Friday, February 5, 2021 6:34 am
By Chris Anyokwu
No Nigerian alive today is happy. And that’s a fact. It matters little if he or she is in possession of stupendous worldly goods –houses, cars, business empires, billions in hard currencies, flies first class and all what not. Deep down, in the quiet of their soul, they would realise the void, the roaring emptiness that wealth and riches cannot fill. It’s a classic instantiation of the vanity of human wishes. How can any normal person be happy in or with Nigeria? You’ve got to be mad, hopping mad and rigged against rationality to be at peace in Egypt, to echo Scripture. What with the present-day Armageddon we are all living through second by second in the country. Now consider the following scenarios: let’s begin with the boiling cauldron of conflict itself, the Northeast, i.e., Borno State and the outlying states. Those swathes of our territory have been excised from the federation, effectively taken over by the Boko Haram terrorists.
For over a decade now, they have reigned, institutionalizing their own brand of fiery, scorched-earthed theocracy, butchering human life by the thousands, torching hamlets, villages and towns and sacking the inhabitants, most of who now shack up in internally-displaced people’s centres. It is bad enough that the whole place is one infinity of arid earth, desiccated and inhospitable, tough to live in, thanks to the ever-encroaching Sahara. For years, the inhabitants have managed to survive this cacotopia, eking out a living in subsistence farming and animal husbandry, with minimal official support. Now, the Boko Haram and their splinter groups routinely kill men for fun, rape their wives and daughters and, sometimes, disembowel these women when the mood takes them.
The other day, it was reported in the media that these psychopathic ghouls butchered a woman and ripped out her heart and put on display the gory spectacle. This cringeworthy debasement of human life, this ultimate triumph of evil is trending on the web as we speak! How long ago was a pastor beheaded in broad daylight by the BH and posted on YouTube? Do not beheadings go on in the northeast on a daily basis? How can you possibly be happy in such a country?Let us go to the northwest. The entire north-western region is home to all sorts of criminal elements, bandits, armed robbers, burglars, kidnappers, cold-hearted assassins who go from house to house, killing people, especially figures of substance such as business men and women of means, university academics and socialites.
Everywhere you turn, the story is the same. From Sokoto to Kebbi, Zamfara to Katsina, Kaduna to Kano, there is a general climate of lawlessness. Criminals and government officials now sit at negotiation tables haggling over the price of peace. But when you think about it a teeny-weeny more deeply, the picture will get clearer to you. Both sides, of course, have their own baggage. You ask: did those in positions of authority win their elections fair and square? How about those scenes of endless lines of under-aged children queuing in the sun to cast their ballot, a clear and obvious violation of Nigeria’s Electoral Act? How about the arming of the hordes of street urchins and sundry red-neck types to intimidate, harass and, in some cases, “delete” the opposition just to swing the vote in your favour? Were these foot-soldiers well-remunerated when the deal was done? Or were they used and dumped, soldiers of fortune that they are? How about the small arms and light ammunition given to them during the electoral heist? Any post-election mop-up exercise? Any arms audit? How about the undocumented foreigners with anti-Nigerian intent infiltrating our land largely because of the strange and curious policy of “Entry without Visa” made by the current regime?
How come young people are taking up arms against their own people? Why the unabated anger? Why wouldn’t they listen to their religious and traditional rulers and leaders or even fear the might of our armed forces? The whys are inexhaustible. We go to north-central. Nigerians are sick and tired of watching amateur videos making the rounds on social media, videos of the dastardly and heinous crimes of kidnappers and arsonists burning villages and towns to the ground, with vehicles doing a 360-degree turnaround on busy roads and zooming off from sites of mayhem. You look around and you see scarred remains of fellow Nigerians, innocent citizens, their lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes by the bandits’ bayonets and bullets.
From Niger State to Plateau State, Nasarawa to Taraba, Benue to the Federal Capital Territory. The story is, sadly, the same. The murder of the 73 innocent souls on New Year’s Day a few years ago is still fresh on our minds. The systematic and methodical pre-dawn and midnight genocidal campaigns on the Plateau and in Benue is public knowledge. The sporadic orgies of killing in Taraba, Adamawa, and the FCT have acquired a sickening predictability, with the imprimatur of impunity stamped all over them. Cry, the beloved country!At this juncture, folks, let’s stop over in the southeast. Everybody knows that the southeast is perceived as the proverbial black sheep of the family. Reason? For daring to obey the first law of nature, namely: self-preservation. Achebe memorably puts the whole argument in bold relief in Things Fall Apart. He says that if any person brings war to your home, what should you do? Fold your arms and allow them bludgeon and clobber you to death?
