The casualties are not only those who are dead, Poet J. P. Clark writes in his celebrated poem, “The Casualties”. He says those who are dead are well out of it, even when they await burial by installment. He goes on to lament that the casualties are not only those who lost somebody or some property; those who are led away by night; those who are escaping. The casualties, he echoes “are many and a good member as well outside the scenes of ravage and wreck.”
The stampede at the Immigration recruiting centers in Nigeria is in many ways a sad reminder of how we are all casualties of the Nigerian failure.
The sketch of the tragedy is like this: Half a million unemployed youth gathered to apply for about 5000 positions opened at the Immigration Department. The government outsourced the job of hiring to these positions to a company that charged each youth N1000 for the application form. Despite several past instances of failed crowd control, desperate youths were cramped into centers for a test. It was only a matter of time before something would trigger a stampede.
This one incident brings to the fore the depth of our despair. It is one that ‘those outside the scenes of ravage and wreck’ often ignore or minimize. Those who believe the micro and macro-economic jargons often rambled out by the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, must be shocked by the immigration incident. The official Nigerian unemployment figure of 24% must obviously be a joke if 500,000 youths applied for an entry-level government job. Never mind President Goodluck Jonathan’s claim that the government has created 1.6 million jobs in 2013 alone.
Most upsetting is the manner that the people responsible for handling the employment exercise handled their job. Often, ‘those outside the scenes of ravage and wreck’ think that those of us who demand the best practice are just obsessed with criticism. We demand the best practice because it has been shown, time and time again, that anything less portends disaster. Neither luck nor prayers would prevent such eventuality. By failing to prepare, you have essentially prepared to fail. If the capacity of a building is 100 people and you let in 200 people, irrespective of how long we pray, God would not stop disaster from happening.
Another aspect of this matter is that same issue of accountability that we have been hammering on. When a nation worships the same people they should be holding accountable, what ought to be a cycle of life will be punctuated by a cycle of violence. It starts with how we choose people who handle the affairs of our nation. When the president boldly states that his choice of ministers had nothing with the position where they have any expertise, it is a recipe for disaster.
Ask yourself, who was the minister in charge of the immigration department? How was he picked to be a minister? Who forwarded his name for the post? What was his pedigree? Who did he outsource the job of handling the recruitment exercise to? When you get these answers, then you will immediately understand why the minister’s initial reaction to the tragedy was disgusting and tragic at the same time.
Actions must have consequences. Where they don’t, actions go exponential and consequences multiply. It will continue to generate like an evil weed until it gets to our pristine corner and strangulate us who are outside the scenes of ravage and wreck. When we say that those who steal horses must be made to pay a price, we don’t just have in mind the desire that horses should not be stolen. More importantly, we want to prevent the outright stealing of the barn.
The world is so generous that nobody is asking us to reinvent the wheel. We know what is working and where it is working. Our only responsibility now is to borrow it and adjust it to fit into our environment. Chikena! But we won’t. Instead we think that our shortcut will lead us through the backdoor into paradise. We think that the law of nature will bend for us because we are a special breed. Well, it won’t. Unlike our laws, it is truly blind. If we get in the way, we face the consequences.
Our blatant refusal to follow the right and tested path will continue to bring about disaster in our national life. We can pray from now till kingdom come, it is disaster that we shall reap.
We may not know, on a personal level, any of the victims of the stampede. But their preventable deaths leave a mark on our conscience. Unfortunately, it does not end there for their families or for us. The anger of their death lingers within their families, friends and communities. In their hearts, it adds to the litany of wounds Nigeria exerted on their bodies and souls. Indirectly, it translates to a weakened belief and commitment to the Nigerian project. For some victims of Nigeria’s failure, like the victims of Boko Haram insurgencies, over time it creates an antagonistic relationship with Nigeria. Those who have been hurt so much by their country do not readily embrace social contract with such a nation.
The mess we create today manifests itself years down the road in youths who are absolutely disgusted by their nation. They turn out to become people who would kidnap, rape, kill, embezzle and abuse any human that they come in contact with. They will abuse their society with pure heart for when they were children their society abused without a blink.
Eventually, we who are outside the scenes of ravage and wreck will come in contact with these damaged and hurt children of Nigeria. Even if we never leave our fortress, where we are cut off from the realities of the everyday miserable Nigerian life, their actions will ultimately define how the rest of the world sees us. It doesn’t matter how much money we spend on public relations to propagate a false image of our nation.
Nigeria is a failed nation that only works for the very people who failed it. It won’t be long before the children of this failed nation overwhelm the beneficiaries of this failure. Like the ants in “A Bug’s Life”, they will one day realize that they can take on the grasshoppers. And that will be the long awaited day of reckoning.
I’ve always maintained that the ideals of Nigeria have not been tried and found wanting. Instead, they have been found difficult and left untried. When mediocrity is given the reins as it is in Nigeria, ideals are dismissed as mere lofty goals. What we earn as a result is the enthronement of low expectations as the principal aspiration of a nation. It produces, in effect, dwarfed and deranged children.
We who are outside the scenes of ravage and wreck are also casualties. We are also dead. It’s only that we don’t know it yet.