Aspects of a Cartoon Riot

by MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku

Some of us were still very young when the old Nigerian national anthem was sent to the dust bin. We used to enjoy singing that song at the morning assembly in our secondary school, especially the fifth line of the stanza. It had a certain prosodic eloquence and the sound quality was such that even though we did not quite understand what the words meant (Nigerians all, are proud to serve…) we sang that anthem with some gusto and marched to our classes, happy that we had performed what may be considered a worthwhile civic duty. Thinking about the thematic relevance of that line now and what we really used to say (Nigerians all, are sore to sore), little would it have occurred to any of us that we would actually experience other days (apart from the Civil War) that Nigerians would actually be so ‘sore to sore’ to one another as they just did in the cartoon riots.

Now, the most important things to say about the riots precipitated in the Northern part of Nigeria by the cartoons depicting the holy prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a terrorist have been said. People have said that the riots in Nigeria were generated and influenced by a semi-literate elite that needed to show solidarity with the rest of the Muslim world. Why they would encourage the talakawa become as demented as they were we cannot tell, especially as the cartoons and the responsibility thereof for the graphic artistry had no direct connection with us. But we are sure that the ordinary Moslem who goes about his business daily on the streets of Maiduguri town or Bama or Konduga or Monguno did not see the cartoon riots in other lands on CNN. Even if they did, I am sure they would not have gotten involved to the extent that they did-Borno State does not have the militant character of some Hausa bokwoi states and does not have a history of religious intolerance. So why would the elite incite almajiris to plunder and kill their Christian brothers albeit to show that they are not dormant in the face of an insult to their religion?

Those who were directly involved already burnt the Danish flag and killed as an expression of their embarrassment and anger at the desecration of the name of the holy prophet. However, what I have not heard expressed by those who condemn these riots in Northern Nigeria is this: what is it that made the Danish paper make a total nuisance of itself and plunge the rest of humanity in a state of confusion by being insensitive and intolerant to the other person’s religious affiliation? I am at a loss as to how they came to the conclusion that Prophet Muhammad is a terrorist, and to tell you the truth, I do not understand whatever it is that they mean. It was totally irresponsible of them. But that is not to mean that we will not tell Nigerian Moslems the truth, especially those in the Northern part of this country that the time has come for them to square up and face the real challenges of nationhood, of living in the 21st Century of the information superhighway, of a world where the burning issues are those bordering on breakthroughs in science and technology and of tolerance in responding to the idiocy of that kind of cartoon. Our Northern Moslem brethren really should know that it was mostly in the days of the Crusades, what was known as the ‘holy wars’ between the Roman and Ottoman Empires (and that was a long time ago) that people took up arms to fight and kill in the name of a religion, and that continually getting us involved in all of this orgy of killings at any slight provocation drags us back to those antediluvian times. Who needs all of that glamorous distraction today when there are pertinent issues, issues like HIV, AIDS, Avian bird flu, constitutional amendment, the collation of an accurate population figure and etcetera to contend with? And Mr. Obasanjo is said to be deploying his troops to the battlefield in his quest for life-presidency. Shouldn’t we all, Moslems and Christians form a holy and an unholy alliance to scuttle this inordinate ambition instead of fighting over a cartoon that is indeed mischievous in scope and content, and therefore to be considered irrelevant to us now?

But this is not what this discussion is about. What I should like to express here as a matter of fact has to do with an issue that was generated by the riots. It had to do with this point of realization, that though tribe and tongue may differ, we do not stand together. We never have. We have, rather, always placed a lot of emphasis on the things that do not hold us together, and it just took one disturbance in a far away land to bring to the fore almost the same issues of religion and ethnicity that precipitated the Nigerian Civil War. I was told that a certain tribe was engaged in a tutsification of the one other tribe and the war only became a war because those who were tutsified organised a reprisal in the form of a hutufication. And do you know what? I think we were lucky again this time the whole thing did not escalate into a full blown Rwanda or a Darfur. Very quickly, and instead of sweeping the issues raised by this ‘cartoon riot’ under the carpet of political expediency, we must deal now (and decisively too) with those who incited almajiris to plunder and kill. We must also find out why we keep having to fight each other over very flimsy reasons. If we do not find out why tempers flare when they should not, let us not pretend that there definitely would be an evil day when a tutsified, hutufied people would stand up in this country and declare that enough is enough!

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