By Francis Ewherido
After seeing the story first on the Facebook wall of my friend and egbon (senior), Dr. Osita Aniemeka, last Saturday, I read the full story on various news platforms on Sunday. An Ethiopian man reunited with his wife and two daughters after 18 years’ separation. What caused the separation?
A senseless war between Ethiopia, his country, and Eritrea, his wife’s country. What caused the war? According to The Economist, quoting an observer: “Two bald men fighting over a comb.” A border dispute that should have been settled via dialogue, led to war from 1998 to 2000. It took 18 years after the war ended before both parties came to their senses and signed a peace agreement on July 9, that is, 19 days ago. That was also when direct flights and other forms of communications were restored between both countries.
That was how Addisalem Hadgu, a 58-year-old Ethiopian journalist, with more than 400 other passengers, flew to Asmara, capital of Eritrea, two Wednesdays, ago on the first direct flight between the two countries since 1998, when the war started, and reunited with his wife and two daughters. The war tore apart many other families. These people, who travelled to Asmara, are just a few lucky and privileged ones. And Addisalem’s case and Ethiopia-Eritrean war are not isolated. Families were torn apart whilst the Berlin Wall separated West Germany and East Germany. Families still continue to be separated in Korea. While leaders flex their muscles during conflicts, their families are intact, only families of ordinary people like Addisalem get separated, fragmented, decimated or destroyed.
So much water has passed under the bridge since this forced separation, but Addisalem has decided to shut his mind to the past, with so many questions begging for answers, and savour the future with his family. Only time will tell whether or not this union will survive the effects of the separation. When spouses are separated over a long time, they tend to grow apart. Over time, they learn to live without the input and support of the other spouse. The women become head of the family and get used to the role. When the couples get back together, going back to the pre-separation roles becomes an issue.
Incidentally, last Sunday, as I was reading Addisalem’s story, I was also watching a documentary on the posthumous centenary birthday of Dr. Nelson Mandela. Mandela went to prison, leaving a young and vulnerable Winnie Mandela. By the time he came out 27 years later, he met a fiercely independent-minded Winnie Mandela, who did things her own way, sometimes ignoring the pleas of Nelson Mandela. Those 27 years apart, more than any other factor, ruined the marriage of Mandela to Winnie. I pray Addisalem’s has a happier ending.
Why this Afghanistanism (concentrating on problems in other parts of the world while ignoring the issues back home) today? I worry for the Nigerian family. Many families have lost their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters already. There is too much blood-letting in the land and not enough efforts to stem the tide. Many of the wars that tore families apart did not start as full blown wars; they started like candle lights. Egos and inability to nip them in the bud led to the conflagrations. So when you see large scale killings, sometimes with ethnic or religious colourations, you become nervous; the savagery that occurred in the former Yugoslavia flies back into memory like yesterday.
Over time politics and governance have shaped family life at macro and micro levels, so you cannot divorce the family from government matters. Nigeria needs to tread with caution. The voices of too many people and groups are being ignored and it makes me nervous. The kind of strong centre we have in Nigeria is unworkable for our diverse population. Equity, fairness and justice should mean devolving more powers to federating units so that people can have a greater say in the way they are governed. Too many people and groups currently feel alienated; Abuja seems so distant.
I have never had any doubts about the potentials of this entity called Nigeria. North West, North East, North Central, South South, South West and South East, they are visible everywhere you turn. But these potentials are being starved of nutrients and denied maturing by the kind of false federation we operate. I remain an advocate for the division of the country into strong regions. The Federal Government should hands off every sector, except critical sectors like security (military and police), national currency, foreign affairs and immigration, etc.
Resources within each region should be controlled by the regional government and a proportion or tax remitted to the central government. I have taken time to study the regions and there is none that cannot be self-sustaining and create more wealth for our people if those in charge simply put on their thinking cap and put the human and material resources available to them to positive use. Right now, very few seem to be thinking; the majority are contented gathering in Abuja every month to share allocation. Is that how the American system of government that we copied works?
The recently-released Brookings Institution Report said 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, the highest in the world. Meanwhile, India, which used to have the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world, has reduced its number to 73 million. More worrisome, the report says extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people per minute; that is 8640 people every day!
India has a population of about 1,324b people. Seventy three million people living in extreme poverty represents 5.5 per cent of the population. With a population of 198m people, our 87 million represents 44 per cent of Nigerians living in extreme poverty! We are talking of extreme poverty here, not just poverty, because Nigerians who live on less than two US dollars a day are way above half of our population. By the time you go to the urban slums, villages and the hinterland, you will realize that these are not just statistics, but real people… families, husbands, wives and children.
I partly blame our over concentration of powers on the central government for the increasing poverty in the land. The time to restructure is now; we need to take as many Nigerians as possible out of poverty and restructuring will help us do that.