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Tears Of My People
By Chief Charles O. Okereke
( Monday, December 4, 2006 )
In recent times, the pendulum powered by ethnic, political and religious rival engines has been swinging and beating the drums of instability, uncertainty and chaos in Nigeria. Ethnic militias and activists are making one demand or another, from true federalism that would allow for resource control to complete break-up of the country. This is not surprising considering the fact that Nigeria has operated on the aggregate, an unjust and oppressive system since its existence as a Nation.
Nigerian federal system though designed after the U.S. structure is flawed as it failed to adopt the major ingredients that made the U.S. a success which include resource control and residency. Control of natural resources by the federal government has negated an economy of comparative advantage where states would have been producing products and commodities they have competitiveness in. The prevailing arrangement in the country makes the states unproductive as they depend on the federal government for handouts from the oil money. Resource control would encourage non-oil producing states to generate new revenue generating capacity in agriculture, tourism, information technology and solid minerals. Oil presently accounts for 80 percent of Nigeria's gross national product(GNP). The omission of residency provision by states to settlers and residency by birth in the constitution has produced states and communities with ethnic rather than national identity.
The people suffer, middle class in Nigeria has been completely eroded. The nation seems ‘oiled to poverty’. In the midst of natural resource abundance Nigeria remains a low income nation with a per capita income of $390.00. From better to worse, Nigeria’s per capita income is below the 1960 level, the year she attained independence and below the average for sub-Saharan Africa according to World Bank records. Things got worst over the years. Upon independence up to the mid-1980s Nigeria ranked a middle-income nation. Some may argue the partition of Africa and/or amalgamation of Nigeria gave birth to an artificial country named Nigeria that was bound to fail. Nigerian leaders are to be blamed with the regression of the country since they failed to work on the composition or restructure of the country after independence. Your roommates can be imposed by a superior power, but you do not have to live with each other or abide by the rules after such power is gone. Options that were available upon independence and are still available to Nigeria are to either break-up into several nations according to culture, number and tribe or remain one under a chosen structure best for the relationship amongst the different groups. The best means of weighing such options before military interruption of the first republic was at the house of parliament, but now it is best done through Sovereign National Conference(SNC). This is because with allegations of election rigging as rampant as they are now, the National Assembly might not reflect the peoples’ choices. Sovereign National Conference would include natural and acceptable leaders of each group or tribe, that would push for the best interest of their people within the confines of the polity.
Nigerian leaders have failed to accept the fact that Nigeria is a nation of nations. This is obvious from the political, sectional, religious and cultural polarity amongst the different constituent groups. People are always talking of presidency from their tribe or section and marginalization by the center. Nigeria is best described a unitary system than Federal, even though it goes by the name “Federal Republic of Nigeria”. True federalism would have saved the country from its present state of instability, economic chaos and uncertainty.
Military incursion into Nigerian politics buried democracy and ushered untold hardship, poverty and uncertainty in the country. The bulk of Nigerian wealth is in the hands of retired generals and their associates who use it to manipulate the system. Sovereign National Conference remains the only way out of the woods for Nigeria. The people have long suffered and waited.
Over 1 million civilian lives were lost through starvation during the Nigerian civil war. People suffered in the East. Nigerian troops were used to bombard and raze Odi and surrounding communities of Rivers State in 1999. People suffered in Niger Delta. In 2001 Zaki-Biam in Benue State was razed by the Nigerian Army, many lost their lives. People suffered in the Middle-Belt. In 2000, 250 people were killed in Ajegunle, Lagos from ethnic fighting between the Yoruba and Hausa. In 2002 over 70 lost their lives in Idi-Araba, Lagos in another Yoruba/Hausa clash. The same year hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children lost their lives in Lagos when an army munitions dump exploded. Thousands were traumatized from the incident. People suffered in the West. The North has witnessed several ethnic riots involving many lives and billions of naira worth of property. These ethnic riots are usually dressed up as religious riots by politicians who use them to exert control on the people. Many have lost their lives and hard earned properties from these conflicts. People suffered in the North.
