The state of our nation


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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The State Of Our Nation



Edwin Madunagu


culled from GUARDIAN March 25, 2004

TWO stories on the front page of The Guardian, Thursday, March 4, 2004, arrested me for an unusually long time. The stories, the first a calamity, the second a lamentation, made an instant and shattering impact on my emotions.

The reason might be that they were appearing on the same page or that I was also reading between the lines. I heard myself asking the desperate question: What exactly can we do to halt this descent to the unknown

bulletThe first story was titled "Gunmen attack Akume's convoy, kill PDP Chief, Agom", while the second carried the caption "Enahoro, Soyinka form a group to check misrule". We start with the March 4 calamity and end with Wole Soyinka's lamentation.

Governor George Akume of Benue State, a member of the ruling People's Democratic Parth (PDP), was travelling from his headquarters in Makurdi to Abuja on Wednesday, March 3, 2004, when his convoy of cars was attacked by "suspected bandits" along the Lafia-Akwanga road in the neighbouring Nasarawa State. In Nigeria, a bandit is an armed robber. The time of attack was given as 7.15 a.m; that is, broad daylight.

The road is a major one, leading to the nation's capital. The governor's mission was "to attend a meeting at the Presidency" according to The Guardian report, or "to attend a PDP meeting", according to another. The attack claimed two lives: Chief Andrew Agom, a former Managing Director of the Nigeria Airways and a member of PDP's Board of Trustees; and Sergeant Joseph Ngam, the governor's police guard. Some other people in the governor's entourage sustained "varying degrees of wound". The Guardian reported, that "Governor Akume, who was in the same car with Agom, escaped death by the whiskers", but elsewhere in the report the paper quoted the Chief Press Secretary to the governor as saying that "Agom and the police orderly who were in the escort car were killed in the shooting spree".

My questions here may be called trivial or immaterial. Yet they are crucial if we must understand the types of forms of armed "banditry" now ravaging the country, their motivations and primary targets, and, beyond that, their perpetrators. If Agom and the governor's police orderly were together in the escort car, it follows that either the governor, Agom and police orderly were in one car, and the bandits killed Agom and the police orderly, with the governor escaping death "by the whiskers", or there were two "Agoms", one with the governor, and the other with the police orderly, in separate cars. A newsmagazine later confirmed that the former was the case. But in a situation where everyone, including the "bereaved", the investigators and the political authorities, is under suspicion this confirmation does not settle the matter.

My second problem is this: The attack took place in broad daylight along a major road. Governors normally travel in convoys with sirens blaring. The "bandits", were likely to have known that they were attacking the convoy of a big person. Did the convoy run into the armed robbers who were operating in the area or was the attack a planned ambush

bulletIf the latter, what was the motive: robbery or assassination
bulletAgain, if the latter, who was the target, or who were the targets
bulletSince the Agom tragedy, several other, even more bizarre high-profile killings have taken place in the land. There have also been allegations of high-profile threats of assassination. Each raises similar questions.

At 3.00 a.m. on Sunday, March 7, 2004, barely four days after the murder of Andrew Agom, the Chairman of the Kogi State Independent Electoral Commission, Chief Philip Olorunipa, was shot dead in his bedroom by "suspected assassins". The report said that the killers, on entering the premises, went straight to their victim's bedroom and shot him. They knew where the target was, and his police guard could not help him. The police immediately announced the arrest of three suspects, including a leading member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). A few days earlier, a prospective candidate in the March 27 local government elections in the state was similarly killed. About four weeks earlier, on Friday, February 6, 2004, Chief Amino-Sari Dikibo, the National Vice-Chairman of PDP for South-South, was killed by gunmen" later identified by some authorities as "armed robbers", a few kilometres from Asaba, capital of Delta State. Like Agom, Dikibo was on his way to a meeting.

