It’s been just over a month since the chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCT) Danladi Umar was caught on camera physically victimising a security guard at a shopping complex. Mr Umar’s response was to say that the incident was an aggressive act performed against him by “Biafrans” even though he was the aggressor and the security personnel involved were not even Southerners. He is still in office.
Danladi Umar’s official written defence was an absurdly false record of events that claimed that he was attacked by a mob chanting secessionist and sectional slogans.
What Mr Umar’s revisionism made crystal clear to the 56 Nigerians who were somehow in the dark was that there is a hatred of the Igbo ethnic group so strong that a senior Federal Government official believes that merely signalling his hatred of the Igbo people should be enough to get him off the hook even with the existence of conclusive video evidence showing his guilt. That he is still in office with nary a reprimand a month later shows that he was right.
Danladi Umar did not make those statements expecting to be believed by any sane person. What he did was signal his commitment to a socially binding hatred in the expectation that the exhibitionism would attract support and grace from his superiors and peers. Given that as of the time of writing this, he is still in the job, it is safe to say that he calculated correctly.
Some would say that it makes no sense to have that type of widespread hatred but it does when you admit that action does not have to be morally correct or sustainable in the long-term to be logical.
This brings memories of the wrongful accusation and subsequent murder of the 14-year-old African-American Emmett Louis who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of flirting with a White woman.
Emmett Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s house, beaten, tortured, and shot in the head. His body was tied with barbed wire to a cotton gin fan and thrown into the Tallahatchie River.
The people arrested for his murder kept sending the signal that he was accused of flirting with a white woman and that was enough to eventually get them free. Was this because the case would have gone the same way if a white boy had been accused of flirting with a woman of any race? Not at all.
What happened was that there had been deliberate cultivation of hatred for the Negro to enable the practice of slavery, and subsequently Jim Crow, and part of the price paid to maintain social cohesion in those circumstances is to overlook offences against the other side or even reward blatantly expressed hatred and bigotry.
These practices are allowed because they ultimately provide access to resources that would otherwise have to be earned in a much costlier manner. In Nigeria, this hatred is nurtured for the Igbos primarily, and slowly but surely all other Nigerians get placed in that category when there’s a need for brutal ruthlessness.
Ethnic animosity between the Igbo and the Northern majority makes no sense. They don’t share boundaries and interact enough to justify a significant amount of hatred or love. They are quite far from each other. The distance from Bauchi to Anambra is 760 kilometres. For context, the distance from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Italy is 475 kilometres and you must get across Croatia and the Adriatic Sea to get from one to the other.
France is in between Belgium and England and the distance from London to Brussels is 246 kilometres. We would find it absurd to hear that the people in these different countries hate each other because logic would suggest that the distance between them and the presence of other entire societies and nations separating them physically takes away the proximity and border clashes that could leave them with culturally rooted hatred for each other.
Physical proximity aside, Danladi Umar is 49 years old and was born after the Civil War. A Civil War that was not in any way fought on Northern soil or had the North facing aggression. You can keep looking at individuals but you’ll never find a compelling personal justification for the hatred of Igbos. It is important at this point to continue my American comparison, that the parts of America where the hatred for the negro was strongest, places such as Alabama and Missisipi, are among the poorest in America today. The parts of Nigeria where pretty much every mistake is blamed on the Igbo people, well, look at the country’s Human Development Index map…
But for all the focus on the misconduct of the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, there is a bigger issue at play here. After his assault on the security guard, the gates of the plaza were locked and he was prevented from exiting the premises. On another day, he might have been lynched.
This resort to ‘self-help’ is becoming increasingly common and stems from the slowness and outright inability of the Nigerian state to dispense justice in a fair and timely manner. It is especially obvious when a ‘big man’ is concerned. A senator from Adamawa, Elisha Abbo, assaulted a shopkeeper and escaped any censure, even though the whole incident was captured by a camera. Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano State, was seen in several videos pocketing bribes, but everyone just moved on.
Those who do manage to get justice, often end up approaching foreign courts. Two landmark judgements against oil companies in Nigeria were gotten in courts in the Netherlands and United Kingdom. Those courts gave the aggrieved justice where the Nigerian legal system could not.
A state functions best when laws apply equally to everyone, irrespective of their status in society. This is one of the main conditions under which cooperation between large groups is possible. It enables Yusuf from Nasarawa to cooperate with Emeka from Ebonyi and Kunle from Ekiti, trusting that they are all playing by the same rules.
Where this is found not to be the case, a low-trust society takes root, which is exactly what Nigeria is. It is why the cooperation across ethnic groups and social classes that is necessary to take the country forward is absent. We are not all playing by the same rules.
Nigeria’s current Animal Farm situation of one law for the powerful and another set of laws for everyone else, inevitably means most people will retreat to their ethnic enclaves and ultimately, some will take matters into their hands.
Until Nigeria works – and is seen to work – for everyone, no matter what position you hold or what ethnic group you identify with, the common man, whatever that means, will continue to disconnect from the country, and as time passes, will seek his own version of justice, one he takes with his own hands. Following Danladi Umar’s escape, I now fully expect that within the next two years, we are going to see a member of the elite lynched.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence.