Nigeria Without Nigerians

(By Egwu Ben Obasi)

Where is the love that binds us together as citizens from the same country? Is that our acclaimed oneness still intact? Have provisions in our constitution become so ordinary that inalienability of our rights to life exists only in its pages?

OUR country is passing through trying times. Insecurity in the land which has taken its toll on human lives is now assuming frightening dimension and is currently engaging greater attention and concerns of all Nigerians. The situation appears so disturbing that we have the impression that we are in a near-state of war. Our unity and our professed indivisible and indissoluble entity, in spite of our diversity, are now doubted. Crises upon crises have dogged our nearly 100 years of amalgamation as one Nigeria and 53 years of nationhood.

   Our country’s population presently stands at estimated 160 million. Demographic trend analysis over the years shows progressive increase in the population of Nigeria. But situations where death rates occasioned by killings in the land, and other natural disasters, seem to be on the upward side portend grave danger for the nation’s growth, development and even continued existence. A few of this harvest of crises that have threatened our corporate entity, with attendant claim on lives, are listed hereunder.

    We have had the Aba women riot of 1929 in resistance to obnoxious policies of the colonial government then. There was the Kano riot of 1953 as a result of clashes involving Northerners and Southerners of Igbo and Yoruba extractions.    The census crisis of 1962 took its toll on the lives of Nigerians. Accusations of rigging, politicisation and falsification of census figures were alleged to be at the root of the crisis. Action Group crisis was recorded in 1962 with Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola as the key actors.

   Again, the consequences were heavy toll on human lives. The general elections crisis of 1964, where major party alliances were scheming each other out, using unethical means, had deaths of Nigerians as the end result. In the aftermath of the Western Nigerian elections of 1965, hapless citizens were killed. The pogrom in the North that resulted in Nigeria-Biafra Civil war of 6th July, 1967 to 15th January 1970, involving Gowon and Ojukwu, witnessed deaths unprecedented in Nigeria’s history at that time. The general elections of 1979 were greeted with arson and killings related to the violence and destruction that characterised those of 1983. Cases of Ondo and Oyo states in these elections which claimed the lives of the likes of Chief Fagbamigbe of the popular Fagbamigbe Press, and others of note, are still fresh in our minds.

   We have had, as a nation, to contend with the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, believed to have been won by Chief Moshood Abiola (M.K.O.) but viewed otherwise by General Ibrahim Babangida Administration. The crisis it generated and its attendant mass exodus shook the nation to its foundation. The deaths that singular action precipitated still frighten us to remember. Chief Abiola, the key figure in the dramatis personae of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, struggled to reclaim his mandate. Alas! He died leaving the day consigned to the annals of history. The April 2011 general elections violence in the North recorded many deaths including the murder of our NYSC members, to mention just a few examples.

    Political crises aside, military adventurism into our body polity resulted in the many coups d’ etat we had witnessed and the lives that went with them including our past leaders. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu’s bloody coup of 15th January, 1966, opened the foray of coups in Nigeria. A counter coup that quickly followed six months after, on July 29, 1966, claimed the life of General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, who became the Head of State after the death of the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. General Gowon’s succession to General Ironsi was cut short by General Murtala Mohammed on July 29th, 1975. With the death of Mohammed in the hands of Lt. Col. Buka Sukar Dimka and his co-coupists on February 13, 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo, then second in command, concluded their joint tenure earlier billed to end in 1979 with a transition to civil rule.

  General Muhammadu Buhari’s coup truncated the second tenure regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December 31st, 1983. General Ibrahim Babangida coup against Buhari on August 27, 1985 did not terminate the relay race that had typified coups in Nigeria rather, General Mamman Vatsa and Major Gideon Orkar’s unsuccessful coups against General Babangida Administration did, before coups became unfashionable.

   Reference here to the plethora of coups executed in Nigeria is neither intended to demonstrate scholarship, nor to touch our sour spots as a nation, but to drive home the destruction to lives and properties that had largely attended these coups.

   Political crises and coups aside, natural disasters that have substantially claimed lives include storm; flood, like Ogunpa flood disasters in Ibadan; dams collapse in the North; erosion actions in Nanka and other areas; petroleum pipeline vandalism and the resulting fire disasters that have had their records of death; pre-amnesty militancy in the Niger Delta region and the kidnapping it introduced which at times led to death of abducted persons.

   We have had countless cases where robbers, not only rob, but also kill their victims. Drug counterfeiters sell their adulterated OTC (over the counter) and prescriptive drugs to unsuspecting customers; police killings through unguarded shootings and torture in cells are regularly reported. Deaths through accidents on our roads and highways, occasioned by recklessness of drivers, are frequent features often associated with the use of rickety and poorly maintained vehicles; and poor state of our roads. There are deaths also through boats capsize and general sea mishaps. Air travels have turned to journey to eternity as air crashes over the years have made our aircraft flying coffins and the airspace, our grave.

