By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
AFTER a hiatus of about two years or so, I travelled by road from Ilorin to Abuja last weekend, in the company of my friend, Nurudeen Abdulrahim.
And what a journey that was! In many senses, it was useful to travel by road again, if only to re-appreciate the depth of rot in practically every aspect of our national life. Those who go between Ilorin and Abuja these days know that it is one of the nightmares of Nigerian road travel.
The approaches through Minna, Bidda, Kaduna or Kabba are very bad, so most now travel through Ekiti State to come out at Kabba, Okene and Lokoja. It is marginally better than the other routes. At the weekend, we passed through at least 15 police or joint military/police checkpoints. And as usual, the security personnel were rude and aggressive; one would be right to assume we faced an army of occupation.
Security personnel as prey
There is little affection for security personnel, because they prey on the people; are not courteous and more often than not, behave irresponsibly! It is sad to note that 50 years down the line of nationhood, ‘our’ security seems locked into the time warp of their colonial origins!
You approach a checkpoint and gangster-like, security men raise guns in a threatening manner at unarmed citizens; they ask for your papers and order you out of your vehicle. In most cases, they reek of alcohol! We went through those threats, yet not once did they ask any reasonable security-related question or were they interested in the content of our bags. We might have been transporting anything to Abuja.
In recent weeks, the National Security Adviser appealed to Nigerians to volunteer information to assist the work of the nation’s security Forces. I do not envy Andrew Owoeye Azazi, because I honestly think he labours in vain! Nigerians generally distrust his security Forces because they are not well-behaved! And as we have seen in the Niger Delta, Odi, Zaki Biam and most recently in Maiduguri, there have been many issues of extra-judicial killings by these Forces that have not been investigated openly or prosecuted.
So it makes no sense for the citizen to aid these security personnel.
There is also a related issue of doctrine which our security Forces must re-think, especially against the background of their colonial origins and the long period of military dictatorship. Founded by colonialism, they were used to ‘pacify’ Nigeria in the service of British imperialism. So the Nigerian people were historically ‘the enemy’. They have not been weaned from that mentality and in minute acts of every day relationships, examples of disrespect or distrust of the people manifest.
In turn, people tolerate them with loathing, knowing that you cannot argue with a (drunk!) man carrying a gun and able to “accidentally discharge” the citizen to death! The residual effect of military dictatorship, the ultimate act of preying on the people, also continues to haunt security-people relationship.
If democracy is by and of the people, then the security forces must be doctrinally re-oriented to see the people as central to the security scheme of things. Security confronts serious challenges and none more dangerous than the significant sections of the elite that continuously de-legitimise the country and working to undermine its continued survival! But in the long run, state survival cannot be guaranteed only through the deployment of security but in the legitimacy which the state earns from people, who see and feel the state as working for their wellbeing!
A worrisome depth of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance
LAST Tuesday, I was in Lagosto review a new book on Chief Anthony Enahoro. Edited by Lanre Idowu, the CEO of Diamond Publications Limited, which presents Nigeria’s annual media merit awards, the book has 12 contributors.
What struck me as odd was that its authors tried to stress the nationalist credentials of their subject, yet all the contributors came from the Southern part of Nigeria. I interrogated the publishers’ inability (or refusal?) to get a single Northerner to contribute a chapter to a book about a man remembered as having once moved a motion in parliament to seek self-government for Nigeria!
The audience applauded my observation as much as they seemed to have respected my unambiguous rejection of the Southern Nigerian panacea for all the problems facing Nigeria: Sovereign National Conference and Restructuring along Ethno-linguistic lines!
My observation merely confirmed what has unfolded in recent years: the deepening levels of ignorance, prejudice and intolerance in our country today.
The elite have narrowed in their vision of our country; and unable to have a nuanced appreciation of the complexities of our problems and the multi-sided analysis needed to understand them, have stayed at superficial levels of trite arguments for simplistic formulas like ‘sovereign national conference’ and ‘restructuring’ as answer to all problems.
Related is the way “the other” has become so dangerously demonised to levels where we constantly live each day endangered and in touching distance of genocidal killings, as witnessed in the ethno-religious killings of recent years.
I write these lines with a fair amount of trepidation, against the background of the pictures I recently saw, from the genocidal killings which took place in Zonkwa, Kaduna State, after the April election and the manner neighbours set upon people whom they have shared the space of citizenship with for years.
A more tragic illustration of this scenario also came from Southern Kaduna, where a young girl told the government investigation committee that her teacher personally killed her father, because he belonged to a different ethno-religious background. The same teacher then apologised to the girl!
That we have sunk to that level of hatred tells our contemporary story and how far apart our communities have been torn as a result of the collapse of the Nigerian ruling class project.
I have been at the receiving end of some frightening vitriol and undisguised hatred that I sometimes shudder at how damaged many individuals are in our country. My write-ups are posted on some of Nigeria’s internet sites weekly, and it is usual to receive, often uneducated comments, about these pieces. But last week, someone posted, in response to my write up, that he looks forward to and prays for the day I would be slaughtered on the streets for constantly defending Northern Nigeria in my writings! That can only come from a damaged and deeply ignorant individual consumed by hate! Ignorance often leads to the stoking of the base emotions of hatred and fear, which are the building blocks of genocide and pogrom.
Those ruling Nigeria as well as the elite who play the ethno-religious card must wake up to the fact that we are perched on a powder keg of hate which must be carefully dealt with for the sake of the survival of our country. The truth that I have stressed in recent years is that ours is a very young country, with about 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. They were born during military dictatorship and the serious economic crisis that has engulfed Nigeria from the mid-1980s. Our younger contemporaries have not experienced a country which worked and more often than not, have been cultured within prejudiced frames about where the problems of our country have come from: often “the other” religion or ethnic group. There is so much anger bred by frustration and oiled in ignorance, prejudice and intolerance. Many of the killings around our country are a direct consequence of this festering sore of hatred and I have a lot of fear for our country’s future.
Who invented the absurdity of VIP movement?
LAST Tuesday, Goodluck Jonathan hosted the British PrimeMinister, David Cameron in Lagos. I was attending a book launch at the MUSON Centre at Onikan, but many arrived late, because a normally congested city was in lockdown for the visit.
Lagos lost precious man hours to the harebrained lockdown, which will not take place in London. More frightening is the regular closure of the airspace over Abuja for what is called ‘presidential movement’. I have been inside an aircraft hovering around for minutes-on-end, because of this absurdity.
On a recent flight I asked an aviation expert if such a practice takes place in Washington, for the American president; I was told it does not. So why do we allow our putative and joke VIPs to endanger the lives of citizens just because they will be airborne? And in a democratising country?
Re: Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure elongation gambit
LAST week, I drew attention to the elongation agenda of Jonathan Goodluck’s tenure and the quid pro quo sop thrown at the Senate’s leadership, in the form of new states.
A debate has now commenced around these irresponsibly self-serving agendas. Nigerians must REJECT Jonathan’s tenure elongation bid just as we should never allow the absurdity of new states. It makes no sense when everybody is aware that the states we have now are not even viable. We should resist the blackmail that the Igbo are “short-changed” in the number of states in “their geo-political region”.
States have been historically created on the basis of the old Nigerian regions, not on an ethnic basis. So out of the old North, there are 19 states; the old West, six states; Mid-West two states and Eastern Nigeria nine states. States cannot be turned into confetti to be worn around the necks of our thieving political elite.
We should build democratic consensus and institute justice between the different ethnic communities within and among states and make democracy serve the Nigerian people, not an insatiably thieving elite, pushing ethno-regional agendas to further polarise our country!