Violence And Nigeria’s Rebased Economy
Act One Scene One: On April 14, 2014, hundreds if not thousands of Nigeria gathered at the ever busy Nyanya Mass Transit Bus Park in Abuja to board buses or cabs as the case may be to their places of work or business, two bomb blasts killed 75 of them and left hundreds critically injured in one of the bloodiest attacks that has hit the country this year.
Act One Scene Two: On April 14, 2014, a few hours after the Nyanya bomb blasts, 129 female students of Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Chibok, in Borno state who were preparing for their Senior School Certificate Examinations were kidnapped by persons suspected to be members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
Act One Scene Three: On April 17, 2014, Fulani herdsmen attacked Wukari town of Taraba state killing no fewer than 24 persons, injuring another 34 and leaving not less than 99 houses burnt down completely.
There were security scares at the National Assembly and government offices in Abuja during the week. These horrifying reports are in the patterns of recent horrendous reports of killings in Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Benue, Plateau and other states of the federation. The killing fields appear to be expanding uncontrollably. Terrorists have struck in places where a state of emergency is in force in a manner that confounds observers of the situation. This is a national tragedy if we must be truthful to ourselves.
My Fellow Nigerians, these are surely not the best of times for our 100 years old country. These attacks have left many mostly me speechless for some time. As I looked at pictures of the mangled bodies of the Nyanya victims, I shuddered at the helplessness of the current situation this nation currently finds herself in. On Monday it was Nyanya but any serious analyst would have known by now that the brains behind such an audacious act with maximum impact wouldn’t lack the capacity to detonate their massive explosives at any location of their choice and pleasure.
One of the things that really struck me after the blasts sent many to their untimely death was the fact that a group of persons whether Nigerians or not could sit down for days and weeks to plot these attacks that has left many homes grieving and blood flowing ceaselessly. I often wonder how they got to this point where human lives are no longer sacred and should be ended in such a manner. Most worrisome is the fact that these recent happenings perfectly fit into a pattern of violence that is gradually making our country a living hell as several people are killed, villages are razed and innocent female students are abducted ostensibly to turn them into sex slaves.
My heart goes out to the bereaved and the injured. The national attention should be concentrated on how to end this war and not who to blame when the next strike comes. At this juncture, anyone with useful ideas about how to make the prosecution of the war more effective should make them available.
It was just recently, April 6 to be precise that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was rebased by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which pushed our economy into the first position in Africa and the 24th in the world (with Belgium and Poland), overtaking South Africa.
Despite the released statistics and the noise it generated from certain quarters, what is of concern to me today is how to thoroughly address the growing violence in our country based. The scenarios that opened this write up represents the several dimensions of the violence that is daily being encountered in our country. It is not that such bloody occurrences are restricted to Nigeria but rather in the way we deal (or refuse to deal) with them, which quite naturally, impact on several things, including, if not especially, the national economy.
While we remain grateful for the second scenario that no life was lost at least, it is pathetic to try and imagine what these missing children could be undergoing at the moment. Remember that not too long ago; some children were killed in Yobe by the very same sect despite the state of emergency which is going on in the affected states.
Looking critically at the various scenarios, it is annoying to note that with all the resources at the disposal of our security agencies, such an attack was not detected and even up till now, there is no statement signifying progress in the ongoing investigation. If it could happen in Nyanya which is a few kilometers to the seat of power, how safe are cities like Lagos and Kano which are the most populous cities in the country?
The second scenario is truly beyond what words can describe. It is sad that even our children are no longer safe in their fatherland. Schools have also become targets for these bloody thirsty vampires. The abduction of school children in a bid to make them sex slaves or cooks is truly crazy. How these abduction was carried out in Borno just like the incident in Yobe still beats my imagination because the military has been in command in that state for 11 months running. Most annoying was the claim by the military during the week that it had rescued over a hundred of the kidnapped children only to retract its statement saying that it was misled. How then can we believe previous reports on its “success” against the terrorists?
The third scene is a classic case of terrorism. Invading a village to kill, maim and burn down the houses of people with whom you had no problem can only be classified as such, whatever the nomenclature of the group involved or the motivation.
Howbeit, one issue that really got me piqued was the blame game between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). The matter assumed a more worrisome dimension with the reactions from both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), which are laden with unbridled partisanship. The blame game got to a head when governors of the APC were invited to the National Security Council meeting but were later told that the meeting had been called off whereas it held.