    Sad! Dana Air disaster and very lately Associated Airlines crash, and indeed other very bad crashes cannot be forgotten too soon. Deaths are also continuously recorded ranging from illegally administered abortion, drug abuse and consumption of hard and illicit drugs, to religious, ethnic and communal clashes, and activities of cultists. People die in the desert trafficking or migrating to Europe for perceived greener pastures. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is sweeping our population clean and people still continue to live sexually carelessly, as well as disregarding other cautions against HIV/AIDS.

    Corruption has turned out to be an indirect killer. A public officer, who compromises his position and integrity in the award of contracts thereby leaving the contractor with insufficient fund to execute a project in question, is himself a killer if the resulting shoddily executed projects lead to deaths, e.g. accidents on our roads that have been in decrepit conditions, and cases of collapsed buildings owing to poor workmanship.  Resistance to anti-people economic and social policies, in form of street riots during strike actions, also imposes its cost on our lives.

    Spate of bombings is the latest unsettling development in security challenges threatening to leave Nigeria without Nigerians. Bombing spree by the Boko Haram sect has assumed disturbing recurrence that has wasted many lives. The exact grouse of these Islamic fundamentalists can neither be established nor their exact philosophy known – unlike the Niger Delta militants’ agitation over oil spill degradation of their environment.

BOKO Haram insurgency (or terrorist activities) is like guerrilla warfare which does not present a clear enemy. A suicide bomber can be anybody, targeting anywhere; aiming at somebody, somewhere; and striking anytime. There is no identifiable battlefield. For the past recent years, we have had to contend with their activities in Nigeria. Their activities, now assuming terrorism colouration, have witnessed the bombing of edifices like the UN Building and Force Headquarters (Louis Edet House) all in Abuja, among others in many major cities in the North.

    Recently, their attacks have been targeted at churches, as had been recorded in Kaduna and Zaria, for example, which sparked off reprisal attacks with death figure placed at over 100. Lives of our students in their institutions of learning are being wasted by these insurgencies. Has Al-Qaeda network truly extended its tentacle now to Nigeria? Are we now terrorists?  We must not be!

   In view of the state of insecurity that is now pervasive, the following questions are natural fallout: Where is the love that binds us together as citizens from the same country? Is that our acclaimed oneness still intact? Have provisions in our constitution become so ordinary that inalienability of our rights to life exists only in its pages? Inviolability of our constitution demands that our secularity, as enshrined, allows us to belong to any religion of our choice. No imposition of any religion as a state religion. What do we see now? An attempt by the Boko Haram sect to Islamise us by bombing us to submission. If our constitution is subordinated to African charter, how about the clear provisions of the charter on human and people’s rights to which we are a signatory? How about the UN convention regarding rights to lives?

   Nigeria must not exist in isolation. Nigeria must exist for Nigerians! The current anger and hatred in flagrant display must give way to abiding love. These bombs that fly at random must cease. Our uniqueness will make our war to be different from wars in other lands. Our heterogeneity is with a difference. It should, at best, be our strength. With every state reflecting a mini-Nigeria comprising indigenes of other states, political, or ethno-religious wars will be very difficult to prosecute. No country remains the same after fighting more than one civil war. Experience of 1966-1970 was dosage enough; anything extra will be excess dosage and can result in staggering deaths. We cannot so hastily forget war experiences of Liberia, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo DR, Sierra Leone, etc., and other parts of the world.

   The untouchables, if any, behind the killing masks must be exposed. Our laws must not be selective. No country survives under two brands of law – one for the poor and weak; another for the rich and mighty. Nigeria is larger than any one of us. Lesser offenders must not be languishing in jail while perpetrators of heinous criminalities, leading to massive death, walk the streets free – hailed and glorified.

   If Nigerians must be saved for Nigeria, all relevant security agencies must rise up to the occasion by being on top of the situation before we are all bombed out of Nigeria. If the entire security votes must be deployed in the acquisition and installation of CCTV (closed-circuit television) in all nooks and crannies of the country to secure us by revealing threats, so be it. Nigeria without Nigerians makes it a mere geographical expression. Let the bombings, killings and echoes of war stop. Latest weapons of mass-destruction must not find their market in Nigeria nor be allowed to be tested on our soil. We must not be guinea-pigs for these weapon manufacturers. Efforts of our founding fathers must not be in vain.    Our laws must be strengthened to save Nigeria and Nigerians. A spillover of what appears to be a problem restricted to the Northern part of the country portends danger of great magnitude for the whole country if not nipped in the bud. The time to halt the escalation is now.

Obasi wrote from Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State.

E-mail: egwu.benedict@yahoo.com

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