The Guardian of Sunday, March 7, 2004 carried, on its front page, a story: Kalu on Death Threat: Enough is Enough. It was a report of an interview with Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State the previous day. In that interview the governor informed the nation of a letter he recently wrote to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria complaining that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ruling PDP had threatened to eliminate him (the governor) the same way Chief Bola Ige, a former Federal Minister of Justice was eliminated over three years ago. The governor cited his deputy as a witness to the open verbal threat. In the same interview Governor Kalu said that Dikibo had complained of threats to his life three days before he (Dikibo) was killed. The PDP leadership, of which the governor was supposed to be a member, immediately denied the governor's allegations. The governor, in turn, denounced the PDP's denial, and raised a general alarm of the existence, in the country, of a murderous gang.

The Abia State Deputy Governor first confirmed his part of the story but later repudiated it - after holding some meetings with some highly placed people in Abuja. As the controversy raged, the federal authorities withdraw the business licenses of Governor Kalu. About the same time, the Deputy Governor released the content of the memorandum he sent to the governor on the "death threat". The document did not mention "threat". We shall hear and see more.

In a two-part article, another letter to President Obasanjo The Guardian, February 24 and 25, 2004, Professor Niyi Osundare told the president: "In the reckoning of most Nigerians, you are the most arrogant, most insensitive, most callous, and most self-righteous and hypocritical ruler that this unfortunate country has ever been saddled with in its hapless saga of misrule".

He then illustrated: "You met a litre of petrol selling for N21; it now goes for a whooping N42 in a few places and twice as much in many others. As if this was not enough you topped it all with a N1.50 levy misnamed "fuel tax". Three tubers of medium-size yam costing N80.00 when you assumed office in 1999 now costs N300.00; a bag of rice which was N3,200.00 then now costs N4,800.00; a bag of cement was N550.00 in 1999; now it goes for N1,000.00".

Etubom Bassey Ekpo Bassey complemented the list: "Transparency International has moved us from the disgraceful position of the 27th most corrupt country in the world under Abacha to No.2 under Obasanjo; the World Health Organisation says our healthcare system is the worst but one in the entire world; as UNDP insists, whereas a whopping 48.5 per cent of Nigerians lived under poverty line in 1998, Chief Obasanjo quickly achieved the higher figure of 70 per cent in 2001".

Bassey lamented: "Today, the picture of pillage and plunder of the vast majority by a handful of their countrymen and women is complete; so is the cognate picture of utter destitution, rampaging poverty, violent crimes, unspeakable insecurity, of blood and death everywhere.

And Osundare continued: "Dear President, how many more riots, how many more corpses, do you need to see in the streets before you know that your social and economic "policies" are killing the people you vowed to protect

bulletDeregulation. Monetisation. Privatisation. Why is your emphasis always on price increase than the efficient running of Nigeria's refineries
bulletConcerning privatisation, who stands to profit by the sale of our major national holdings if not the already rich and their friends and associates
bulletHow can the so many Nigerians perishing from today's pain become the inheritors of tomorrow's gain

As I said earlier, some prominent Nigerians, including Chief Anthony Enahoro and Professor Wole Soyinka, were reported to have formed a group "to save Nigeria from sliding into civilian dictatorship and one-party state". At a press conference in Lagos on March 3, 2004, Soyinka, on behalf of the group, Citizen Forum, denounced the "increased intolerance of dissent, a contempt for constitutional procedures, abuse of police powers, a flagrant debasement of the electoral process, cynical manipulation of the judiciary, leading to a loss of public confidence, an on-going agenda for the destruction of intellectual institutions, the usurpation of popular will by Mafioso conspiracies, arrogant insensitivity to mass economic realities, erosion of checks and balances entrenched in the separation of powers".

He then made an indirect call: "Irrespective of ideological leanings or party allegiances, all mature citizens with a sense of civic worth must surely feel demeaned or, at the very least, concerned by the predator mentality that now pervades all tiers of governance".

