I have learnt something in life about public commentary. What you say is not judged in isolation. Who you are gets into the mix. Who you are can make a difference between your being nailed to the cross and your getting a pat on the back. The background of the person judging you is also critical.
This same issue happens to me and other writers. I have seen that when I praise the Yoruba, Hausa or Efik, or say anything in their defence, I am called a detribalised Nigerian, an exemplary Nigerian, an honest Nigerian. But when I praise the Igbo or come in their defence on any issue, or speak against any issue involving the Yoruba, Hausa or Urhobo, I become a tribalist, a local champion, a disappointment. Why? Because I am Igbo. I must keep quiet when something bad happens to the Igbo. I must also keep quiet when something negative is coming from non-Igbo.
That is not the end of the story. As an Igbo, if I say something positive about any other ethnic group, then to some Igbo, I am not a full-blooded Igbo, who is proud of his Igboness. Maybe, my mother is from Yoruba or Tiv, or my wife is Hausa or Ijaw. Or, I am trying to ingratiate myself to other non-Igbo to be accepted. And if I point out anything negative about the Igbo or show that any ethnic group is better than the Igbo in any aspect of life, then, I am a total sell-out, a traitor, a shame to the Igbo nation. For me to be a good Igbo, I have to continually show others that the Igbo are better in all ramifications and that other ethnic groups are filled with flaws and injustices to the Igbo.
What a life!
As an Igbo too, I must be a Peoples Democratic Party member or a PDP sympathiser. So, if I praise anything concerning the PDP or the President-no matter how noteworthy or factual – I must have been paid by the PDP, or I am looking for a political appointment; I am therefore a disappointment to the nation, a dishonest commentator. In the same token, I must never criticise anything concerning the All Progressives Congress. But if I bash the PDP or the government, or praise the APC, then I am the man, the commentator that says it the way it is without caring whose ox is gored, the man that cannot be bought, the type of people the nation needs!
And what if as a man I point out anything to women that does not praise them? Then I am a male chauvinist, a sexist, a typical African man that loves to subjugate women. But if I praise the women, then I am a modern man, a crusader for women, the type of man every woman should dream to have.
So, for a writer on contemporary issues, it is a delicate terrain to navigate. On both sides are people waiting with clubs and cudgels to beat you to a pulp, whichever way you turn to. Even if you decide to remain in the middle, you are not safe.
For this reason, I am making plans to change my sex either to hermaphrodite or genderless, so that no arrows will land on me on sex-related issues. Also, to avoid being crucified on issues that are ethnic-based, I am considering going back to God to beg Him to make me raceless and stateless, “tribeless” and townless. Being “tribeless” would also take care of the problem of political profiling.
The only area I have a problem with is on religion. I can’t ask God to make me an atheist or godless, because He is involved. But even if I became an atheist, I would receive more bashing. But being godless is repugnant. So maybe I should just ask God to make my religion undecipherable to the public. But that is also a tall order, because being Igbo makes me a Christian in the eyes of all, whether it is so or not, just like every American or Briton is presumed a Christian by many, even if the guy has never entered a church in his life.
It is indeed a tight rope for the writer. What is the difference between the Boko Haram and a person who verbally assaults and terrorises a writer with a contrary view? Virtually nothing. The only difference is that Boko Haram uses physical force, while such people use verbal force. Boko Haram does not brook any divergent opinion. The sect seeks to kill, maim or convert anyone that does not share the same view. The “intellectual terrorist” does not brook any divergent opinion too. He seeks to destroy, malign and intimidate anybody with an opposing view. If the intellectual terrorist has access to guns and bombs, who knows what he can do to those that profess opposing views? So, they are not less dangerous than the physical terrorists.
The good thing is that not all commentators behave like that. But the problem is that they are usually in the minority. These are those who may firmly disagree with the writer, but they refuse to judge a write-up purely on the writer’s race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or sex. They judge a write-up based on its merit rather than manufacture covert and overt reasons for the writer’s view. They add different perspectives to a discussion and make both the writer and other readers learn something new or see other unexplored angles to a story.
Those who understand this are careful how they react to the views of others. They respect the views of others. They can disagree with a view but they don’t make themselves disagreeable, neither do they attack the writer or owner of the opinion.
The fewer intellectual terrorists we have in society, the safer our society. While we pray against terrorists like Boko Haram and others, may we also pray that God should deliver us from intellectual terrorists.