“If your neighbor is eating poisonous fruit and you fail to warn him; his groans will keep you awake at night.” – African proverb.
Nigeria is a nation on the brink of disaster and this is not the prediction of a doomsayer. Like a star on the throes of death; all the vital signs are simply ominous.
We might scoff at Nigerians when they claim that their country is the ‘Giant of Africa,’ but given the sheer size of the country’s population, it’s not a hollow claim.
Think about it this way: Nigeria’s population of one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty million people easily dwarfs that of any other nation in Africa (Ethiopia, the second, has ‘only’ 81 million people). The country’s immense population is more than half the total population of the West African sub-region.
What all these means is that a catastrophic melt-down in Nigeria (which seems an increasingly distinct possibility) will pose serious challenges to her neighbors and to the African continent.
The reasons should be obvious: the wars in Sierra Leone (population: 6-7million) and Liberia (population: 4-5 million) caused severe dislocations in West Africa that are yet to be overcome.
Countries like Ghana and Nigeria are still counting the huge cost they invested to bring sanity to the war affected countries, and to cater for war refugees. The issues of the refugees are yet to be satisfactorily settled many years after the guns fell silent.
If these countries with small populations can caused so much damage to West Africa, we can only imagine what would happen if Nigeria should implode as it seems increasingly likely.
Wars cause immense suffering and severe dislocations. It’s not out of place for ten percent of war-torn countries to become refugees and Internally Displace People (IDP). And in the case of Nigeria, we are looking at fifteen million figures. Does ECOWAS and even the African Union has the means to cope with that staggering numbers of potential refugees? Most certainly not.
Given the historic, cultural and linguistic links between them, Ghana will be country of first choice for potential Nigerian refugees. This is what makes the silence of ECOWAS and especially the Ghanaian government lackadaisical attitude to the Nigerian present conundrum truly baffling indeed.
It is true that African leaders agreed after independence to respect the insane borders Europeans drew on their continent, and also to respect the sovereignty of the extant nation-states, but as the African proverb mentioned supra says, we ignore our neighbor’s fool-hardiness at our own peril.
The crises in Nigeria are clearly beyond the capacity of Nigerians to cope with. In years gone by, the military would have stepped in via a coup d’état. But it looks like coup making is out of fashion, and in the present dispensation in Nigeria would be totally ill advised
And this is the reason: Nigeria operates a policy that resembles the Cold War superpower’s policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. As has been mentioned by this writer in many instances, in Nigeria British colonialists bequeathed a country that sits literally on a powder keg.
The Nigerian army was created largely from among Northern Nigerians to do the dirty works of the colonialists, and to this day, it sadly continues to reflect its sad origins. All but one of Nigeria’s six coups had been led by northern officers and all but two of Nigeria’s eight military rulers were of northern extract.
But things seem to be different in the current face-off among the political gladiators. When President Yar’Adua (a northerner) took ill and was rushed to a Saudi Arabia hospital, his handlers hoped that his illness would be short-lived, so power was not handed over to his vice, Jonathan Goodluck (a southerner).
Yar’Adua illness shows no sign of remission and he has been away for close to three months. It means that a nation that is rudderless at the best of times is now totally bereft of leadership.
The failure of Yar’Adua and his handlers to respect the Nigerian constitution and hand power to the vice-president is causing understandable disquiet in the country, especially in the Niger Delta from where Mr. Goodluck hails.
Not surprisingly, the Deltans have vowed to secede from the country should their man be denied the constitutional right of assuming the presidency either through a coup or any political shenanigan. Since they have already given the Nigerian state a dose of the caliber of violence that they are capable of inflicting; theirs is not an empty boast. To emphasize the seriousness of their threat, they recently abrogated the peace treaty they signed with the Federal government and promptly follow up by blowing up a pipeline.
So, today Nigeria perches precariously on the edge of a catastrophic canyon with no one clued on how to bring it back. The political class continues to live in its myopic cocoon, pretending that all is well and jolly and hoping that the problem will just blow itself away. Neither ECOWAS nor the AU is showing any interest. The ‘international community’ is also doing what it does best: waiting for catastrophe to occur before rushing in with its crocodile tears.
