Fellow Nigerians, please permit me to thank all those who responded to my last letter. Your comments convinced me that most of you truly care about our dear country. Even those who make it their lucrative trade to abuse me every week must be saluted for finding the time to read my column religiously as well as the bountiful energy to disparage my genuine effort at advising our leaders on how to make Nigeria better. It is our collective duty and responsibility to help our government to govern right. When our country is a better place to live in, all of us would thrive and have a place to be proud of, including those who did not lift a finger up to help in the process. I do not claim to have all the solutions just as I don’t pontificate like cardinals would do. Unlike many Nigerians who travel to different places and studiously forget what they saw and the things we can copy and replicate in our nation, every trip I make is a torture to my soul and body.
I keep asking why we cannot achieve the basic things of life which much poorer nations are able to do with minimal stress. I marvel at the giant strides being made by nations that had gone through the most debilitating wars like Angola, Rwanda and even Sudan. I wonder how Ghana was able to recover from crushing deprivation to a recuperating miracle. I agonise over the way we are wasting the lives of our children who travel to odd, offbeat countries for their education. And what education do they get from many of these countries but sub-standard teaching and uncouth learning well below the commendable standards that existed in Nigeria up till the mid-80’s before things fell apart. I weep at the way our citizens are running to India in search of medical wonders when our country parades some of the best doctors in the world. What exactly does it take to build world-class hospitals at home? Is it money that we lack or brilliant people to run and maintain the facilities? These are questions begging for simple and straight-forward answers. There are other worrisome posers.
How come we cannot build enough houses and ensure that gainfully employed people can apply and get a mortgage or even procure car loans? How come we cannot embark on aggressive mechanised farming that would enable us secure more than enough food for both local consumption as well as enough to export to other countries? When will we break the evil jinx and get our search for power right? God has gifted us with the resources to tap into all forms and sources of energy. We can obtain and generate power from gas, fuel, water, coal, the sun, wind, etc. Instead what we have in the power sector is a stupefying regression. The few brains that were ready to set us on the path of progress were unceremoniously discarded. No great nation can be truly great without ensuring those five necessities of life: food, shelter, healthcare, education and power. With the right policies and raw determination, these five compulsory items would provide the necessary impetus and opportunities for our youths in employment and business. They will provide the basics for the welfare and emancipation of our people and guarantee the security of lives and property we currently lack. Investing on these five essentials will lead us to the development that our leaders insincerely promise us but which our people earnestly yearn for. The task may be gargantuan but it is not impossible.
Less-endowed countries with fewer resources have succeeded where we have failed ignominiously. The question that went viral last week following the article on the amnesty conundrum was: ‘where lies the solution?’ A few readers were too impatient to read between the lines so I’ve decided to take the debate on this issue further this week. I think our leaders have made the costliest mistake ever by monetising everything including, indeed, the fresh air God gave us freely. I’ve tried to search the lexicon for the real and true meaning of amnesty but I am yet to see where it is stated that you must pay money to people you pardon for waging war against the state. An amnesty is often given to those who have repented and are willing to atone for their sins. The amnesty allows them to lay down their arms and re-join the normal society with amity and without prosecution and punishment. The objective, and its modus operandi, is not too different from a parole whereby a criminal, insurgent, rebel or terrorist captured in the line of fire is arrested, detained, tried, convicted and penalised for illegally making life unbearable for others, and is subsequently released before expiration of his prison term based on some stringent conditions and a promise, on his part, to sin no more. Such pardons are often based on evidence of genuine remorse and visible regret for acts of commission or omission. I’ve never seen anywhere where you attach monetary gains or other pecuniary benefits to an amnesty or pardon. It is normal to forgive miscreants but it encourages others to thoroughly misbehave when you compensate acts of aggression. The joke being passed around on social media during the week is worth sharing here: “Niger Delta militant, N75k; Boko Haram, N100k; NYSC, N19,800; Civil Service minimum wage, N18, 900; choose your career wisely!”
Even if this apparent satire is grossly exaggerated, it is good food for thought. There was even a more scathing attack on the Federal Government amnesty programme by anonymous writers: “I knew from the beginning that amnesty was a bad idea. You do NOT reward bad behaviour and thus empower repentant terrorists with wealth. This will encourage others to perform further acts of terror in order to get recognition and wealth. These acts of terrorism against the Federal Republic of Nigeria should have been handled with the most strict military style discipline! With complete zero tolerance for bad behaviour. Instead a weak leader brought a federation of over 150 million people to its knees! Begging for mercy from hoodlums and thieves!! First it was Niger Delta Militants, today it is Boko Haram, tomorrow will be another. God help us all. Amen!!”
