Still chasing rats at 49

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Sept. 27, 2009 

A friend, Dr. Chidi Okpaluba, forwarded a story circulating among Nigerians on the Internet to me yesterday. It is about a purported new kidnapping method in town. The incident reportedly happened at a popular shopping mall in Victoria Island, Lagos.

    The story is that a woman, after shopping, noticed that she had a flat tyre. She was about to change the tyre when a man dressed in business suit and carrying a suitcase walked up to her and requested to change the tyre for her. She thanked him immensely. The man changed the tyre and then asked her to give him a lift to the other side of the mall where he purportedly parked his car. 

The woman was said to be unease. But since one good turn deserves another, she did not object to his request. He put his briefcase in the trunk of her car. Being suspicious of the man, she told him she just remembered one last thing she needed to buy.

She hurried into the mall, and told a security guard what had happened. The guard accompanied her to the car. But the man, probably out of fear, had left. They reportedly took his locked briefcase to the police station.  The police opened it ostensibly to look for his identity card so they could return it to him. 

But then, “What they found was a rope, duct tape, and knives.  When the police checked her ‘flat’ tyre, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply been deflated most likely by the suspect.  It was obvious what the man’s intention was. It is clear that he had carefully thought it out in advance.” Whoever got the message was urged to share it with their loved ones so that they wouldn’t fall victims.

The veracity of this story is immaterial. To me, it is a reflection of the phase we are passing through now as a nation. The state of insecurity has never been this bad. Last Thursday, a friend, Gbenga, called to inform me that armed robbers snatched his jeep at gunpoint about 9pm in front of his house at Ikeja. Luckily for him, the car has been recovered. But many other victims could not recover theirs. Some did not even survive to tell their stories.

 The nation is still mourning the assistant news editor of The Guardian murdered last Sunday by unknown gunmen. There are many other high-profile murders, the mysteries of which our security agencies are yet to unravel.

Unfortunately, the police seem ill-prepared and incapable of ever solving the problem. Or how else do we categorise a police force, for instance, whose leader claimed not to be aware that the former anti-graft czar, Nuhu Ribadu, sneaked into the country to pay a condolence visit to the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s family?

The best illustration of the current state of our nation is the recent trip of President Umaru Yar’Adua to Saudi Arabia. The President was a guest at the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. While he was smiling and shaking hands with Saudi kings and princes, some other world leaders were at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the 64th UN General Assembly meeting. Our President, as the cliché goes, has chosen to pursue rats while his house is burning. 

This undue pursuit of rats permeates all through our national life. And as the nation clocks 49 years of political independence next Thursday, it has become imperative again to ask our leaders some pertinent questions.

 Perhaps, we should start with education. The President of the school where Yar’Adua visited in Saudi Arabia said they had recruited the very best minds from around the world and that they had students from over 60 countries. Here, our own best minds are being frustrated out. We used to have many foreigners in our universities. Today, the reverse is the case. At present, lecturers are on strike. Students have idled away for over three months now. Even public primary and secondary schools in some states have joined the strike.

 Somehow, the rot in our school system manifests in the employment market. You will realise what I’m saying here if you are a manager saddled with the responsibility of recruiting new workers. Most times, you are left sad and depressed because of the poor quality of the job seekers.

 Some of these people who cannot find jobs anywhere are the ones who have found in kidnapping, a veritable source of livelihood. Nobody is spared anymore. In my state, Anambra, the problem is such that people dread visiting home these days. Christmas is usually a period of mass return and reunion with family members. This year may not witness such reunion.

 Many people will likely prefer to stay back in the cities. Relatives of some Nigerians abroad have warned their loved ones to remain where they are even when some of them are finding it difficult to survive. In China, over 700 compatriots are in prison.

In any case, life here for most people is even worse than living in prison. As I was writing this, information filtered in that a truck killed about five people on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, by Cele Bus stop in Lagos yesterday. Five others were rushed to the hospital. Elsewhere in the country, bad roads have continued to claim lives and cause unnecessary delays for travellers.

There is no country that is problem-free. The major difference between us and many others is that we don’t place much premium on finding truthful solutions to our own problems. For instance, President Yar’Adua is said to have identified insecurity and power supply as our greatest challenges. At the 48th National Executive Committee meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party, held in Abuja last Thursday, Yar’Adua (represented by Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan), gave us his usual we-will-do hope.

He said, “We believe we will be on top of it very soon. The issue of power is also there and some other major challenges are there but we believe that by the time he (President) would give his last quarter address, a comprehensive briefing on all these issues would have been addressed.”     

 Note that it’s a comprehensive briefing and not solution that we have been promised. It’s obvious we are not in a hurry to leave this we-will-do mentality. Talk of pursuing rats!

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