These reports, taken together, present a very grim picture of our country, and constitute one of the most vehement denunciations of the present regime I have so far seen. The question is: What exactly can we do

bulletPeace studies in tertiary institutions

STARTING from the next academic session, tertiary institutions in the country will be compelled to introduce what the Federal Government has named "Peace Studies" into their curriculum. The purpose, according to the National Universities Commission (NUC), is to "create a peaceful atmosphere conducive for teaching and learning".

Recognising the need for peace as a prerequisite for national development is understandable and this should be encouraged. The moments of tension in the country, and the disruption of life and activities in our higher institutions in the last fifteen odd years have been especially disturbing. The question however, is whether peace can be achieved by merely teaching it to students and adults.

It is true that at the global level, peace has remained a major challenge. Recurrently, there are reports of violence and disorder across the world, resulting in deaths and wanton destruction. In Nigeria, the reign of anomie and wilful violations of the rule of law have been facilitated by widespread poverty, ethnic and religious disaffection and the failure of public institutions.

Hitherto co-existing and peaceful communities have gone into attritional battles as in Ife-Modakeke, Warri (Itsekiri/Ijaw, Itsekiri/ Urhobo), Aguleri/Umuleri, Shagamu, Jukun/Tiv, Idi Araba, Mushin, and many other examples. The Odi and Zaki Biam massacres can also be included in our long list of sad incidents. In addition, our institutions of higher learning have become killing fields with the menace of cultism resulting in the clash of rival cults and the killing of students and teachers by blood-thirsty brigands, masquerading as students.

This has all had serious implications for the health of society in general. Foreign investors are scared away. Parts of the country such as the Niger Delta have become theatres of internecine warfare. The economic cost is huge; the toll on the public psyche is enormous.

This gives cause for worry. Something needs to be done to arrest the situation. And perhaps teaching peace studies in our higher institutions may be a good entry point. But it is not enough.

What is required is a honest attempt by government to identify and address the root-causes of violence, disorder as well as reckless conduct in our society. Finding a solution to this is bound to be a more clear-headed response to the challenge of peace and the search for a stable society in which there is a greater emphasis on good neighbourliness, openness and understanding.

For instance, are the economic resources of the country being shared equitably
bulletIf not, why
bulletAnd how does this affect socio-economic responses
bulletIs there social justice
bulletAre the different tiers of government responsive
bulletAre public institutions working
bulletDo the people have confidence in the system
bulletWhy are our youths so easily moved to violent behaviour
bulletAnd how and why did religion and ethnicity become centrifugal forces in our land
bulletAnd what can be done
bulletThe insistence on peace studies as a subject in our universities may not necessarily address these problems or translate into other policy initiatives. The students are likely to offer the course, pass the examination in it and simply forget about it. This is so to the extent that there is a profound disconnection between the youth of this era and the dreams of the founding fathers of the Nigerian state.

And how does anyone teach peace in educational institutions where the students suffer form neglect and the environment is disenabling

bulletAnd why the concern with peace studies, when the teaching of history has even been taken off the school curriculum at the secondary school level
bulletIf the intention is to solve the problem of cultism in the schools, this is probably not the solution that is required.

Above all, governments at all levels have a leadership role to play. It is no secret that the youth are taking a cue from the men and women who currently hold the reins of power. For example, the spectre of political assassinations across the country sends a wrong message to the law-abiding. The pervasive impression that persons in power and office can do as they wish, the brazen worship of lucre, and the desperate search for wealth by any means possible have helped to build a culture of abuse and brigandage.

There is need for the creation of an enabling environment for peaceful co-existence built on a foundation of justice, equity, and a sense of citizenship and ownership within the social estate. The twin issues of social justice and economic hardship have to be tackled. Jobs should be created, opportunities should be provided for self-actualisation; government must become more open and accountable. The widening gap between the rich and the poor should be bridged; citizens in general should be empowered; the education system should be strengthened.

It does bear reiteration that peace is desirable. But it is a practical value. It can neither be imposed on the people nor decreed into existence.


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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.