It sounds cynical, but we must thank God that our journalist colleagues were kidnapped over a week ago. For once, the issue of the near-complete breakdown of life in several parts of Nigeria has concentrated minds about the problem of kidnap-for-ransom, in contemporary Nigeria. If minds have been concentrated, we have also seen how shallow the minds of our rulers are. Nigeria is in trouble, and this is not alarmist. Over a year ago, I posited that the way things were going, it was just a matter of time before governors, ministers or even the president of our country, are kidnapped. It is no surprise that journalists became the latest victims of a menace which has become akin to low intensity warfare, sapping life out of Nigeria; citizens from all walks of life have been kidnapped in recent months, making swathes of our country appear like exemplars of Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is “nasty, brutish and short”.
But fundamentally worrisome are the responses issuing forth from those who stole elections and now preside over our lives. Some suggested depositions of traditional rulers where kidnappers hail from as if they have any meaningful powers today; there are empty exhortations for an incompetent and corruption-ridden security forces to stem the spates of kidnappings. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum, under whose watch, we have witnessed the spoliation of most of our states also made empty noises. But the most incredible intervention must belong to David Mark, Nigeria’s number three citizen, who wanted the kidnappers’ “law of the jungle” to be met by the state’s own law of the jungle; David Mark, an archetype of military dictatorship was actually seeking a return to impunity in dealing with kidnappings. Mark wanted a “declaration of a state of emergency” to stop kidnappings. Almost like a burlesque, but this is the shallowness of mind with which Nigeria is ruled. Complex social issues are reduced to just a law and order problem that need a jackboot to crush; no sociological analysis; no appreciation of the underlying political economy; consequently problems persist and fester, deepening the perception that Nigeria is hurtling towards a failed state. IGP Onovo even reduced the problem to an ethnic one, appealing to the Igbo people to save his job by ending kidnappings; DAILY TRUST last Thursday reported that Israeli MOSSAD spooks were even drafted into the search for the kidnapped journalists, thus ridiculing our country’s sovereignty. And as usual, there have been plenty of prayers: by NUJ and NAWOJ! No thinking, all prayers! That about sums up the attitude deployed to problems of society.
But can any of those shedding crocodile tears to be in the good books of journalists, step forward to deny that kidnapping is not a problem rooted in their rapacity? What has Nigeria itself become, if not a kidnapped country in the hands of a ruling class of bandits and crooks? Check out the statistics on the absence of governance legitimacy and consequent lack of compassion for the country and its people. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, Nigeria made about $200bilion from petroleum exports, at a time that 92% of our people live on less than $2 per day. Life expectancy is just 47 years and infant mortality is 95.2 per 1,000 live births. 66% of our urban population lives in slums without access to basic amenities. Nigeria has 44million unemployed and largely, unemployable youth with 5million more added annually; and 55% of our population is young. Furthermore, Nigeria’s health system performance ranks 187 amongst 191 members of the UN. A few weeks ago, one million applications were received for just 68 vacancies in the FCT, in the Abuja where David Mark and his colleagues cream off our national resources for doing next to nothing!
No; the problem of kidnapping is not new at all. Nigeria was kidnapped by its ruling class long ago through a process of criminalization of the Nigerian state and its privatization for personal ends. The kidnap of citizens by criminal gangs and lumpen elements of our hopeless society is in reaction to the kidnap which the ruling class has perpetrated. It is the hopelessness which the ruling circles have foisted on the country that is adding fuel to the crime of kidnappings. Let us be frank about this, the Nigerian state has pretty little legitimacy today, because it is an institution controlled by individuals without compassion, who criminally exploit the apparatus of state power to promote their own personal aggrandizement. It is the rejection of that state which has emboldened non-state acts of criminality. So the ruling class loot the country blind and have effectively kidnapped the country, while criminal groups kidnap citizens. In truth, Nigerians are hostages, caught between two groups of kidnappers and bandits: our rulers who long ago, kidnapped the Nigerian state and criminal gangs who pluck citizens from streets; just as our colleagues experienced in the past week in Eastern Nigeria!
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of YOLAS CONSULTANTS, an engineering firm established by Zannan Ilorin, Engineer Yusuf Lanre Sagaya, last weekend in Ilorin, Professor Ibrahim Gambari presented a lecture titled “Professionalism in National Development”. I find this quotation poignant: “In the name of promoting the free interplay of the forces of the market … [Nigeria’s ruling class]…enthroned… [a system] in which a powerful minority…were encouraged to strip the country of core assets…. Not surprisingly, per capita income declined so deeply….At all levels of governance…Nigerians are exposed to examples of irresponsible and unaccountable exercise of power…A deeply abused populace…has been reduced to cynicism and distrust or pushed into extreme acts of negative self-help such as kidnapping, armed robbery, brigandage and vandalism that further… erode whatever might be left of our civic culture and identities”. This is fitting riposte for the illiterate intervention of ruling class elements like David Mark. Thank God the journalists were eventually released unhurt.