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Calling a thorn by any other name

It is perhaps not surprising that we have withdrawn into the shell of silence, embraced the silent depth by exploring its circumference to grasp the illogic which makes our silence deafening, the universe a welcoming place.

Silence is the defensive weapon we deploy against hardship, against hunger, against the real and the imagined threatening our collective existence. It doesn’t matter that it relegates us to a place of weakness, nor does the powerlessness of overcoming hardship or suffering matter to us, the silent.

Silence helps us find our place among dogs sleeping in the manger of silence.

Unlike the dog in Aesop’s Fables, we neither bark nor bite. We keep watch, looking fixedly at our miseries with fear while we hope that the ravening clouds won’t possess our skies forever.

This too shall pass, we say.

It helps us- we, who, too frightened to fight, lacking the courage to speak to our conditions, assert the foolishness of cowardice, who look to others for guidance, search for someone to look up to and speak for us.

Fanon said: “Nobody, neither leader nor rank-and-filer, can hold back the truth. The search for truth in local attitudes is a collective affair… The collective struggle presupposes collective responsibility at the base and collegiate responsibility at the top. Yes, everybody will have to be compromised in the fight for the common good.

No one has clean hands; there are no innocents and no onlookers. We all have dirty hands; we are all soiling them in the swamps of our country and in the terrifying emptiness of our brains. Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor”.

Yet, we mutter why silence is the voice of the present to ourselves.

We can’t voice this in the public. Never.

Nothing abandons us to a life of fragments (of fear and despair) than our inability to act when the condition we are in demands action, willingness, demands a sense of rejection, and the ability to speak truth to power. To speak and to act are the imperatives of progressive citizenship- the active and progressive kind that allows those who are oppressed to confront their oppressors, the wounded to apply iodine to their wounds just as they hurl the scabs in the faces of those who inflict injuries on them, who never tire of speaking out, who walk it like they talk it. They never forget that freedom emerges from the crucible of pain- the abiding articles of faith, commitments to the fulfillment of what is hoped for, what is dreamt, fidelity to the truest ideals of citizenship, and not what philistines and political shibboleths demand of us. Yet, again, silence becomes our philosophy of retreat – we hide behind our palms, we hibernate somewhere far from reason, hoping that our conditions would on their own peter out and life would become normal again.

Life can only become normal again when we think of it as spoken words, as a verb of the things we do, the lines we act, as the action of living, as belonging to creativity.

Life is shaped by our actions, not by our possessions, our names.

This too shall pass, we say. How can time pass when heartless folks have seized the soul of our country?

No time in our history have we experienced the senseless slaughter of fellow citizens, violent sacking of communities, and the madness of murderers who cling to a way of life time long condemned to the past and who are too blind to be saved from delusion, from their own death, than now.

In the face of madness we convince ourselves that withdrawing into the shell of silence “where we dry up the vital springs of action, producing listlessness and despair”, to borrow from Bertrand Russel, is the only way.

This explains why the silences of machines that have ceased to turn in our factories, workers forced home, children who stay at home because their unemployed parents can’t pay their school fees, crush against the silence of the streets like continental plates. It also explains why silence appears as a chimera, an illusion of the peace of the present. Don’t be mistaken: the silence of the street does not mean that there is a total resignation to fate, acceptance of conditions doing bodies and souls in.

To surrender to silence is to lose our power to speak and to act, to lose our humanity.

Not all citizens have chosen silence or have withdrawn into the shell of silence.

There are those occupying the space between speech and silence, noun and verb, who look at the butchery of the moment and draw attention to unreason.

Those truculent warriors of words have the power of speech, yet they destroy words by attaching new meanings to them. Yet, too, they misname things and events to suit certain ethnic agenda. They have the power to act, to call attention to reason, to those values that make our age superior to the barbarian age, but they fail.

To misname things and events, to misname the thorn is a risky business; a business that exposes those who obfuscate truth, imposes a riskier narrative, fantasy, a chimera, who seek to turn illusion into reality, CHUKUCHUKU- the thorn- into an object of love. CHUKUCHUKU NA CHUKUCHUKU.

What is the purpose of calling the thorn by any other name?

What do they intend to achieve when they call the butterfly a bird because it has wings and can fly? Calling the thorn by any other name doesn’t make the pain of being pierced less painful. To name those armed Fulani herdsmen by any other name doesn’t make them lose their murderous instincts, doesn’t make them disappear from our earth. In fact, it will only spawn a counter narrative, new strategies in resisting them.

Northern governors are unhelpful when they deny the ethnic identities of armed Fulani herdsmen. My view here is this: the governors’ identity construction is not grounded in fact and reality, nor is it evidenced by tradition, by nomads themselves who graze only where the fields are always green.

Here too is another view: the northern governors invent a meta-narrative that distorts truth, masks the culpability of armed Fulani herdsmen.

While the governors bury their heads in the sand, exposing their stinking parts to the Sahelian sun, armed Fulani herdsmen are destroying farming communities.

This week, the traditional ruler of Fadan Karshi, Kaduna state, and his nephew, were murdered by suspected Fulani herdsmen. In Loko, Nasarawa state, twenty people and eighty three cows were killed by gunmen.

Clearly, inhabitants of farming communities are seeking revenge, exacting vengeance for their departed folks.

The geography of blood and vengeance is widening out, possessing the Sahel, beings and shadows walking the high sun, blurring the aesthetics of places we used to know.

This widening out has tragic consequences for our country, for inter-ethnic and communal relations.

Our nation-state, neck deep in the vortex of bloodshed, is helpless. The cauldron that will consume us is already boiling over, yet the rulers of our nation-state do nothing, or pretend to act, depending on how we view it.

Our nation-state has failed to protect defenseless citizens. Agatu, Nimbo, Loko and Fadan Karshi illustrate this failure.

The narrative that the people of Agatu are responsible for the attacks on the Fulani community of Loko is already gaining currency. This narrative, like many narratives before it, further illustrates the irresponsibility of rulers of our nation-state who sit on their palms while marauders roam free with cudgels, machetes and dangerous weapons and kill at will.

When the nation-state cannot protect citizens, attacks and counter attacks, vengeance and revenge killings become the order of things. We might have just begun our short walk to hell- a walk, easy as the death that claims lives on the way.

The walk to hell is easy but it isn’t hard either to heed the wise words of that great Chilean poet, Nicanor Parra: “Too much blood has run under the bridge to go on believing that only one road is right”.

The road to hell is paved with blood, tears and grief. We must cut short this walk down the road to our collective hell.

President Buhari has directed security agencies to deal ruthlessly with the armed Fulani herdsmen. Good news. We can no longer remain silent before one of greatest communal conflicts in our history. Please, speak truth to power.abu

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