Open the news pages of Nigerian dailies or world news about Nigeria, only very few things would make one smile. Beautiful and handsome but sad faces roam the streets. Unemployment rate may run as high as 70 percent and very high inflation rate makes the case worse. There are conflicting reports on the value of income accruing to the nation that was stashed away in foreign banks by Nigerian leaders. President Obasanjo was quoted in 2002 as putting the total amount of money stolen by African leaders at $104 billion ( BBC Online of 6/13/02 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2043403.stm ). In an article published by BusinessDay, written by Wale Haastrup the total amount looted by Nigerian leaders was put at $20 trillion( refer to http://www.businessdayonline.com/?c=45&a=8569 and http://www.africamasterweb.com/AdSense/NigerianLeadersStole20Trillion.html ). The chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu was quoted by BBC as putting the loot by Nigerian leaders since independence at over $380 billion( BBC Online of 10/20/06 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6069230.stm ). It is not certain the value of Nigerian leaders' loot, but one thing that is obvious is that it is enormous.
High number of elected and government officials seem to be misappropriating and siphoning money. Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan, the Accountant- General of Nigeria at the National 5th Seminar on Economic and Financial Crimes spoke on how public servants loot the treasury( refer to http://www.efccnigeria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1002&Itemid=2 ). Widespread poverty accounts for the bourgeoning rate of crime in the country, which is being exported overseas through Internet or mail scams, popularly known as 419. Desperate Nigerians are finding their way abroad where they are engaged in criminal or illegal activities such as prostitution, fraud, drug and human trafficking. The Mercury( a South African daily ) November 30, 2006 online issue, carried tears-causing article titled “Italian streets offer no joy, hope for Nigerian women”. The article dealt on the sympathetic plight of Nigerian prostitutes in Italy, who face crushing debt, insults, rape, robbery, and battery. They are reportedly shivery and cold, soliciting customers under extremely cold temperatures and constitute over half the Italian prostitute population( refer to http://www.themercury.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=3569168 ).
Most of Nigeria’s earnings are salted away to foreign lands and the people suffer and cry but are held down under one Nigeria. There is nothing wrong with one Nigeria provided it is based on equity, fair play and progress, above all, the design and endorsement of the people. A country is owned by the people and any system that does not cater to their well-being and security is undemocratic and a dictatorship. The people design the system through participation in the drafting of the constitution and amend it through their representatives and referendums. Systems that do not involve democratic participation of the masses result to corrupt and inept government that eventually lead to failed state. Lasting nationhood is not achieved by force through the barrel of the gun, but through willing participation of all groups involved. Defunct Yugoslavia Federation and Soviet Union are good examples for Nigeria to learn from, at least they are the most recent balkanization in history. The ball is in the court of Nigerian leaders to be truthful to themselves in salvaging one Nigeria or facing violent balkanization or break-up of the country. When the masses are poor and crying for redemption, a good leadership would listen and try to redraw the rules. There is ample evidence of massive unemployment, inflation, neglect of infrastructure, and corruption in Nigeria. Decades of misrule by past leaders negate any progress by the present administration which itself does not have a clean slate.
Clamp down of militant, ethnic or self-determination groups in a situation such as Nigeria without addressing issues resulting to their emergence is detrimental to the nation. Such tactics would fail in the long run, judging from history. Dialogue through SNC is the solution for a nation that has been misruled for her greater life leading to untold hardship of constituent groups that possess the necessary qualities in forming their own states. Expediency and justice call for peaceful dissolution of a state be it marriage or association, or renegotiation in the midst of mistrust, rivalry and hostility. Only the uninformed would wait for a violent break-up and its consequences. On this note Nigeria is called upon to release all detained leaders of self-determination groups facing charges of treason. These leaders when freed would be able to exercise their civic rights of voting during the next elections. Sovereign National Conference could be shifted to the next administration since the forthcoming elections would interfere with it's organization. SNC remains an imperative in Nigeria as soon as possible.
Who feels it knows it. I, the author of this article is a good example of the decay, injustice and ineptitude of Nigeria. I was lucky to be able to leave the shores of Nigeria quite unlike millions of talented and qualified unemployed graduates. I was discharged from my scholarship/employment bond with the Imo State Government, Nigeria in 1984 after the Buhari/Idiagbon coup, even though the State sponsored my graduate studies in Agriculture. I obtained my M.S. in Agriculture in 1981 in the U.S. after which the Imo State government wrote me to return to serve my bond with her. The government paid for my return ticket to Nigeria in 1982, but required me to complete my National Youth Service before commencing my employment bond with the state. The army struck overthrowing the civilian government before I could finish my service and wrote me terminating my bond with the state. I was thrown into the unemployment pool for ten months after my service before securing employment in the private sector. My employment was interrupted by a second coup in 1985 that ushered in Structural Adjustment Program(SAP). SAP devalued the naira(local currency) and banned the importation of grains, including maize that was vital to our farm’s livestock unit. Businesses, including farms struggled to make profit and pay salaries. Eventually I was forced to return to the United States in 1987.
