Nigeria as a big territory for refugees

 Casmir Igbokwe

The giant of Africa is gradually turning out to be a giant refugee territory. Like Pharaoh, who held Israelites captive for years, Nigerian rulers have held their citizens hostage. As the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukhtar, said last Monday, Nigerians are now refugees in their own country.

Our citizens, Mukhtar regretted, “Are forced to flee their homes, ancestral places of abode and places of business due to no fault of theirs.”

Almost on a daily basis, there is one crisis or the other that will precipitate destruction of lives and properties. Just last Friday, citizens of Wukari town in Taraba State went for one another’s jugular. The violence reportedly started during a funeral procession for a third-class chief of the Jukun Traditional Council. The mourners were said to have passed through a section of the town chanting slogans that angered the residents of the area. By the time they finished, the clash had claimed about 39 lives and 30 houses.

Last year, similar crisis in Plateau State led to the death and displacement of many people. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Nigerian Red Cross estimated that over 5,500 people were displaced after the attacks in Barkin Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas. The victims became refugees in their homeland.

A few weeks ago, the Boko Haram insurgents and members of the Joint Task Force had a clash in Baga, Borno State. Some reports put the number of deaths at over 100. Many houses were reportedly burnt.   

Those who escape being killed by terrorists or security agents may not escape armed robbers and kidnappers. The latest public figure to fall victim to the kidnappers is an elder statesman and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr Shettima Ali Monguno. The old man, though, was released after three days in captivity. Not even during the civil war did Nigerians live with this type of trauma.

A lot of people have attributed this sorry state of affairs to bad leadership. To a large extent, this is correct. The country has not been lucky to have men of character and vision at the helm of affairs. The man who showed some bit of leadership, Murtala Mohammed, did not live long to actualise his dreams for the country.

The country’s current leadership does not have any focus or direction. We boast of some macro-economic gains, yet this does not trickle down to the majority of the citizens. At a time when Nigerians are dying in their thousands from variegated crises; at a period when youth unemployment is at an all-time high; and at a time when the unity of the country is seriously threatened, the leadership at the centre is mainly concerned with building such things as a befitting banquet hall at the seat of power.

For many state governments, what matters is building palaces for traditional rulers, doing some patchwork on gully-prone roads and sponsoring religious pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. They even gloat over such ‘achievements’ and engineer a sponsored crowd to clap and sing praise songs for them. What else do we say except, father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing; they are ignorant of what constitutes the indices of development.

The danger staring at us is made more manifest when you gauge our performance on key areas of life. For instance, the country is 14th out of 177 countries surveyed in the 2012 Failed States Index. The country is only ahead of such conflict-torn countries as Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Congo D.R. Besides, the 2012 Global Peace Index ranked Nigeria as the sixth most dangerous African country to live in. And in Where-to-be-born index released late last year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Nigeria was ranked 80 out of 80 countries to emerge the worst country for a baby to be born in 2013.

Rather than pause and ponder over our predicaments and find ways of solving them, we continue to live in denial. Like a below-average student who is wont to say, “They gave me 10 per cent,” instead of saying, “I scored 10 per cent,” our rulers had at one time or the other, dismissed these scorecards as inconsequential.     

This is why the Federal Government will be talking of centenary celebration of our forced amalgamation early next year without qualms. And that was why the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, went on a good governance tour the other day to showcase what, to them, are the beautiful things the state governors are doing. 

But this grand delusion can only subsist for a while. Soviet Union was once a united indivisible country. Today, it has been fragmented into four different countries. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are some other countries that decided to go their separate ways.

Now is the time for Nigerians to discuss how they want to either live together as one country or go their separate ways. Every human union or relationship is by mutual consent defined essentially by love or compatibility. When it is forced, there is bound to be grudges, deep-seated animosity, fighting and untimely deaths.

This is what Nigeria is going through at the moment. One major thing that can cushion the bad feelings is good governance. But not the type Labaran Maku went in search of in the states.  

Just as Lee Kuan Yew turned the fortunes of Singapore around; just as former Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the British people the inspiration to confront Adolf Hitler of Germany during the Second World War, it will only take purposeful, honest, incorruptible and dynamic leadership to rescue Nigeria. It is either we do this now or we find ourselves as refugees in Somalia sooner than later.

First published in Hallmark on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. 

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