Uzokwe's Searchlight

Sometimes I wonder if the people perpetrating these killings understand that they are also doing a lot of damage to the nation as a whole?
Sunday, November 24, 2002

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe


n Friday, November 22, 2002, late in the day, I was getting ready to head home from work to begin a well-deserved weekend when a Tanzanian colleague of mine walked up to me. He had a very worried look on his face and before I could ask him what the matter was, he said, "Is Nigeria cursed?" I was not sure what he meant so he clarified, "why is it that a country that is so blessed with intellectuals, mineral and natural resources is finding it difficult to manage her affairs and show the world that Africans could actually govern themselves?" Then he went for the jugular, "maybe they need some form of colonial government to get them back on track" I was befuddled but at this time, I already knew where he was coming from, Nigeria had blown an opportunity to showcase herself to the world and dispel some of the negative images she has become so associated with. I am talking about the negative images that have kept foreign investors and tourists away and precluded the Paris club from forgiving Nigeria's debts. The northerners have done it again! Under the guise of protesting a newspaper write up by THISDAY, they killed and maimed scores of southern Nigerian Christians in Kaduna, damaged properties in Abuja and eventually drove the organizers of Miss World pageant out of the country. Oh judgment, that art fled to Brutish beast and Nigerians have lost their reason! When would this willful and wanton destruction of the lives and properties of southern Christians in Nigeria end? Everything that could possibly go wrong with a nation is going wrong with Nigeria, why is it so? Is the country really cursed as my Tanzanian colleague asked?

Miss World Pageant is a program that would normally be an opportunity for a nation to put her best foot forward but what did the northerners do? They showcased to the world, through the killings in Kaduna and the riots in Abuja, that Nigeria is even worse than the world thinks. Why would an occasion like this bring about riots directed at innocent people? If they took offense to what THIS DAY wrote, as many would take offense if their religion is castigated, why did they not resort to peaceful means of making their displeasure known rather than butcher southern Christians? It happened in the case of Gideon Akaluka where the same groups of zealots were sadistic enough to behead a fellow human being and parade his head all over town without qualms. What came out of it? Nothing; nobody was ever brought to book and so the bloodthirsty cannibals continued with the orgy. It happened during the three waves of killings of Igbo people in northern Nigeria in 1966; again, nobody was charged, instead, those who perpetrated the mayhem were rewarded in one form or the other and families of the victims were left to wallow in perpetual misery. Why must the government stand by and watch this entrenched tradition of butchering southern Christians without meaningful intervention? When would someone stand up for justice, investigate these killings and ensure that all culprits are sent to the electric chairs without delay? Does it mean that life is not sacred in the country called Nigeria? Does it follow that the lives being taken senselessly in northern Nigeria are so unimportant that these genocidal tendencies do not warrant investigation? Does it mean that the crime of murder is less egregious in Nigeria, when it is perpetrated against a certain group? For those who sit on the sidelines and say, it is not happening to me, they better think again. Today, it is southern Christians, tomorrow it could be another group. Enough already!

It is my hope that this episode would mark a clean departure by Nigerian leaders from the politics of inaction. An independent body must be raised to investigate these religiously and tribally motivated killings. The punishment for such sadistic killings must be the gallows and those found guilty must face the penalty. Any thing short of this, would be nudging Nigeria towards disintegration. Nigeria is supposed to be a secular society, but the way it is being manipulated and dominated by those who feel that ownership of Nigeria is their birthright scares me. I have had to field questions here about Nigeria's religious make up and some marvel when I tell them that Nigeria actually has a large population of Christians.

Sometimes I wonder if the people perpetrating these killings understand that they are also doing a lot of damage to the nation as a whole? The foreign investments that General Obasanjo has been logging in frequent flyer miles for, have become even more elusive. Who would want to invest in a country where a particular ethnic group has effectively placed a religious stigma on? What sane investor would even contemplate coming to a nation where political uncertainty reigns supreme? Why would anyone want to invest in a country where people are easily killed for holding a different political or religious opinion? When foreigners hear about Sharia in Nigeria, they think it is being practiced all over the nation and because they are scared by what they are hearing, they choose to keep away. That is part of the reason why Nigeria is underdeveloped and would unfortunately continue to be.

