This article was first published in 234NEXT on January 6, 2011
Things have a quirky way of becoming the vogue in Nigeria. And once entrenched, unlike fads that come and go, these do not easily fade away. Think of the funny emails often written in all capital letters and in very bad language. They make many people laugh. But they also trap many others who are as greedy as the fabricators of those mails. I cannot say if such 419 soliciting started in Nigeria or if our compatriots simply caught up with it and took over the trade. Whatever is the case, upper case e-mail scams now have the reputation of being mainly a Nigerian phenomenon.
Nigerians did not invent the business of kidnapping. However, once it left the realms of tales and took concrete foothold in the Niger Delta, it became a Nigerian nightmare. In places like Aba, financial institutions had to close for some time because of the spate of kidnappings and general insecurity. You would think that only the rich got targeted. No. Being rich or poor makes no difference to the predators beyond the size of the cash they could extort from the related families, associates, corporations or government. Politicians, oil workers, journalists, business people, the clergy, school children and just about anyone became fair game.
When we examine the trend closely it does appear that the manifestation of the levels of primitive violence on our shores can be linked to fraud. In other words, what we may well be witnessing is a manifestation of fraud in its most crude form. And fraud appears to be very lucrative here because even when caught, the punishment is a slap on the wrist.
When kidnapping kingpins saw that taking oil company workers hostage was a quick way of latching on the national looting train, they dug in and extended their networks. When others saw that they could get their parents or relatives to part with cash, they arranged to get ‘kidnapped’ and by that broke through to their supposedly selfish folks. Relatives entrusted with the care of children suddenly became kidnappers and others sent to pick up children from school suddenly developed wings and orchestrated the now well-worn trade. Who would say that this is not a manifestation of the 419 bent? If corporations, governments, and security agents had refused to play ball right from the onset of this phenomenon would it had grown to the current proportions?
The current fad is to drop bombs with intent to wreak havoc on life and property. The origin of this sort of violence is not Nigerian. There are certain countries and regions that have been wrecked by this sort of senseless destruction for decades now. Today, Nigeria risks becoming one of such nations. Here, festive seasons have become preferred times to kill people physically, and also to unleash social violence in the resultant ripples. And so we witnessed the bombings in Abuja on national independence day. While the military brass band struck marching notes, the harbingers of death triggered their bombs. And on Christmas Eve, bombs went off in Jos claiming innocent lives. The incidents in the Maiduguri area are almost becoming routine. On New Year’s Eve, while other nations ushered in the second decade of the millennium with artistically engineered fireworks, the agents of destruction set off bombs in a military barrack in Abuja.
Poverty fuels violence
The violence is promoted by certain factors. One is the entrenched poverty. This poverty has both financial and mental dimensions. Mental poverty promotes votes rigging and other forms of electoral fraud. Politicians who are used to getting into office or positions through fraudulent processes use violence as a vital tool for achieving their aims. An example is the mindless killings in Ibadan during a local government congress of the People’s Democratic Party. The same can be said of the bombings at a political rally in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. In Akwa Ibom State there has been a trend where a declaration of intention to run for certain political offices has meant an invitation to violent reactions on such individuals or their next of kin.
What will happen as party primaries begin and as the election days arrive? Will it be safe to drop a ballot in the box without the box exploding beneath our hands? It is sad that at a time like this, some politicians would misapply a well-known political statement that now positions them as supporters of violent change.
Is there a chance that a nation exposed to this level of primordial violence can get out of it without long-term scars? It will amount to wishful thinking for anyone to assume that the violence in the land would not have lasting effects on our national psyche. The violence has pushed the notion that it is dangerous to engage in honest labour and that you need to be a purveyor of violence before you can be a factor to be reckoned with in the political scheme of things.
It is a known fact that environmental factors such as entrenched pollution, as well as drastic social events, affect not just the generations who witness such events but also those that follow. These shock waves may impact the genetic information passed on to future generations at all levels. When major shifts occur in quick successions, the disorienting effect can be massive. Just imagine a cultural shift occurring within a generation. We are experiencing this in Nigeria although some may claim this to be a global phenomenon.
Doing the right thing has suddenly become obnoxious. Fraud is celebrated and rewarded and often times with chieftaincy titles. Where did all these start and where would they end? Bob Marley’s suggestion (in his song, Real Situation) that total destruction may be the only solution is anarchistic and we do not recommend that. But will we continue to accept fraud and violence as the norm or shall we get angry enough to trigger organised resistance?
- (no longer accessible) ↵