Mixed metaphors: Commitment to the people - The Libyan Report

Mixed metaphors: Commitment to the people

Sonala Olumhense

Three weeks ago, my immediate older brother was murdered in his home in our village.

I live in a country in which people are murdered every day, so such deaths are rarely a surprise.

But the victims are usually shot. While every such death is painful to somebody, I imagine that those relatives or friends do not wake up in a nightmare almost every night and lie awake afterwards, tortured by thoughts of their loved one having died in a more savage way.

But Albert Olumhense was hacked to death, an activity one imagines might have outraged the crime-fighting instincts of any law and order official. As it turned out, in the preceding year in the same area, two other people had been similarly attacked. One escaped with severe injuries; the other was not only killed but was also decapitated.

Enter the Nigeria Police. Or perhaps, exit.

Every adult Nigerian has encountered members of this force in some unhappy way, and some have had to part with something, even life. But it is not every day one encounters them at his most vulnerable following the murder of a close relative.

On account of the best interests of the living members of my family, I will refrain from commenting negatively about the police in these tortuous three weeks.

Our good police arrived and picked up two suspects. As last week ended, however, all we simply wanted was to be permitted to lay my brother to rest.

Replied the good police: In that case, you must also authorise the release of the suspects.

We applied.

On to South Africa: Anyone who knows Africa’s relationship with South Africa knows the recent attacks are an affront, particularly to Nigerians.

To that end, I commend the elements of that country which have strongly criticised the xenophobes. It is good to know that there are people, particularly among the blacks, who know their society and history well enough to recognise that those who have singled out Nigerians are fighting the wrong enemy.

The conflict unveils important political, social and economic elements in both countries. South Africa clearly has issues relating to the rights of law-abiding immigrants, but if it does not want to stagnate as an economy and as a people, the time has come to make important changes.

Not for the first time, the Muhammadu Buhari government assumed a tame and lame response to the conflict, just as it did when US President Donald Trump first listed us among his s-hole countries. I do not mean that as criticism but as character: it is a pretentious, tame and lame government. It is remarkable how often, in a conflict, the government’s default role is that of a spectator

While Nigerians were right to be outraged, perhaps the government recognised that a significant part of the public anger and frustration was directed at it.

Yes, Nigerians have a right to travel to other countries and to seek to earn a living in those countries within the law. But the incident was a reminder that the Buhari government, like its predecessors since Olusegun Obasanjo, has little interest in its citizens abroad beyond those remittances.

It is a further reminder that through its performance, odious policies and sheer incompetence, the Buhari government continues a tradition of governments who would rather their citizens wandered away…as long as they remitted money.

Only last April, Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige put it in these abominable words: “We have more than enough (medical doctors). You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here.”

Where Nigerians can find visas, they are emptying out, particularly to the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Where they cannot find visas, we have seen them dying in the Sahara as they try to get to Libya, towards taking their chances in today’s Middle Passage, the Mediterranean Ocean.

And the violence in South Africa is a reminder that while the Buhari government wants those remittances that confer stability on the government, it is unwilling to serve Nigerians abroad when it needs them, just as it is incapable of serving those at home. Among that lack of service is the insecurity throughout the country and the ineptitude of the administration: elements that militate against economic growth.

But advertising for the job in 2014, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Buhari asserted in their “Road map to a New Nigeria” that building a diverse economy that would allow every Nigerian to earn a living would be their first priority.

“The lack of jobs is the most critical challenge facing Nigeria today, hurting every community and preventing us from being the truly vibrant and prosperous nation we deserve,” they bragged, saying they would “create 20,000 jobs per state immediately…”

In response to poverty, they wept that 110 million Nigerians lived on less than NGN160 per day, saying it contributed to “illiteracy, poor health, the lack of or inadequate shelter, poor nutrition and early death.”

Mercifully, Buhari remembered after his second-term inauguration four months ago to return to this subject, promising that APC will lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. They have made many an empty promise in the last six years, but this is the one Nigerians ought to hold them to or hang them on.

Among those promises, and despite the herdsmen violence they would later inflict on the country, they affirmed the importance of national peace and security, adding that Nigerians should be safe and free to work in any part of the country.

The party pledged to reform and strengthen the justice system for speed and efficiency in cases of terrorism, corruption, kidnapping, drug trafficking and similar cases of national importance.

And in a policy which relates to the situation in South Africa, it promised to make regional integration “a priority within ECOWAS, including free trade, to ensure that a common tariff and currency are achieved by 2020 under Nigeria’s guidance and leadership.”

As Nigeria wrestles with the South Africa violence, she ought to be reminded of the challenge of regional integration that the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa have preached for decades, often to the cold ears of Abuja.

The problem has always been leadership, of which—sadly—the Buhari variety is the weakest, most cynical, most irresponsible and most forgetful. Will there be Nigerians returning from South Africa, for example? The US? Canada, Libya?

Of course. But they will not find Nigeria more accommodating. In 2014, APC decried “an international perception of Nigeria as a failing state where violent crime, corruption and fraud are rife.”

That is even more palpable today. But APC would “Enable states to have their own local police forces that address the special needs of each community, including community policing initiatives that restore trust among local citizens…(and…) a serious crime squad with state-of-the-art training and equipment to combat terrorism, militancy and ethno-religious communal clashes.”

But talk is cheap, example hard, and leadership impossible. And preaching, posturing and propaganda are not governance. In real life, ordinary people starve, grow destitute, get killed.

And they may be unable—or unwilling—to pay for justice..

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