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.
Except if Governor Ganduje of Kano state can prove he was auditioning for a Nollywood part that required him to stuff his agbada with bundles of US$100 notes, he has a lot of explaining to do. This video caught him right in the act of pocketing bundles of millions of US dollars. There is no depth to which our politicians will not sink in search of illicit wealth. In most other countries this would be cause for immediate embarrassment and tendered resignation After said resignation, he would be prosecuted. But not In Nigeria.
Nigerian officials continually accept bribes and look the other way while substandard roads and other infrastructure are built. These officials know that their colleagues will cover up for them with fake investigations and hearings. They neither return the money nor serve time in prison. If their case happens to get to court they pay off the judiciary and go scot free. That is why, year after year Nigeria remains stagnant, bagging notoriety in every category: most dangerous country on earth for a woman to give birth, poverty capital of the world, worst police force in the world and of course the indictment that explains all the preceding—high ranking in world corruption index.
There are corrupt officials in every country in the world. However, no country can make progress when it allows corruption to go unchecked. While Nigeria does not need to go to the extent of Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (he executed three former heads of state amidst others), or China (it has the death penalty for serious cases of corruption), corruption must beaddressed if Nigeria is to make progress. The only regime that can bring sanity to the chaos in Nigeria is the one that can recover the stolen wealth from the past presidents and other politicians. These politicians should also be given life sentences in prison. These past and present politicians who have stolen the country’s wealth should not be regarded as big men. A thief is not a big man because a truly big man cannot be a thief. Only life-changing punishments can scare and deter the seasoned thieves that parade the corridors of power. No Nigerian regime can claim to be fighting corruption if they favor their friends, if they close their eyes to the looting in their own ranks.
The regime of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan did not fight corruption; if anything, they competed with or surpassed previous administrations in corruption. The current Buhari regime has not done anything to change the perception or the reality regarding corruption. Corruption is blossoming with impunity in his administration, right before our eyes. Whatever regime comes in next year, if we do not engage in a determined and enduring struggle against corruption, the unfortunate direction of the country will not change. The problem is not just for Nigerians living in Nigeria. For those in the diaspora, it was not the bad weather that made you leave Nigeria; it was the search for greener pastures. But one undeniable truth is that with our vast natural resources and year-long beautiful weather, a well-run Nigeria is the greenest pasture of all.
It is the corrupt officials in government that deprive the masses of their livelihood and drive the sons and daughters of Nigeria out of their homeland. Nigerians are dying in the Sahara, some in the Mediterranean; yet others are brutalized and killed in foreign lands: in South Africa, in China and in India. Whereas we should be able to enjoy our rich heritage right on our own soil, all over the world many Nigerians are suffering because of the wrong-doing of their leaders. Our children need not be strangers to their heritage. There is no level of development Nigeria cannot achieve, no height we cannot attain, if our bountiful God-given resources are used to the benefit of our land. But that will not happen as long as thieves in government continue to gather millions of dollars at our expense. It will not happen as long as Ghana-must-go bags, fireproof cabinets or shipping containers stuffed with millions of dollars keep showing up in the homes of politicians. Truly, enough is enough!
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.