Nigerian extremists evoke past atrocities

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 13, 2012

By Timothy C. Okeke
For the Salisbury Post
When the president of Livingstone College, Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., invited Eugenie Mukeshimana of the Genocide Survivors Support Network to speak on Rwanda genocide, two thoughts immediately came to mind: The urgent need to open dialogue on genocide and to educate future generations to think globally and model the actions they can take individually and collectively to prevent future occurrences of genocide. In this light, and as part of Livingstone College’s holistic approach to learning, “… it’s important for our students to know about significant events that happen in other parts of the world,” Jenkins said.
In project learning activity, I always ask my students to formulate social problems in terms of global concerns and to consider how they can present these problems so that people relate to them first as individuals, then as groups, in order to come up with appropriate solutions. In the process, they have not only provided appropriate intervention strategies but also learned to transfer lessons learned to other situations using advocacy skills to give voice to those lacking it.
I deplore genocide in whatever form it may take, as well as discrimination, sexism, social injustice or human rights violations. The horrible tales of past atrocities remind me of the genocide committed against the Christian Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria by their Northern Muslim counterparts in the past, and now by Boko Haram extremists based in Northeast Nigeria.
In Namibia in 1904, native Herero cattle farmers attacked and killed numerous German males in their effort to regain their livelihood from German colonizers. That was not right.
The Christian Armenians, in 1915, were massacred and their church properties confiscated. Their schools, libraries and newspapers were closed when they demanded political reforms from Ottoman and Russian regimes. This was a religious injustice!
The demagogue Adolf Hitler, from the early 1920s to the 1940s, systematically masterminded the extermination of the Jewish people. What were the world powers thinking? They did not see the horrors to come and did not take the warnings seriously.
In Ukraine in 1928, Russia imposed such high tax burdens on nearly 90 percent of the Ukraine peasant farmers that the Kulaks slaughtered all their animals before their farms were confiscated for collectivization. Many were shot dead point-blank. Perhaps the Russians thought there was no better way to show the world their military strength than this!
In the Nigeria/Biafra war of 1967-1970, the age-old resentment of the Northerners (Hausa/Fulani majority) toward the Easterners (Igbo majority) erupted under the pretext that the 1966 military coup was initiated by the Easterners. The resulting bloodshed cost the Igbo community 3 million lives as Britain watched and supported the genocide. Lives of the innocent did not matter a fig to the British Labor Secretary, Michael Stewart, who asserted that “it would have been quite easy for me to say, this is going to be difficult, let’s cut all connections with the Nigerian government. … If I’d done that, I should have known that I was encouraging in Africa the principle of tribal secession, with the misery that could bring to Africa in the future.” What a leader. How better could one protect his country’s “sphere of interest” than this?
Inspired by China’s Cultural Revolution, Saloth Sar’s (Pol Pot) Khmer Rouge led a vicious four-year regime in Cambodia in 1975, killing one-seventh of the Cambodian population, including an additional 200,000 “enemies of state.” The lives of innocent Cambodians never mattered so long as the Communists had their way.
In Rwanda in 1994, the Tutsi rebellion against their repression and exclusion from secondary/university education by the Hutu majority triggered the first attack on the Tutsi by Hutu extremists in exile. After the ceasefire brokered by the United Nations in 1993, the Hutu extremists itching for war shot down a plane carrying their own Hutu president and accused the Tutsi of doing that. With the extremist Hutu back in power following an election, Hutu civilians were told by word of mouth and radio that it was their inalienable right to wipe out the Tutsi. A systematic “cleansing” of 800,000 moderate Hutu sympathetic to Tutsi, Tutsi wives, husbands, and children was executed.
In Bosnia in 1995, the European Union/U.S. recognition of Sunni Muslims’ (Bosniaks) right to self-determination from Christian Bosnian Serbs, under Slobodan Milosevic, did not prevent genocide against the former. Will Muslin extremists ever learn from this to tolerate the “infidels” or desist from pronouncing “fatwa” on whoever criticizes their faith?
But who actually are the Nigerian Boko Harams now staging deadly attacks against security agencies and the public? What is their agenda?
They are just a modern version of new age jihadists from Northeast Nigeria who not only hate Western-style education but also have infused religion into the politics of poverty. They position themselves as an ally of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Shabaab areas of Somalia and want to establish a base in Africa as a transitional terrorist network. They are made up of seasoned mercenaries from neighboring Chad, Mauritania, Sudan and Libya who are determined to create so much havoc it will end all Christian presence, leading to creation of a “proper” Islamic state that the Christians could not afford to tolerate. They have since mid-2009 claimed more than 1,000 lives, including more than 300 this year alone, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The group harbors the fanciful idea of breaking up Nigeria in order to use the Northern area as its own Somalia. They attack police stations to release their jailed members. Their ultimate aim: To destabilize the government headed by a Christian president.
During a recent visit to Nigeria, I had the opportunity to talk to people who had fled from Boko Haram. Like the weeping prophet Jeremiah, I lamented the demise of my Igbo people, watching the influx and listening to their horrible stories of tortures and killings.
“It was terrible how up to 15 young men … they just came, shot them in the head one by one,” a relative of mine said. “After seeing what they did, I managed to evacuate all my property. That day was terrible.”
A church pastor described how Christians had thought they would be protected by Muslim friends, but “you will be the the first to be killed by your friend. They’ll come to your house to kill you if you are a Christian. I went to my Church to pray, they had bombed it. I escaped and hid in the bush for three days without food.”
How do the Christians react? “You cannot kill an innocent Northerner living here simply because an unknown Boko Haram killed some Igbo in the North. That’s punitive. But I think the permanent solution to this Nigerian problem is division, bifurcation, self-determination,” said an Igbo leader about Northerners living in the Eastern Igbo community.
Then, my question: “When is enough, enough?”
Timothy C. Okeke, Ph.D., is chair of Livingstone College’s Department of Social Work and can be reached at