And as Nigerians watch helplessly as their world (and their country) collapse around them, they are turning on one another with increasing violent and frequency. Riots are breaking out across the land at the slightest provocation. The latest was in Jos, the beautiful city perched atop a breath-taking plateau. Like in all previous cases, what started as a minor quarrel between two people quickly mushroomed into a religious cum political mayhem that left about five hundred people mindlessly butchered.
The Jos riot was one among several strings of riots that have engulfed this unfortunate land in recent times. A few weeks earlier, Jos near neighbor, Bauchi, was engulfed in another totally senseless mayhem that was blamed on Islamist fundamentalists. The eastern states of Nigeria are virtual no-go areas as kidnappers have declared an unholy war against the citizens, and the Nigerian state is powerless to do anything about it.
As had been chronicled several times by this writer, Nigeria is a seriously sick country. And Nigerians, faced with a colossally corrupt, immensely inept and totally uncaring rentier government are turning on each other with Old Testament fury.
The sick and uncaring elite mis-ruling the country continue to promote religious and ethnic differences in order to keep the people apart, and make them unable to organize and confront the common enemy which is the political class.
So, instead of organizing themselves against their oppressive government, Nigerians continue to senselessly slaughter each other. This ought not to surprise anyone with a working knowledge of psychology.
Albert Memmi, in his book, 'The Colonizer and the Colonizer,’ examined the psychological phenomenon that made colonized subjects turn violently against themselves instead of against the colonizer which is their common enemy.
Faced with a colonizing elite that has armed its repressive military apparatuses with top-of-the-line instruments of violence, Nigerians feel impotent. They lack their wherewithal to boldly confront their oppressive government and a police that operates a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Given the fact that the ethnic and national make up of the country has made the task of building a viable nation-state seemingly impossible, we can imagine that building a sustainable national force to confront the behemoth oppressing them is a daunting for Nigerians task indeed.
So the hated odious elite continue to ride rough-shod over their hapless compatriots. But they will do well to heed JFK’s warning that those that made peaceful revolution impossible make a violent one inevitable.
It happened in Ghana. In the 1970s and early 80s Nigerians were laughing at their cousins from Ghana who came to their country to do menial jobs. Nigerians also could not understand what drove Ghanaians to come to their country in order to buy basic goods like soap, body creams and lotions, shoes, canned fish, etc, etc
Ghana which is today the toast of West Africa was then a broken nation. It was virtually a bankrupt nation with an inutile currency. It was a country where citizens had to queue up in order to buy pitiable quantities of maize – the country’s staple. The once proud nation of Kwame Nkrumah had been run aground by a succession of inept and corrupt military adventurists.
Then came the violent revolution of 1979. Those interested in splitting hair might argued that what happened was not a revolution, but here I am using the ordinary meaning of the word which Wikipedia says: “is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”
What is not debatable is that the lot of Ghana was bettered by what occurred in 1979. Those that argued that it was bloody have good points, but any honest student of history will tell you that very few change of a political order are bloodless. It makes sense when we know that those that enjoy privileges, especially illegitimate ones, are wont to want to defend their ill-gotten privileges.
Another point that cannot be disputed is that what happened in 1979 left Ghana in better shape. Whatever its critics might say, the revolution of 1979 sanitised the Ghanaian body polity. And those not suffering from amnesia will agree that post-revolution Ghana was better off materially. No longer are Ghanaians queuing up for food like some Albanian (sorry Albanians) peasants.
The revolution also created institutions that Ghanaians today take for granted but which are the envy of their neighbors in the sub-region. Whatever its shortcomings, Ghana’s civil service remains the most disciplined in ECOWAS – I speak with the authority of one who has travelled around West Africa. And Ghana remains the only country in the region where police officers do not brutalized ordinary citizens with impunity.
Institutions like the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRIJA) ensures that the rights of Ghanaians are not abused by operatives of the state. Today, Ghana’s electoral commission has become a hallowed, well-respected institution whose services are in demand across the world - Nigeria has just sought its expertise in reforming its own deformed electoral laws. These things are today taken for granted by Ghanaians, but it was not used to be so.
Thirty something years after Ghanaians sought sojourn in Nigeria, the reverse has become the case. Today, Nigerians are seeking asylum in Ghana.
It is little wonder then that many of them are clamoring for a dose of their own Jerry John Rawlings – the man that led the Ghanaian revolution