It is noteworthy the fact that even though I graduated in 1981, I did not get half of my scholarship fees until 1982. The other half (full payment) I received in 1986, seven years later and this enabled me to return to the United States in 1987. This meant that I pulled through school without my scholarship fees even though my full fees was remitted to the Nigerian Consulate in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. That was the practice then for corrupt Nigerian embassy officials to divert student funds for private use. Affected government scholars would be denied the funds if they dropped out of school. When I went after the consulate for payment they asked me to tender proof I graduated, and when I did they only acknowledged the receipt of half of my fees. The Public Complaints Commission, Owerri, Imo State, wrote over ten letters to the Nigerian U.S. mission between 1983 to 1986 regarding payment of my outstanding scholarship fees without a single reply from the mission. Payment was only possible in 1986 after the then Imo State governor, Navy Captain Allison Madueke intervened with a threat to the consulate that failure to pay me in full would compel him to seek federal action on the matter. My special thanks to Allison Madueke. Nigeria needs more leaders like him. My gratitude remains forever to University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, U.S.A. that on learning of my financial difficulties that were about to force me out of school, secured me employment in the physical plant department of the school.
Nigerian leaders have turned deaf ears to several warnings on addressing the ills of the country and the impending break-up of the polity if nothing is done. The following publications are some of the warnings(some with recommendations) pointing towards the possible break-up of the country:-
URL of Article:- http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4464&l=1
2. U.S. Intelligence: Nigeria ‘ll fail in 15 years – In this article it was reported the U.S.
National Intelligence Council in a document entitled “Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s
Future” predicted “outright collapse of Nigeria” as a nation-state within 15 years.
3. In Nigeria, things fall apart – In this article The New York Times warned that Nigeria
was deteriorating from third term bid by President Obasanjo which was enflaming
political tensions among Nigeria’s polarized ethnic groups, particularly the Muslims in
the north and Christians in the south.
4. Civil war still possible – In this article Nobel literature laureate, Professor Wole
Soyinka warned that the continued agitations of power shift by a section of the
country could lead to another civil war.
5. Nigeria ’ll break up if… Gowon, Adebayo cry out – In this article Nigeria’s former
head of state General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) warned that Nigeria was on the brink of
disintegration because his successors failed to build on the national unity and similar
values achieved through the civil war. Ex-military governor of Old Western State,
Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd) agreed with Gowon that much of the gains of
the past had been overlooked.
6. Nigeria ‘on the brink of disaster’ – In this article Nobel literature laureate, Professor
Wole Soyinka warned that Nigeria was heading towards a violent implosion that would
dwarf the crisis in Darfur with the wave of mass killings in the country.
Recently, 65 Nobel laureates comprising the Commission of Nobel Laureates on Peace, Equity and Development in the Niger Delta of Nigeria proposed measures in reducing the likelihood of conflict escalation in the region. The Commission was established to address injustice, mitigate suffering, and prevent conflicts in Niger Delta from escalating and spilling across Nigerian borders. Recommendations of the laureates included unfettered 2007 election, comprehensive fight on corruption, environmental clean-up, investment and employment opportunities in oil producing communities( refer to http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/headline/f102122006.html ). This is yet another opportunity for Nigeria in solving the ills shaking and rattling her cooperate existence.
Can Nigeria be saved? This is a question that can be answered through SNC and this should have been done before voter registration in the 2007 elections. The polity is heating up from ethnic and sectional tensions as the elections draw nearer. A mere statement by President Obasanjo that he sees the need now for a Sovereign National Conference, but owing to time limitation would support one after handover in 2007, would help cool the air.
A Sovereign National Conference when conveyed would address issues that are presently holding the country hostage and trying to tear her apart. The conference would produce documents that would be used in the drafting of a suitable constitution for the people. This is the only solution in saving Nigeria either as a Union, Confederacy or peacefully balkanized region. No action may lead to a violent break-up.
Image Above: Map showing Nigeria's 36 States & the capital Abuja( referred to as Federal Capital Territory or F.C.T. )
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