By Josef Omorotionmwan
Even before the Nigerian civil war, my father had always advised that if anyone offended us, we should resist the temptation to invite a soldier to fight for us, maintaining that if we invited a soldier to fight for us, he would beat up all those we wanted beaten up but when there were no more people to beat, he would pounce on us.
In the beginning, some people might have applauded the Niger Delta militants when they were dealing with the expatriates of the major oil companies. Such people changed gear when foreigners were no longer readily available for abduction and anyone in sight became prey.
It soon became clear that habits once formed could hardly be unlearned. No amount of bleaching can turn the pig’s nose white anymore; thus re-emphasizing the strong belief that even when the taxi driver becomes a state governor, when he is passing by the motor park, he still beeps the horn several times as if to suggest that passengers should be gathered for him.
Our eyes are gradually opening up to the fact that whoever sows violence will reap violence and anyone who thinks he can escape violence by merely wishing it away is wasting time. Violence will be waiting for him at the point of arrival. You cannot be granting amnesty for lawlessness and violence and think you have solved a problem permanently. The problem will resurface where you least expect it.
Today’s piece takes us to faraway Moscow, Russia, where on the eve of Nigeria’s 53rd Independence Anniversary, some 16 Niger Delta students went on rampage at the Nigerian Embassy to protest the non-remittance of their allowances. Nigeria still had the effrontery to complain that the students were creating image problems for her, when in the first place, protests have become a way of life back home in Nigeria and moreso, the so-called students were products of, and beneficiaries from, crude protests.
You can trust the Russian police. The students were quickly picked up for breach of the peace. On its part, the Presidency is reported to have withdrawn the sponsorship of six students at the PeoplesFriendshipUniversity for what it terms an unruly behaviour, which the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta hopes will serve as deterrent to others under its sponsorship in other parts of the globe. The students were part of the 24 Niger Delta youths being sponsored by the Amnesty Office at the PeoplesFriendshipUniversity.
This column has maintained, perhaps with monotonous regularity, that the moment an individual has deliberately and consciously violated the criminal law, he should be removed from the academic community, which is not equipped to deal with the argument of force, and left to the larger society, which has both the aptitude and determination for the task. A crime is no less a crime simply because it is committed by a student.
By the time the Russian authorities are done with those students, they will have enough stories to tell that, indeed, “Khaki no be leather”. In due season, this will be yet another case of innocent at home, guilty abroad. That protest for which the students were picked up in Russia would have, ironically, been celebrated had it taken place in Nigeria.
By accepting unbridled protest as a way of life, we have tacitly agreed that the great issues of our time are best decided by posturing and shouting matches on our streets in the process of which government property provided at enormous costs to the tax payer get destroyed with reckless abandon. Nigeria today is fast drifting toward Plato’s classic definition of a degenerating society, a society that permits the voice of the mob to dominate the affairs of state. This is sad.
We are not opposed to constitutional dissent. We believe in legal protest within the constitutional limits of free speech, including peaceful assembly and the right of petition but when protests degenerate to the point of wanton destruction, they are criminal and contemptible and must be treated as such.
The People’s FriendshipUniversity was founded in 1960. The university was organised at the behest of Soviet trade unions and various committees for cultural exchange. PeoplesFriendshipUniversity serves primarily students from developing countries. That is also one university where all courses are for six years, the first year being preparatory, during which the students are taught Russian, the language of instruction.
What image issue can Nigeria be raising at this point? Many decent Nigerians have passed through that institution without blemish and without creating any image problem and they returned home to make meaningful impact to the development of Nigeria. The Russians are aware of this. Those were real students who went there for the genuine purpose of acquiring real knowledge.
Nigeria must now engage herself in explaining to the world that the present stock comes via appeasement. When peace comes through appeasement and capitulation to the likes of those militants, Boko Haram and other similar groups, by trading away sound security principles, the peace thus purchased cannot be worth the price. That sellout is intellectual treason. Better a confrontation than a cave-in! As the Binis would say, this is where a man was killed is better than this was where he ran into the bush.
Nigeria, too, cannot escape from her share of this problem. The students claim that they are being owed their allowance for six months. The Federal Government says they are being owed for September only. Well, it is a matter of degree. Whoever knows how his behind is should be a better judge of how to bend down. Knowing the type of people we are dealing with, shouldn’t we even pay them upfront to avoid their embarrassment? At a point in life, we all face a choice between getting something off our chest and getting something done. And that is the choice that determines maturity.