As if the shameful spectacle unfolding in Kaduna was not enough, an explosion ripped through the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport and 8 people were feared dead. While we await the real reason(s) why the explosion occurred, is it not a shame that it took the firefighters of the Federal Airport Authority 30 minutes to arrive at the explosion scene, even though they are located inside the Airport? International Civil Aviation Organization regulation mandates that in the event of fire emergencies, firefighters must respond within 3-minutes; this is the reason why they are located inside the airport. In fire emergencies, as everyone knows, every second that the rescue squad is late could make the difference between life and death. The story of the woes of the fire fighters did not end there, after settling in to fight the fire, they suddenly ran out of water! This is like the proverbial case of someone who went to a funeral without first loading up on tears. Is it possible that Nigeria is truly cursed and that is why she is dabbling from one catastrophic snafu to another?

Nigeria's problems are man-made; the people who live in it are bad; those in leadership positions are terrible. Other countries experience the travails we have but their sense of patriotism, honor, duty and country, transcend their selfish interests.

When fire gutted the house of a family that just returned to Bodija, Ibadan from the USA at the beginning of the year, it turned out that the fire brigade went to the scene without water and had to go back. By the time they came back, the harm had been done and two people were burnt to death. When this occurred, I screamed on this column that investigations needed to take place and negligent people brought to book. But just like every other thing in Nigeria, the call was not heeded. Nobody was held accountable. Lack of accountability is one of the major problems that continue to bedevil Nigeria. As a result, lessons are never learned from mishaps and mistakes are often repeated over and over again. If the Bodija fire incident had occurred in a place like the USA, investigations would have led to resignations and lawsuits, after which authorities would set up more stringent guidelines for adherence to regulation. What would the firefighters offer as excuse for getting to the scene of this current Airport fire late and without enough water? In Nigeria, by dint of the type of building materials we use for construction, fires do not occur often so it could not be said that they ran out of water because they had been out all night fighting fires. Is it simply that Nigeria is cursed and nothing would ever go right for her? Again I ask the same question that I asked during the Bodija incident, what is so complex about stockpiling water in anticipation of a fire? Fellow Nigerians please tell me, is Nigeria cursed?

Fires aside, what about Nigeria's Senate? The body now holds the dubious record of being the most corrupt in Nigeria's history. I used to think that none would ever top Joseph Wayas' Senate, but I was wrong, is this a curse? Nigeria's Senate can now more appropriately be described as the house of dishonorable men, how paradoxical? A body which should be an embodiment of probity and forthrightness, has turned into the embodiment of corruption, where bribery is the other of the day, where Senators award themselves contracts without consequences, where they inflate the costs of the contracts they award themselves and dupe the nation they swore to uphold her constitution.

One would be tempted to ask, how is it possible that Nigeria is not cursed and yet a supposedly (dis)honorable Senator brazen-facedly announced to the world that he distributed bribe money to his colleagues to preclude the impeachment of the President he had wanted to impeach not too long ago? How is it possible that Senator Nzeribe confessed to such an egregious crime and is still walking the streets? I know why, it is because he has, by saying that he wanted to prevent the impeachment of Obasanjo, ingratiated himself into the good books of the president and is now untouchable. Not too long ago, another (dis)honorable Senator went to the senate floor and off loaded the sum of $3 million; he alleged that the money was offered to him as bribe by unknown persons. As I write, no one has found it necessary to investigate the issue further to find out the real facts. The story about being offered bribe and not knowing who dropped the money off sounds to me like cock and bull story and in any civilized society, he would have gone the way of congressman James Trafficant or Robert Torricelli of New Jersey. But does anyone care? No. Is it a curse? You be the judge.

Only in Nigeria would a Senator who assumed elected position barely three and a half years ago, with only one home to his name, now have all manners of mansions littering the Nigerian landscape. If the nation is not cursed, one would ask, why would she be hesitant to ask all Senators to declare their assets? Why would the Senators even be reluctant to do so if they feel that they have clean hands? Is it acceptable in Nigeria that elected men and women should become billionaires overnight at the expense of the hungry masses? The other day, a retired railway worker went berserk in Abuja and cursed out the Senators for mortgaging his future on the altar of corruption. He was right then and is right now, these men and women have shamed Nigeria; they are wolves in sheep's clothing.

