Does disturbing images of the alleged shooting of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate area of Lagos State on 20 October 2020 plus those of our stained national flag not suggest that we are living in rivers of blood? Well, rivers of blood is a metaphor for the general state of insecurity, impunity and bad governance in the country. In his article titled “Politics and ‘blood-letting’ industry” which featured in The Guardian on 24 June 2020, Matthew Agboma Ozah aptly described the situation in our country thus: “At the moment, Nigerians are wrenched apart by pockets of crisis across the nation and the Boko Haram insurgency is a lingering headache as its chaos grows on a daily basis. Armed men kill people at random and inflict horror on innocent civilians.”
Writing on “Bloodletting and pursuit of vanity in Nigeria” in This Day Business Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa (July 2, 2018) queried “Are we beyond shame in this country? When can a man resign from a job and declare that this is beyond him?” He surmised thus: “Very nauseating to live in this kind of country where human savagery has returned in full force and trust in government to protect lives has waned.” For instance, Nelson Mandela inherited a divided nation. The White Supremacists, though a minority, had institutionalized an apartheid regime which put the majority in a sorry state without access to quality means of livelihood and education. Fate had put it on Mandela, a victim of the apartheid regime for 27 years, to sign a different signature on a nation at cross-roads.
In 2000, when he appeared at the Oprah Winfrey interview referenced earlier, Mandela stood tall as an unrivalled democrat. Instead of sounding the drumbeats of war, a determined Mandela exchanged an erstwhile blood-littered canvas with an enduring portrait of white doves signifying protracted peace and prosperity for the nation. Rather than relying on emotions which only breed vendetta, he engaged various segments of the South African society in reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation. By so doing, he was able to dilute the poisonous waters of racial discrimination with the new waters of diplomacy and social integration.
Every nation which faces uncertainly, polarization of the citizenry based on politics, religion and ethnicity as well as fighting armed banditry, insurgency and civil unrests ought to reflect on Virgil’s prophecy in the epic poem Aeneid, 6, 86–87, of “wars, terrible wars and the Tiber foaming with much blood.” In that timely piece of poetry, he wrote: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’ That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the state itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come – Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.”
Inspired by these powerful lines, a British Member of Parliament, Enoch Powell delivered a timeless speech entitled “Rivers of Blood” on 20 April 1968 during a meeting of the Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, United Kingdom. In that speech, he criticised mass immigration to the UK and the proposed race relations bill. Although controversial, Powell’s view on immigration could have been a decisive factor in the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the 1970 general elections. Besides, he persistently opposed the ensuing Heath government. It is instructive to note that although the expression “rivers of blood” did not actually appear in the speech, it was an allusion to a line from Virgil’s Aeneid Poem “as I look ahead…I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’” earlier referred to.
From the UK to South Africa, the “Rivers of blood” message comes reverberating. When Nelson Mandela appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2000, without equivocation, the Pan Africanist stressed that: “Our emotions said the white minority is our enemy [and] we must never talk to them, but our brains said if you don’t talk to this man, your country will go up in the flames. And for many years to come, this country would be in rivers of blood. So we had to reconcile that conflict and our talking to the enemy was the result of the domination of the brain over emotions.” Perhaps inspired by these words on the marble plus the personal bond she developed with Mandela, Winfrey went ahead to found the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg in Mandela’s native country.
Like Mandela, President Muhammadu Buhari inherited a nation that was on the cake of a gun power. The prediction that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015 lends credence to this position. However, as someone who lost at the polls many times and eventually emerged the president under a party that was the product of a merger, has he succeeded in reconciling a divided nation? Does the President aspire to become a hero who would deny the matches to insurrectionists who are bent on setting the nation ablaze? How about the endless bloodletting in the land especially that of the unarmed young Lekki #EndSARS protesters? Will he be our Mandela that would save the most populous black nation on earth from imminent collapse? Well, time shall tell. May God grant eternal rest to the souls of the gallant youths who were killed in the protests, consolation to their families and healing for the injured. God bless our country in the way of peace, prosperity and progress!
Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.