(Obinna Ukogu)– It is no secret that nowadays the voice of the die-hard pacifist is lost in the broad context of conflict. I reserve my personal view, but I believe that the solution to the problems that face our world now are to be found in some middle ground. And in my attempt to come to terms with this constant jockeying between war and peace, I decided to write a story that would broadly address these issues. My story takes place in a village somewhere in my home country, Nigeria. The characters in the story belong to the Hausa tribe, but freely mix their English with a few words of Igbo. Their discussion brings up some very tough but very important questions.
Awoof = bribes
Oyinbo = Igbo for “foreign.”
Chai = General way of expressing grief or surprise.
Ko = Hausa for “okay.”
Komfuta = Hausa for “Computer.” In this context it means internet.
Allah ya yi jinkai = Hausa for “God have mercy.”
Shegeh = Broad invective.
Cikena = Hausa way of saying, “I have said my piece” or “I am done.”
Na gode Allah = Hausa for, literally, “I thank God,” but used as a pleasantry.
On a hot December’s day, Baba and Yusuf are seated on tree stumps in the backyard of Baba’s red-brick home. They are engaged in a heated discussion.
Yusuf: You mean you haven’t heard the news Baba? But it’s all over the place. All the townsfolk are talking about it.
Baba: You have come again with your market-women’s gossip to disturb my peace, eh! What is this news that is getting you so excited?
Yusuf: Me, gossip? It’s not like that Baba. I just think that a man of your standing in this community ought to be in the know. It is no secret that you are the most preeminent scholar in our town. I only have your best intr…
Baba: Just get on with it already!
Yusuf: Alright. Okay, well here it is. The other day I heard something from that PHCN official. You know that one that is always asking for awoof before he can do anything for you. Well, he told me that just the other day his boss walked into the office in a rage. His boss was apparently reacting to the news that some militant group in some oyinbo country burnt a man alive and made the video of his death available for the whole world to watch.
Baba takes a puff of his pipe and scratches his head
Baba: Militant group? Burnt? Oh! That rings a bell. You mean the incident with the Jordanian pilot?
Yusuf: Yes. Oh yes! That’s exactly what I am talking about. You mean you already know about that.
Baba: Well of course! That’s old news.
Yusuf jumps of his seat getting ready to pick a quarrel with Baba.
Yusuf: What do you mean by that Baba! Why are you being so dismissive about such a serious issue?
Baba: Calm down my friend and sit down. I only meant that the story has developed further than that. Apparently, the Jordanian King, being kingly and such, refused to let the matter go. Quite unlike the Japanese Prime minister’s well-reasoned reaction to the same situation.
Yusuf: Really? Did he send an angry letter to the terrorist group?
Baba: You are crazy my friend. No, nothing like that. What he did was actually quite bold. He basically declared war on ISIS — the terrorists are called ISIS — and then sent his soldiers to go and blow them up.
Yusuf: So he killed all of them? Chai ooh! That’s a very powerful man.
Baba: No. He just destroyed some of their buildings. They say about ten of the ISIS people were killed in the process.
Yusuf:That’s a let down. So what do you think of the whole thing?
Baba: Well my opinion doesn’t really matter much. I am thousands of Kilometers away from the Middle-East.
Yusuf: Oh. In that case, I guess I’ll be on my way then. It was nice talking to you, as always.
Yusuf gets up, but Baba motions to him to sit down.
Baba: Hold on, I am not finished. In my opinion, I think the whole thing is very messy ko. Brother killing brother. No good can come of it. None, I tell you.
Yusuf: But what about justice? Retribution?
Baba: Nonsense. The Qur’an clearly states that muslim shalt not kill muslim. It is there, plain for everyone to read.
Yusuf: Baba, the man was burnt alive for no good reason. His death was broadcast on television and there are videos of his death on the komfuta. Should a man not at least die with dignity?
Baba: Be that as it may. It is unnatural for a muslim to harm another muslim. Just look at all the bloodshed and sorrow the Shia-Sunni conflict caused in Iraq!
Yusuf: Relax Baba. No need to get your blood boiling. I just think something had to be done. Personally I am in full support of Jordan on this issue. I stand in solidarity with them. Boko Haram has been ravaging our country for way too long. I think it’s time we learnt something from Jordan.
Baba insults Yusuf and points his palm at Yusuf’s face, performing the gesture that goes with the insult.
Baba: Shegeh there! What does a common thing like you know about warfare. Do you know the cost of such a dangerous campaign? Just think of all the property that will be destroyed. Think of all the people that will be displaced. It is more than this country can stoma…
Yusuf: My friend you are wrong.
Baba: Don’t you dare interrupt me again! Wrong? Look at Iraq! Look at Syria! Do you want this country to end up like them!
Yusuf: Baba, you are not getting my point ko. Criminals must be brought to justice. What is property without life? People need their freedom, not material things. Any good muslim knows that.
Baba: Freedom? What is freedom? Freedom to live a life that is a living hell? What is freedom without stability? I’ll tell you what that Jordanian king has accomplished. He has made his country a target. He has put them on the terrorists’ radar. Do you really think ISIS will let his actions go unpunished? Is he the wisest of all the leaders in the Middle-east? Why haven’t Iran or Oman done anything? Do you think they are incapable?
Yusuf: Baba. Baba, please hear me out. I am merely saying that we cannot remain tacit forever while terrorists ravage out lands. We cannot give them the impression that they can do what they like. We must take to arms and destroy terrorist threats. For too long has the world watched in silence. Too many prisoners have lost their lives to ISIS. How many gruesome murders must we tolerate? For God’s sake, the man was a pilot who crash landed. He was an Arab just like the men of ISIS. He was a muslim brother. To treat him worse than any animal. No, it is too much. Allah ya yi jinkai!
Baba: Oh now I see. It is sentiment that has gotten the best of you. I pity you and those like you because you will be led astray!
Yusuf: Baba. I don’t like the way you are talking to me. Is it because I came to your house that you think you can insult me?
Baba remains silent.
Yusuf: My point is that we cannot acquiesce to terrorism. Especially when it is by a group that masquerades itself as the fulfillment of our religion. They are tarnishing the image of muslims everywhere. For too long have they gone unchecked. They have shed too much innocent blood without distinguishing between muslim and non-muslim. These men aren’t muslims. They aren’t even men. They are murderers and monsters and they deserve to be treated as such! I have said my piece Baba. Cikena!
Baba: My friend you have spoken well, but what is to be gained from more bloodshed on our part? Can any good come from it? I admit that it is a sticky situation, but what can we do?
Both satisfied that they have arrived at a consensus the two men get up, shake hands and say their farewells.
Baba and Yusuf: Na gode Allah.