Is the Nigerian spirit really indestructible?

As I start this, I am listening to Veno Marioghae’s ‘Nigeria go survive’. It speaks to the same indestructible Nigerian spirit to which Chibundu Onuzo alludes in her piece for the Guardian. That song came out nearly 30 years ago, and it makes one reflect on the fact that Nigerians have had to rely on their resilience for far longer than some of us might imagine. It is that spirit that makes it possible for us to put up with all kinds of abusive and dehumanising conditions people in other countries might take strong exception to. It is that spirit that enables us put up with perennial darkness and an increasingly absent government, and that same spirit keeps the status quo in place, while we suffer and smile on a daily basis.

It used to be enough, but it might no longer be. What is crystal clear from the violence in the North is that the terrorists are consciously targeting the ethnic and religious bonds that have existed for decades, which put the lie to the ‘muslim north, christian south’ narrative many western journalists seem determined to keep peddling. If Nigeria really were a ‘muslim north, christian south’ construct, how come there are so many churches in the north?

That is a theme for another day, and this is not so much a response to Miss Onuzo’s article, as it is wondering how much more Nigeria can take. An indestructible spirit is only a thing of pride when it is geared toward changing the status quo, instead of surviving it. It is as if we say to our government and the terrorists: ‘give us your best shot’. They are doing exactly that. Sometimes, the difference between our government and ‘Boko Haram’ seems to be inconsequential: one side is legally empowered to make our lives a living hell, the other isn’t.

While the bombings escalate, the clouds of smoke they generate has engulfed the minds of their victims, leading them to lash out blindly at their neighbours in the name of reprisal. Tired of waiting for the government to protect them, they have chosen to protect themselves, but those they attack are not the enemy. Of course, that is what the terrorists want: fighting amongst ourselves helps their cause, and the longer they are able to strike at will, the greater the possibility of all out anarchy.

I fear she has grossly oversimplified what we are witnessing: a final collapse in the state’s ability to enforce law and order. This is not an attack by a neighbouring country. It is not an external threat and even if it were, not in the conventional sense. It is an attack on what holds this nation together, the kind we have never seen before.

It took him long enough, but President Jonathan has finally moved to change the National Security Adviser and Minister of Defence. Everyone must hope and pray that they can stem the violence and root out the murderers. There are limits to flexibility.

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