Insecurity will always be with us, but we will cope with it better at times and despair at other times. The most critical thing is having an overwhelming majority of people who will abide by principles, norms, rules and laws founded and agreed upon, which just leaves a manageable minority for policing and criminal justice. Even individualised self-help increases insecurity.
The pattern of what we call insecurity is neither new nor worsening, and seems just different in dimensions and scope. The scope it takes in national life depends on the comfort of the elite and what is topical to their lives. In some cases, the dimensions of existing crime become heightened by elite interests, as it affects those whose influence matters to our public perception.
For example, a friend who read the first part of this piece reminded me of the Ethical Revolution under the Shehu Shagari administration. Then the influencers felt it was so laughable that our ‘forever activist’ and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, made a satirical song about it. That song became the soundtrack to our movement between the top floor of the Students Union Building and the Forks and Fingers restaurant at the University of Ife around that time.
Nevertheless, our journey of insecurity in this present round seems to have been incubated in the Niger Delta. The stabilised state capture under Chief Obasanjo’s government had the elites largely sated with rich pickings from the administration’s privatisation programme and intermediary services. The brutality of the state was not in doubt and every opportunity was used to establish that there was a ‘Baba’ in charge, both practically and metaphorically.
Of course, that did not include places like Oyo State, where weapons of war were deployed at will with federal backing. Ibadan was reduced to a war front. Now, how could that be insecurity? Indeed it was, especially if you lived in Ibadan when our current ‘champions’ turned our motor parks to war fronts. The dead and injured were Yoruba, not Fulani. Guess we should be grateful that those who ensured our insecurity are now fighting others on our behalf.
The incoming Yar’Adua administration had enough awareness of the fault lines but it did not prevent the Niger Delta becoming the proving ground for lawlessness. The elite excused the kidnapping and other crimes on the notion that much delayed justice was being achieved. That so-called justice rarely rewarded those who abided by the law, sought to better themselves, as well as compete in the marketplace. It rewarded those who took up arms against the state, became a law onto themselves, and largely punished their own for non-compliance. The self-help justification of Nigerian atrocities, whether it be the poor seeking economic justice or the indigenous rising against errant interlopers, is the ever present narrative of the complaint media and public.
The Niger Delta effectively prototyped the Economy of the Violent. Pathologies were and still are unleashed, from cultism to orgies of communal violence and rampant drugs, as well as prostitution. As if that was not enough, at the centre of the nation’s economic dependence, we negotiated away all moral or normative standards. We allowed ethnic warlords to carry the day, with an eventual amnesty that ensured they would regularly blackmail the entire country and claim the victor’s reward.
On the other side of the country, a self-indulgent act by the security forces, in assassinating the leader of a religious and fanatical militia, created what has now become one the longest lasting asymmetrical wars. It has wasted much needed billions in the pursuit of ending a war that, if properly thought through, is not resolvable by just military might.
With an ailing president, the influencers threw their weight behind the Principle of Necessity and exposed their ultimate insecurity, a dead or dying president leveraged for the personal pursuit of wealth and power, even an attempted coup with only a few people standing guard around Vice President Jonathan. How quickly we forget.
Once we had a President Jonathan, all the pathologies incubated in the Niger Delta seemed to find open season on the national stage, culminating in the October 1st bombing at the Eagle Square in 2010. As Boko Haram morphed, bombing and suicide bombing became regular events, with Boko Haram’s territorial control fully established. The Nigerian military was marked by mutinies and disgruntled elements. Along with regular bombing, communal conflicts were regular across the country.
What has followed is not extraordinary for a country that is yet to become a nation. However, the elite loss of influence and hegemony, including the slash in state capture, has been unbearable. So, as crime continues to morph on the basis of our pathologies, the shout of unbearable insecurity seems far more of an elite battle for the political economy…
What was clear was that there was no genuine effort to contest these issues with criminals. Since oil prices were at their highest and the elite were sated, as they were sharing and banking at will. As for everyday Nigerians, the availability of trickledowns made the cries of insecurity muted. As there was no basis for home robberies, digitalisation having changed the way money was handled, kidnapping flowed out of the Niger Delta like a new found trade or skill.
The daily kidnapping in places like Omoku in Rivers State decimated many families, and sometimes the taking of victims into the nightmare of Abia continued with no interest by the national press. Out of that emerged the scourge of ‘Vampire‘, who killed up to 200 people, including Oruahwo Diohwo John, my friend and colleague, who acted to drop off ransom but paid with his life for not bringing enough money. Neither the kidnapped woman nor many lived to tell the tale. Henry Chibueze, the Vampire’s real name, only exemplified a criminal trade that had taken root from the South-South to the South-East of Nigeria.
It found its way into Lagos, especially the Lekki/Ajah area, eventually. We had Evans, the billionaire kidnapper, for newspapers to turn the mill; even then he was treated as a celebrity in a way that can only occur in the influencer activism of Nigerians, whose sanctimonious positions are often for sale and based on bombast. There are memories of so many lost in the dizzying brigandry on the way to the South-East, with entire ‘luxurious’ buses boarded or sprayed with bullets.
