A guide for the perplexed

THE outcomes of the February 26 election were shocking, to say the least.

I know a few people who were hospitalised due to shock. A senior member of the clergy called me up last night and was almost in tears. I had solemnly resolved that I will allow absolutely nothing to break my spirit.

During dawn of Tuesday, 27 February, I was soundly asleep in the Presidential Lodge of the beatific campus of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, where I was invited to deliver a lecture.

It had gone quite well. I had decided to retire early due to accumulated fatigue. At around 4.00 a.m., a childhood friend woke me up with a call. He screamed, “You’re an impossible man, you mean you are sleeping during such a night of all nights?” I normally sleep as soundly as a baby. Because I see no evil, hear no evil and tolerate no evil.

It was from my friend that I learned that President Muhammadu Buhari had “won” by a wide margin.

 My dear friend also congratulated me on coming in fourth place, which he deemed a remarkable performance. Incidentally, zero votes had been recorded for me in my own ancestral home turf of Southern Kaduna, where I am popular with the youth.

If those votes had not been stolen, my performance would have been even better than what was officially declared.

Much later in the day, as I was returning to Abuja, the normally volatile Jos Plateau had an eerie silence about it.

The night before, there was a rainstorm, which was quite unusual for February. From Nasarawa towards Keffi and Abuja, youths were carrying daggers, swords and other weapons, blocking traffic in the name of celebration.

 Knowing a thing or two about the psychology of mobs, there is no doubting that if they had perceived anything that remotely smelt of opposition, things would have quickly turned ugly.

For my part, I have congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari, with the caveat that there were “egregious anomalies” in the recently concluded election. Britain and the United States have also sent congratulatory messages as did the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

This is the worst election in our history, with tales of mindless rigging, vote buying, voter disenfranchisement, ballot-box snatching, violence and intimidation. Several people were killed. It was a shameful spectacle to behold, as APC thugs in Lagos rounded up Ndigbo and gave them the beating of their lives for voting the PDP rather than the APC.

Others may also have cheated, but there is no doubting that the APC were the most brazen in breach.

There is tension in the air. Like a dark phantom that refuses to go away.

The National Peace Committee headed by Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah have been commuting between the Villa and Atiku headquarters in a desperate effort to make  some peace.

The PDP has vowed to go to court.

They would be wise to cut their losses and rather re-focus their energy, time and resources on the upcoming governorship and state assembly elections.

In his victory speech, President Buhari promised to form an “inclusive government”, an idea that has never existed in his political dictionary. It has not done much to assuage the bitterness and frayed nerves.

My message: Let’s give peace a chance. Nigeria is bigger than our puny ambitions.

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will go down in history as an illustrious statesman simply for saying that his ambitions were not worth the blood of any Nigerian.

The demons of war are hankering to fill up their blood banks. The vultures of history hover above the darkening gloom. Let those who love our country stand up and be counted.

A lot of people have resorted to prayer and fasting. I happen to be one of them. I have also found myself going back to the works of one of my favourite spiritual teachers, the late Venerable Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994); widely regarded as the last of the Hasidic Luvabitcher dynasty and revered as one of the greatest Jewish spiritual leaders of all time.

I was born into the evangelical faith. But I am a believer in the dialogue of world religions, especially between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The Rebbe was an ardent believer in reaching out to people of other faiths; preaching tolerance and mutual respect. Despite the rising wave of anti-Semitism and despite the bitter memories of the Shoah, the Rebbe preached joy as a personal philosophy. He enjoined his followers to rejoice even in suffering; patient in tribulation. In his words, “If there is life, it can never get you down.”

The Jews have this practical philosophy that they term Tikkun Olam (to repair this world). Under this teaching, humanity is a co-creator with the Almighty. The purpose of existence is not only spiritual realisation; it is a call to perfect this world: “If you see what needs to be repaired and you repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”

The Rebbe also taught that we are called to be the light in our dark, confused and illiberal age: “Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, if you light one candle, its light will be seen from afar; its precious light will be seen by everyone.”

We face, as it were, a war of all against all. The civic spaces are being deserted, as people find refuge in primordial cocoons of tribe and religion.

There is fear that the project of ranching will be used as a subterfuge to create emirates throughout the country. Resistance will be crushed through the overwhelming force of the military.

The Rebbe passionately taught that intolerance is the root of all evils while tolerance, love and mutual respect are the foundation of peace and harmony: “Intolerance lies at the core of evil. Not the intolerance that results from any threat or danger.

“But intolerance of another being who dares to exist. Intolerance without cause. It is so deep within us, because every human being secretly desires the entire universe to himself. Our only way out is to learn compassion without cause. To care for each other simply because the ‘other’ exists.”

Contrary to the prevailing atmosphere of despondency, I feel an inexplicable joy and hope. Ours is a future of hope and glory. Nigeria will not only survive; we shall flourish as a free, prosperous democracy. But it will not happen until all of us do our part as citizens and patriots.

In the words of the Rebbe: “One who loves must learn to fear. One who fears must learn to love. The thinker must do.

The doer must think. The pacifist must fight, the fighter must find peace. If you flow as a river, burn as a fire. If you burn as a furnace, flow as a river. If you fly as a bird, sit as a firm rock. If you sit firmly, then fly as a bird. Be a fire that flows.

“A rock that flies. Love with fear and fear with love. For we are not fire, not water, not air, not rocks,  not thoughts, not deeds, not fear, not love. We are G-dly beings.”

Our country stands at the crossroads. One path leads towards oblivion, the other towards renewal and hope.

We face what amounts to a peace of the graveyard. I have seen fear and alarm in the eyes of certified patriots. Only Almajirai in tattered rags from the president’s home region are celebrating.

With daggers and bayonets. Spoiling for a fight that nobody is really interested in. We need genuine statesmen to salvage our democracy from the jaws of catastrophe.

In the words of the poet Christopher Okigbo, “And the secret thing in its heaving/ Threatens with iron mask/The last lighted torch of the century.”