NIGERIA AND THE LACK OF JUSTICE, EQUITY AND FAIRNESS
ver the last couple of weeks I have dutifully followed events in Nigeria regarding the recent quit notice to the Igbos resident in the North by the Arewa Youths to depart by the middle of October as well as the corresponding comments by Babangida, Gen Akinnaride, the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano and more recently by the Acting President, Osibanjo, among a host of others, calling for calm, restraint, the cessation of hate speeches and other divisive and inflammatory comments. I have also been disappointed and saddened by the insidious comments by a separate group of hate mongers and irredentists led by Prof Anglo Abdullahi and Junaid Mohammed in support of the Arewa Youths. I must not fail to mention the role of the IPOB leader whose actions in seeking the creation of an Igbo refuge in a new Biafra nation seems to have inflamed or offended the sensibilities of other ethnic groups in the country, the rightness of their cause notwithstanding. There is no doubt that it takes two to tango, hence no one section of the county is faultless in the present political imbroglio that has besieged the country.
In his meetings with various religious, ethnic, traditional rulers and political leaders in the country, the Acting President made a very interesting comment, when he said: "the Buhari administration is not deaf to the grievances in parts of the country" while promising to address them. For the Acting President to acknowledge the existence of these grievances is akin to someone suddenly realizing that the ocean is deep. Who knew? The reality is that the ocean has always been deep. It is also similar to a guy who walks into a Casino only to express surprise that there is gambling going on there. The fact is that gambling has been a daily feature in the casino since opening day. These grievances which he did not bother to mention have been around long before the civil war, but have only recently worsened after the assumption of office of this administration. As much as many of us may want to continue living in denial, the truth is that this administration did set the tone with Buhari's 95-5% comment. As the saying goes, "the fish rots from the head". It is no different from what is happening here in the United States, since the election of President Donald Trump. The country is politically and culturally divided as it has never been before. He first set the tone with his attempt to delegitimize the Presidency of Obama long before he himself became President. It was and still is the same in Nigeria with the hateful and derogatory comments against Ex -President Jonathan, as corrupt as his administration must have been.
Again, while the Acting President failed to mention what these grievances are, as is common with politicians, he followed their accustomed escape route when he revealed no real plans for solving the problem except to make new promises. Promises which most often are never thought through or have any chance of becoming reality. So when the Acting President promised to address those grievances, you want to ask him, how? Note that there was no mention of the word "restructuring" as a possible means of addressing those grievances he mentioned. There was no mention of justice, equity, and fairness. The truth is that people watch and follow what their Government says or does. They watch their tone when they speak on any issue. They examine their policies and actions to see how it affects them individually and in the case of Nigeria, how it benefits or marginalizes their states or worse still ethnic group.
The reality of our present national political predicament is that most of our problems in Nigeria has been the perception that with every governmental action or inaction, there has always been winners and losers. In the heart of all human nature is the desire to be treated fairly. Which brings me to this research results recently published by a notable group of American Psychologists on what Monkeys can teach us about fairness. In this aforementioned research experiment, Monkeys were taught to hand over pebbles in exchange for cucumber slices. They were happy with the deal. Then the researcher randomly offered one Monkey-in the sight of a second Monkey an even better deal, a grape for a pebble. Now monkeys love grapes, so this Monkey was thrilled. Then the researcher returned to the second Monkey but presented just a cucumber slice for a pebble. Now, this offer was insulting. In some cases, the Monkey will throw the cucumber back at the researcher in disgust. What mattered to them was not just what they received but also what others got. The point of this research experiment and the lesson to be learned as it relates to Nigeria's present secessionist agitations is that Monkeys aren't the only primates instinctively offended by inequality. Human beings do, even at such young ages as three. Worse still, societies, communities and in the case of Nigeria, ethnic groups also do.
In a book titled, "The Broken Ladder" written by Keith Payne, a Psychology Professor, he was of the opinion that "inequality destabilizes societies". If figures on inequality in Nigeria are available, it will not be surprising to discover that staggering inequality exists in all indices, across every spectrum of development. As opined by Prof Payne, "when the level of inequality becomes too large, people start acting strange", adding that "inequality affects our actions and feelings in the same systemic, predictable fashion again and again". He also went further to say, 'Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another". Now let us think of those words in the context of what is going on in Nigeria today. Does it not strike a familiar chord? My reason for narrating this research experiment is to point out or uncover some of the reasons for the present political dysfunction in Nigeria today and the fact that we must go deeper than our religious, ethnic, and cultural differences to find solutions to all the grievances and agitations. Beyond the problems of poverty, deeper than hate speeches and demagoguery and confront the inequality that is in Nigeria today.
Today in Nigeria there exists all kinds of inequalities and most are created by the Federal Government by their policies. Some of them exists in our educational standards and admission requirements, in the establishment and location of federal projects, in federal appointments, in Civil Service employments, in Army, Naval, and Airforce recruitments/promotions, in road construction projects, in federal revenue allocations etc etc. Name any sector of the Nigerian economy or institution and you will not fail to find some degree of the lack of equity and fairness, yet we wonder why some feel marginalized and others against any form of restructuring. The reason is just simple. The winners love the status quo while the losers desire a change and are demanding fairness. Just as relevant as a causative factor for the spate of insurgencies as aptly enunciated by Dr. Alex Oti, former Diamond Bank CEO in his recent essay in ThisDay publication. It is part of the reason why Boko Haram exists today cloaked as religious extremism.
It is not equity and fairness when the 19 Northern States according to national statistical reports that contributes 0.00% to the national revenue receives, 57% in federal revenue allocation, while the South West that contributes 3.97% receives 16% in federal allocations, 5% more than the South East that contributes 25.07% but receives 11% and 1% more than the South-South which contributes 70.64%, the bulk of our national revenue but receives 15% in federal allocation. The question then arises, where is the equity and fairness? Is there any wonder why there exists the Niger Delta militants? Or does anyone think giving them a little extra revenue under the derivative formula in revenue sharing is enough compensation for the devastation of their environment, their lack of adequate representation in government or the lack of federal projects enough to assuage their feelings of marginalization? Why should a handful of Nigerians own oil wells while the states in which these oil wells are located find it difficult to pay worker's salaries? How is it that a few bourgeois politicians can fly to Minna for Babaginda daughter's wedding in their private jets while a majority of Nigerians cannot even afford money for a cab fare? How come southeastern importers are forced to clear their imported goods from the Lagos port, hundreds of miles away while the ports in Calabar and Port Harcourt remain idle? Why is it that all the major military establishments are situated in the North and none in the south? How come a majority of the senior army officers recently forcibly retired are from a certain section of the country for dubious reasons? Why is it that none of the murderous herdsmen have been arrested and jailed despite all the atrocities they have committed? The list goes on and on and yet we wonder, why all the agitations.
As a nation and as a people we are not yet serious about solving the problem of the lack of equity, justice, and fairness. We ignore or diminish the cries of injustice by others as long as our ethnic group is on the winning side. We call them whiners, disregard their legitimate demands and concerns and pretend their lamentations are of no consequence. Like the man who rides a mule hard, we forget that there will come a time when the mule buckles down and say it will not be a beast of burden anymore. If I may quote the late Ikemba, Chief odimegwu Ojukwu, "you can live on the collective inheritance of others, only for so long". It is time for Nigeria to be restructured. It is time to right all our wrongs since independence. It is about time our Government treat every group with equity and fairness. It is about time we reduce the poverty and inequality. Our leaders must not underestimate the fragility of the country. It is time for Osibanjo to keep the promise he just made.
Nnanna Ijomah is a New York City-based Political Science lecturer.