By Ochereome Nnanna
THE high and mighty are under siege in Nigeria. Under siege too are those who are not so high and mighty.
The mere fact that you own a decent-looking air-conditioned car could put you in danger of being attacked by highway Area Boys in Lagos.
Roads to watch out for these tattered-looking youth moving in groups like packs of African wild dogs are: Ikorodu Road, Apapa Express, Badagry Express and Lagos – Abeokuta Express, especially at night.
It is easy to distinguish them from the mass of other hard-working youth selling all sorts of merchandise on the busy roads. The criminals usually are empty-handed and move in groups. They assault your car and threaten to break your glasses unless you part with something.
But usually if you give them something they consider “reasonable”, they will demand for more but you can freely ignore them and they will leave you alone and look for other victims.
People driving rickety vehicles, glasses down and casually dressed are often taken for “poor” people and left alone.
I’ve been hit several times, so I know how to spot them and I’ve come to understand their psychology. I’ve even had a gun shoved in my face along Ikorodu Road at night!
I often ask myself: what could prompt the mass of innocent, hardworking traders along the highways to drop their merchandises and resort to marauding Area Boys?
And what else could nudge the Area Boys to taken up weapons, sniff drugs and go on the hunt for the “rich”?
More importantly, what will make young people to take up arms against the “rich” through violent robberies and kidnapping? What does it take for a young person to become a militant or terrorist?
Quite obviously, the group of thugs that planned and executed the kidnap of Professor Kanene (not Kamene) Okonjo, the Queen Mother of Ogwashiuku and mother of one of the most influential women in the world, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had graduated to daredevil levels of criminality.
Also, it is obvious they were only looking at the “profits” of this venture and not the losses.
The greed of our corrupt elite has also contaminated the criminals laying in wait. People are no longer stealing government money, bank deposits, shareholders and pensioners’ funds in millions. They now steal in billions and trillions of naira.
Blind greed: When the Okonjo kidnappers initially named one billion US Dollars as their ransom I knew they had been afflicted by the same blindness that greed inflicts on politicians, bankers, public office holders and civil servants.
It causes them to steal like people possessed. Little did they know that if that money was given to them it would be their greatest give-away. Little did they also realise that snatching the mother of, perhaps the most powerful minister, is like putting your head in the mouth of a lion.
We all saw how the entire armed forces were brought out to carry out a presidential order to find the woman and her captors. Governor Emma Uduaghan relocated the Government House to the palace of the Obi of Ogwashiuku.
As I write, there is breaking news that Queen Kanene Okonjo has been released, safe and sound.
This is a victorious end to the saga, though we may never know the true inside story, particularly whether monies were paid out.
The question, however, is: Who is next? Particularly at risk are those who may not have the connections Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has; those for whom the President will not intervene; those whom governors will not feel are important enough to compel them to react.
Now that Professor Okonjo has been freed, what will Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala do? What should she do? Typically, some will advise her to dump her job as Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy and return to the international arena, being that Nigerians have decided to pay back her decision to serve in bad coin.
That would be foolish. In the first place, the kidnap was neither prompted by Nigerians nor celebrated by them. If anything, the Okonjo family had the sympathy of virtually all.
Make contributions count: In the second place, Ngozi walking away from the job will make her a coward and opportunist.
She would be booed off the stage. All her contributions will not longer count for much. Rather, she should be challenged to help tackle the problem of mass unemployment and poverty at the root. As the Minister for the Economy she is already best positioned to do it.
Shortly after she was sworn-in on her second coming to the job she promised to (a) diversify the economy and (b) create jobs. Some say one year is too short for results to show. The President has promised that 2013 will see the maturation of efforts of his government to transform the economy. 2013 is only two weeks away.
Okonjo-Iweala should shake off the general perception that she is a major reason for sluggish release of funds for capital projects and general poor budget implementation.
Youth unemployment and lack of opportunities for legitimate realisation of young people’s dreams and aspirations are chiefly responsible for massive youth poverty, terrorism and violent crimes in the North and kidnapping and other violent crimes in the South.
The economy needs a radical re-jigging and if Okonjo-Iweala cannot do it (and in good time too) I wonder who can. If she succeeds Nigerians have ways of rewarding those who serve them well and exhibit iron-clad determination in facing up to the devils that impede our development.
Welcome back home, Queen (Professor) Kanene Okonjo!
Off for a month
STARTING from this week, I will embark on my annual leave. But I will resume this column in mid-January, recharged and ready to offer new exciting possibilities. For instance my blog will make its debut in the New Year.
I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous New Year 2013. Travel safely and take a rest. God bless you and God Bless Nigeria.