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The Road to Nigeristan, by Hassan Gimba

In Part 3 of the film ‘Rambo’, there was a scene where the character Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone who became an instant megastar after he debuted in the film ‘Rocky’, discussed with his Afghan guide. He was supposed to infiltrate a Russian military camp in Afghanistan to rescue some detainees. Each on horseback, Rambo and his supposed Afghan helper, played by Sasson Gabai, an Israeli born in Baghdad, had a brief chat that encapsulates the Afghan spirit.

Mousa Ghani, the stage name for Gabai, in faltering English told Rambo: “This is Afghanistan; Alexander the Great tried to conquer this country, then Genghis Khan, then the British, now Russia, but Afghan people fight hard; they never be defeated. Ancient enemy make prayer about these people, you wish to hear?” And Rambo, laconically answered “Uhm”. Ghani continued, “Very good, it says: ‘May God deliver us from the venom of the cobra, teeth of the tiger and vengeance of the Afghans’… understand what this means?” And Rambo answered back: “That you guys don’t take any s**t.”

Russia, or rather the behemoth Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), had a taste of the resilience and doggedness of the Afghans. The USSR, before being broken into its current 15–nation independent states, invaded Afghanistan on 24 December 1979 but left on 15 February 1989. In those nine years, one month, three weeks and one day of fighting with the Mujahideen (read Taliban), christened the Soviet-Afghan war, between 6.5 and 11.5 percent of the Afghan population, or between 562,000 and 2,000,000, perished. However, by the time the Soviets sounded the Nunc dimittis, the Afghans had bled them irreparably and, with the benefit of hindsight, that war sounded the death knell for the world superpower.

There is this folklore about the founder of the Afghan nation and a deer that showcases the valour and loyalty of the people. A wounded deer, according to the myth, fled from its hunters, human or wildlife predators, and then came and stood or hid behind this Afghan sitting around the many caves dotting the landscape. The Afghan stood and fought off the deer’s traducers rather than allowing it to be taken. He believed the animal had come to him for refuge and his courage and sense of responsibility made him stake his life for it.

Being an era of the Cold War, it was a proxy war in which America, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom backed the Mujahideen against the USSR. All the countries, including Russia, have a sort of disdainful respect for the Afghans. They may look and behave like people out of the Stone Age, but one thing you cannot deny them is their prowess and doggedness, resilience and stamina to fight forever. America, in its haughtiness, looked down on them and now they have run away, their tails between their legs. They have realised the hard way, just as the Soviets found out 30 years ago, that the Afghanis take no s**t.

Beyond the fleeing of the Americans, some believe that it was a deliberate act. Seeing that in their first coming, the Talibans, a puritanical Sunni Sufi sect, were harsh on almost every Muslim with a different view; they thought they will be an antidote to the “Iranian problem”. And why they “flee” leaving behind all their war arsenals now in the hands of the Talibans.

By the way, the Talibans were allies of the US in the war against the USSR in the 80s. They were trained, equipped and funded by America to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan as a proxy. The dispute between them arose because of Osama Bin Laden. The US demanded the Talibans to hand him over to them on the allegation of being the mastermind of the 11/09 attack. But the Talibans, the bloodline of the Afghan who refused to give up on the deer seeking his protection, refused to cooperate. America attacked them and, to save Kabul from destruction, they gave up power and melted into the mountains and valleys and caves of Afghanistan from where they haunted their former ally.

But if that is what the Americans thought-that the Talibans will fight Iran for them-then they may have the shock of their lives. Even the adherents of the Sunni Wahhabi, the root of all the Islamic terrorist organisations in the world, are getting weary of fighting other Muslims with different worldviews. Muslims all over the world are now of the view that they should unite for a peaceful world and the benefit of humankind.

Is there any lesson for us in Nigeria to glean from the happenings in Afghanistan? Yes, a lot for sure. We have said it frequently here that for us to develop, we have no option than to remain as one. I have said it and I am repeating it now: The best time for each of us to go his way was in 1966. By now, perhaps, we would all have been independent nationalities, each with its peculiar problems and prospects. But now, it is too late. None of the six geopolitical zones can survive outside Nigeria. Boko Haram, bandits, insurgents, militants, etc, would overwhelm us all. Even the Igbo nation cannot stand on its own if left to form Biafra. We are not doing anyone but ourselves any favour by sticking together.

