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Simon Kolawole Sadiq
Daba, the actor, ran into some serious health issues recently. He
cried out for financial help to undergo foreign treatment. Pronto,
Nigerians reacted overwhelmingly. But wait. I did not hear
anybody talk about Daba’s religion or ethnic group. The people
who tweeted and retweeted his appeal for help, and those who
contributed money, were certainly not from his village. I was so so
so so so happy. It confirmed, yet again, my pet theory about
Nigeria — that we do not hate each other. We are just victims of
the unending political manipulation of ethnic and religious
identities for selfish gain. Evidently, ordinary Nigerians have the
“Nigerian spirit” in their DNA. Indeed. I have met extremists and
chauvinists from across religions and races. I am yet to hear
anyone declare that we were not created by the same God. One of
the most astonishing things about life, to me, is the fact that
although we can choose to be Muslims or Christians, and so on,
nobody can choose to be Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba or whatever.
We just woke up one day to find ourselves as members of one
ethnic group or the other. It was not our making. So why should
you discriminate against me, and hate me, on the basis of an
ethnic identity that is beyond my control? Is it my fault that I was
born into a family that was clearly not my choice? Today, I am
going a little bit practical on how we can renew our minds. There
is a saying that Rome was not built in a day, a proverb originated
by the 19th century English playwright, John Heywood, who also
gave us immortal expressions such as “out of sight out of mind”,
“better late than never”, and “the more the merrier”. He said Rome
wasn’t built in a day “but they were laying bricks every hour”.
This, in some sense, tells us the value of consistent hard work,
perseverance and conscious efforts at construction. If Nigeria is
going to change, therefore, we must alienate those who see
themselves, first and foremost, as ethno-religious champions. It
all starts in the mind. But, pardon me, Rome was not destroyed in
a day either. It took ages to build the city but took a much shorter
time to destroy it. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD. In
three days, they looted, burnt and wrecked the beautiful city. That
hastened the collapse of the Roman Empire. Same thing applies
here: the destruction of Nigeria by ethnic champions and religious
bigots will not happen in one day — it is a gradual, steady process.
That is why we the people must guard our hearts jealously before
we are recruited into the hate brigade under different guises.
Those already recruited can decide to desert straightaway. We
need to build, not destroy. My suggestions. To start with, do not
participate in the sharing of messages and materials that are
clearly intended to preach hate and prejudice. Saying “shared as
received” is pure hypocrisy. You can be critical of leadership
without attacking or disparaging their religions and ethnic origins.
As a matter of principle, I do not share messages that are clearly
meant to spread hate. It is a duty I owe my conscience. We all
have terrible things to say about other people. If we do not allow
love to guard our hearts, we will keep adding fuel to fire.
Therefore, before you press the “send” or “forward” button, ask
yourself: what is my motive? Unto thyself, be honest. Also, do not
feed your children with hate and prejudice. Fill their hearts with
edifying things. A senior colleague of mine, a Muslim, married a
Christian, who then converted to Islam. He told me he once
engaged the services of a cleric to teach his children the Qur’an
every Sunday. One day, he overheard the cleric telling the children
not to drink from the same cup or eat from the same plate with
their aunts, who were living with them, because they were
“infidels”. My colleague fired the “afa” on the spot. He remains a
devout Muslim, sure, but he saw danger and immediately quenched
it. This kind of hate messaging certainly fuelled the mindset that
birthed Boko Haram. This is how hate works: it focuses on what
divides us rather than what unites us. If there are Qur’anic verses
that say Muslims should love and care for Christians, the hate
merchants will focus on where Christians are called “infidels”. If
there are verses in the Bible that say “love your neighbour as
yourself”, the messengers of hate will focus on “what fellowship
does light have with darkness?” There is nothing you want to
justify with the scriptures that you won’t find. If you truly have
love in your heart, you will focus on the verses of love. The God
that forbade eating four-footed creatures is the same God that
ordered Apostle Peter, in a trance, to kill and eat! To the pure all
things are pure. And this is how prejudice works: because Chief
Obafami Awolowo did not declare Oduduwa Republic in solidarity
with Biafra in 1967, every Yoruba is a traitor — including the one
that was born early this morning. Because an Igbo chap was
arrested for 419, every Igbo person — dead, living or unborn — is a
fraudster. Because Barkin Zuwo struggled with speaking English,
every northerner is an illiterate; in fact, no northerner has a brain.
Because of the insane activities of ISIS and Boko Haram, every
Muslim is a terrorist, including your friend. Tragically, there are
people that the only thing they can see in you is your language or
religion, not the content of your character. Let me quickly say this
before I shut down my laptop and take a stroll: it is very difficult
to resist the message of hate and prejudice in a society already
polluted by manipulative politicians, their overpaid sidekicks and
our inept leaders. I know. When everybody is saying there is
casting down, it is very difficult to go against the grain and say
there is lifting up. You just go with the flow. But maybe the
“casting down” gang is not as big as the “lifting up” brigade — just
that the latter has been intimidated into silence. They must begin
to speak out. Rome was not destroyed in a day. Those working to
destroy Nigeria neither sleep nor slumber. As for me and my
house, we resolved long ago that we would never feed our children
with hate, prejudices and biases. These things are usually passed
on from generation to generation. I resolved to follow the example
of my grandmother by celebrating the best in others rather than
focusing on their worst. I would rather talk about the dignity in
labour you find among the Hausa, the creativity among the Igbo
and the industry among the Yoruba. Accuse me of living in denial
and I will accuse you of living in bitterness. Accuse me of being
politically correct and I will accuse you of being self-righteous.
Accuse me of being naïve and I will accuse you of being jaundiced.
It’s all in the mind.

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