By Pini Jason
IN June 2011, I started an exercise on jotting down in my diary the number of deaths as reported by the newspapers everyday.
On 22 June 2011, a newspaper reported the following: Two soldiers, 18 others killed in Tiv/ Fulani clash in Beme; an undergraduate murdered by cultists in Bauchi; an ASP killed and five civilians injured in Kano; man butchers neighbour over political argument in Kaduna; bodies of two little siblings found buried under the rug in Uyo.
Another newspaper reported three killed in Asaba. Yet another reported 50 feared dead, thousands displaced at Nassarawa Beme border; man stabs friend to death in Lagos for music equipment.
On 23 June, 24 people were reported killed in Kano, 300 displaced, 100 houses destroyed, according to another newspaper of 24 June. The following day, another 18 people were killed in Nassarawa. On 26 June, bomb blast killed 25 people in Maiduguri.
On 27 June, bomb blast killed three kids and injured two customs officers in Maiduguri. Many others died in motor accident, tanker fire, floods or collapsed buildings. By November 4 when another bomb blast in Borno and Yobe killed over 200 people, I gave up on this past time.
It had become a rather morbid exercise. Since then we have been witnesses to the repeated carnage in Borno, Yobe and Kaduna states, with the most dastardly in Madalla and Kano, which all together claimed over 300 lives!
Living is tough
Today in Nigeria, living is a tough task. Living conditions are very hard for the people. But to die has become very easy. If death does not come through the bomb of the murderous Boko Haram terrorists (their supporters insist they are insurgents!), it may come by fire from a burning petrol tanker.
It may come from kerosene explosion. It may come from a trailer running off the road and crushing innocent bystanders. Death may come from ghastly accidents on the deathtraps called expressways. Death may come from the guns of armed robbers. It may come from flood after a five minute deluge. It may come from a juju man parading himself as a pastor or prophet and who roasts an innocent soul on fire to exorcise a demon.
Death may come from a demented witch hunter who tosses helpless children into a burn fire. A cow could run amok, break loose and kill people. Or it may just be that the house you lived in got tired of standing and collapsed on you! Or it may be a police man denied N20 at a check point that snuffs life out of a poor danfo driver trying to eke out a living.
Two neighbouring communities may set on themselves, kill, burn, and maim thousands in a moment of madness. Politicians and their thugs may disagree over candidature or number of votes and resort to an orgy of bloodletting. It is as if there is a curse on the nation!
More frightening is the fact that by the actions and utterances of some Nigerians, it is beginning to look as if, like vampires, we relish blood.
Policemen no longer make attempts to arrest offenders. They gun them down “after exchange of fire”! When you gun down a criminal, no matter how dangerous, you deny yourself the opportunity of getting information from him or her. Ironically, the police turn round to lament that they don’t get intelligence from the public. Besides, we are never going to know if the victim is a criminal or not.
It is not just that it is very easy to die in Nigeria, the painful thing is that what we witness is mere waste of life. Most of the deaths I read about are avoidable. People take to killing for the slightest provocation.
Thousands die on the road everyday because the roads are bad; the driver is a moron who deadens his senses before setting out on the road; a tanker driver sees himself as the king of the road and tries his best to chase other road users out of the road; or it may simply be that we don’t even know that a mad man is behind the wheel!
Religion and the gory orgy
What I can’t figure out is the gory orgy in the name of religion or faith. What type of God does a man who kills in the name of faith worship? Rationalising killing fellow beings on grounds of faith is a frightening way of announcing a descent to bestiality. Life in such a case means nothing any more.
It makes one to wonder if “the security and welfare of the people” is still “the primary purpose of government”? Make no mistake about it. People get killed everyday in other lands. Madmen and terrorists shoot people everyday. Last week an Al Qaeda trained French terrorist of Algerian origin, Mohammed Merah was accused of killing seven people.
But we witnessed the actions of the French government to make the point that you do not just kill people and get away with it. The problem in Nigeria is the levity with which we have come to treat the taking of life! Nigeria is a nation with two dominant faiths both of which preach against wasting of human life.
