We have our curious caste of peculiar heroes and we worship them every second. Our Chief Justice is one of them. We saw how our Senate applauded him as he enlarged the coast of our political, jurisprudential lexicon last week. He defined ‘legal technicality’ as “something that is technical.” In explication and elucidation, he gave the details of the ‘technical’ risks involved in asking a judge to “drive” a plane and in getting a flight “driven.” Our CJN is a great man; a knight of knowledge, like the king in naked apparel.
Sometimes you have stories to tell and you won’t have the space. Some other time, you have the space but the stories would just snub you. Like America and Canada capturing brains around the world, we have started registering illegal aliens – and we have them in various sizes and colours. The ones from Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad are our specials. We need them for the sake of our future. They will make very good presidents, governors and senators. They are here – incubating in the rain forests of Ore in Ondo State and in the mangrove swamps of Epe and the Niger Delta.
There is that particular genius from Niger Republic who conquered Lagos and its deflowered airport last Friday with the audacity of terrorism. A complete alien ran and jumped on the wing of a loaded airplane. And for 37 minutes, he was there playing with the toy on the tarmac. Frightened passengers yelled and wailed, calling for help, which did not come. Where was the Commander-in-Chief in those 37 minutes? How did that creature crawl from his Sahel country, through Buhari’s colluding savannah to the forests of Lagos? How many more of these Nigerien rats are everywhere waiting for the next plane to assault? How many of our overstayed, tired security chiefs has the president fired for this breach? Or when is the president going to fire himself for failing to secure us?
Now, a better, sobering story. We may be a house that has fallen, but sometimes, through the pitchy walls of darkness, streaks of light do blaze through. The United States taught us last week that we are not completely a nation of villains or anti-heroes. We have learnt from outsiders that we have knights in shining armour, if only we value them. Refresh button was last week pressed by the American government on our best story of last year:
“At about 3.30 p.m., shortly after the mid-afternoon prayer, worshippers were still in the mosque when we started hearing gunshots from Ginding Akwati area, some distance from our village. The intensity of the attack increased as we heard more gunshots from Soi, a community that is closer to our village. Soon, there was pandemonium everywhere in our village as people ran from invading attackers. Since the mosque was open, I beckoned everyone fleeing, both Muslims and Christians, to come in there for protection. My deputy and I took charge in directing people into the mosque and my home for shelter. We asked everyone to lie down on the floor of the mosque to avoid being hit by flying bullets. We also locked the mosque and my home and stayed guard outside to ward off the attackers. We pleaded with them to spare the lives of those being sheltered in the mosque and my home. It was a tense moment. But I did not give up or allow them to harm my guests as they scattered in different directions trying to gain access to the mosque and my home. I tried to make calls but the phone lines were dead. I couldn’t get through to anyone.
“By the will of God, those that He did not want to die in this attack took shelter in the mosque and in my home. Then, we pleaded with the attackers not to harm them. We could not identify any of the attackers because they had their faces covered. We just kept pleading that in the name of God, they should not harm anyone. I prostrated in front of the armed men, pleading for the lives of those being sheltered. I even began to cry, wailing and rolling on the ground, asking them to leave and after a while, they left.”
In that attack in Plateau State, more than 200 people, who were unfortunate enough to miss their Noah’s Ark into that mosque and the home, perished. They were murdered. And then, what happened?
I love great stories – in books, in films, in real life. Great, real-life stories like this are as rare as a masquerade’s excreta, especially in Nigeria – particularly in that corridor where it happened. The above story of 84-year-old Imam Abdullahi Abubakar offers a fresh breath in a choking arena of blood and death. On June 23, 2018, the Imam rescued 262 Christian villagers from a murderous band of Fulani militias in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State. He packed the 262 fleeing Christians into his mosque and home and stood outside, waiting for the assailants. And when they came, he defeated them with courageous pleadings, with the strength of his character. Last week, Imam Abdullahi was honoured, not by our government, but by the government of the United States. With four other religious leaders from Sudan, Iraq, Brazil and Cyprus, he got the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award, which is given to advocates of religious freedom across the world.
The Americans think, treat and call our man a hero. What is his place in Nigeria, particularly in northern Nigeria? Someone’s hero may be the anti-hero, a villain across the fence. In this season of herdsmen killings, Fulani radio and Ruga threats and attacks, you would expect Nigeria to present this Imam’s case as a counter-narrative, a positive alternative to the air of extremism around us. It is interesting that this Imam is a Hausa-Fulani. A wise Fulani elite should have deployed his case in de-legitimization of narratives that paint their clan as blood-sucking demons. But they are silent and quiet. And you ask why?
Ask yourself again: in all this, where is Nigeria? Or rather, where are the leaders of the North, particularly President Muhammadu Buhari? Charity of our federal government never starts from home. It had to take the United States to recognise and celebrate the Imam. You would think that the much-maligned northern establishment would jump at this case, own it, use it to burnish its ghostly, fundamentalist image and deploy it as a God-sent deodorant for its nauseous space. Yes, there was an Ahmadu Bello award for him last year; some southern newspapers also ‘poke-nosed’ into that matter, honouring him in Lagos. But at the sub-national and national level, what else has happened? Silence. Very disturbingly eerie silence. Is it that the North does not understand what the man did or that it is asking why he did it?
The internet is a good keeper of records. It archives a July 2018 promise by Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, to take the Imam to the Villa for a handshake with President Buhari preparatory to a national award. That was a year ago. Now, have you seen that Imam with the president anywhere since this story broke over a year ago? We have, instead, seen the vice president, a Christian, hosting the Imam. The internet has beautiful photographs of the vice president and the Imam in a handshake in the Villa on May 30, 2019 – eleven months after the heroic act. The presidency issued a statement last week, however, congratulating Imam Abubakar on the US award. Should it be like that? Out-sourcing a national celebration of heroism can only be an act of collective shame and disgrace. The Americans would be wondering what kind of humans we are.
America is on a familiar terrain in this Imam’s case. That country was built on a foundation of heroic acts and it seeks to keep the spirit alive at all times. That is why it is America. On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III flew US Airways Flight 1549 into an army of geese. He lost the Airbus 320’s two engines at take-off but refused to crash his 150 passengers and five crew members into the bowel of violent death. With an uncommon expertise bound in courage, he glided the plane “onto the chilly surface of the Hudson River.” Everyone onboard came out – alive. The pilot supervised the evacuation and made sure he was “the last to leave the sinking plane.” And for that, a grateful America cuddled him. A commentator said: “His heroic actions propelled him into the public eye and earned him a slew of honours, including an invitation to Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration and resolutions of praise from the U.S. Congress.” You can now feel my ‘tale of two cities’. Contrast this pilot’s case with that of Stella Adadevoh who literally slew herself to appease the murderous spirit of Ebola. She is forgotten now, remembered only by her family members. The same would have happened to the Imam if he had lost his life to that rescue effort. Thank God he lived to save the 262 persons – including women and children. And thanks to the US for showing Nigeria how to be positively a country of values.
Now, if our president is very busy receiving the hordes of Buhari Support and Media groups, or if he is not interested at all in the physical presence of this golden Imam, how about our Senate? What about the Governors Forum? The 19 northern state governors and their loquacious Arewa groups? Where are they too? They are where money and power is.
* This was published as a Column, “Monday Lines,” in the Nigerian Tribune of Monday, 22 July, 2019.