A couple days ago, on a bus ride from the predominantly Christian, Igbo east of Nigeria to Lagos, I fell into conversation with my co-passengers. They were mostly young undergraduates and school leavers. Nobody on the bus had witnessed the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970 first hand. But as information on the Kaduna bombing reached us, almost everyone came to the conclusion that only Nigeria's break-up could end this Boko Haram onslaught.
This leaves me wondering if it is over for Nigeria. Since the bomb blasts in Madalla last Christmas, the massacre of Christians, Southern Nigerians and moderate Muslims in northern Nigeria has become a way of life. The effect this has on the national psyche is staggering. Fear and rage pervades the country. Sacred places do not feature on the bombers' hit list.
The implications of Boko Haram's campaign are ominous. Nigeria's fragile ethnic and religious links are quickly unraveling. Reprisals are getting more organized, bloodier. Extremist fringes of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, hitherto checked, are having a field day in their proclamations, if not downright actions. People are finding that the Jonathan government cannot cope with the security challenges. The only resort seems to be self-help.
Interestingly, the north Nigerian elite, who are strongly opposed to President Jonathan's government, are pleading with Boko Haram to cease fire. Meanwhile, in southern Nigeria, the elite are seen as Boko Haram's invisible backers who seek to incapacitate the government. The logic goes: if this group now seeks peace, does that mean that Boko Haram is in fact their Frankenstein? And yet the role of fundamentalist Islam infiltrating from the Middle East and North Africa cannot be ignored.
Nigeria is unlikely to survive another civil war, especially a religiously motivated one. At times, I am tempted to write a posthumous apology to Colonel Mummar Gaddafi for the slurs my compatiorts heaped on him when he called for Nigeria's division along religious and ethnic lines.
As our conversation raged, one of the young men made it clear that it was the old generation of leaders steeped in tribal and religious zealotry who were instigating their illiterate young foot soldiers - to mayhem. Clearly, they want a break from this vicious cycle. And, if dividing Nigeria will end it, so be it?
But I came off the bus hoping, albeit cautiously, that these young Nigerians do not really want a break-up. They want a renewal.