As we have noted in the past, “Birthdays are special. They remind us of the date we began our earthly journey. They restate our unique place in creation that we have a day (that) we can call ours and celebrate exclusively. They afford us the opportunity to be thankful for the strides we have covered since the last anniversary. They rekindle our faith in the truism that when there is life, there is hope. Birthdays also remind us that the biological clock is ticking. Whether we acknowledge it or not, every birthday is a step towards that final day when the last trumpet will sound and we will have to answer the Lord’s call. Just as we had no say when and where we were born, most of us won’t know when that final hour would come, when our earthly vessel would be shed. When this reality dawns, it seems to me that birthdays should be occasions to seek the face of God and reflect on His promise and purpose for us.”
I thank my friends, relations, and associates who reached out to me on July 19 to wish me a happy birthday. May they be remembered for good in Jesus’ name. The more I think of birthdays, the more I begin to question what we conventionally call “landmark birthdays”. By that, we usually refer to such celebrations that describe the beginning of new decades: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90… It is not uncommon to associate formal celebrations with them as a rite of passage to adulthood and progression on the ladder of wisdom.
Lately, as I reflect on the increasing prominence of violent conflicts worldwide, I think any birthday that one is privileged to have is a landmark, deserving of praise and thanksgiving to the Owner and Great Architect of the Universe.
From the havoc in Europe that Putin’s Russia is wreaking in Ukraine, to the terrorist insurgency that envelopes much of Africa, spanning Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroun, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Tunisia, war occupies much of our media staple. Not as a glamour subject but as a way of sensitising the publics to its bestiality if not futility, and the need to avoid it.
From the atrocities of the civil wars in Libya, Ethiopia, and Yemen, to the drug wars in Colombia and Mexico in Latin America, war assaults the senses. From the battlefields of Afghanistan where civil war and terrorist insurgency remain a blight, it seems that it was only yesterday that Bob Marley reminded us about the ubiquity of war in the east, war in the west, war up north, war down south, everywhere is war.
A deep look at the predisposing factors to war, whether it is a state of armed conflict between countries or groups, or hostility between different people/groups, or sustained resistance to a situation, will identify a perceived sense of injustice in a contending setting of ideas or interests as a recurring decimal. This is what Marley means in singing that “until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is permanently discredited and abandoned, there will be war.”
When I look at my corner of the world, especially our dear country, Nigeria, I weep at the missed opportunities, at the numbing alliance of predators who cherish being served than to serve, whose god is their belly and the Lilliputians whose vision is to continually dwarf the giant in us. Their alliance has brought much misery to the land as evidenced in the pervading insecurity that has redefined the reality of our existence in the last two decades. From the North East to the North West, to the North Central, down to the South East, South South, and lately, the South West, misgovernance has fueled old fears into an unending cycle of depressing tales of criminality manifested in abductions, banditry, kidnappings for ransom, murders, rapes, lootings and sacking of homes, communities, and livelihoods.
Sacred places of worship are not spared as the godless Bakunists defile them, targeting the faithful and anyone who is unfortunate to journey on the day the road is famished. In the process, dreams have been cut short, innocent lives are being wantonly wasted. Children have had their childhoods stolen and turned to adults before they budded. Livelihoods are being destroyed as diligent labour force is turned to vagrant migrancy. A hitherto simple travel by air, train, water, or road by the citizen can result into death, abductions, and relentless emotional and physical assault in a land that supposedly has a government.
Steadily, the climate of anomie leads to a continuous migration to relatively safer zones as food fields are turned to killing fields and the valleys of hope are converted to the cemeteries of dreams. In all of these, there are accounts of horrendous ordeals faced by internally displaced persons in the hands of some corrupt state officials who are animals in human skin, whose passion is to profit from human misery and whose conduct can only harden many victims’ hearts against the state.
The state, in bewildering denial of the glaring fault lines, continues to describe the conflict in words that belie the reality of the situation. They strain to deny the glaring fault lines of our existence looking to separate the religious undercurrents from the economic, or the ethnic from the political. In the process, what comes across is the flight of empathy from official rhetoric as hapless messengers, who are saddled with challenges beyond their briefs, churn out rote condolence messages in numbing regularity.
The security forces have been left harried, harassed, humbled and humiliated as their capacity continues to be stretched by what were thought to be rag tag soldiers who have morphed into organised deadly terror machines who without remit continue to spread sorrow, tears, and blood. Painfully, the people’s confidence about the capacity of the state to protect them continues to be eroded. It will continue to be so for as long as the problem is being falsely framed and tamely addressed.
How we continue to delude ourselves that an outmoded centralised policing can effectively address internal policing beggars belief. How can we treat terrorists like neighbourhood rascals wanting attention and expect them to abandon their multimillion Naira kidnapping business? How do we encourage honest labour when all around us public officers exhibit reckless display of wealth that is at variance with their legitimate earnings? How do we build when we spend more than we produce? We are in an emergency situation that calls for sacrificial leadership but ours revels in the luxury of slothfulness and waste. Asa, the Nigerian musician reminds us that there is fire on the mountain but we aren’t running.
All around there is little that is edifying. From the length and breadth of the Savannah to the mangroves, a climate of insecurity is gradually creeping into city life. Armed gangs visit homes and raid the inhabitants one after the other, carting valuables and sometimes human beings for ransom. Poor public infrastructure such as road makes many commuters sitting ducks in horrendous traffics where a 30-kilometre journey may degenerate into a five journey. Thieving opportunists smash windscreens, attack people, scarring them emotionally and physically in addition to stealing their valuables such as phones, tablets, and laptops.
Considering the speed of accessing treasured records on these devices, and emptying the owners’ accounts, there is a lot to fear for the future as the new city robbers are increasingly internet-literate youths who hold no romantic notions of Nigeria and whose sight is placed elsewhere. So, if you live in our climes where no one is assured of seeing the next day much less celebrating the next birthday, every birthday is a landmark, deserving of celebration and thanksgiving to the Supreme One whose protection truly reassures.