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The down-trodden’s struggles in Nigeria

The Right Reverend Desmond Tutu, Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg was a leader in the struggle for Freedom and Justice in South Africa. On 14 August, 1985, he said: “The only solution to South Africa’s crisis is for whites to accept blacks as human beings”. The parallel to this in Nigeria is: The only solution to Nigeria’s crisis is for the government to accept the down-trodden as human beings and to allow no occasion when some citizens are classified and segregated as down-trodden in their own country, while others are the privileged ones. I have been waiting for a Desmond Tutu of Nigeria to make this statement and stand firm to its fulfillment.
When the government of South Africa accepted this statement, the country’s crisis was resolved and there was peace at least between whites and blacks. At first the struggle was a struggle against Apartheid, but it was in the main about freedom and justice. It looked hopeless and like a lost cause at some point, but the fighters were steadfast on the platform of non-violence. Soon the battle was won for both whites and blacks. Peace was restored.
The lessons from that are clear for Nigeria. Freedom and Justice is what the Nigerian crises are all about. Someone must lead as an arrow-head to resist armed and violent oppression of the down-trodden. The government is increasingly representing this violent oppression. But no one has told them that Freedom and Justice are all that they need, to bring all the bloody struggles to a close. As yet, it feels justified to butcher and slaughter those who oppose it in any way until all of them are eliminated. This is a choice the South African white minority government in power then had, but listened to the voice of reason that advised against violence.
Through the voice of people like Desmond Tutu, the battle was shifted to the moral front. Everything was done to disengage from the destructive armed exchanges in the land. The people on both sides became free and liberated to choose where to belong as well as the cause to defend, without resort to any form of violence. The intellectual or ideological basis for the struggle was found and brickbats were done through dialogue on a round table. The battle fronts were deserted and abandoned. God came in to intervene.
What is happening now is a primitive-style conflict in Nigeria in which people resort to mindless killings. And that is because no strong, fearless voice like Desmond Tutu has stepped out to condemn replying violence with violence as the way for quelling unrest and disturbances in the country. The Apartheid struggle was insurgency of some sort and one of a more serious dimension than boko haram but the approach was different; never to wipe out the insurgents in order to restore law and order. Had that been done, there would have not been an answer to the problem as at today. The whole thing would have been a calamity by now in which millions would have perished on both sides. A leadership had to emerge in South Africa and America on the opposition sides to bring a civilized conduct into the struggles that ended them on a joyous note for both sides. Lasting and permanent peace indeed was achieved.
In the Nigerian scenario today, it will be correct to criticize the religions, Christianity and Islam for complacency and insensitivity. What they could have done was to start and deepen the intellectual grounding of the conflicts. It is possible to use the powerful spirituality in them to make a case and argue for the renunciation of violence on all sides (the government and its opponents); to unite the people on the principle of the sanctity of human life. Never in history has this country witnessed the sort of naked brutality Nigerian Christians have received, Muslims happen to be among those killed sometimes. But Christians have been clearly the targets. It was a great opportunity for them to respond with a superior Christian approach to conflicts which goes first to address the underlying causes of injustice and oppression. Our situation has been waiting for a Desmond Tutu to stand for non-violence in the conflicts in Nigeria. The man, Tutu put his reputation and high standing in the church and society on the line to save lives. His influence prevailed. We had an amicable solution there which saved not only millions of lives, but also the unusual multi-racial society that South Africa was trying to practise.
In the USA too, rather than kill off blacks as insurgents, criminals and non-conformists, a black leader took the struggle to a higher level that appealed to the moral conscience of the government and the general populace to put aside their weapons and talk to each other. Let’s start the American story with 1 December 1955, when Mrs. Rosa Park, a 42- year old seamstress took an action that shook the racist South and signaled to the African Americans that the time had come at last to unequivocally reply “No!” to racial segregation and discrimination. While riding the public bus from her-job at the Montgomery Fair department store, this tired black worker was approached by a white man who boarded the bus and remained standing rather than sit next to a black woman. The bus driver demanded that she surrender her seat as the Jim Crow laws of Alabama required. Rosa Park said “No”. She was arrested. The fight to vindicate her ignited the civil rights movement of 1960s, Her “No” became the indignant rallying cry for black people throughout America. It is remarkable that Rosa Park was not remanded in a maximum prison (so that her bail would cost millions she could not afford, and in which conditions for her bail would be too stringent); to be dehumanized and accused of treason which would pre-dispose her to capital punishment in a manipulated justice system. Placing that charge would harass her and give her a heart condition that could equally kill her. Above all, the President would insist on personally approving her release which he was unwilling to do. If nothing, she would come off with long detention which would kill her. There was nothing of the sort. A civilized engagement with the alleged culprit prevailed. The lady was not put through this state sponsored brutality, while the struggle went on with even more ferocity.
The peace Nigeria is looking for in various battle fields is not peace at all because it is being purchased with violence. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of non-violence was copied from India’s Mahandas K. Gandhi, who used it to free India from the domination of the British. There is a profound longing for freedom and justice which motivates down-trodden people al! over the world. The deep discontent in Nigeria today is a quest for freedom and human dignity by people who have long been victims of foreign and local colonization. Battle-front successes on any side are momentary and will not end the struggle any sooner. The bones shall rise again to continue the fighting. Privileged groups do not give up their privileges. They put out stiff resistance. But when oppressed people rise up, there’s no stopping until freedom is a reality for all oppressed people of the world.
Non-violence as a winning strategy for peace has never expired. It is still feasible and potent. It is the only road to lasting love and peace. To this, Martin Luther King, the martyr left this message:
“Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
“In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him or even to pay him back for injustices he heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Keep your struggle on high Christian standard.”

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