Last year, when terrorists struck at a Nairobi Shopping Mall, the government and opposition rallied in solidarity to save Kenya from the mindless band of killers. In more developed liberal democracies it is always an unwritten code that issues of national emergency are not for partisan politicking. At such times, all political forces are partisan towards the nation winning the war. It is a measure of political maturity and institutional development of democracy for politicians to know where to draw the line against partisanship.
With the ongoing violence in the country, it remains to be seen how we can attract investors to the country which I believe so strongly formed the basis for the recent GDP statistics as released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
One area of concern to many including intending investors I believe is the ease with which guns can be procured in our country today. Unfortunately, the authorities don’t seem to be paying much attention to Hon Nnnena Ukeje, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Foreign Affairs, who has been leading a campaign on how to tackle the menace. She is at the vanguard of the efforts to get the Bill for the establishment of a national commission to deal with the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) passed not only to meet our international commitment but also to contain the growing domestic challenge of violence.
Some of the questions we need to interrogate, according to Ukeje, are: What is driving the current high demand for these dangerous weapons in our country? Who are the entrepreneurs of violence paying for them? What are the sources of these arms and how do they come in? How do we deal with the social, political and economic pressures that engender violence? Have we built the requisite capacity to take inventory of the arms and ammunitions that enter the country officially and how they are deployed? When and how do we create a platform for a national conversation on these and many other related issues?
Small arms by the way include revolvers and self-loading rifles and pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns while light weapons include heavy machine guns, hand-held grenade launchers, portable launchers of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems. According to the United Nations, “since weapons in this class are capable of being carried, if by small arm, by one person or, if a light arm, by two or more people, a pack animal or a light vehicle, they allow for mobile operations where heavy mechanized and air forces are not available or are restricted in their capabilities owing to difficult mountain, jungle or urban terrain.”
Indeed, Hon Ukeje poses other questions which include: Have efforts ever been made to demilitarize theatres of violence in our country after bloody encounters? Are we adopting the right approach in the bid to secure the compliance of Cameroun to give our military authorities the needed right of pursuit against Boko Haram insurgents that find easy abode in their territory? To what extent have we complied with the United Nations Resolution 2117 and the ECOWAS Moratorium concerning SALW that was signed in Abuja? With privatised security groups in the form of vigilante that are all over the country, the growing crude-for-arms in the Niger Delta that is happening right before our eyes, the rise in ethnic militias and the fact that there are about 200 illegal routes between Nigeria and Benin Republic alone, Hon Ukeje is of the strong conviction that we are toast if we do not act fast enough to contain the growing danger.
Some of the arms and ammunitions highlighted are those with which Boko Haram and all manner of criminals (including kidnappers, armed robbers etc.) are wreaking havoc in our country today. And there is no way we can bring an end to the violence until we are able to deal with the supply of these dangerous weapons that have suddenly become so cheap.
I remember a joke told by a popular comedian I go dye who said it is unfortunate that the things which hasten death have become too cheap in Nigeria. He compared the price of a chicken lap in a popular eatery to the price of rat poison or acid in any local shop. He also wished that a gun could go for a cheap price but a bullet should cost a huge fortune. That being said, the violence that has now become prevalent in our country is not only dimming the local economy but also scaring away foreign investments with all the attendant consequences. The bigger tragedy is that we are not only leaving behind a whole section of Nigeria but indeed a whole generation of our young population.
Three years ago, the World Investment Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated that the Nigerian economy had lost some N1.3 trillion due to the activities of Boko Haram. According to UNCTAD, foreign direct investment to Nigeria fell to N933 billion in 2010 from N1.3 trillion in 2009, a decline of 29 percent. That was four years ago yet the security situation has worsened between then and now.
To compound the situation, the activities of Boko Haram combined with that of cattle rustlers have virtually rendered the economy of majority of the states in the North prostrate. That then explains why many believe that the new GDP figures do not account for the fiscal bucket with a big hole because it is difficult to put a price at the hundreds of thousands of people that are daily dislodged from their homes and means of livelihood in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Zamfara and lately Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Kaduna States. The larger implication is that such state of affairs provides a breeding ground for young people to be recruited into criminal gangs as can be seen from the profiles of those that are usually paraded for the killings. Majority of them are either in their teens or twenties—people who ordinarily should be in school.
From the foregoing, it is important for us to take seriously the menace of small arms and light weapons but that is just one side of the story. We also need to take the young men and women out of the streets and take the guns out of the hands of those who are already far gone.