Nigeria, A Nation’s Deadened Conscience
By Sunny Awhefeada
LAGOS NOVEMBER 29TH (URHOBOTODAY)-A seven year old boy was recently lynched in Lagos State for stealing garri. The incident provoked anger as a natural reaction, but Nigerians were not shocked. Nigerians were not shocked because we have lost our humanity and degenerated into a people with a deadened conscience. The Lagos State police chief denied that such a thing happened in the domain over which he superintends. Surely, no Nigerian believed him and I am sure he also did not believe himself. His facial gesture, the slow manner in which he picked his words and the stuttering before the camera during the press conference betrayed the fact that he merely came on air to serve Nigerians another cocktail of lies.
The Lagos lynching brings to mind the killing of four University of Port Harcourt students a few years ago. The quartet had gone to ask a debtor friend to pay up the debt he owed one of them. The debtor resisted and raised alarm. A mob descended on the four innocent boys and got them lynched. The video footage of that sad incident showed a policeman standing and watching it unfold as the boys were beaten to pulp and eventually got set ablaze. That murder which made millions who watched the video shudder and cry ought to have been the last of such jungle justice. But no! The nation had by then become conscienceless and many other reported and unreported cases of jungle justice were to follow.
Institutional collapse has unleashed anarchy on Nigeria. Governance has failed at all levels. The people have also failed themselves by active connivance or passive complicity. The failure of the Nigerian state manifests in all aspects of our lives. That is why nothing works in Nigeria. Antidotes which proved efficacious in other climes simply do not add up in Nigeria.
In other climes, crimes and other infringements are reported to the police who act with dispatch, but in Nigeria the police will handle your complaint with derision and request for money before carrying out his duty or even frame you up for what you didn’t do. The Nigeria Police Force remains the nation’s biggest obstacle to law and order. It is commonplace knowledge that policemen usually tutor arrested criminals on what to say to get off the hook for a fee. This is the reason which propels jungle justice. Many people feel that it was better to snuff life out of any thief apprehended than hand him over to the police who will let him go after collecting money. They believe that such a suspect will return to the society and do more havoc. So, to reduce the number of criminals, the mob feels criminals should be lynched. This is one of the many failures of the police in Nigeria.
However, terrible as the police have turned out to be, the blame should rest at the table of government and the ruling class. The social malaise eating into the nation’s fabric is all pervasive and not limited to the police. The bar and the bench are also complicit. They delay trials of criminals and obstruct the wheel of justice. Every now and then we hear of Chief Judges granting reprieve, for no good reasons, to hardened criminals who should remain behind bars. Many of those involved in high profile cases of criminality are veterans who had been arrested at one point or the other, but were released through dubious connivance.
Nigerians have no confidence in the police. That is why some communities have outlawed reporting matters to the police. They usually resort to self-help. Many of such communities have also set up vigilante groups who not only usurp the functions of the police, but hold them in suspicion and scorn.
Nigerians are in acute distress occasioned by the harsh economic reality of the moment. That was why the poor boy stole garri. Elsewhere, a woman exchanged her six months old baby for a basket of garri. Some have stolen pots of soup. It is so much about what to eat and daily survival. Many of the petty thieves want to work, but there is no work. When there is work, the employers pay so small a wage that could barely last the first ten days of the month. Things are hard for the masses. There are many states owing workers ten months salaries! Yet the workers are expected to feed their families, send their children to school, pay house rent and do so many other things to plod on in life. The Nigerian masses have been violated beyond healing by the ruling class. Yet, one unprogressive governor is imposing a development levy of N3000 on citizens of his state.
It is distressing that some state governors, even of oil producing states, cannot pay salaries! But government official across the country still live like sheiks cruising around town in land cruisers. There are former governors who after spending the better part of their eight years in office looting their states, retire into unholy opulence earning N5OO million as annual pension. Some of them are right now in the senate also getting paid as senators. This is obscene and inhuman in a nation where the majority live in the most abject of poverty. There is also the blood money called security votes which the state governors also collect for nothing!
The Nigerian masses must come to the reality that their redemption will not come from the nation-ruining elite. We must brace up and get engaged in mobilising for real change. We must enlist in the vanguard for socio-economic justice and ensure that we wrest our country from the leaches that brought it to ruins. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the civil society must shake off the lethargy bedeviling them and lead the way in bringing our country back and reclaiming our humanity. Time is ticking.
Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.