When criminals and terrorists can outgun an army or any law enforcement agency, attack and overpower an army base: there is no security. Over the past six weeks on multiple and with an ever increasing frequency, Boko Haram operatives have attacked, subdued and massacred Nigerian soldiers. Last month, the soldiers while mourning the needless demise of 100 of their comrades lamented that the military tanks on their bases were non-functional. They were left defenseless by the country’s leaders, only to be massacred by attackers. Again within the last twenty-four hours a naval base close to Doro-Baga near Borno State was attacked and sacked by suspected Boko Haram insurgents with officer fatality, forcing the overpowered Nigerian troops to withdraw from their own base.
It is a tragedy when the defenders of the security of the country are left defenseless and insecure. All over the world, the quality, training and performance of law enforcement officials reflects on the quality of their government. The recent and ongoing aggression and attacks against the Nigerian army by the Boko haram insurgents should be great cause for concern and cause for immediate action by the Nigerian government. But, it would seem that to the leaders, the current dire state of insecurity is business as usual. If the soldiers whose job it is to protect the citizens are themselves vulnerable, what about the citizens?
But, where is the equipment for the army to perform their job? What has been happening to the funds budgeted for the military/defense? Is there no budget for the country’s defense? Is our military equipment supposed to continue to deteriorate? Is Nigeria too poor to equip its security forces?
At a time when Nigeria should be a beacon of hope to the rest of Africa, it finds itself wallowing in the mud of corruption and its horrible consequences, on the verge of being a failed state. And yet the politicians, who should run the affairs of the country to the benefit of all, regime after regime, seem blissfully ignorant of their abysmal failure. No country can make progress when corruption blossoms. President Buhari’s attitude to corruption since taking office has been disappointing. The tepid attempts at fighting corruption seems directed only towards his opponents. For anti-corruption efforts to succeed there must be no friend or foe attitude.
We as Nigerians need to wake up to the truth about corrupt politicians. Corrupt politicians are the greatest threat to the peace and security of a nation. We need to use every avenue open to us to hold our leaders accountable. As long as tens of millions of US dollars in cash keep showing up in people’s wardrobes, fireproof safes and behind-the-house-shipping-containers, there will no progress or security. Corruption has consequences. If money is stolen it will not do what it is supposed to do and the citizens suffer. So, fellow Nigerians, when next you see a politician known to be wealthy from his political office, look at him as you would at any armed robber: no R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
What is the worth of a Nigerian life? How much value do the country’s leaders place on it? This question was not far from my mind when as a university student I travelled between Ibadan and Ife in the 1980s and sometimes saw a corpse lying on the roadside just like the remains of any dog or cat. That same question comes to mind when we see security forces in Nigeria interact with protesting citizens. It is troubling to see the highhandedness with which protesting citizens are squashed.
The recent attack by the army on a crowd of protesting Shiite Muslims was a distressing sight. I do not support disorder, nor applaud anarchy. But, when law enforcement officials open fire with live bullets into a crowd, we must ask the question, “What is the worth of a Nigerian life to our leaders?” When is it acceptable for the army to unleash lethal force on unarmed individuals? What happened to safer methods of crowd dissipation like tear gas, rubber bullets or even Tasers? Is the country unable to provide these to our law enforcement officials or are live ammunition just the method of choice?
Such actions as displayed by the soldiers suggest that there is no culpability when law enforcement uses lethal force on unarmed protesters or worse still, that such actions are condoned by higher authorities. Much as we must support our law enforcement officials who are often called upon to put their lives at risk in the line of duty, reckless disregard for human life must not be tolerated. Perhaps these officials lack training in handling a disorderly crowd, perhaps they lack the necessary equipment to handle the situation appropriately, or maybe they feel at liberty to act with impunity because of the lack of accountability.
The army has of course denied confronting the protesters, stating instead that it was the protesters that took them on by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, but these are not comparable to live ammunition. And to whom much power has been given, much restraint is expected. When we watched the wounded carried by their friends and saw the bodies on the ground, we could only wonder: how could those who have been given the power to protect the citizens use that power instead to end their lives?
Human life is valuable and irreplaceable. Our law enforcement officials deserve to be protected by being well-equipped and well-trained to safely carry out their duty. But respect for human life is one of the fundamental qualities of a civilized society. Those whose duty it is to protect the citizens must not turn around to attack the citizens. The quality of law enforcement and security in Nigeria remains rudimentary at best and casts the country in a bad light. We continue to look forward to the day when adequate resources will be committed to law enforcement and security in our country. We look forward to when our men and women in uniform will be equipped in every necessary way such that they capably carry out their duty for the safety of all.
Another year, another birthday and Nigeria is 58. Hooray for our beloved homeland! But wait. On looking back over the past 58 years how much have we achieved? What do we have to celebrate?
While one must not focus only on keeping up with the Jones, sometimes though, one has to check one’s self. It is not about unhealthy competition, it is about self-evaluation.
Some comparisons may be enlightening. Consider just two other countries similar to Nigeria in preexisting poverty, age since independence, and possession of crude oil.
Singapore gained independence from Great Britain in 1963 and was expelled from Malaysia in 1965. A small country one may say, but still. Singapore had oil but it took time to develop the country in order to attract foreign investors. It is now a highly developed free-market economy, and has taken its people from abject poverty to good living or at least middle class. Is it any wonder when Singapore is the 7th least corrupt countries in the world?
Then there is the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—it gained independence from Great Britain in 1971. Crude oil was discovered in the early 1960s before its independence. As of today, the UAE has judiciously managed its oil wealth and become a top tourist destination. They diversified their revenue source and built infrastructure which is now among the wonders of the world. They have wiped out poverty for their people.
Nigeria’s crude oil was first discovered in 1956 in Oloibiri in Niger delta. Nigeria gained independence from Great Britain in 1960. Today, hunger is more than it has ever been in Nigerian history.
So as we leave our 58 years behind and embark on the journey to our 59th, let us take stock and ask ourselves: are our leaders leading us up into a good place of prosperity or down into a dungeonof poverty, in the path of betterment for all or in the path of depravity and perpetual lack? Our politicians live in wanton wealth and the governed in abject poverty.