Among the fundamental objective of governance in a modern state is the maintenance of law and order or the protection of lives and property. The modern democratic state is one ruled not by the whims and caprices of the ruler, no matter how wise the ruler may be, and much less by a powerful oligarchy, but by the constitution of the land which binds everyone equally. The modern state is organised in such a way and equipped with such public spirited security apparatus that the citizens are never at any time at the mercy of petty criminals and paid thugs and touts; they never have to sleep with one eye open for fear of political bandits and paid thugs and touts; they never have to run for dear life at the mention of religious fanatics and ethnic war lords; they never have to stay indoors for fear of secret cultists and area boys. Yes, in organised modern societies where the rule of law is in place, governors and their families do not have to take oats before juju priests in the middle of the night, nor do they have to flee the state house now and again at the instance of hired assassins and godfathers of primitive feudalism.
Since the emergence of the present democratic dispensation, Nigerians have witnessed too many instances of not only acts of lawlessness in high and low places, but what may be described as anomie or even impunity. From the Presidency which could order the destruction of Odi and Zaki Biam villages for in revenge for the killing of officers of the Nigerian Army and the police, to the National Assembly members who openly asked for bribe before endorsing ministerial candidates, and from the illegal checkpoints daily mounted by policeman on the road who, armed with his AK 47 extorts money from transporters in broad daylight, to the customs officer at our air and sea ports who demands bribery from those bringing goods into the country without looking back; and from the LASTMA operatives to the Area Boys on the streets of Lagos who openly intimidate and extort road users, the impression is that no one is in control.
Two years ago Nigeria lost its Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Chief Bola Ige in the most brutal circumstances, and till today, there are no clues. Once upon a time the chief suspect in the murder case worn election into the Senate while still in prison custody for a capital crime. Many more highly placed individuals have died at the hands of bandits and criminals since then, and no one has been able to unravel the mystery behind these deaths. The story of Anambra is a particularly graphic illustration of the regime of impunity in contemporary Nigeria.
Wha we have actually witnessed in Nigeria in the last few years, is the failure of state and the collapse of governance. There is nothing on the ground to demonstrate that ours is not a land run over by political bandits, ethnic warlords and religious fanatics. Where one part of the country can decide to enforce criminal elements of the Islamic legal code that are clearly at variance with the nation's constitution, cutting off the limbs of petty offenders, condemning poor adulterers to death by stoning, and harassing those who do not share their faith every so often, the impression created is that no one is in charge of our affairs, and there is no law and order in place.
The average citizen now seems to have lost confidence in the capacity of those in power to protect lives and property.
With a selfless, visionary and prudent leadership, the thousands of deaths we have recorded, and the millions of Naira worth of property that have been destroyed in the last few years, could have been avoided. I hold the current leadership of the Nigerian State responsible for the massive destruction of lives and property in Kaduna, Jos, Kano, Zaria, Bauchi and elsewhere, over the Sharia controversy, and at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, because the president and his team have remained indolent and insensitive in the face of a very explosive situation. I hold President Obasanjo and his team accountable for the blood and tears in Kaduna and other parts of the North, where non-Muslims have lost their right to live in peace, for it is the primary duty of government to protect innocent and law abiding citizens from the nefarious activities of hooligans, bandits and fanatics. I hold those in power responsible for the pain and anguish that is the lot of the innocent citizens of Northern Nigeria who for the umpteenth time have been rendered refugees in their own country, because I expect them to own up to their ineptitude and resign from their high office, if their being in office makes no difference for the internal security of the nation.
True, after three and a half years in government, the present crop of leaders have done little to improve the lot of Nigerians. The economy remains comatose in a country that is otherwise abundantly blessed by the creator. Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, has soared, as a result of which the mass of our young people are losing hope and losing patience. Our schools, hospitals, and other social infrastructure are in an embarrassing state of decay. The population itself is more divided today than it ever was, since the end of 1967-1970 civil war. And now religious violence has been added to our multiple woes. Yet in the midst of all these calamities, our leaders are carrying on business as usual.
Our public office holders are feeding fat on our scarce resources, selling the poor for a pair of sandals and playing games with the fate and fortune of our children. There are allegations and counter allegations of bribery, running into hundreds of millions of Naira, and involving high-ranking members of the legislature and the executive. Young Nigerians have become angry, restive and violence prone. They are capitalising on anything they can find to vent their anger. Yesterday it was ethnicity. Today it is religion. Tomorrow it may be political affiliation. And there are politicians who fan these flames of violence for their own selfish political advantage. But where does all these leave Nigeria?
In the midst of the madness of today peace-seeking Nigerians and civil society groups must begin to take the elected representatives of the people to task with regard to their commitment or otherwise to creating the enabling environment for peace and social well-being. The saner elements in our society must begin to take the president, the governors, the local government chairmen and the lawmakers at all levels to task on their capacity or otherwise to formulate and defend such legal instruments and pursue such policies that will make for peace, security and prosperity.
It is not enough for us to desire peace for our land. We must be peace makers as well. We must be committed to designing strategies to forestall, manage and resolve conflict situations. We must work hard and make sacrifices towards the attainment of the peace of our dream. The men and women of goodwill in Nigeria must constantly be on the watch to ensure that in our evolving democracy, such agents of destabilisation as the gang of Islamic fanatics in the North and their collaborators elsewhere do not hijack our commonweal for selfish political gains, and transform our land to a theatre of war, a war with no discernible reason and one without frontiers.
In the midst of the madness of today those who still have their heads in place must reflect together and rise up in defence of the rule of law, or else Nigeria may soon become another Sierra Leone. A stitch in time saves nine they say. So what do we do as elements and stakeholders in society to salvage our country from the hands of bandits and hooligans?
December 14, 2004.