There used to be a time when the thought of a Nigerian dying for anything outside of self-interest would assure the offending mind a bed in the local psychiatric unit. And, even then, on the premise of self-interest, it was still a reckless position for any human being to take: Which was why news of the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, being Nigerian immediately sent Nigerians everywhere sounding the alarm and assuming defensive positions. It wasn’t a matter of trying to evade a national disgrace; for me and fellow Nigerians, the matter was much more complex – It contradicted everything we knew thus far of our “national genetics.”
That time now seem eons ago. Our genetics has undergone some obvious metamorphosis. The bold suicidal attacks by the home-grown terrorist sect, Boko Haram, have dispelled once sacrilegious ideas that a Nigerian would think twice before summarily giving his life for a cause, no matter how abstract it might be. But, in as much as this change in genetics has taken a diabolical turn, events since the beginning of the year yet give hope that this new disposition may well be what catapults Nigeria into its salvation.
The Occupy Nigeria movement that saw Africa’s most populous nation shut down for a week this past January introduced this hope. Nigerians, angered by the abrupt removal of fuel subsidy at the beginning of the year, took to the streets in large numbers, determined to force the government to backtrack its steps. It soon became less about fuel subsidy and more about everything that has been wrong with Nigeria since independence from Britain.
If you do not know, Nigeria is that nation where all 109 members of the Senate are each, by law, entitled to $1.7 million yearly and the 360 members of the House of Representatives a modest $1.4 million each for their labors of love. This is a fact of life that contrasts sharply with the $120 monthly minimum wage foisted upon the average Nigerian lucky to have a job. With well over 124 million Nigerians living on $2 or less a day, hopelessness and obscene poverty litters the landscape like cankerous bushes on a forlorn countryside.
It therefore becomes of great note that Nigerians, who are apt to suffer in peace while awaiting the coming justice of the Messiah, did arise in unprecedented unison – in a land fractured by over 250 ethnic groups, more than 500 languages, and an unending cascade of inter-religious sensibilities. This unforeseen mobilization showed a ready acceptance of what has to be done if change must come – a consciousness exhibited not too long ago by their brothers and sisters to the north, in places like Tunisia and Libya. And those kindred, in so doing, proved the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but through continuous struggle.
There’s no delusion that this consciousness also comes with the realization that self would have to be put in harm’s way in any meaningful struggle. In rallies across the country, scene after scene, peaceful citizens could be seen braving the bullets and assault of an indiscriminate police force. Many did die and others wounded due to the brute force meted upon them. In one popular clip available on YouTube, a visibly frustrated and defiant young lady tells of how she damned her parents’ wish and showed up at a protest site, concluding thus: If I die, I die…but Nigeria has to move on.
It is this latest twist to Boko Harem’s treat on self-sacrifice that has me confident that Sub-Saharan Africa is in the throes of experiencing its first major movement for change. Although the peaceful rallies and protests were hijacked by labor leaders who injected themselves into the middle of the upheaval and surgically terminated the hopes and wishes of millions of Nigerians by succumbing to personal aspirations and glory, Nigerians have lived firsthand what hitherto was thought superstition. From the meager concession extracted from the government, it is no longer a question of “if” it can be done, rather, “when” shall it be done. And, for that, young Nigerians like me are hard at work in providing a speedy response.
Alas, this sort of calamitous excess would become Moammar Gaddafi.
In forty-two years of absolute and untethered reign, Colonel Gaddafi was perfectly logical to think not even God dared touch a hair on his head. If there was a God that umpired the universe, somehow regulating the just and the unjust, then for sure, he must be asleep at the wheels. I mean … where is he as he, Gaddafi, soaks the landscape of the coastal Mediterranean and the Libyan Desert with the blood of defenseless Libyans. Where is he as dissidents are being tortured and brutally mutilated to send shockwaves of fear and terror across the land. Heck, to show that God was a defunct business; with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Gaddafi escalated his terrorism outreach without suffering any significant consequence.
If there was a God, he’s had his time to show up, and that time was a long, long time ago.
And then, there came the morning of October 20, 2011, when a thousand hands landed with ferocious intensity on Gaddafi’s face and his hair got pulled in every direction thinkable.
There’s no doubt Mr. Gaddafi died a brutal death. The video clips of his capture show an exuberant, unrelenting, and vindicated citizenry dishing out all manners of delicacies to the bloodied dictator.
It is reasonable to deduce from images thereafter that Mr. Gaddafi was captured alive and subsequently executed by his captors.
And this has caused some in the international community to demand an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Gaddafi – with some calling for a war crimes trial for any offending party.
Ordinarily, the letters of the law will be easily enforceable in such an offensive situation. But in this case, matters are not so clear, and neither should they be.
As an African very much familiar with mob justice, the eventual death of Mr. Gaddafi at the hands of a livid mob was in no way surprising; even though I had wished he be kept alive whenever he was caught. But in a sense, Libya is still Africa, where a high sense of immediate retribution for crimes courses through the veins of a lot of citizens. In my country of Nigeria, growing up, there were many instances where petty thieves were summarily executed in the market place for stealing mundane items. Often, car tires would be placed about the accused while he stood upright in the middle. And with the help of gasoline, the victim is set ablaze and watched as he died in an open display of mob justice. Such measures are without doubt reprehensible and they have no place in our society.
But in the case of Mr. Gaddafi, it is foolish to expect the battered and angry young men who for so many months have fought the ruthlessness of an unforgiving regime; lost brothers, uncles, fathers, cousins, and others to the struggle; not to be overwhelmed by an immediate sense of retribution.
The hope would have been that there was a powerful voice in the crowd strong enough to check the anger of the mob.
Saddam Hussein was lucky to have been captured after 8 months on the run by the American forces who invaded Iraq; had he been chanced upon by fellow Iraqis, it is highly doubtable he would have seen another sunrise before breath was swiped from his nostrils.
While it is true that the mob’s action mirrored the savagery of Gaddafi himself and hence to be frowned upon, it is virtually impossible to decipher who fired the fatal shot or dealt the ultimate blow. I’m afraid, a plea of temporary insanity is quite in order for these men as the dictator they captured represented 42 years of lost lives, anguish, oppression, and sheer inhumanity.
To focus a lengthy investigation into the death of Mr. Gaddafi as the National Transitional Council (NTC) has now initiated is a nation wrecking exercise. It might please some conscientious diplomat somewhere in an office in Europe but it will do nothing to foster law and order in Libya. The sheer thought that national heroes could be prosecuted for doing away with their oppressor will only inflame bitter, long-festering sentiments. The NTC will do well to avoid stoking this furry beast.
Gaddafi is gone, it is time for reconciliation. Time to rebuild a battered nation. Can we now move on?