By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
â€œSOMETHING startles me where I thought I was safest,I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk...â€– Walt Whitman (1819-1892) in the poem, â€˜This Compostâ€™.
IN October 2004, Professor Chinua Achebe told Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeriaâ€™s â€œcivilianâ€ ruler at the time, that Nigeria under his watch was unarguably â€œtoo dangerousâ€. That was about five years ago. Today, words would fail anyone, including Achebe himself, to describe Nigeriaâ€™s current state.
And if by any stroke of misfortune the 2011 general elections still throw up this same band of (mis)rulers, whose insatiable greed and obscene display of unearned wealth now constitute the greatest and most effective incentive for the prolongation of Nigeriaâ€™s current nightmare of kidnapping, violent robberies and ritual murders, what this country will become in the next few years from now is better imagined.
Mid-last month, July 15, 2009, to be precise, the Nigerian Tribune carried a very brief story whose significance may have been lost on many people. At 3.00 am on the Sunday of that week, a thief was caught in the bedroom of Mr. Sule Lamido, the Governor of Jigawa State.
The story, according to the newspaper, has been duly confirmed by the Governorâ€™s Director of Press, Muhammad Sanu Jibrin. Before now, who could have imagined that a thief, any thief, would have been able to violate the sanctity of a governorâ€™s bedroom?
But that has now become part of our history. I wonâ€™t be surprised to hear tomorrow that a governor or his wife has been kidnapped and taken to an unknown destination, from the safe confines of the Government House. Given the horribly complicated security situation in this failed state we call our country today, such a possibility already stares everyone in the face.
There is always a huge price to pay when a nation is left in the hands of an irresponsible and wayward elite to do the only thing it knows how to do with it, namely, primitively bleed it pale and callously run it aground. That is today the story of Nigeria. And the situation is becoming horribly complicated.
Those outsmarted in the grab-and-plunder game have taken up arms to get their own share of the cake, provoked mainly by the sudden wealth being flaunted by the â€œlucky fewâ€ with easy access to public funds. Now, the smell of blood and death hangs in the air, like a dreaded epidemic! Fear walks on all fours. Yet, the looters are still busy plundering, hoping to use what they have accumulated to purchase safety and comfort for themselves in the midst of death and destruction. What a foolish thought.
On July 18, 2009,Â Saturday Independent reported the gruesome murder of two former aides to the Education Minister, Dr. Sam Egwu, at the burial ceremony of the father of a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in Nnewi, Anambra State. A federal lawmaker, Paulinus Igwe Nwagwu, who was also hit by bullets from the same gunmen, however, still has his life intact, and was at the time of the report receiving medical attention at an undisclosed hospital.
It was even reported that due to â€œthe deadly onslaught of this gang of killersâ€, Gov Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who were already set to attend the funeral in Nnewi became scared and retreated indoors. Do you blame them? When a state fails, not even governors or deputy senate presidents can appear safely in the open, despite the intimidating security apparatus at their disposal.
And make no mistake about it: This can only get worse, the political and ruling elite decides that looting and plundering of commonwealth must not remain inextricably intertwined with gover-nance, and that Nigeria needs to be healed and rebuilt and not continuously gang-raped. Well, the bad (or good) news is that very soon, treasury looters may no longer find any safe ground to ply their lucrative trade.
The words of British clergyman, Willaim Inge, may soon come alive to everyone: â€œA man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he canâ€™t sit on itâ€. Indeed, no one can sow the wind, and expect NOT to reap the whirlwind. Nigeria appears to be the only country where people are busy eating and drinking poison, and yet wishing to live. Our rulers live their whole lives destroying the country, and yet wake up each morning expecting to see it flourishing like a May flower. No, you donâ€™t bring home ant-infested faggots and expect to be excused from the visit of lizards. For goodness sake, Nigeria is too young to die. It has never been this unsafe. And no part of the country is immune.
A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday, a heavily armed gang A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday, a heavily armed gang reportedly raided two commercial banks in Nsukka, Enugu State. They took their time to thoroughly clean out one bank before moving to the other to repeat the same exercise, killing a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in the process.
While the reign of terror and bullets persisted, no form of resistance came from any quarters. When they were through with the banks, they moved with an even greater fanfare to the Nsukka Police Station, where all the ill-equipped and poorly motivated policemen fled for dear lives.
Then they opened the cells, released all the inmates and razed down the police station. After the robbers had finished their operations and gone, the Enugu State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Ebere Amaraizu, told Saturday Independent (probably from his hideout in Enugu) that the Police Commissioner had dispatched some more policemen to Nsukka to go and help catch the robbers. Nigeria, Great Nation, Good People!
Whether we like it or not, the rise of violent crimes is to a large extent being provoked by the massive, unrestrained looting going on in public institutions. Time was when everyone, including criminal elements among us, watched passively as those in government, their relatives, mistresses and errand boys became rich overnight and obscenely flaunted their ill-gotten wealth before every eye that could see.
Now the situation has changed. Those without access to government coffers now have access to guns. But in their determination to â€œmake itâ€ like their counterparts in government and politics, they are unable to achieve reasonable discrimination between those who acquired wealth by dint of hard work and those who bled the treasury pale.
I have heard it said several times among the populace that if the robbers and kidnappers would direct their efforts solely on those carting away public funds, no one would bat an eyelid. It would then amount to a balance of criminality. They steal from the public; the thieves and kidnappers steal from them! And so long as those outside this godless ring remain untouched in the desperation of the two camps to out-steal each other, no one would complain. Imagine such a reasoning flourishing in supposedly sane country!
Welcome to Nigeria, a country no one wishes to slave or die for. Nigeria is like a collapsing House, cordoned off by the Ruling/Eating Class, who are busy day and night carting away the much they could before it goes down. No one is interested in rebuilding it so it could remain for all of us. But the marginalized out there have taken up arms to force their own portion out of the looters.
There is â€œwarâ€ in the land which might become more complicated, ensuring that there would be no more places to hide. And as 2011 approaches, it is bound to get worse. But why canâ€™t we decide today to halt this massive looting and start rebuilding Nigeria? If graduates get jobs tomorrow, will they steal and kidnap? We better open our eyes to the stark reality of todayâ€™s Nigeria and act fast to fix our country for the safety of both the ruler and ruled. But if we continue pigheadedly on this path of perdition, even a blind man can see what this place will become tomorrow.
Ejinkeonye, a journalist and commentator on public issues writes from Lagos; firstname.lastname@example.org