I must remember another loss of a man I deeply admired, Michael Osigwe Anyaim-Osigwe, who was prematurely lost to senseless criminal brutality near Okada in Edo State. It was a pointless waste of life because the robber was frustrated and needed someone’s blood to be shed. Were we secure? He was a champion of Nigeria, a personal friend of the president, and presidents. A son, father and chief, who helped to restore our country as a place in the committee of nations, after the devastation of the Abacha regime.
In the North-Central, the ancient battle between farmers and herders was a fixture. To get to Makurdi from Abuja required taking a circular route through the South-East or not going at all. Then the much publicised abduction of the Chibok girls! Never mind that loads more young girls were kidnapped before and after that incident. All these occurred but it was not really insecurity because the elite and newspapers never pronounced it so.
The elite have since then become aggressive. Their regular reception in Aso Rock was no longer enough, nor was their access to the corridors of power, or even the appointment of their nominees into positions of state. The government became desperate, with loads of cash found on a private jet in South Africa. Could a retired General come into power, manage the ‘great unwashed’ but leave their regular slices of commonwealth for them to continue feeding? They most certainly believed that. They could still retain their access and funds with a more competent figurehead as president.
I remember being in a policy meeting during the election period when the commitment, as made by President Muhammadu Buhari that anyone who worked for him would publicly declare his or her assets, was raised. This was quickly edited out because it was largely believed that he could not be serious. After the election, the first insecurity occured through the incredible tumbling of oil prices.
What has followed is not extraordinary for a country that is yet to become a nation. However, the elite loss of influence and hegemony, including the slash in state capture, has been unbearable. So, as crime continues to morph on the basis of our pathologies, the shout of unbearable insecurity seems far more of an elite battle for the political economy, as they exploit the problems involved for positioning.
I am a supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and see far too much being realised under him that will be of great hope in the immediate future, to let the current hysteria and polarisation distort these achievements. Insecurity is the pattern of the stronghold in the path of a Nigerian nation emerging from our current country. It is not new and will demand greater and better efforts from all of us, if we really want it to reduce.
…we need a national social compact that establishes our commitments to each other, focusing on drawing a clear line between Nigerians who legitimately accept responsibility for moving us from country to nation and those, on the other side, who will expose and exploit any inevitable differences for their venal interests.
This is the same notion of insecurity that was used to decimate the whole of West Africa of millions of able-bodied people, who were kidnapped and sold into trans-Atlantic slavery. It is the same ethnic justifications and colourations that allowed tribal warlords to mortgage the future of generations and lay the groundwork for the rape of our lands through colonialism. Then the iteration of ethnic champions who use our fear of the ‘other’, which is the demonisation of our neighbours, to continue brutalising and dehumanising many.
Instead of building on the railroads that are being renewed, the airports being updated, the local rice mills and pyramids linking Kebbi to Lagos, the emerging FinTech industry and innovations, the funds transfer programmes for artisans, education and the enabling of MSMEs, the rebuilding of the Nigerian economy from ground up to replace middle-men, while the access economy gets ignored. Instead of seeking new skills and identifying solutions, as well as perpetrators.
As elites, if our worry is genuinely our fear of crime, as we build gated estates and use armed escorts, we had better get ready for the next phase. In our homes are those whose awareness, daily, about our brutal materialism, will completely devastate our lives. Our domestic maids who watch and hear us amass wealth and buy pieces of jewellery that could pay their salaries for years. We hold parties where we throw around, in a few hours, a lifetime income for them. Yet, we pay them not even enough to live independent of our tantrums and in many cases physical abuse. And, we leave them alone with children who cannot speak.
Or is it the mai-guard who we put in airless rooms or in the open air to protect our gates, homes and belonging, whilst we lounge in indulgence? Fighting mosquitoes and scrambling for leftovers, yet they are supposed to put their lives on the line for us. Drivers who protect our lives with their skills but bear the brunt of our ill-tempered days. This next phase will be brutal, as we who all now live in the elite choices are being judged firsthand, daily, and payback will be bloody.
We can make other choices, especially the ones that lift all boats at the same time, rather than those of ours and our children who we send to be educated abroad but forget that this gig culture means the challenges are global and largely the same. We really cannot run fast or far enough.
Here are some ideas for the kind of equal life opportunities that might reduce the numbers mistakenly gunning for what we have. Establish a code of conduct and agreed employment standards, as well as pay scale for domestic workers, to ensure that their humanity is not compromised for getting paid.
Furthermore, we need a national social compact that establishes our commitments to each other, focusing on drawing a clear line between Nigerians who legitimately accept responsibility for moving us from country to nation and those, on the other side, who will expose and exploit any inevitable differences for their venal interests. We need to properly identify and map our ethnic nationalities, especially to celebrate their contributions.
Finally, to move towards this seemingly impeding state police, we must ensure that all states have systems of easy and clear accountability for local governance.
Insecurity will always be with us, but we will cope with it better at times and despair at other times. The most critical thing is having an overwhelming majority of people who will abide by principles, norms, rules and laws founded and agreed upon, which just leaves a manageable minority for policing and criminal justice. Even individualised self-help increases insecurity. We can all do better or else we will all live through Insecurity.
Adewale Ajadi, a lawyer, creative consultant and leadership expert, is author of Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria.
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