“If citizens of the same country have to carry IDs to be able to move freely from one state to another, something has gone awry with that country”.

After almost two weeks of negotiation, 114 out of 486 Northerners detained in Abia state were finally released last week with the remaining still holed up there. The reprieve came about after the efforts of some pro-active Northern governors to extricate the indigenes of their states caught in the web of contradictions in a
country where citizens are labeled, called names and declared guilty, and are sometimes labeled Boko Haram members before they are even investigated.

Those who saw them when they arrived in Dutse Thursday night described their situation as pathetic and are still in shock that Nigerians could so callously treat their own badly. They described them as disoriented and disheveled. They were exhausted, hungry, dirty and haggard having been cramped together for two weeks. Their chilling
narration of drinking their urine out of thirst and not being allowed to say their prayers, makes you wonder whether their tormentors are aware of the rights of citizens as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

At the same period of the travails of the 486 citizens in their own country, another convulsion, from the same zone, this time from Imo state happened. The Senior Special Assistant on Northern Affairs, to Governor Rochas Okorocha, Faisal Lawal was reported to have said that, henceforth, Northern traders operating in the state will undergo security screening and proper documentation to “ensure their proper identity”. They were also advised to stop entering Owerri town in the night. The documentation will be prelude to them being issued ID cards. Even though this measure was to erroneously protect the traders, it speaks volumes of the fragmentation that has become of Nigeria today. If citizens of the same country have to carry IDs to be able to move freely from one state to another, something has gone awry with that country. Agreed that Boko haram is an extreme case of insurgency that requires extreme measures, but we require the cooperation of all to fight the menace. And we do not have to alienate and harass law abiding citizens.

A first time visitor to Nigeria reading about the two issues in question would wonder whether there are two independent and autonomous countries here. This is strange and absurd, to say the least. I cannot
understand why a country which recently rolled out the drums to celebrate 100 years of existence, 100 years of co-habitation and 100 years of nationhood, will treat its citizens as outcasts. When our elite would rather classify themselves as ethnic champions, thereby ethnicizing the polity, how can we build a true nation state? It has
since snowballed into a nightmare for some citizens. The Boko Haram insurgency which ideally should be seen as a national malaise is now classified as a Muslim/Hausa Fulani problem.

The Nigerian media too does not help matters. They follow blindly Western media profiling of Muslims as terrorists; starting from the Palestinian nationalist struggle against their Israeli oppressors. As a matter of fact, a terrorist is only called by that name, if he is a Muslim; otherwise, he may only be referred to as a separatist,
nationalist or a disgruntled rebel fighting against injustice.

When we were in Daily Trust, the then editor, Modibbo Kawu and I virtually stopped references to offenders as “Igbo man rapes eight year-old girl”, “Yoruba butcher kills colleague” or “Hausa man kidnaps neighbour’s daughter in Lagos” as examples. Our argument was that a criminal, whether Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo or Ebira is a criminal; as
criminality cuts across ethnic divide.

But Nigeria has since gone beyond this point of view. Ethnic champions are more daring now, fueled by a clueless leadership at the centre, which has further divided Nigeria into many cleavages. Boko Haram too is here. Not to talk of the ubiquitous social media. The social media has become a virtual hub to denigrate anything close to North, Islam or its major ethnic group, the Hausa/ Fulani. However, it must be noted that the social media activists are merely reflecting the general profiling taking place in Nigeria, as much as it is reinforced by the
mood, thoughts and feelings of their people, communities and regions.

This is a dangerous trend that can at best lead us to Rwanda. The road to Kigali was paved way back when the Tutsis were being referred to as cockroaches. In no time, the idea gained ground and cockroaches became a national sing-song. But what happened after? Almost one million people perished, but the Tutsi ethnic stock has survived the onslaught and are still co-habiting with their Hutu neighbours; none was able to wipe out the other. Co-existence and tolerance of others’ idiosyncrasies are important to national integration.

At this stage of the country’s development, we should rather work towards citizenship and national integration than seek to further segregate and fragment an already fractured society. Mono-culturalism is no longer the order of the day. Countries beset with such problems are admitting nationals of other countries to achieve a multi-cultural cohesion, while we are using our own hands to destroy a beautiful and diverse country like Nigeria, which God in His infinite wisdom has made possible for us to inhabit.

We open our arms to nationals and companies from especially ‘oyinbo’ countries than companies owned by Nigerians. When these foreign company representatives (including mere artisans) come to Nigeria, they are classified as expatriate workers and treated specially; they return to their countries as millionaires, leaving destruction, penury and mutual mistrust in their wake. So, why do we hate ourselves so much? It is incomprehensible.