At least I know that one of the Ten Commandments in Christian faith is “thou shall not kill”! The faiths and the government must rise up and restore dignity to, and respect for life, otherwise we shall one day start to kill and eat one another as sport!
Those who live in glass houses…..
THE encounter between the Director-General of the Security and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh and Chairman of House Committee on Stock Exchange, Hon. Herman Hembe, reminded me of one of Fela’s lyrics: You be thief; I no be thief. You be armed robber; I no be armed robber! The usual axiom as we know it is that “those who live in glass houses do not throw stones”.
But my understanding of the way public officers behave in this country today is that “those who live in glass houses do not care what you see”!
I did not watch live, the encounter where Ms. Oteh called the bluff of Hon. Hembe. But I watched the previous day’s inquisition and I shouted: Kini eleyii! I must have said that in an accent that is not known anywhere in Yoruba land, but never mind! I have not seen anything like that in my life!
Even a hostile witness in a court has never been badgered, harassed, humiliated and insulted as Hon. Hembe did to Ms. Oteh! I simply switched off! It was clear even to the blind that such irreverence was informed by a vendetta. I was therefore not surprised when the next day both of them washed their dirty linens on live television. It was a sad day for the House of Representatives.
Many commentators are already taking sides even before all the facts are out. Soon the vultures who parade themselves as solidarity youth groups and leagues of professional undertakers will emerge on both sides with advertorials they can hardly afford on their own.
But the issues concerning the crash of the Stock market are poignant enough not to lend themselves to the cheap blackmail both parties resorted to. We all lost money in the stock market. Some of us were talked into the market not because we understood it but because we were told it was even a better investment than real estate.
I do not think that the stock market crashed because the DG SEC had a meal of N85,000! I do not think that the market crashed because she lived in a hotel for eight months and ran a bill of N30 million. Why should we be told that she had one meal for N850,000 when it was not true? Obviously indiscretion in spending public money must be frowned at. But such house keeping is not what you set up public hearing for. What are oversight visits for? That is, assuming that it is no longer the prerogatives of the Board to query the DG’s expenditure. To have brought such mundane matters to a public hearing with illegally obtained internal memos was to hanker for sensation! And before members of the National Assembly play to the gallery they must make sure they don’t care what we see through their glass houses!
Ms. Oteh is not the only one on the firing line. In fact, the spokesman of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, has sworn that they must continue the probe of all the MDAs. So be it. But the motives must be clear.
For some times now the National Assembly has been on the neck of the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps for a reason many Nigerians no longer understand. Many hack writers have been lined up to abuse the person of the Corps Marshall, Chief Osita Chidoka. The debate is assuming ethnic colouration. Soon we shall completely lose the debate.
Not even those who abuse Chidoka dispute the mandate of the FRSC to design and issue drivers’ licences and number plates. If the matter is that they are expensive, why not summon the Joint Tax Board to review the costs? If the issue is that it is not mandatory for holders of unexpired drivers’ licences to obtain the new one until the old ones expire, why not so decree? If the problem is the estimated billions of Naira speculated to accrue to the FRSC, why not ensure that the money is paid to the Federation Account?
There must be a way to resolve the matter and protect the interest of Nigerians, not just vehicle owners but all road users, on this project without hounding the Corps Marshall. This must not degenerate to another Hembe/Ote imbroglio.
Another issue that is very annoying is the ease with which some Nigerians willfully destroy the few in our midst who are trying to make the difference.
Those who indulge in such act not only do not have anything to offer the nation, but do so for no other reason than selfish and vested interest. If they cannot get their way they simply bring down the roof! It was an insult on the nation to have treated Arunma Oteh the way she was treated!
This is not because she is untouchable but because it discourages others who would want to bring their expertise home to help the country. We must not remain in this recursive underdevelopment because of some Lilliputians who found their way into public office through cartel politics! As late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “If we get to the mindset where the good becomes the enemy of the best, we will get nothing”.