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Woes and a blessing

By Donu Kogbara

AS regular readers of this page will know, I rarely find anything good to say about the state of our nation. And, sure, there are people who accuse me of being unpatriotic. But this viewpoint is not the norm, in my experience. Most of the Nigerians with whom I’ve communicated in the past few years have encouraged me to keep criticising our leaders and complaining about multiple systems failures that have not only lumbered us with security problems and a high unemployment rate but deprived us of benefits such as round-the-clock electricity, a well-managed oil industry and decent hospitals, schools, roads, etc.

Meanwhile, a friend has just told me that when he attended a school reunion dinner in Lagos last month, 80 per cent of the former classmates on his table said that they were so unhappy with the status quo that they would emigrate with their relatives if they could get their hands on overseas residency/work permits. When so many citizens are sad, a journalist need not apologise for highlighting the societal malfunctions that generate such widespread frustration.

Nigeria is not a sacred cow or untouchable holy grail that must be slavishly and unconditionally tolerated at all costs, despite its multiple shortcomings. Those who try to silence valid detractions and paper over glaring cracks are, in my opinion, doing us a grave disservice and giving our largely inept and corrupt ruling class an excuse to cling to selfish, amoral Business As Usual rubbish.

Home is supposed to be a comfortable sanctuary for the body as well as the soul, not a depressing torture chamber in which one’s psychological/physical wellbeing is at risk! And journalism, lest we forget, is supposed to be about using one’s privileged access to public platforms to pursue Truth and demand Justice.

I am not a saint. But I struggle to be the best I can be; and I didn’t join this profession to be an obedient VIP praise-singer or to supinely collaborate with enemies of progress who think that aggressive accumulation of ill-gotten gains is acceptable and that they deserve power without responsibility. It is my job to speak loudly for the legitimately dissatisfied victims of bad governance.

Having said all this, foreign governments aren’t perfect either and Nigeria isn’t a completely lost cause. So, once in a blue moon, I come across situations that make me thank God for allowing Nigeria to be better, on a couple of levels at least, than countries that are superior overall – the USA, for example.

Last week, a crazed American youth called Adam Lanza decided to murder his mother, 20 pupils of a nearby primary school and 6 of their teachers. Shortly after he’d inflicted this vicious carnage on the quiet Conneticut community he grew up in, he turned one of his weapons on himself and committed suicide. This outrage that stunned the world was made possible by American gun laws…which enable every Tom, Dick and Harry to own dangerous firearms.

Right to bear arms

Because the right to bear arms is enshrined in the American constitution, it is alarmingly easy to buy a gun in America. In Minnesota, for example, an 11 year old child can be eligible for a firearms certificate. And while powerful pro-gun lobbyists continue to hold sway, shocking statistics prove that successive American governments have been utterly misguided to listen to them. 300 million privately owned firearms – and 50 per cent of the guns in the entire world – can be found in America (which only contains five per cent of the world’s population).

Ordinary Americans – many of whom are mentally unbalanced – can legally keep weapons of mass destruction under their roofs, often without having to explain to anyone why they wish to acquire the kind of deadly assault rifles, etc, that soldiers use in war zones like Afghanistan. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I discovered that 94,388 people have been shot in the US so far this year…or that last Saturday alone, l90 were shot.

During one l2-month period, 9,484 people were killed by firearms in the United States. During the same 12-month period, the firearm-linked fatality figures for Australia, Spain and England/Wales were 35, 60 and 39. Given such compelling evidence that American gun laws are insane, let’s hope that President Obama puts his foot down and stops the madness.

Let us also breathe a huge sigh of relief that Nigeria is not like America in this regard. Yes, we have Boko Haram. Yes, we have armed robbers. But shootings are not that commonplace in Nigeria because our gun laws are sensible.


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