No! You take a pestle and break their head. I don’t think the Igbo actually broke their traducers’ heads during the civil war. The records tell us that they wanted to secede because of the 1966 pogroms committed mainly in the north and other parts of Nigeria. They had wanted to go their separate way but Nigeria wouldn’t hear of it and therefore took the fight to their home. The rest, they say, is history. But the aftermath of that war is contemporary experience. We are living it as we speak. The southeast receives the least attention in terms of federal presence, government appointments and general development. Whatever form of development you see in the region is down to the industriousness, the entrepreneurial acumen and the collective vision of the Ndigbo themselves.
Their adversaries will not have the last laugh, they seem to have sworn to themselves. Yes, the erosion problem persists; infrastructural decay is everywhere manifest; youth unemployment, the lack of credit facility for SMEs to empower the informal sector, the engine of growth, are writ large. The inchoate but regnant mass animus seething just beneath the surface has been stoked and fanned into a conflagration by ethnic freedom-fighters like MASSOB and IPOB, whose visible face and animating force is Maazị Nnamdi Kanu, the rebel with a cause. Although proscribed as terror group by the federal government but recognised by the UN as a legitimate organisation, the IPOB is at present pitted against the Nigerian army in what seems like a battle of legitimacy. The latent and manifest reasons for the ongoing conflict are confounding enough to keep you awake at night. The adjoining south-south region is not faring any better. This is the most important part of Nigeria by virtue of its black gold deposits.
Yet the Niger-Delta region is universally known as the most environmentally-abused and polluted region on earth. Although oil and gas worth billions of dollars lay under their feet, the people barely exist. Here living qua living is a pipe-dream, a will-o-the-wisp! They bear daily the brunt of a resource curse, the denuding poverty of plenty. The hapless and beleaguered denizens can only get by on hand-outs as well as whatever they can make from fishing and farming, etc. with very little government support. Need we go into details about the different militias the sordid situation has spawned, from MEND to Igbesu Boys? Or, the various slush funds organised by government as “amnesty”? The anal pain of the hen that lays the golden eggs is real. The pain becomes unbearable when government officials and the oil-exploiting multi-national conglomerates gorge themselves on the petrol-dollars while the oil-bearing towns and villages are laid waste, choking to death with sludge and gas flares.And, finally, let us turn our attention to the southwest.
This part of the country used to be the most peaceful and secure. Not anymore. Today, you step out of your compound at your own peril, because kidnappers and other deadly criminal gangs are on the prowl. All roads, minor and major, are now unsafe for travellers. It doesn’t matter how short the distance. Whether you are in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti or Lagos, the story is the same. Welcome to kidnappers’ paradise. Forests here are littered with decomposing corpses of people unfortunate enough not to be able to pay their ransom to their heartless captors, who, are basically fronts or journeymen for their highly-placed patrons clad in suit and Agbada/Babaringa in polite society. Even so, herder-farmer skirmishes abound. And, at present, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo States are in the news as epicentres of the roiling imbroglio.
By the same token, urban areas like Lagos experience daily incidences of house-to-house petty stealing, road-traffic robbery, cultists’ turf wars, ritual killings, among others. Alexander Pope in Essay On Man tells us that “Happiness is of a celestial seed.” Meaning: regardless of what you do for a living, even if you are roadside beggar, you can still be happy with the few coins dropped into your begging-bowl. Not in Nigeria. Although, beggars are not on strike (to paraphrase Aminta Sow Fall) here, but such is the debilitating and distressing social lifeworld that happiness is not an empirical possibility. Perish the thought! According to the Universal Bill of Rights to which Nigeria is signatory, every human being is entitled to three fundamental human rights, to wit: (1) right to life; (2) right to personal liberty and (3) right to the pursuit of happiness! As things stand today, Nigerians the world over (i.e., continental and diasporic Nigerians) are denied ALL of these rights under the present dispensation. This is utterly unacceptable. Nigerians are now in a situation of everyone-for-himself-God-for-us-all-and-the-Devil-takes-the-hindermost. Never before have Nigerians think in clannish rather than patriotic terms; there’s an absolute breakdown in country-citizen rapport. The social contract is in tatters shredded by impunity and irresponsibility.
The rallying cry now is “To your tents, O Israel”. Accordingly, your accent can save or damn you, depending on context as it did during the Civil War. Sadly, whilst in USA, universities are teaching Happiness as a course; in Sweden and other European nations, they are taking the science and art of happiness to rarefied levels through the provision of social safety-nets, welfare packages, etc., the happiest people on earth-Nigerians-like night travellers are left groping in the dark, feeling their way to a Utopia of peace and happiness in a wasteland of chaos and anarchy they call home.
-Chris Anyokwu, PhD.Associate Professor of English,University of Lagos.