Sallah, feast and pain

A scene of devastation in the Damaturu attacks

Yesterday was Sallah Day. Eid el-Kabir. The feast of sacrifice. It is the second largest Muslim festival, after Eid el-Fitr. This time, we commemorated the decision by Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to sacrifice his son Prophet Ismail (AS) in absolute obeisance to the Almighty Allah (SWT) who replaced the son with a ram.

Even though Sallah is a day feast, its festivities run for a minimum of three days. So, we are still celebrating – eating, drinking, exchanging visits and felicitations, and generally making merry. It is one of those rare moments when we forget our sorrows, failures and indiginities. Some of us even shelve their savagery and sink into mirth and laughter. It is momentary, but it reminds us of our sense of humanity, our capacity to love and be loved.

But should it be brief and guarded? Why should our sense of savagery, refusal to share love and our capacity for evil replace what we ought to be in the first place? Our humaneness ought not be momentary and guarded – it should be our essence!

These questions grew out of me on the eve of Eid el-Kabir. Bombs, deaths and wailings suddenly distorted the emerging convivial atmosphere. In Damaturu, Potiskum and Maiduguri, the now familiar occurence of bomb-blasts was witnessed. The death toll was horrifying. The official tally, issued by police, said 53 people were killed, comprising 36 civilians and 17 security agents (11 policemen, two soldiers, one Road Safety official, one fire service man, and two Civil Defence officials). Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the umbrella Muslim body, reported yesterday that 96 bodies were identified in the town. Add that to the ones recorded in the various skirmishes since 2009 when the Boko Haram War began and you will agree without hesitation that life has since become Hobbesian: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

Violence, division, hatred and revenge are defining our essence; these base feelings are an army arrayed against our humaneness. We are no longer brother’s keepers even within our religion, much less between us and members of other faiths. Trust has all but disappeared, replaced by deep-seated suspicion and vengeful anger. You can see it in the market-place, the media and internet social networks.

In the past in the North, Sallah Day used to be enjoyed not only by Muslims but also by their Christian neighbours, who eat from the assortment of food and the sacrificial ram meat. Now even Muslims celebrate it in fear and hesitation. A similar situation defines Christmas. Now the walls of fear have gone up in our hearts, erecting barriers that seem to be growing in height and in thickness. Yesterday, my friend Prince Charles Dickson posted a comment on Facebook, reflecting this rueful situation. He wrote: “Sallah has been peaceful in Jos but sadly no exchange of visits. Boundaries being maintained, for how long do we live like this?”

Yeah, for how long? Even Charles cannot answer the question. But it is a question that needs to be answered and a solution found to the pertinent issues. Unfortunately, one cannot see genuine efforts by the powers that be towards confronting the ogre of intolerance, distrust and violence. I had expected to see a serious commentary on the state of affairs from President Jonathan in his Eid el-Kabir message. But the man was lame. His blandishments, communicated to the nation via a written statement, were the usual appeals, as well as a call on Nigerians to support his Transformation Agenda. The strongest point in the President’s Sallah Message was: “As we labour to grow and develop our country, it is important that we eschew all vices, including religious and social violence that can disrupt the peace and stability of our nation.”

The nail was, however, best hit on the head of the matter by the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar who, in his Sallah Message after the Eid prayers in Bida yesterday, spoke about the need for justice for all categories of people in the country. “Our people always rejoice to see justice done without fear or favour, hence the manifest result of social justice is usually peace and harmony,” His Royal Highness said, adding, “All those given responsibility to lead should promote peace through justice and fairness irrespective of religious and ethnic differences.”

Justice for all, then, is the keyword for attaining peace and tranquillity in this country. And to achieve that, our leaders must rule with the fear of God just as the leaders past – those in the 60s and the early 70s – did. Today, our leaders are another kettle of fish altogether. Everyone is for himself. And you cannot attain justice by stealing. According to Transparency International last week, Nigeria’s civil servants took $3 billion bribe in 2010 alone. God knows how much they stole so far this year. That’s from bribes alone, not to talk of other corrupt practices such as direct stealing from the public coffers, using all sorts of excuses and tricks.

With this kind of tendency, we shouldn’t be surprised that, as reprehensible as it is, violence has become a part and parcel of our life. Also, no one should be surprised that Sallah Day, in spite of pretences to the contrary, is low key. Don’t be surprised if Christmas is similar.

Published in my column on the back page of BLUEPRINT yesterday

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