Innocent residents of Jos, a once quiescent town, and Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, received gruesome gifts within the last week. On Christmas Eve, several bombs exploded in different parts of Jos, leaving in their wake a death toll as high as eighty, an unknown number of the maimed, the bereaved and the scarred.
As if Jos wasn’t gory enough, the habitués of a “mammy” market abutting a military barrack in Abuja received their own deadly jolt on New Year’s Eve. A series of blasts claimed an unspecified number of lives and gravely wounded. In fact, there’s larger, long-term cost, hard if not impossible to calculate. It lies in the psychological havoc that the bomb blasts have wrought on the nation. How does one assign a value to the air of foreboding that now pervades the body politic, the sheer sense of terror that is bound to sweep the national canvas? Imagine the thousands, perhaps millions, of residents whose nerves are now set on edge, citizens who are utterly uncertain about their very next moment.
That’s the space that Nigerians, high and mighty alike, willy-nilly inhabit. The nightmare this sorry, misconceived and thoroughly mismanaged nation ordered has arrived – again!
Both bloody events – along with other death-spewing explosions or acts of violence in Maiduguri, Yenogoa, and Ibadan – signal a new nightmarish low in Nigeria’s depressing narrative. Nigeria’s record, sadly, is one of taking tragic acts and turning them into the norm. Think about the scourge of kidnapping. It started sporadically in the oil-producing Niger Delta and, at first, targeted expatriates employed in the oil industry.
Then, before anybody could spell ransom, cells of kidnappers sprouted all over the southeast. Unchecked, they have since smothered economic as well as social activities. Few Nigerians would believe that their governments have any antidote for the plague. Before our very eyes, kidnapping has become a fact of life, another specter haunting a much-betrayed, much-abused people.
So it is, one fears, with car bombs and other explosives. Rabid Islamist fundamentalists, the economically destitute, and political desperadoes appear to have come together and found a perfect, awful weapon. And Nigeria may never be the same.
Nigeria has grown into a perfect kingdom for terrorists and criminals. No society is immune from crimes. In Nigeria’s case, however, crime is fertilized by two factors. One is the deep involvement of the most prominent citizens in a broad spectrum of crimes. Think about past and present presidents, governors, legislators, ministers, commissioners and local government leaders and their mind-boggling cache of looted funds. Recall the gargantuan gap between the revenues that flow into public treasuries and the paltry sums that are ever accounted for or invested in the public cause.
Another catalyst for crime in Nigeria is the absence of serious deterrence. In other words, whereas most other societies make an effort to identify, prosecute and punish criminals, Nigeria is a virtual crime zone, a place where the privileged not only perpetrate the highest crimes but also ensure that their wizardry at crime never invites sanction of any kind.
It’s an election season in Nigeria – and we can expect an exacerbation of violent crimes. For one, despite the creation of agencies like the EFCC and ICPC, aspirants to public office in Nigeria know that their country has one of the lowest thresholds of accountability and transparency in the world. Despite the current legal troubles of former Governor James Onanefe Ibori, most Nigerian governors – as well as the candidates eyeing their posts from the sidelines – can count on facing no prosecutorial sanction whatever for their money laundering and graft.
Nigeria has gone through its one-week charade of hounding former Vice President Dick Cheney for facilitating Halliburton’s $180 million bribery of Nigerian officials. Yet, Nigerian prosecutors have not identified, much less docked, one significant Nigerian recipient of the bribe. Rather than face prosecution, the Nigerians who sold their country to an affiliate of Halliburton are parading their national honors, quaffing and gorging at official functions, and basking in their media-created adulation as “stake [steak] holders.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, Mr. Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, recently claimed that politicians masterminded the bomb blasts that shook Jos on the eve of Christmas. That assertion coincides with the conventional wisdom. Mr. Goodluck Jonathan and his aides have said as much. But that conclusion begs the question: Do these political instigators have faces and names? If they do, why is it that the government has not unmasked a single sponsor of these death squads? Why does the Nigerian state continue to send the signal that it’s always sent: that religious zealots who kill indiscriminately in the name of their god would not be made to pay for their crime?
Therein lies a terrible contradiction. Jonathan has vowed that those who ambushed innocent Nigerians with explosives will be found out and tried. But such rhetoric strikes many Nigerians as hollow. Numerous Nigerians perished in a series of car bombs that punctuated – and marred – Nigeria’s 50th anniversary fiesta in Abuja. The SSS made a fanfare of arresting Mr. Raymond Dokpesi, a media entrepreneur who was then running the doomed presidential campaign of former dictator Ibrahim Babangida. Three months later, the state is yet to formally charge anybody with the crimes.
Ply the archives of Nigeria’s religious violence and you’ll read a litany of the kind of assurance Jonathan issued. But the record of action is dismal. A security apparatus that couldn’t tell us who killed former Attorney General Bola Ige is unlikely to figure out who’s planting and detonating bombs in Nigeria. But wait a minute: Perhaps, the security apparatus know who organized Mr. Ige’s assassination. They may well know those behind the blasts in Abuja and Jos. Perhaps, then, they are hamstrung, unable to contemplate the arrest and censure of the highly placed elements implicated in these crimes.
At any rate, there’s been a long build-up to this nightmare of bomb blasts. Thanks to the succession of rapacious criminals and mediocrities that have dominated the affairs of Nigeria, the country now resembles a strafed landscape, the majority of its citizens deprived of human dignity, stripped of hope, reduced to living squalid, animalized lives.
With elections looming, nobody should be surprised that the human parasites who suck the nation’s blood would wish to ratchet up the violence. The PDP’s “do-or-die” approach to the 2007 elections – a doctrine established by Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo – has set the stage, one fears, for a much more violent set of elections in 2011. Essentially, what the PDP did in 2007 was steal whatever state or elective post it fancied – and then, affecting a falsely sanctimonious tone, ask those it disinherited not to “overheat the polity” but instead to go to court.
The PDP’s policy was cynical through and through. Obasanjo and his band of mischief-makers reckoned that too many judges were craven, susceptible to inducement. A judiciary whose members are ready agents for sealing and authenticating stolen elections must realize its complicity in the festering violence that attends political contests.
Mr. Jonathan, acting alone, does not have the will, tools or muscle to address the crisis of violence. The challenge is for all Nigerians, and the answer lies in creating a society that’s truly founded on a healthy notion of the rule of law. Nigerians should insist on the enthronement of the principle of equality before the law. The police should be thoroughly professionalized. Police officers ought to be able to arrest a former head of state or governor – without first seeking approval from the president. Those who embezzle public funds, rig elections, or kill for their divine entities should know that, once caught, they would be made to pay a stiff price. Supreme Court justices ought to have the courage to overturn a purloined presidential election and demand a new, credible election. Those who run the nation, or states or local governments must subject themselves to scrutiny – and realize that they are accountable to those they govern. We must begin to invest public funds in bettering the public space, rather than in fattening some officials’ bank accounts.
Unless we combat those who steal the nation into a state of dejection and hopelessness, we risk a Nigeria where bomb blasts are a staple.