Nigeria, Bursting At The Seams

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Nigeria, Bursting At The Seams

 

by

 

Mike Thomson
BBC News, Nigeria

 

culled from BBC News, June 3, 2005

 

In the six years since Nigeria passed from military rule to democracy, an estimated 10,000 people have died in inter-faith or ethnic violence.

Doom-mongers are warning that the future could hold even more bloodshed for a nation that is sitting on a power keg.

At its base are religious tensions and inexplicable poverty.

Optimists prefer to believe that the bloodletting will soon pass as the country adapts to democracy, defeats corruption and reforms its mightily mismanaged economy.

Optimists must find entering Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, a bit of a challenge.

Arriving at this massive, polluted city is a shock to the system.

Endless choking, honking traffic jams smother its roads from dawn till dusk. Virtual lakes of water on the roads compete with pot holes and manic drivers in making visitors wish they had never come .

Grimy, grey buildings and dirty ill-stocked stalls provide the only view through the car windows.

 

Few pockets

 

No matter where you drive, it never seems to get any better in this manic metropolis of up to 14 million people which is thought to be growing by as many as 500,000 souls each year..

Yet this apparently impoverished nation is rich in oil.

Nigeria is estimated to have made more than $300 billion from the stuff since independence from Britain in 1960. So, where has it all gone?

 

The answer, it would seem, is in a very small number of pockets.

Whilst around 70% of the population exists on just $1 a day others have been acquiring astonishing sums in ill-gotten gains.

 

The nation's former leader, Sani Abacha is accused of siphoning of more than $2 billion during his five year term in office.

Two admirals were recently convicted of stealing thousands of barrels of oil and more than 100 customs officers have been dismissed for oil-related corruption.

In all, around 10% of Nigeria's oil production is thought to be stolen each year.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has declared war against corruption and promised to reform the state's inefficient and moribund economy.

This cannot come too soon.

Six lawmakers and a former minister have recently been charged with corruption.

 

Constraints

 

Many businessmen complain that it is sometimes almost impossible to make an honest living in a country where corruption is rife, inefficiency endemic and red tape smothering.

Dayo Lawuyi, who is Managing Director of Dunlop Nigeria, says it is hard to compete with western competitors when you're struggling with a plethora of every day problems that they can hardly imagine:

"The infrastructure deficiencies we encounter, the problems of power cuts, the water supply problems, security problems and on top of that there's corruption, people bringing in goods through the back door, under-invoicing.

 

"These are the constraints that my colleagues in Europe and the US do not face."

 

Head north from Lagos and crime-wracked southern Nigeria and you encounter a whole new set of problems.

The violence here is less to do with crime and more to do with battles between different faiths.

Mass grave

Around a year ago, in May 2004 the government of Plateau Province declared a state of emergency after fighting between Christians and Muslims left hundreds dead in the Yelwa-Shendam area.

Thousands of others have died in a range of other inter-faith battles in the region since the first outbreak of violence in the state capital of Jos in 2001.

A mass grave on the outskirts of town bears testimony to the savagery.

 

One of the most worrying aspects of it all is the common claim that local security forces did little or nothing to prevent the outbreaks happening, despite plenty of warning signs.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, told me:

 

"My priests, who were scattered all over the place, told me that they saw young men carrying weapons and the police just looked at them.

People should be protected. But when you see locally made arms all over the place, or you see sophisticated weapons - even more sophisticated that what the soldiers and the police have, then you have to ask questions."

Archbishop Kaigama is convinced that some local politicians did not only turn a blind eye to the gathering threat of violence but actually helped promote it in order to bolster votes form within their own communities:

"Certainly the politicians have a major role to play in this crisis because they seemed to benefit more from it... You could believe that some were even engineering the whole problem."

 

Marginalised

 

Many local Muslims claim that the state government is bent on creating a "Christian Sharia State", along the lines of the 12 Muslim states in the north of the country, which have introduced strict Islamic Sharia law.

They insist that their members have long been marginalised and are always blamed when violence breaks out. One local Muslim spokesman, Mohammed Issad put it this way:

"Whenever there is any crisis only Muslims are arrested.

 

"We have around 500 Muslims who were arrested in the last crisis.

"I don't think there were even 10 Christians arrested and even if there were once it was realised they were Christians they'd be allowed to go."

Plateau state governor Chief Joshua Dariye, who is wanted for questioning by British police in connection with allegations of money laundering in London, denies that Muslims have been treated as second class citizens in any way.

He also rejects allegations made in a recent report by the pressure group, Human Rights Watch.

They say that too little has been done to bring charges against those involved in the killings, some of whom were members of the state's security forces.

"If people are killed and you cannot find the people who killed them, it is difficult. You can not just make random arrests. Justice must be seen to be fair and equitable. Everywhere in the world if there is not information you can bring people to book."

 

Revenge

 

But state Information Minister Yakubu Datti has a different explanation for why so few people have been convicted here following the large number of recent killings in the state:

"In Africa we have our own ways of resolving conflicts. Sometimes what you call bringing people to justice does not necessarily compensate whoever is a victim.

"By the time you begin to go through getting people brought to justice and all that you end up re-opening old wounds."

At a recent open-air church service in the state capital, Jos, attended by more than 5,000 people, much was said about the need for peace following the carnage near here a year ago.

Some at the service told me that they feared history might well repeat itself if those responsible for the massacres remain unpunished.

The fear being that a thirst for revenge will remain amongst the families of victims who died on both sides.

But one man I spoke to, a local Muslim who lost several family members in the violence, gives all of Nigeria cause for hope:

"I bear no grudge against anybody. I believe that we are all from Adam, so we should respect each other.

"We are brothers. We have one destiny. We will all die one day and then we'll be judged."

 

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