Featured Notes Wole Olaoye

Save Us, O Dear Neighbour!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Image Credits: REUTERS.

Wole Olaoye. wole.olaoye@gmail.com

Once upon a time, there was a rich duke named Magnificus whose estate was the envy of all his neighbours. It was said by all and sundry that God was partial in bestowing so much blessing on one man. Added to his richness was the man’s comeliness. “God must have made him on a Monday, the first day after resting”, they said. All kinds of blessings for which families have been praying from the beginning of Time were gifted to just one man. Not a few people wondered if the word, ‘favouritism’, was invented because of him.

If you thought Magnificus had, had his kernels cracked by benevolent gods, you would be further amazed when you saw his children. The fruits of his loins were gifted, self assured— like the mountain goat — they dominated their environment wherever they went. Even in foreign lands, his children were at the top of their game. Their names became a byword for beatitude, as if the Abrahamic promise — “I shall make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven, and I shall give them all these countries, and all nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants” — was made to Magnificus’ family.

One great thing about Magnificus was that he cared about his neighbours. So, he spared no effort in settling their petty and not-so-petty quarrels. Out of his abundance, he wiped away their economic tears without expecting to be paid back. His generosity was so much that he extended the definition of neighbour to those thousands of miles away. In one faraway land where white people were being bestial to blacks, he weighed in on the side of the oppressed, insisting that, as a neighbour, he could not look the other way when man was inhuman to fellow man.

“On what authority are you doing all these neighbourly deeds?” He was once asked.

“I stand on the authority of the holy books”, he replied. “Don’t you remember what Jesus Christ said?” He asked in return.

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“Tell us, tell us”, they demanded.

He quoted Genesis 26:4 — “All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself.”

“Aha! That’s it eh?”, they nodded in excitement.

“Yes,” he said. You’ll get a similar answer about neighbours if you bother to check the Quran.

“Really/“

“Yes. Let me share with you the perspective of Syed Abul Ala Maudud, in Islamic way of life: ‘All neighbours are deserving of fellow-feelings, affection, courtesy and fair treatment. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said that a person who enjoys a full meal while his neighbour is starving really has no faith in Islam.’”

Magnificus had no apologies for stretching his arms to embrace everyone. He felt that his many blessings were meaningless unless he blessed others in return.

But strange are the ways of Fate. Where a dozen humans are gathered, one Judas lurks in plain sight. So it was with Magnificus and his brood. Some of his children, intoxicated by foreign philosophies began nursing dreams of new empires peopled by the zombified and governed by holy vampires. And blood flowed as throats were slit in an unprecedented orgy of savagery in the service of the god of their imagination.

Magnificus was aghast. The God of the Bible and the Quran said He was love. Where did these strange ideas of a god who needed to drink human blood come from? From where did these ideas that separated man from man and poisoned the waters of brotherhood originate?

He wished that all the blessings Providence had bestowed on him be taken away, if only to return his family to the days of innocence before some of his children sniffed the narcotic of extremism.

“Call a family meeting and let’s all chastise these errant children”, relatives and friends of the family counselled.

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“This is a nuclear family matter”, he declared. “There’s no point bringing in the extended family. I have issued orders and all the errant children will soon stop being a pestilence to us and our neighbours.”

The more he made those self-assured statements, the more his children made life miserable for family, friends, neighbours and, indeed, anyone they could dominate.

Eventually, they set their father’s house on fire. The Dukedom of Magnificus, which had been a byword for beatitude, the land on account of which others were to be blessed, the estate in which all the goodies of the Unmade Maker were concentrated… was a-fire!

Friends and family rushed in with water to quench the fire. But it continued to rage. This wasn’t the type of inferno extinguishable with water. This looked like oily smoke. The more water you poured, the more energy the fire acquired. Was there a demon in the flames? Magnificus wondered.

“Not quite”, his neighbours replied. “We have just the right kind of gas to snuff out the fire and the arsonists all at once.”

“What about my children?” Magnificus asked.

“Everyone involved in setting the house on fire will be wiped out.”

“No! Let the fire rage. Perhaps my children will retrace their steps before it is too late”.

“It is already getting too late, Sir. If you could help others in their time of need, why are you rejecting your neighbours’ help now that this raging fire is overwhelming you?”

“I don’t need help!”

“But you do! What has come over you?”

And so, continues the story, the fire rages on while the argument blazes on…

There is so much similarity between Magnificus and the giant of Africa, Nigeria, located at 9°4’55.2” N/8°40’31” E.

For more than 10 years, we have been playing Ludo with Boko Haram while our collective home is a-fire. When you insist that there can’t be any kind of compromise with evil, some will tell you that Boko haram members are their children and that the terrorists will soon regain their senses. Meanwhile, the house is burning, people are dying, survivors are reduced to sub-human existence in IDP camps.

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The military is overwhelmed. It is clear that there are fifth columnists. It is an unequal war. Boko Haram obeys no laws while our soldiers have to follow specified rules of engagement.

It’s not all bad news, though. Worse situations have been brought under control elsewhere. If only we had sought the help of our neighbours as canvassed by this writer and others in the past.

Only last December, I wrote:

“Enough is not just enough; it’s already too much! … The god of modern warfare is always on the side of the bigger gun — which is why, lately, Nigerians have been calling on the Buhari government to bring in mercenaries to finish the job… Nigerians believe that we have reached the bare-knuckle junction.

“If we can import petrol from Niger, second-hand automobiles and spare parts from Belgium and used clothes from Europe, there is no shame in employing mercenaries to wipe out Boko Haram in six months; unless there is something the government knows that it is not telling us.”

President Buhari has requested the US to relocate its AFRICOM military base from Stuttgart to Africa. Perhaps we should go further and formally request help with the Boko Haram and banditry wars? There is no shame in seeking help when you need it. We, too, had rendered help to others (Burma, Liberia, Congo, Sierra-Leone etc) in the past. Now, we have a load we can’t carry alone.

Let all our good neighbours from far and near forgive our initial arrogance and stand up to be counted.

  • Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at wole.olaoye@gmail.com

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