But memorials, even of the most worthy type, have their proper contexts which add or debar from their merits. When memorials meant to elicit joy are instituted amidst an atmosphere of pain and misery, it would not be cynical for one to raise eyebrows questioning, not just the merit of such memorials, but even the motives for which they were instituted. Hence, it is within the context of our wider national tragedy, that one begins to understand the voices of dissension that have arisen since the presidential announcement that made the 12th of June our democracy day as against the hitherto 29th of May date. The announcement came with the subsequent conferment of National honours, Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR – the highest honour in the land, to Bashorun Moshood K. O. Abiola, the acclaimed but undeclared winner of the ill-fated June 12,1993 election. Also awarded by President Buhari were Abiola’s running mate in that election, Ambassador Babagana Kingigbe and the late human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi. They were conferred with the honour of the Grand Commander Order of the Niger, GCON.
The legal implications of the the honours conferred on these Nigerians, especially MKO Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi, whom many Nigerians adjudge as having merited the awards by the witnesses they bore with their lives, is not my concern here. I leave that to lawyers to dissect.
Nevertheless, we must pause to question. Of what use is the honour done to the dead when the living does not even experience an inkling of honour? President Buhari may have righted the wrong done to dead heroes but he currently superintends over the wanton destruction of the living. In his government, we have seen Nigeria to be a large killing field smeared with the blood of innocent victims whose only crime was being born in a polity that cares less about the sanctity of human life. Nimbo bled. Mbalom bled and nothing was done for it. The villages in Zamfara have become daily abattoirs. Those of Benue also. Human lives, scores of it, are lost daily. Very few grace the national tabloids. Many experience only the benevolence of social media updates, tweets, retweets and shares.
Whenever the government feels some pressure from the public, they make the vague pledge of “bringing the perpetrators to book”. Few “noises” here and there and the killings continue unabated. Increasingly, Nigerians are getting fed up by these promises. They are beginning to see these promises for what they really are. Empty promises, lacking action; seeking content in perfumed verbosity. No one is ever questioned, summoned or fired. No one takes responsibility for any of these killings. Pay no mind to the endless grandstandings posing as security meetings summoned by the president in the wake of some of these killings. To the extent that Nigerians from every part of the country are yet to feel the positive impact of these meetings, they remain what they are – cup-clanking jamborees held over jugs of burukutu, summoned to appeal to the sentiments of a few people and pretending to assuage frayed nerves.
Amidst the field of endless bloodletting, how else does the presidency expect Nigerians to react to the honour done to their dead heroes? Although the merits and historical symbolism of these gestures are not lost on us, it is not bad to interrogate the policies and ideas of governments. For save for purpose, perception is also important in public administration. Many commentaries have avowed that the gesture is only a token given to those who hold June 12, 1993 and the events surrounding it to heart. The honour has been seen in certain quarters, including some prominent South Westerners, as a bait to the South West of Nigeria for the purpose of the politics of the coming election year. Put more directly, it is a political patronage in lieu of votes from a particular demography. Like a friend commented on Facebook, “the 2019 elections are getting nearer; the hustle for vote is getting realer”.
While one may be quick to label those who are skeptical of the motive of that honour and memorial as angry critics and dismiss them as “never-see-goods” as some government and apologists have done, we cannot dismiss their submissions with mere words and labels. The cynics are justified in their distrust. President Buhari’s government is viewed, through its actions, as having ignored, almost totally, its duty to the living. Much has not changed in the area of Security in this administration. The killings, robberies and maiming we experience beg the question, “what really has this government done with the security budgets, including the extra one billion dollars borrowed for that purpose? The absence of any concerted effort to end these killings supports the view of cynics. Can this government just wake up to her responsibility to Nigerians and fulfill their campaign promises? Or will they continue in the bait to satisfy few yearnings and make political gains? Why “supervise” the killing of the living while pretending to celebrate the dead? I submit that while the celebration of the dead may be good for fond memories, lessons and the symbolism it presents, the protection of lives and properties of the living should be of paramount interest to the government.
Nwike, a creator of content and a public speaker can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.