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A call to common sense

By Bisi Lawrence

*legacy of a conflict?
*perfidy in high places
*great iwu

Some people now say what is going on in the Niger Delta is NOT war. They say it out, loud and clear. It sent me post haste to the meaning of war as described in the dictionary: “armed fighting between states, countries, or factions.”

There is armed fighting going on between forces of the Federal Government of Nigeria and dissidents in the Niger Delta under various names and titles. What else can we call that but war? It seems to me an irresponsible attempt to trivialize a very serious situation in a most callous manner. People, Nigerians, are dying by their own hands. Other people are spending sleepless nights looking for a solution, but some others deny the patent horror and pain of this most unfortunate incident unfolding daily right before our eyes. What kind of people are we?

The first (and, thank goodness, the only) time I heard the discharge of military weapons at close quarters was at an exercise — an exercise, mind you, not at the warfront – I got wet between the legs. I do not like wars, not even rumours of war and, definitely, not in my own country. I wish those wiseacres who know that there is no war in the Niger Delta, could be taken there to witness what they probably mistake for a tea-party.

A variety of that school of thought would also wish to lower the seriousness of the circumstances to a level that, they feel, is not yet ripe for amnesty. Rubbish! People do get away with all sorts of statements abutting on the criminal in this country. There is armed fighting going on in the Niger Delta and people are dying, Nigerians are dying, every day. It is said that some people are getting wealthy thereby. That happens in every war, particularly that of an internecine nature. Accusations and counter-accusations have also been flying around as the war goes on. Habitations are destroyed; possessions are lost; lives are ruined. This is hardly the time to indulge in any over-dramatized “blame game”. That does not help the situation. Now a life line is thrown out to reel in the situation, and some people say it has not reached a particular stage they reserve for that?

And how many “corporations” and similar bodies founded and funded solely for the purpose of satisfying the desires of the Delta people have we not seen? Those organizations have sometimes only introduced more factors to the initial predicament. On the other hand, we have also been witnesses to some harrowing events in the recent history of these doughty people, whose proximity to rivers and creeks seems to have generated a truly amphibian resilience in their nature.

Of course, there are some who are exasperated by the content of criminality spread through the mix of the conflict. That is not unusual in a war situation either. The purpose is always to hurt the enemy as a measure of deterrence or punishment. However, it cannot be denied that the element of personal gain also acts as an incentive to crime in these circumstances.

Calls have been made for a stoppage to this war. Unfortunately, the hostilities mounted in intensity and bitterness. However, it is clear that the solution cannot be beyond all of us as a people if we all care enough about this war. But do we all care as a people? We should and realize now that an offer of amnesty is not a call to surrender, in a conflict that one side dare not lose and the other cannot possibly win. What else, for goodness sake, will save us from ourselves? It is a call to common sense.

Kidnapping has emerged as the kingpin of the major misdeeds in the Niger Delta conflict to the shame of the perpetrators and blight upon our land. At the beginning it was inflected on the foreign employees of the oil companies. But now it seems to have detached itself from the body of the armed conflict to stand on its own as a distinct felony. In its pristine presentation, the Niger Delta conflict was characterised as a revolt against the sufferings of the people, and the perceived reluctance of the Federal Government to yield to their demands for a larger cut of the product of the land, that is, oil. Kidnapping was then projected as a measure to force the hand of the authorities, and the taking of expatriates as hostages was allowed to pass muster by an appreciable sector of the society. But the nefarious practice gradually spread forward, like an invading wavelet through the sands of a beach, to touch and soak farther inland, until it has now included the native and the foreigner alike. It is now plain kidnapping and no trimmings, and the endeavour is strictly for cash.

The anguish created by kidnapping makes it one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated by man on his fellow man. The anxiety of those who wait for the release of their loved ones, sometimes in vain, can only be imagined. The suffering of those who are held against their will and are subjected to all sorts of threats, beggar description. It takes a special kind of twisted mind to put a fellow human being through that fearsome type of mental torture. And, unfortunately, we have to admit that it is here with us now.

Curiously, a war seems to have a way of leaving some nasty droppings that last for a long time in its wake. The phenomenon of the armed robber, for instance, came courtesy of the Civil War. We can only hope and pray that kidnapping as a crime is not stamped on the label of our “brand” for a long time to come.

Years ago, when the lights returned after a prolonged withdrawal by NEPA, shouts and screams of relief and joy would roll through the streets. “Up NEPA!” Not any more, though. A week ago, we experienced a flicker of electricity supply in our compound, and no one batted an eyelid. I mean, so what? The supply always came too little and too late, anyway, and we were sure it would not last. And on this particular occasion, it lasted no longer than three minutes.

One would perhaps now feel the same way about strikes called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, except for the fact that these university teachers are fighting not just for their own survival, but also for the improvement of the young lives that are put in their care.

Even at the level of their interest, could you compare the earnings of a Local government Councillor to the salary of a university lecturer – with all due respects? It is not saying that the councillor should earn less, actually, but that the lecturer ought to definitely earn more. That is putting into consideration the necessary academic attainments of the lecturer and the responsibility his position demands that he discharge. Even some of the students openly bemoan the predicament of their teachers in matters of their emoluments.

But, as indicated, the yearnings of the lecturers soar to higher things. They decry the fact that none of their institutions is rated among the first twenty, some even say thirty, in Africa. They cry out for the provision of tools to work with, and adequate facilities for the improvement of their efforts. They want the revitalization of the university system to be a reality to which they should be equipped to strive.

There is yet a disgraceful aspect of this situation. After over two years of hard bargaining, the government and the lecturers came to an agreement. Government has however not signed the agreement. Rather, it has taken inappropriate steps to nullify it. That, if we may say once again, is disgraceful. Quite disgraceful!

I mean, what is happening here, anyway? If lecturers cannot trust the government of their own country, whom are they to trust? What are they to impart to their students about confidence in the integrity of the men and women who are supposed to hand over the country to them in future?

This page supports this ASUU strike. Send your views today, and we shall fill this page with them. Our universities must rise!

Professor Maurice Iwu was recently quoted as saying that nobody could remove him from the post of the Chairman of INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission. I was really intrigued by that statement. Having ensured that it was not a hereditary office, I dismissed it as another of the effusive outbursts of good old Maurice. Didn’t he look all of us in the face and declare that his elections were the best the country had ever seen? That would come near the mark if the criterion were the volume of litigation arising from elections..

But the fact that two Senators, who shall be nameless to cover their shame, have also sought to uphold that misleading aversion, I ran to my dog-eared copy of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And there it was. In fact, Professor can be removed from office (which translates as “sack”) if the President acts “on address supported by two-thirds majority of the Senate” for whatever reason. (See.157 (1)).

Of course, the man can be sacked. His post is appointive, not elective, in any case. And if you are hired, you can be fired. However, it is very unlikely that those who have benefitted so immensely from the “best” elections ever held in Nigeria, would ever find it difficult to summon two-thirds of their ilk to support their benefactor.

Time out.

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