Nigeria as Necropolis (Part 2 of 2)
No Place to Lament: Finding a Way out of Nigeria’s Necro-politics
by Stan Chu Ilo, December 2020
In part 1 of this article, I argued that Nigeria is not simply on the brink of a genocide, but that Nigeria is structurally existentially genocidal because it is a necropolis – a nation that sustains death through necro-politics. In their bid to control the country’s resources, Nigeria’s elites keep its people divided, and dispense death through abuse of the institutions and systems of governance. This abuse has left Nigeria less democratic, and more divided, while a majority of Nigerians, particularly in this pandemic, are hanging on to bare existence.
If you asked most ordinary Nigerians who lived under British colonial rule how they feel today, they would tell you that successive Nigerian governments since independence have been more “colonial”, repressive, irrelevant, and exploitative than the British regime ever was. Every new government in Nigeria seems to get worse than its predecessor. After more than 60 years of independence, many Nigerians cannot point to any significant progress in the country – things are getting worse by the day because this richly blessed land has been turned into a necropolis by the extractive leadership of an irresponsible and corrupt political class.
Nigerians have responded to this sad reality with various coping strategies: some have disconnected from the political process; others are fleeing the country as migrants or refugees; others still are migrating internally into the worlds of family, ethnic group or religion, or, in many cases, dying in silent desperation.
The internal colonialism in Nigeria represents a rupture in the social compact between the government and the governed, and presents the likely possibility of state failure, uncontrolled violence, coup d’état, and genocide. The criminality of the Nigerian state characterised by the rampant corruption of politicians and state officials is the cause of the alienation of the people from the government, the growing fragmentation along religious and ethnic lines, and increasing restiveness among the youth.
In any other clime with this burden of human suffering and injustice, the suicide rate would have been higher than what we have today in Nigeria. Most Nigerians simply wish to live in peace with one another, and to have the basic necessities of life and access to social mobility – all of which should have been available to every Nigerian if the rich resources of this land had not been carted away by corrupt politicians and their acolytes and partners in crime.
Many years ago, I came upon a report by Rev. E. H. Johnson, the Secretary for Overseas Missions of the Presbyterian Church in Canada from 1954 to 1972. The report examined some of the ethical issues in the conduct of the Nigerian civil war on the federal side and that of its allies, especially the British government, and urged a more thorough examination of the atrocities committed by the Nigerian government against the Biafrans in the light of the UN 1948 Genocide Convention.
Indeed, if the international community were to initiate an objective investigation into the atrocities committed in Nigeria since independence, culminating in the Islamic terrorism practised by Boko Haram and the Fulani ‘herdsmen’ that is now consuming the country, it would not be hard to find evidence that some of these atrocities qualify as either genocide or crimes against humanity, as defined in articles 6 and 7 of the Rome Statute that came into effect on 1 July, 2002.
While many non-Christian minorities and animists in the Middle Belt and Northern Nigeria have suffered from the asymmetrical terror attacks of radical Islamic fundamentalists, it is undeniable that most people who have suffered these atrocities are Christians, whether in the south, the Middle Belt, or the north. Sadly, none of these atrocities have been investigated or prosecuted to bring closure and justice to the victims. This is because the Nigerian state cannot police itself. Nigeria’s leadership class has become destructive of any system of transparency, accountability or institutional democratic practice that could guarantee a semblance of order and justice for the voiceless and powerless majority. This is why the victims need the help of the international community.
Towards the end of his life, Africa’s foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe, published There Was a Country, a reflection on the most cataclysmic event in Nigeria’s modern history, the Biafran war. Achebe pointed out that Nigeria is “doomed to witness endless cycles of inter-ethnic, inter-religious violence because the Nigerian government has failed woefully to enforce laws protecting her citizens from wanton violence”. He bemoans the lack of accountability in Nigeria and the failure of Nigeria to come to terms with its past. Nigerians who suffer, like the people of the Niger Delta, religious minorities in northern Nigeria, persecuted Christians, and the people in the former Biafran territories who cry out for justice for the atrocities committed against them during the civil war, are ignored. The international community and Christians around the world should show solidarity with persecuted populations in Nigeria by putting pressure on the Nigerian government to stop these killings by state agents and Islamic terrorists, and hold it accountable for crimes it has committed in the last 60 years.
In Nigeria, people find no place or space to lament, no site to tell their stories, and no structures for seeking justice, because of the destructive, exploitative and suppressive acts of Nigeria’s necro-politicians. Today in Nigeria, many people’s histories and memories are forcefully erased, and their cries for justice are often met with more violence. Because they have no place to lament and to find healing, most Nigerians are carrying festering wounds from their country’s violent history. In a country that was founded to fuel the mercantile interests of Britain, that is sustained by the political class’s transactional exchanges, that operates on the basis of patron-client bonds, and that is built on violence, body counts have become the collateral damage of our statehood, the bitter fruit of the seeds of violence and dispossession planted for decades.
The situation has become so severe that today not only are Nigerians dying, but Nigeria is dying as an idea. Nigerians are hanging on to the words or promises of any religious or political leader who promises them escape from this necropolis. Indeed, I am afraid that the factors that led to the Nigerian civil war are rearing their ugly heads again, leading to calls and movements in some parts of the country to break away from the Nigerian state.
For sixty years, those very few Nigerians who hold power have lived in denial of these atrocities or excused them as part of the sacrifice for nationhood. This is why there is no end to the cycle of atrocities. But for the vast majority of Nigerians, there is a hunger for an urgent national dialogue to find a way out of the Nigerian necropolis.
Nigerians are resilient people and their undying courage and survival instinct is the hope for the future. But their social consciousness needs to be aroused through truth-telling about who Nigeria’s true enemies are – our politicians, and those businessmen and women and religious leaders who are making so much money through these patron-client networks and seamy financial deals, exchanges, and gifts.
The best way for the international community to help Nigeria is to promote a national dialogue on how to restructure Nigeria and adopt a transparent and inclusive democratic process. If such a national dialogue does not take place sooner rather than later, the spectre of genocide will not be far from the doors of this faltering giant of Africa. As usual, only the poor will pay the price with their lives, which have been expendable in Nigeria for far too long!
Stan Chu Ilo is a Catholic priest of Awgu Diocese in southeastern Nigeria, a research professor of World Christianity and African Studies at DePaul University, Chicago, USA, and an honorary professor of Theology and Religion at Durham University, Durham, England