Come July 5, Nigerian writers and literary enthusiasts will flock to Kaduna state, the venue of KABAFEST, the inaugural edition of the Kaduna Books and Arts Festival to speak English and give glowing endorsements with their presence to the myriad of issues plaguing the state on account of the leadership method of the Governor, Nassir El-Rufai.
The fact that we are even debating whether or not writers and intellectuals should attend this is proof of how lost we are as a nation and as individuals.
In saner climes, these same writers will be dragging the Governor for his leadership style and what it has led to but principle is not a Nigerian concept and expecting certain persons to have it is like expecting water from rock.
Kaduna state has been in the news and it’s not for a good reason. Over 1000 shia Muslims – children included – were murdered in Kaduna and dumped in mass graves. Following this, the Governor banned the same organization whose people were murdered and whose leader he sought support from when he was contesting the Governorship elections.
Again, Kaduna has contributed its share of IDPs to the country’s growing number of internally displaced persons. Fulani herdsmen turned the southern part of the state to their killing fields, killing everyone, children included. Houses were burned down, properties destroyed. It will help to recall that the Governor admitted to paying these same Fulani herdsmen immediately he became governor.
But it’s not just that. John Danfulani, a lecturer in the Kaduna State University (KASU) was arrested, locked up and eventually sacked for his criticism of the Governor. It’s almost impossible to imagine intellectuals honoring an event organized by a man who treated one of their own like that.
The show of shame that has been organized in Kaduna must be slapped with its rightful tag: despicable. This is the new method employed by persons and organizations of questionable characters to gain some semblance of acceptance in the media and public and it is not possible to say that these writers are not aware of this.
Calls for boycotts of literary festivals in Sri Lanka and the Jaipur festival in London on account of human rights violation by sponsoring organizations or country leadership points to a growing realization of the trick of using some public good to gain acceptance by despicable characters and organizations.
With KABAFEST, the most popular arguments have been about not mixing literature and politics. But how is this possible in this case? How can you be aware that your sponsor is complicit in the death of over 1000 shia Muslims and countless Southern Kaduna people and still sit there speaking English and talking about not mixing politics with literature? No, this is not being political; it’s having common sense.
If your relative was killed in the Kaduna madness, would you be debating this? If one of your own was one of those buried in unmarked graves, would you be trying to make this decision? If in Southern Kaduna, the house you borrowed money to build was burned down and your family murdered because the Governor chose to pay the killers rather than arrest them, will you be going to sit with El-Rufai to talk literature?
Nobody is asking that writers be held to a higher standard than others. You don’t have to be a writer to do that; you only need to be human. Athletes have boycotted events before because of human rights abuses. Singers have cancelled performances because of the character of the individual or organization bankrolling it. Filmmakers have boycotted awards because of human rights abuses. Even nations have boycotted other nations because of human rights abuses. In 2005, Association of University Teachers boycotted Israeli universities because of the treatment of one of their own.
Being human is different from holding people up to certain standards. If these writers do not want to be held up to human standards, they can indicate this so that we can know the proper way to address them.
Kaduna’s literary festival has nothing to do with improving the reading culture and has everything to do with improving El-Rufai’s battered image in preparation for his challenge for Nigeria’s Presidency and these Nigerian writers going to pose with him and eat his food are accomplices in his crimes.
For those going, know this: you are visiting a murder scene to talk literature at an event bankrolled by the murderer. While your own security will be guaranteed during your stay at the festival, the security of the people of the state is not guaranteed. They still have to sleep with one eye open. They still jump when the slightest sound is made. They are yet to get over the death of their loved ones. A family is still mourning the death of their only child. The husband is still crying for his wife that was slaughtered with a baby in her womb. That five-month old child is still crying for her mother.
While you go there to speak freely, know that freedom of speech for the people of Kaduna is a myth that will earn them a one-way ticket back to the labor market and prison. Know that freedom of speech for the people of Kaduna will earn them a 2 AM visit from the DSS where they will then find two guns, a machete and bullets in the house of someone who has never held a gun before.
While you go there to eat and drink, know that there are people of Southern Kaduna who can no longer drink and eat in their own homes but are now at the mercy of the government in IDP camps where food and water and luxuries that they sometimes are unable to get.
And I hope that when it’s all over, you are able to live with yourself and that the four-day jamboree is enough to assuage your guilt and that you’ll suffer in silence if the day ever comes when the tragedy that befell the people of Kaduna arrives at your door.