“We want to know who owns the land.” So declared late Nigerian artiste, Sonny Okosun in his song “Papa’s land.” Today, can it be said that Nigeria, under the watch of this government, has been taken away from us by bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers? One is permitted to think aloud on this matter because criminals are behaving as if Nigeria belonged to them alone while the rest of us are to be treated as their tenants. “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,” declared the Psalmist. Indeed, God created and gave us this land. Yes, history testifies that ancestors of various ethnic communities in Nigeria most probably migrated from elsewhere.
They settled in this part of the world like other migrating ethnic communities who moved from one place and settle in another. Then came colonialists. They too were migrants who took the land from us, not for our benefit, but for the European industrial revolution. They enriched themselves by impoverishing Africans. It can be said that, since October 1, 1960, with the birth of the Nigerian state, Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. The impression must not be created and the policy must not be implemented that Nigeria belongs to members of one ethnic community more than she belongs to members of other ethnic communities.
For this reason, the archaic logic of conquest must be consigned to its rightful place, that is, to the trash can of history. And if this country is to know peace, if Nigeria is to become a land where no one is oppressed, their ideology of impunity must be corrected. We Nigerians must come together and discuss our life in common. The tragic recurrence of kidnapping, banditry, and insurgency summons us all to take responsibility for peace and stability in Nigeria. Even the blind knows we are not heading in the right direction. The matter is not about “Fulani herdsmen”.
Neither is it about “northern bandits”. It is about criminals who, irrespective of their ethnic or religious, or regional affiliation, must be identified, apprehended, prosecuted, and, if found guilty, treated according to the laws of the land. It is about searching out their sponsors and bringing them to justice. So many questions beg for answers. In a not too distant past, when news came that arms were being smuggled into Nigeria, we asked: who has been bringing arms to Nigeria? Was anyone put on trial for this crime? If so, what was the outcome of the trial? Why is it that our government has not been able to secure this land and its inhabitants? Why is it that Nigerians are no longer safe in a country they call their own? Why is it that our security agents eagerly and forcefully dispersed young and defenseless Nigerians, peacefully protesting the iniquities of the same agents, only to fail or refuse to apprehend those who are terrorizing us day and night? To these and related questions, Nigerians are yet to receive credible answers from our security agencies.
It is sad to note that the security of life and property has become the first casualty in our land of politics without morality. It is difficult to believe that our government is able and willing to protect Nigerians. Yet, when legitimate questions are put to a government that ought to be accountable, given its much-vaunted democratic credentials, those who ask questions are seen as unpatriotic! We must tell ourselves the truth: Nigerians have fallen victims of dirty and wicked politics whose actors engage and arm their militias during the season of electioneering campaign, fail to disarm them, and fail to settle debt owed to them after the campaign. Could it be the case, as some have been suggesting, that the arms they used to terrify political opponents are what they now use to traumatize Nigerians? Innocent lives are lost every day.
There is bloodshed in our land. The psyche of the average Nigerian is subjected to torture. Our children are being abducted at school. Their abduction represents abduction of the future of Nigeria. Nigeria is in dire need of responsible, accountable and competent leadership. We need leaders who unite, not those who divide in order to get into power and consolidate power. Nigeria does not need leaders who divide and exploit the division. We are in urgent need of a leader who will preside over our ethnic and religious diversity to unite and not to divide. I ask again: who owns the land?
• Anthony Cardinal Okogie is the Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos.