2003: Should Nigerians Be Afraid?

by Banjo Odutola

Can we fast-forward the clock once the coming New Year sets in? In this great country of ours where anything is possible, surely the Churches and Mosques can bring about a miracle and the only miracle that I desire now, is that in this country, as it has never happened before, may skip this approaching New Year. The year 2003 terrifies everybody in Nigeria. The president is afraid and so are his ministers. The government is afraid and so are the governed. The politicians are afraid and so are their supporters. The Law abiding citizens are afraid and so are the miscreants of our society. The miscreants are not only the ‘Area Boys’. Their fellow bedmates are those politicians who intend to claim office by all means.

Let us in sincerity enquire of ourselves why a political office, an investiture of public service has to be attained by members of our ruling class at all cost. The answer is not far fetched. The election or appointment of a man in Nigeria endows nothing in him but power and this is neither the power to make a difference in the lives of the governed nor the power by which a politician proves beyond doubt that his mission is selfless for the good of his people and the country at large. This is the type of power that breeds insolence, corruption and disintegration. Power in itself is good but in the hands of a reckless man it is intoxicating and lethal. Our politicians desire power for the sake of it and for nothing else.

The desire of seeking power in our nation is not to effect policies for which these politicians are immortalised. In this country, we seek the type of power that boasts of its superiority. This is the power that turns a section of our Police Force into nothing other than a State financed personal security service. It is this type of power that grants politicians the oxygen of publicity to extol their empty virtues in life and eulogize their fellow colleagues in death.

Beyond all else, this is the type of power by which these empty politicians recuperate their investments laid out to bribe party chiefs for nominating them and stalwarts for maiming and killing their opponents. In a society where most people in authority desire prefixes before their names or a string of suffixes for which they burnt no midnight oil, you can hardly not expect to be dealing with a farrago of dissolute men and women who are in politics with no ideals or policies to improve the well being of their fellow citizens. So why are we afraid of 2003? Is it the fear of the incumbents that want to retain their offices at all costs or the challengers who are untested beyond their immediate spheres of influence? You see there would have been no need to be afraid if the challenged and challengers will abide by the rules of the game.

In our country, laws are only made for the lawless persons who do not have a well-placed citizen whose stature is beyond the law of the land. There is a certain class of people that can never be incarcerated in this country. Take for example, Chief Igbinedion, the father of the governor of Edo State who was reported to have slapped a policeman. Was he ever indicted? Did he go to prison? Never! You see, people like him are above our laws. Yet, the likes of Igbinedon would never dream of slapping a London policeman when they arrive in their London homes.

Another example is the incident at which one of the sons of MKO Abiola who when his father was alive was protected by his fame after a standoff with a soldier. Do you remember the huge traffic problem at Oshodi on that sad day? Was the boy ever indicted? No! In Nigeria, the rich and their children are never prosecuted nor sent to prison when they defile even the symbol of the Nigerian Authority. This generalisation, of course, excludes military justice and its Kangaroo courts. Under a military rule the police power of arrest are usurped by inexistent military provisions that the bruised or battered citizen dares not enquire its legitimacy.

You will by now have guessed that I am coming to the issue of the Electoral Violence Bill, which the president wants to pass into Law. If so, you are right and so am I in asking if the new legislation is necessary. It is difficult to ponder on the Bill until it becomes Law. But why is it difficult to deliberate on it? In this age of Internet technology one would expect that when this Bill comes before our Lawmakers, the government would publish the same in its present form on the Internet for participatory discussions amongst the governed. The publication of the Bill on the Internet will enrich general deliberation and the governed will be able to approach their representatives so that all shades of opinions are considered.

As a digression, now that the president has received the Oputa Panel Report on abuse of Human Rights, let him be advised that the report in its present form has to be made available on the worldwide web to stop any mago-mago. Please tell the president that the citizens of this nation want to determine how much of the report is implemented or cast away to gather dust. I have a vatic position that this administration will water down the report to the extent that some of the panellists will be disappointed or the implementation will be lost in the preparation for the presidential election and if Obasanjo is not re-elected, Mr. Justice Oputa may as well kiss his report goodie goodie bye bye. President Obasanjo has an excellent window of opportunity, so let us hope he sees the wisdom in the good counsel to reveal the report in its true form.

Now, I return to the issue herein. Arguably, we may need more legislation to create a peaceful environment but a country with an ill equipped and corrupt police force will never be able to protect its citizens from the same manifestations of lawlessness that it legislates against. There is the prevailing attitude of the Executive of governments worldwide and their Lawmakers to think that all situations can be fixed by legislations. Imagine the stupid new law in the USA that provides for foreign students to carry proof of identities so that they are easily traceable. The thinking behind this stupid legislation is from the events of September 11. Lawmakers ought to be wise because if this is a good law then it should be applicable to the school children in Texas or corporate employees in California and Massachusetts respectively, who when aggrieved gunned down their compeers. With the enactment of this law, what the American lawmakers are implying is that what is good for foreign students living in the USA is bad for their own students? If a legislation is dysfunctional in its universal application then such laws are bad because they will be used arbitrarily. Hence, rather than an Election Violence Bill, it is best to equip and train the police to deal with hoodlums wishing to spread mayhem.

Let me avail you of what happens in the United Kingdom where football hooligans bring mayhem to the streets after football matches. With the commencement of the World cup, you will no doubt be reading a great deal about these British hooligans who are a different breed from the Nigerian Area Boys because they are successful in their lives and it is a cocktail of football, alcohol, 22 men in shorts and jerseys who run after a bladder of air that bring out their destructive laddish tendencies. Very sad!

However, sometime last year, in preparation for the World Cup, these hooligans who portray a British culture that is prevalent at Saturday fixtures and on the football stadium terraces descended on Belgium and showed the Belgians a type of imports they neither solicited nor transported willingly to their own shores. Needless to say the British Establishment could not abide the disgrace so new laws were enacted to deal with the situation and besides the legislation, (here is where our country can take cue from Britain) the British Police infiltrated the groups of troublemakers years before the World Cup to study, understand their modus operandi and take out their ring leaders, sponsors and co-ordinators. The lesson therefore is for our Police Force to infiltrate the supporters of our politicians and as quickly as possible, we should have profiles of troublemakers and their sponsors before election days. What then becomes of the hooligans that are sponsored by a presidential candidate who wins the election? Would the winner not do as any victor would do? That is, he would free his henchmen and visit atrocities on the supporters of his opponents. If you do not know how that can happen, turn to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe!

So, must we continue to live in fear? I admit that an elaborate strategy to infiltrate the groups of Area Boys et al may be too late. Nonetheless, we ought to start educating the disgruntled of our society that pelting stones, maiming supporters of opponents and operating vigilante groups only stand to compound our misery. Surely, the impending anarchy cannot be blamed on the low lives amidst us. It is our politicians who in this country in the last three years have denied us a hope for a renewed country. The young people in our country deserve a hope of a better future yet the current dispensation makes such hope a desperate one. It appears as if this sleeping elephant of a country of ours is comatose and we should all fear that it might die the death it had long feigned.

The average man in our country reads about how hundreds of millions of his tax money is wasted on contracts that are unnecessary in the present day Nigeria yet we do not expect him to join the bands of people throwing stones at elected politicians. The contracts are issued in his name, yet he struggles to feed his family and avoidable deaths snatch his minor children because he cannot afford medical consultations, blood transfusions or medication costs for which there is no provision by the government to pay for such basic services. Why should a man who watched life ebb out of his three-year-old child not be disgusted by what obtains in this country when he sees the way the resources of the country are wasted not on him but on the whims of our politicians. You try and convince such a man that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are busy junketing all over the world in his name. Such a man will assure you that our politicians are in power to fester their own nests and they do not have the interest of the governed at heart.

There is a cogent need for us to change the crop of men and women who have our plebiscites. They are the sources of the problems in this country and the quicker political parties awake to the need of engaging men and women of better virtues the quicker the orientation of the governed will be changed.

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