By Rev. Fr. Paul Irikefe
Boston Marathon bomb suspects, brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev, left, and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev
The Boston Marathon on April 15 in the U.S. can now be considered as a quintessential struggle between fear and freedom, and between hate and heroism. It was supposed to be an event that marked both the beginning of the American Revolution and the deadline for taxes, but it turned out to be a black Monday in which freedom was momentarily usurped and in its place was injected fear, blood, and violent deaths.
The choice of explosive devices made from ordinary kitchen pressure cookers, the use of ‘kitchen-type’ egg timers, and the black duffel bags has nothing fortuitous about it, but only to induce mass panic over the uncertainty of everything else, even the eerily familiar––the car, the airplane, the cellphone, the pressure cooker, and so on.
It did not matter to the terrorists that the casualties involved innocent children and athletes. The goal was to bring down this “great Satan”––a favorite concept of extremists about America around the world, but especially in the Arab world––this licentious, and pervert country, this jaded civilization on the slippery slope of decay and decline.
However what came across was a resolute, and a self-sacrificing nation. One of the most graphic and gripping viral images was that of 53-year-old Costa Rican immigrant, Carlos Arredondo. Not a stranger himself to horror and grief, he had come to mark the day specially by handing out flags in memory of his sons––the one who died in 2004 in the Iraqi war, and the other out of suicide because of grief and depression for his death––and the rest patriots who died for duty, honor and country.
And although he was standing in the bleachers by the finish line, as soon as he heard the explosion and saw the carnage he vaulted a barricade and raced straight into the acrid smoke and mayhem without a second thought over his own safety to help a victim reeling from the loss of his two legs. Then the second bomb went off 100 yards away, but Arredondo kept his focus on him, asking his name and offering his own. He told the Press Herald, “I kept talking to him.
I kept saying, stay with me, stay with me.” But Arredondo had not been an outlier, had not acted alone. One man from Duxbury, Massachusetts, was reported throwing himself atop his kids when the bombs detonated, and a stranger threw himself on top of the dad to give them more protection!
Now comes the anticlimax and the nadir of the narrative: Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. June 3, 2012. That was the site and date of the second-deadliest aviation accident on Nigerian soil, beside the Kano air disaster. Something that was supposed to elicit grief, sympathy, heroism, and even self-sacrifice among compatriots evoked instead greed and plunder.
The first object of plunder according to the account of eye witnesses was the carcasses of the cow the plane hit as it made a frantic and wobbly landing. Many of them were reportedly saying, “Plane crash! Plane crash, there must be dollars there!”
Then they made a rush to the site like scavengers over fallen carcasses, only that the carcasses this time were not human flesh but valuables––wallets, laptops, bags, cellphones, suitcase, anything that smelled money, anything but fellow countrymen.
Mr. Akin Aina, secretary of the Community Development Area, said he called 767, which was Lagos State emergency number, but the number was unavailable. Poor fellows! Plundered by compatriots, failed by emergency responders, they died completely, all 160 of them.
Is a country decent and sane that does this? Why are so many Nigerians hungry for dollars, and everything material at the staggering expense of things that propelled nation and civilization forward––patriotism, heroism, excellence, creativity, truth, justice, compassion, sacrifice, respect, imagination, hard work, innovation, and nationalism. How many billions does a governor or a president, or a member of national or state assembly need before he/she considers duty to fatherland?
Nigeria is upside down and we are worst of it. We suffer from a shortened radius of trust and identification; from the inability to set our sight beyond the narrow confine of ourselves, family or ethnic group. We seem to live by the ethos of ‘amoral familism’ so well described by the great political scientist, Edward Banfield as the pursuit of material, short run advantage, and the assumption that everyone else is doing the same.
Now everybody wants amnesty, not necessarily for sustainable peace, and certainly not for truth because these are values that do not emerge out of bribery projected as amnesty. The militants have had it, and many of them are now billionaires. And why should they eat alone? There is now even a call for amnesty for MASSOB, the next could be from the West.
But one suspects that Boko Haram may not accept it, because being a motley of forces and demands and channeled by a belief in a cause that trumps life and death, it has a point to make to its audience howbeit devastating and destructive to the country.
What we need in this country are men and women who can rise up to the call of history, who can see life as a profound and passionate thing, leaders who are ideologically driven, and governors who can realize that what gets you into the archive of history is not how much billions you have stashed in Swiss bank accounts, but how many paved roads you have constructed, hospitals you have built, and institutions of education you have reconstructed to become once more truly learning and research centers that can attract the best and brightest minds in the world.
Just one governor can tip that balance by redefining the values and the meaning of power, and shunning its banality.
Without such a leader or a coalition of citizens hungry for truth and justice, hungry for greatness and heroism, Nigeria is probably going nowhere. South Africa had it in Nelson Mandela, Botswana had it under Seretse Khama, Japan had in the Meiji Restoration, Taiwan had it under the Chiangs, China had in Deng Xiaoping, Great Britain had in the Glorious Revolution, so did France in the French Revolution, and now the Arab countries in the Arab Spring.
Finally, culture and cultural decay or collapse does operate or function in a vacuum. Values disintegrate in a society because of how the polity is managed and how power is transferred or manipulated. Certainly things cannot bode well for a nation whose state institutions have long been criminalized.
Rev. Fr. Paul Irikefe is a catholic priest from the diocese of Warri.