By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“It is not what you are called, but what you answer to.”- African Proverb
IMAGINE please what went through the minds of the four young men who were apprehended in Port Harcourt by a mob which tortured them, paraded them naked with tyres around their necks, and then set them ablaze.
In the hours during their ordeal, among the many thoughts that went through their minds, one must have been that they will be rescued by the police, or some sort of authority; or even by other citizens.
Reports say the police showed up, assessed the situation, and withdrew. A few citizens attempted to intervene, but were scared away. The four young men were murdered by fellow citizens amidst jubilation.
They died believing a truth: their nation has abandoned them. Their colleagues rampaged, because they had no faith in the state either.
Or imagine, if you will, being a citizen in Dogon Dawa, a village in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State who cowered for hours in the hope that relief will come during a massive attack by a criminal gang which attacked your community to free their colleagues and exact revenge.
You would have hoped that in the period it took the gang to kill 26 people, including 10 coming out of a mosque, policemen will come in to take on the criminals. You would have been wrong.
The gang had enough time to kill two of their own who they injured in the process of rescuing, kill the village head and a lot of young people. Many who died must have felt the type of helpnessness and hopelessness the students in Port Harcourt experienced.
Or imagine, if you will, that you are one of the students at a Polytechnic in Mubi, Adamawa State who learnt that a gang was going from house to house with a list, calling out names and slaughtering or shooting young people.
In the period it took the gang to murder about 40 young people, you must have hoped that relief in one form or the other would come, particularly since you lived in a town which recently became part of the frontline in the fight against an insurgency.
Many who answered in the affirmative when asked to confirm their names, or opened doors when asked to do so, and were then murdered, were young Nigerians who died with their dreams of living in a nation that cared enough to secure them from this type of end.
Or imagine, if you will, that you are a citizen in Benue or Nassarawa or Plateau State, who lives in a community attacked by enemies armed and willing to kill children as well as adults.
You would have known that the conflict will take lives, and you would have prayed that yours will not be among them.
You would have hoped that the attackers will not come; that security personnel will stop them; or your own villagers’ efforts will protect you.
Those who died in these villages, including children, would have died with bitter, last-minute thoughts that they lived in an uncaring nation which had abandoned them.
Dodging bullets and bombs
Or imagine, if you will, that you are a citizen in Maiduguri, Potiskum or any of the cities which have become active battle grounds these days. You live in fear of the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Liddiawati Wal Jihad a.k.a. Boko Haram and the Joint Task Force in equal measure.
Both treat you as an enemy, or one who can easily become one, and both treat you as expendable. You live daily with the stress of dodging bullets and bombs, and you watch as neighbours and relations are felled, arrested, or migrate.
Your children know the difference between the sounds of bombs and bullets; and young men live with fear of being arrested for being young men. You live daily with hopes that something will give in this conflict: either the JTF will change tactics, defeat the JASLIWAJ, or the insurgency will melt and disappear.
As your life becomes more endangered daily, you look in vain to a nation which owes you some level of security, if nothing else. You hope in vain as another bomb goes off, and you lock up for hours while fights rage outside your home.
When its all over, you come out to count the losses, which may or may not include your property or relations.
Swallowed up by floods
Or imagine, if you will, that you are one of the millions of Nigerians whose livelihoods and assets have been swallowed up by floods.
Before it came to you to render you a refugee, you may have heard of warnings that this year’s rains may trigger unprecedented flooding. You may have heard of protests from the Nigerian government that neighbours were allowing dams to flood our nation.
You may have seen distant lands swallowed up; hundreds of thousands barely escaping with the cloth on their backs; and the creeping flood as it inched nearer and nearer to you.
If you are one of the millions who have lost everything; and quite possibly you live as a refugee at the mercy of officials of the Nigerian state who tell you they do not have enough to feed you all, or re-build your homes, you may be wondering what became of your government and a nation that appears to have abandoned you to the elements.
If you hope for start-up relief, many citizens who know better will tell you to pray to God for assistance instead, and start your life all over again on your own.
Or imagine, if you will, that you have been kidnapped by a gang which demands for millions from your family. You would have hoped to be traced and rescued.
Then, after a few days, you would pray that your family will find some of the amount your abductors are asking for.
As they negotiate and threaten you, you would be forgiven for believing that your life means nothing to the Nigerian state.
A nation where things work
Now imagine a nation in which police move in quickly to stop lynchings and arrest the mob and the suspects.
Imagine a nation in which villagers sleep indoors and not in farmlands and in the bush out of fear of night attacks, because security agencies have taken steps to protect them. Imagine a nation in which the police arrest and begins the prosecution of people who kill students in Mubi, and villagers in Dogon Dawa, Riyom and Barikin Ladi.
Imagine a nation in which government takes pro-active measures to minimise the damage of the floods, and relieves suffering and losses of citizens with the resources of the state and by tapping into the considerable resorvoire of compassion of Nigerians.
Imagine a nation where citizens prefer soldiers to fellow citizens who demand that they live by their own values or die; where foreigners are not shot or kidnapped for being foreigners; where the young are not so thoroughly embittered that they cannot see any good in their nation, now or in the future.
Imagine our nation as a respected parent or elder, naked and exposed.
That is what it is. Imagine what it will take to restore the dignity of that relation or elder, who is naked because she has been stripped of all her covering and dignity by the indifference and incompetence of those who should cloth her, and by the docile submission of spectators over her state. Everyone of us is that naked elder.
The nation will remain naked unless the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan radically improves the capacity of our security agencies to protect and secure our lives and property, and improve the manner the economy functions.
Things cannot, or should not get worse than they are. If our leaders cannot improve our security environment, and arrest the decline into helpnessess and hopelessness by citizens, they should step down.