Referring to the Capitol Hill riot by pro-Trump white supremacists, Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times of China in a tweet mocked that “Chinese netizens joked that the power transition in Afghanistan is even smoother than the presidential transition in the US.” If we turn our back on the only country we have, the takeover of the fragmented parts will not be as smooth as the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Even though the Boko Haram insurgency appears to be getting to an end, the truth is if turmoil overtakes Nigeria, the chances that the insurgents will roll out their “caliphate” and become the lords of the north-east are high. After all, the soldiers fighting them will now all be disorganised, and lose the will to fight, not knowing for which country to fight for.

The north-west and north-central probably may go to the bandits and herdsmen who could easily be tempted to join hands with Boko Haram–if they are not under their control already. Already, the bandits are dictating events and even government policies, and have forced some states to close schools.

The southeast may witness fights between groups clamouring for dominance. The group with the most arms and daredevil members may triumph after protracted warfare. People like Ekweremadu hobnobbing with secessionists know deep down that in Biafra, they cannot dream to be what they are in Nigeria. The discerning from the southeast also knows that the upheavals to be witnessed in their zone with Nigeria’s dissolution are better imagined than witnessed.

The number one lesson to learn from the Afghanistan issue is that no foreign power can sustain a government that cannot identify with the people. All causes of discontent and grievances must be revisited and solved by the governments.

The world surely took the Taliban for granted the first time, but perhaps this second time around. Three weeks ago people thought, how can a force of barely 75,000 defeat an American-trained, well-equipped army numbering 300,000? However, it is not the number of military personnel or their weapons that make them triumphant; it is the will, the morale to fight. We should never take agitations for granted.

For a long time in Nigeria we have let culprits off the hook, if arrested at all, or given a slap on the wrist. I recall a case of one Nigerian reverend, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, called Reverend King, who was sentenced to death in 2007 by the Supreme Court for murder after a protracted court case. He is still kicking and having a hold over his congregation. His members, who call him “Daddy and God”, celebrated this man recently with 17 full-page colour adverts in Thisday newspaper.

How will the family of Ann Uzoh, his church member, that he doused with petrol and set on fire, feel? Has Nigeria served them justice? How will the people of General Alkali, killed and cannibalised in Dura-Du, Jos, feel with his killers roaming about free? When will there be justice for Bola Ige with his slayers still as free as the harmattan breeze? Very many cases of injustice abound in the country. Some are small, some are big; some against the individual and some against the state. They have all been untreated and cumulatively, they are not allowing us as a nation to sleep.

We must resolve today not to let any injustice or infringement of any law, small or big, go unpunished. Justice must be done and seen to be done. What is the justification for not prosecuting so-called, surrendered Boko Haram members coming out without their weapons, who knowingly took up arms against the state, slaughtered fellow humans and destroyed, to the point of extinction, their communities? How can tomorrow’s criminal-minded be deterred if today’s criminals are not punished?

What will an IDP whose child has not been educated by the government say when the same government freely educates the child of the man who burnt down the school his child was attending? How would I feel when the government has not compensated me for my house burnt by Boko Haram in Potiskum, but they are building houses for the men who burnt mine?

What will the people of those slaughtered by Boko Haram think when the slaughterer of their son, father, brother or husband is forgiven to roam about town as a free man? How will the soldiers and widows of soldiers whose colleagues and husbands were killed feel when the killers are given amnesty?

By the way, who is the forgiver of such heinous crimes against humanity? God? The Constitution? The people affected? We should not sow seeds that will germinate future Frankenstein monsters.

For us as a people, Afghanistan is a pointer that it will be wise for all parties to sheathe their swords and extend the hand of concord, friendship, and understanding to one another. We cannot afford to allow Boko Haram, bandits, secessionists, militants, ethnic supremacists and rabble-rousers to run roughshod over us and our territories.

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