By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Let’s get it right from the start. Nigeria has been a huge disappointment to her citizens, and no one, not even those in the corridors of power is happy with the country. There are systemic challenges that are almost as old as the nation itself. Compared with nations with the same history and background, Nigeria is in the bottom rung.
India’s economy has been growing in leaps and bounds while Nigeria’s is shrinking. With the pandemic challenge, which hit India hardest, Goldman Sachs has lowered their GDP estimate for India and put its economic growth at 11.1 per cent from 13 per cent earlier, whereas Nigeria’s economy before the 2016 recession was growing at 6.3 per cent. Before Covid-19, the economy was growing at 2.2 per cent. Inflation was in single digits by 2014 compared to 12 per cent in 2019. 83 million people live below the poverty line while another 53 million are vulnerable according to statistics from the World Bank
Instead of growing the economy, successive governments focus more on politicking and on who gets the lion share of the national cake. This has left us more divided than united, and those who assume the mantle of leadership, by invoking primordial sentiments, end up only serving themselves, family and cronies. Therefore, the emphasis on political power, at best detracts from our collective yearning to grow as a nation and the region in whose name power is exercised.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, was president of Nigeria, but the challenges facing the Niger Delta region never abated. Buhari is president today, supposedly holding the office on behalf of the North, in particular the North west, but the North is now a killing field, a big jungle where banditry, kidnapping, insurgency are competing for the destruction of the region.
All these and more have left all citizens disillusioned even as we struggle to provide basic amenities such as water (through boreholes) and electricity through the now ubiquitous generators for ourselves. However, that we are unhappy with our country and angry about the system that produced the inept leaderships at all levels should not entail killing fellow humans who are probably in deeper shit and destroy institutions or structures already in place. Imagine how disconcerting, how tragic it is for a bread winner to go to work and get killed by hooligans for merely wearing police uniform, as distraught as he might have been in that uniform, but nonetheless had to endure just to be able to feed his family.
That is why it beats me hollow that aggrieved citizens have turned their rage on equally unfortunate uniformed men, whose only crime is the uniform they wear, which symbolises authority, and which the anti-government people are opposed to or the INEC offices which are being torched here and there.
At the last count, according to statistics, a total of 497 policemen were killed between the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2021, in addition to other incidents that resulted in the death of 1,175 other Nigerians. This is besides the killing of prison guards, immigration officers in line of duty and quiet a number of Nigerian soldiers and civilian JTF in the hands of insurgents, especially Boko Haram, who lost their lives in the course of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria or their individual communities. Where else in the world do they kill uniformed men in this proportion? What is their offence? Were they not as disgruntled as their next-door neighbour?
In recent time, IPOB has gained so much notoriety and many of the killings and burning of INEC offices in the East were linked to their armed wing, the Eastern Security Network(ESN). I still cannot comprehend the connection between INEC offices and marginalisation or secession that IPOB was set up to fight, other than that non-state actors have taken the centre-state because of the state’s failure to ensure justice is done to every region, criminality is punished and laws are enforced to the letter.
Torching INEC offices is a drawback for continuous registration exercise, which can also disenfranchise some people in some areas. INEC materials are not bought off the shelves, so there is the cumbersome process of budgeting and procuring in a Covid-19 era where factories have scaled down production. (Mark you, almost all the equipment are imported). Except for the expression of frustration on the part of those perpetrating these evils, I wonder what they stand to benefit from arson on INEC offices.
With the exception of equipment and materials, INEC offices are mainly donated by local and state governments, so the loss irredeemably returns to the state and local communities already struggling for survival. Arson or destruction of INEC offices cannot stop elections from taking place; as a matter of fact, disenfranchising your communities will make things easier for election riggers to have a field day. And local communities according to INEC constitute 80 percent of the staff strength at INEC offices. According to INEC commissioner in charge of voter education, Festus Okoye, it is not the duty of INEC to provide security for their offices, even though through inter-agency cooperation, they work hand in hand with security agencies to conduct and supervise election. Methink, that same cooperation should be applied to safeguard the permanent structures and equipment being destroyed day in day out.
And if I may ask, how does arson on INEC offices solve our multi-dimensional challenges as a nation. So, you see, everyone is justifiably angry—angry over the country’s state of affairs, angry at the rot in our educational and health institutions, angry that corruption is still rife despite the anti-corruption mantra and angry that Nigeria is not working. We are all angry that one dollor now equates to 502 naira which has further affected the cost of everything including food and our daily needs. We all have reasons to be angry with the system and people that have held us back for decades.
We are angry because, we do not even have the liberty of sleeping with two eyes closed, neither can we travel a shot distance without the fear of being kidnapped. Boko Haram has taken a part of our land, from where they unleash terror on us, while bandits roam freely in the bushes and forests from where they threaten our existence.
We are angry because they have taken our children’s innocence away and traumatised their childhood with bad news; they cannot longer play on the streets freely. We are angry because we have been abandoned to our own devices.