Such is the massive anger of the anti-monetised-amnesty protesters. I doubt if they are really opposed to amnesty in its original form and format but they are totally against its Nigerian variant that conforms to our usual way of standing logic on its head. I would love to know what originally informed the idea of a monetised amnesty. Paying for amnesty was a double jeopardy on the part of government. It was an admission of guilt and a confirmation that government had failed in its traditional duties and responsibilities. Most of the Niger Delta youths had lived in abject squalor despite the fact that the area produced most of our golden eggs. All the huge investments channeled through OMPADEC and NDDC never touched the lives of the ordinary people. The money, according to critics, only produced a few emergency billionaires who did not even know what to do with their emergency wealth. The agitation for a son of the soil to produce the President of Nigeria has yielded positive result with the emergence of Dr Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan. Beyond that, the South South region has been compensated with a full-fledged Ministry of Niger Delta; Niger Delta Development Commission; the Amnesty Commission, and other such overlapping goodies. Many argue that it is a deliberate overkill by duplicitous characters to milk the country dry through their cronies. In truth, the Ministry should have been able to wrap up the affairs of the Region and encapsulate all the challenges under one roof. It is not unlikely that some of the rebellion in the North was to engage in competition against the Niger Delta since it seemed that what was in vogue and selling like hotcake was terrorism in various shapes sizes. One cannot blame the Boko Haramists and their sponsors if they seek their own piece of the gigantic national cake.
The manner some leaders in the North are lobbying to be on the Boko Haram Amnesty Committee suggests to me that it is the latest cash cow in town. It is like having your own personal fountain of wealth in which you can turn the tap on and off as you wish by just some simple remote controls. The only problem is that the command on this occasion is unbridled violence, mayhem and destruction. What will ultimately come out of this foolish bazaar is that every part of Nigeria part will sooner rather than later produce youths embarking on different degrees of fearsome exploits in order to gain not only attention but also free-flowing cash. Is this what we need? My honest answer is No! Nigeria is in dire need of leaders with a
more systematic and effective approach to tackling problems. Thinking that money answereth all problems is stale and unimaginative.
There are strident arguments that Boko Haram is more of a political agitation than a religious one. It is believed that the terror unleashed on the populace is to make it impossible for Jonathan to return to power in 2015. The idea, therefore, is to target his few supporters and sympathisers of every government in power from the North. That is why even Emirs who were once immune to such attacks have lost their immunity and sacredness. The monetized amnesty, according to this unverifiable theory, is expected to provide the badly needed funding for political operations that has already started, albeit clandestinely, because the North feels the Niger Delta agencies will fund the next Jonathan campaign. Whether true or false, our government needs to do much better than playing politics with the lives of the people. What Nigeria and Nigerians deserve is total amnesty for all Nigerians. The amount of money expended on pacifying the Niger Delta would have built several Emirates out of Nigeria if wisely and prudently utilised. But even the Niger Delta is still as backward as ever because we chose to share the money amongst a few ungrateful people instead of improving the living conditions of all the citizens of that area. It is a shame that has made Nigeria the ugliest oil-rich nation on earth.
The amnesty we need to spread across the land is to provide social security and improved welfare for Nigerians. Let no one tell me it is impossible. This was what drove me initially to the Labour Party in Nigeria during my Presidential mission. My dream was to use that humongous platform of Labour and the working class to launch a social welfare package for our people. I had taken time to study the social security system in Britain. As a refugee while in exile, we enjoyed the same rights accorded to British citizens. I noted with admiration and gratitude that Britain was the most benevolent nation on earth. The success of Britain was predicated on closing the gap between the rich and the poor. The rich would have to pay heavily for any form of privilege and snobbery attached to aristocratic and sartorial taste and lifestyle while the government worries more about reducing poverty in the society and providing comfort and succour to the less privileged. The priority is to provide food, shelter, Medicare, education and power for every citizen. Those without jobs are provided some tokens to keep bodies and souls together. No country needs this more than Nigeria. The populace has been denuded and violated enough.
The best way to protect our nation against militants is to cater to the needs of the majority and not to the greed of a few insatiable bullies. When people are not hungry and have some semblance of comfort you can bet that militancy will be far from their psyche. They will not want that comfort zone disturbed. We must urgently employ the services of some of our cerebral university dons who can think through the present difficulties and proffer practical and long-term solutions. What we have been doing so far is to postpone Doomsday but sooner or later Armageddon must arrive. It will most likely descend on us like a thief in the night. On that fateful day, indeed the falcon will not hear the falconer!
Culled from THISDAY