How about the Independent Corrupt Practices Tribunal? Fellow Nigerians, is it normal for members of the Senate to be attempting to abrogate a body, which they put in place to fight corruption, all because it is their turn to be investigated? It is very difficult for one to argue that Nigeria is not cursed when the Senate body, which is supposed to be transparent in its undertakings, pardoned errant members in the name of goodwill. My belief is that our somnolent reactions to the brandishments of Senate arrogance, has continued to feed the fire of corruption. Nobody screamed when the Senate perpetrated the fraud of self-pardon and so they became even more emboldened; they are now taking it to another level by seeking to abrogate the body that could and should probe their activities because the chicken has come home to roost. Inotherwords, they would be making laws as long as that law does not apply to them, once it becomes applicable to them, they amend or abrogate it. This is not democracy, it is DEMONCRAZY!!! If Anyim Pius Anyim feels that there is witch-hunt, he has to go to court like any other Nigerian; he should not seek to proscribe the body he helped put in place.

I must sound a note of caution here; the Independent Corrupt Practices Tribunal does not quite look independent to me from the way it is operating so far. It seems to be an arm of the executive and is simply carrying out orders; if this is so, then Obasanjo is further tarnishing his image. I do not personally have confidence in a body that has cowardly refused to probe ex-military officers who siphoned the bulk of our foreign exchange out of the country.

An argument that Nigeria is not cursed cannot be convincingly made, considering the fact that the Senators have tainted the image of the nation in the eyes of the whole world. The Paris club which we once asked to forgive our debt, because "we have no money", would be laughing and congratulating themselves for making a good decision of saying no to Nigeria's request. They were right to remark that Nigeria is not poor, but is being taken to the cleaners by her leaders. We all know that the money changing hands in the senate belong to Nigeria; even the Ghana must go bags, belong to us.

Who would argue that Nigeria is not cursed after seeing the bad press generated by the decision in the north to stone a young woman to death for "adultery" even though there are many wealthy people there who became rich by stealing from Nigeria's coffers? Why is stealing lighter in gravity than "adultery"?

If Nigeria is not cursed, why would the attorney General have the temerity to question the Supreme court decision for the so called Independent Electoral Commission to register new parties? The parties followed due process, went to court and the court ruled in their favor? Why is the attorney General questioning the ruling?

Fellow Nigerians, I hate to sound like I never see any good in Nigeria, but the truth is that I have not seen much. But is Nigeria really cursed? I think not, she is not cursed; instead, she is blessed with abundance of resources, people, intellects of exceptional repute. She is rich in mineral resources and fertile land. One should not forget that Nigeria is the home of Phillip Emeagwali, it is the home of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, it is the home of Akeem Olajuwon, it is the home of Emeka Anyaoku, it was the home of Mallam Aminu Kano, it is the home of Major General Phillip Effiong. Nigeria's problems are man-made; the people who live in it are bad; those in leadership positions are terrible. Other countries experience the travails we have but their sense of patriotism, honor, duty and country, transcend their selfish interests. The other countries have ethnic diversities, but they do not engage in ethnic cleansing under the guise of religious riots. In those countries, when a Senator sees another one offering or receiving bribe, he calls in the authorities. In those countries, whether you are Obasanjo, whether you are Anyim, whether you are Nzeribe, whether you are Ibrahim Mantu, whether you are Florence Ita Giwa, whether you are Aluko, whether you are Chuba Okadigbo, whether you are Ghali Naba, if you break the law, you would be incarcerated just like congressman James Trafficant was incarcerated for doing exactly what many in Nigeria's Senate have been accused of doing.

In those countries, you are free to express your opinions, but if under the guise of freedom of speech you engage in sadistic riots and kill fellow citizens just like the northerners are doing in Kaduna as I write, you would be condemned to death and you would definitely fry in the electric chair. Once more for the record, Nigeria is not cursed, it is her people.