By Omotoye Olorode, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Abuja
One of the fundamental characteristics of our world today, at local, national and international levels, is the pervasive breakouts of violence – arising especially from confessional and ethno-nationalist conflicts. These generally visible and publicised categories of violence, also termed subjective violence, quite often cover up or make invisible other categories of violence (objective violence) which directly underlie the more visible categories of violence.
At the international level, modern empires (especially European and American), through colonialism, neo-colonialism and what they now call globalisation, have been erected on violence against the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The responses of the colonised and exploited peoples were admitted, correctly, as liberation struggles. They are now called terrorism and are visited with frame-ups, globalised propaganda and use of force, torture and lies with impunity. Both at national and international levels, the use of violence by the dominant nation-states is accompanied by entrenchment of multiple ethical and moral standards in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia. At national levels in Kenya, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, the characteristics of violence at global level are reproduced in various intensities and varieties.
The Boko Haram uprising in parts of Nigeria’s North-East in July-August 2009 typifies visible violence and shows how, in dealing with that category, state actors and the dominant media ignore critical elements of invisible violence (objective violence) which underpin such visible violence. This is also the pattern of dominant responses to violence at international levels.
We make bold to assert that visible violence in countries like Nigeria has developed simultaneously with the crisis of survival among the large majority of the people. Religious fundamentalism has grown massively with escalating deprivation among Nigerians just as ethnic fundamentalism has grown. Although the large majority of the activists in these religious and ethnic fundamentalism are the poor and the deprived (and especially the youths, women and children), the arrow heads of the movements are usually members of the Nigerian elite.
There are various elements of what we call hidden, covered-up, invisible, or objective violence in Nigeria. Perhaps, the most important of these elements are the processes of seeking, and the modes of exercising political power, the goals of which are largely private accumulation of wealth. Whether the said processes of seeking, or the modes of utilising, political power are through coup d’etats or electoral contests, violence is writ large and triumphant groups and individuals are the richest and the most powerful today at local, state and national levels. The violence that pertains to political power is reproduced and entrenched in the bureaucracies, the media, the religious organisations, universities, traditional rulerships, law enforcement agencies, among others. because all the actors are also preoccupied with private wealth accumulation. In these circumstances, the easiest means of mobilising support behind political actors is through appeals to religious (confessional) categories or ethno-nationalist categories. This strategy at once legitimises the crimes that pertain to private accumulation and also subverts solidarity among the oppressed segments of society who, collectively, are victims of the economic and related crimes of the ruling circles.
Manifestations of religious violence differ only in their degrees of “extremism”. First, Nigeria’s political leaders impose the violence of behaving as if only Islam and Christianity exist. But even in regard to Islam and Christianity, they behave publicly as if there is no basis for mutual empathy. Thus Presidents who are Christian behave as if they are president for only Christians and Vice-Presidents who are Muslims conduct public affairs as if they are representing Muslims and vice-versa. So they build chapels and mosques in Aso Villa! And I am certain all hell will be let loose if a Wole Soyinka or Wande Abimbola becomes president and builds Ogun Shrine in Aso Villa! Although they collaborate to auction Nigeria, retrench workers in what they call public-service reform etc., they have succeeded in corrupting public consciousness that Muslims cannot defend Christian interest and vice versa. Our so-called leaders even openly contest the secularity of the Nigerian state.
Arising from the foregoing corrupt and opportunistic modes of conducting public business, public consciousness endorses, or forces people to live with, other levels of religious and related violence. Excruciating levels of noise from churches and mosques simply make our urban centres such terrible places to live in. Loud speakers are mounted on roofs of worship places even when such places of worship are empty. Commuters are forced to listen to unsolicited evangelical messages through hours of journeys and patients in pain in hospital wards are held captive by evangelists. In our universities, the violence of posters on completely defaced walls has become a permanent feature. In some of our universities, lecturers and students have given up on the possibility of some quietude in the offices, auditoria and lecture rooms; they have been taken over by huge drums, trumpets and loudspeakers. University administrators are, of course, savouring the development because these engagements keep students away from the mischief of asking questions about their living and learning conditions. The National Universities Commission used to have only a mosque; there is now a church in a place where people work only on weekdays! Vice-Chancellors now build chapels and mosques in their official lodges!
The foregoing aspects of invisible or covered-up violence sometimes get escalated to subjective levels. A few years ago, a renowned political scientist, Mahmud Mamdani, was on a lecture tour of Nigeria. The lecture, perhaps the most balanced I have listened to on the conjuncture of religion, politics and international diplomacy, was titled, “Good Muslims, Bad Muslims”. Without any idea of what the lecturer was to say, both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists at the University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University, it was reported, prevented the lecture from taking place. It was the insistence of some of the lecturers and students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, with the support of the Vice-Chancellor, Roger Makanjuola, that gave us an opportunity to listen to Mamdani’s excellent lecture; the Christian and Muslim zealots at the OAU were going to violently abrogate our academic and religious freedom!