The helicopter crash this past weekend that claimed the lives of Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State, the immediate national security adviser, retired Gen. Owoye Azazi and four others, was truly a tragedy. It was a tragedy, not only for the obvious reasons that people have died or that it was further confirmation that the Nigerian aviation industry has totally collapsed and does not meet even the most basic standards. What added more to the tragedy were some of the reactions and responses expressed by Nigerians. Although the reactions from the social networks, commentators and several public voices in and out of Nigeria were mixed with many lamenting the unfortunate deaths, one couldn’t help but mention the inappropriate celebrations which were predominantly based along ethnic, religious, political and ‘a general disdain towards anything and anyone who is part of government’ lines.
Now, I dislike the ethnic and religious politics that many of our present office holders play, the misuse of positions by our politicians when they pull stunts such as using Military Helicopters to shuttle themselves for private purposes, the sycophancy of flood-condolences of anyone or anything associated with government, the corruption, the stealing, the misrule, the selfishness of leaders just as much as the next person. However, reveling in the fact that a person has died, even if one did consider them an enemy, seems not only vile and disturbing but also duplicitous and distinctly in-humane. No matter what the situation, no matter whom the person, the death of another human being should inspire contemplation and reflection, not celebration and sneer.
This incident is not the first to expose such a disgraceful display of sadism. When the late President Yar’adua died, some Nigerians rejoiced at his passing for ethnic, religious and political reasons. Even recently, when the Taraba State Governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, escaped death after a plane he was flying crashed in Yola, and when the mother of the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was kidnapped, people used the opportunity to taunt their distress and celebrate their suffering.
In truth, the celebrations undoubtedly confirm the negative prejudices about us and the subtle reality about what we have become as a people. It perpetuates the stereotype of Nigerians as unfeeling, wicked, cruel and inconsiderate. Celebrating the death of a person because they were a part of government or revelling in the fact that someone associated with government has been kidnapped does absolutely nothing to progress us as a people.
I understand the intense suffering, emotion and anxiety that go into being a Nigerian within the backdrop of the crippling and frustrating atmosphere that we exist in, but nonetheless, it seems wildly inappropriate to celebrate a person’s sorrow, agony and especially death. Yes our leaders have shortcomings and have cheated and are continuing to cheat us beyond belief, but celebrating the death or misery of anyone purely because they were or are part of government or because they are of a different tribe or religion is just senseless, primitive and shallow-minded. As a Muslim, who is fully submitted to the teachings of the Quran, I know that it is forbidden in Islam to speak ill of the dead or offend the living relatives of the dead no matter how acrimonious the relationship was. And as a person who has fully read the Bible, a line from Proverbs 24:17 also comes to mind in this respect; “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Therefore none of us, Muslims or Christians, based on our religious doctrine have a carte blanche to celebrate the death of a fellow human being.
No matter how anyone feels about the men we lost last week, the fact of the matter is they are dead and their reckoning has started. They have passed on to a place where each and every one of us is destined to go someday. Instead of focusing on the shortcomings of those who have already passed to the extent where their deaths are being celebrated, our time may be best spent by removing our blinders and whole-heartedly looking inward, examining ourselves to see whether we represent what we want Nigeria to be. To see whether each of us is so different from those we abhor so much. It would go without saying that anyone who has the heart to celebrate the death of another has the incapacity to operate at the standard we are holding our leaders to and they may even have a higher likelihood of taking a life if given the opportunity. As they say, we each have a choice to be the change we want to see in the world. One must always keep these issues in mind that, behind every death, there are hordes of people; wives, children, friends and neighbours who are in pains at the loss of their loved ones. President Yar’Adua, Governor Yakowa, General Azazi and the many other government officials we have lost are no different.
Of course, lessons must be drawn from this helicopter crash and other tragedies and the behavior of our leaders which has reduced our society to such a low where we are so indifferent and stony to their personal plights must be addressed. But there is a time and a place for everything. Now is a time to allow the families of the men who were lost to mourn and for thr dead to be burried. It is a time for us to show our humanity as a people and not celebrate another’s death.
I send my best wishes and condolence to all the friends and families of those who passed. Their death, as the death of anyone, greatly saddened me. But more than anything, maybe because Kaduna is my home, I was incredibly moved by the death of the late Governor of Kaduna State, Ibrahim Patrick Yakowa. I never knew, saw or met Governor Yakowa but from all the personal and official accounts one has come to learn of him, as the first person from Southern Kaduna and first Christian to govern Kaduna State, he proved himself to be a detribalized, fair and humble person with a towering spirit. From most accounts that I have come across, he was a kind and gentle man, with a lively mind, who will be fondly remembered and greatly missed by the vast majority of the populace in Kaduna. He was known to be a person with a profound commitment to create a humane society and was fair in balancing the trials that continue to plague Kaduna. In such a state which is deeply challenged by sectarian and ethnic dichotomy and violence, his example of impartiality under adverse conditions must serve as a source of inspiration for other leaders and for young people. He will be warmly remembered for the grace and dignity with which he officiated at the helm of the state he governed. He leaves a powerful legacy of commitment to a humane society, and social action towards this end.
No matter our challenges or differences in this country, we must learn to believe in peace and human dignity again. We must stand as a collective to make those who endeavour to plant bombs in people’s sacred sanctuaries, those who kidnap, abduct and murder others for financial gains and those who dance the ‘Gangnam dance’ when someone dies a vanishing minority.
There is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr which effectively sums up the status quo: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
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