Last Saturday was a sobering day for me. I had intended it to be a joyous one, as I joined other notable Igbo sons and daughters, and several non-Igbo guests of theirs to celebrate the transfer of the mantle of leadership of Aka Ikenga – that deeply intellectual pan-Igbo socio-political and cultural pressure group.
The mantle of leadership was changing from one prominent Igbo son, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike (SAN) to another prominent son, Barr. Charles Odunukwe (Okemmiri), who happens to be a brother from another mother.
Now, the history of the 28-year-old Aka Ikenga (as summarised by Gentleman Oscar Ndiwe) or the pledge by Odunukwe in his brief acceptance remark on behalf of the new executive committee, or what former governor Peter Obi told the gathering, or the wake-up call from Prof. Pat Utomi, etc. are topics for another day.
But like I said earlier, it was a sobering experience for me – made more so by a leaflet shared at the Colonnades Hotel poolside venue by the Oganiru Igbo Development Initiative (OGADI).
It was titled “BEFORE YOU TRAVEL FOR CHRISTMAS… We wish to remind you about the following”. And it went on to enumerate the pitiable lot of Ndigbo in Nigeria. Mind you, it did not focus on the fact that the South-east has the worst federal roads in the country, nor on the lopsided appointments of the President Muhammmadu Buhari regime. No!
Its focus was on the way the Nigeria state unleashes its security, military and para-military agencies on the people and region of the South East zone, with almost every new policy seemingly aimed at reminding Ndigbo that they are a conquered people.
For instance, it reminded Ndigbo: “Over 100 police check points, other security agencies and state revenue agents are mounted and waiting for you on the road from South West, North Central, North East and North West, as you travel to the South East for Christmas.”
So, it further added: “Please, check your vehicle particulars and make sure they are genuine and up to date.”
Painfully, that your particulars are genuine and up to date is no guarantee that the federal agents would not stop, detain, brutalise you and confiscate your vehicles. Despite that the proactive new Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, has dismantled check points and warned that policemen should not ask motorists for particulars, it would not stop anything. And if you think you know the IGP, I’m sorry for you. Before you make that all-important call, the criminal policemen would have either extorted or robbed you – and if you’re unlucky, even kill you and drive off without a trace.
After the police, you’ll have to face the customs, especially now that they have banned importation of rice and vehicles through land borders. Even though the most viable smuggling routes are not found in Lagos and Ogun states, those are the places where the Customs men (and women) would be concentrating on. What that means is that every bag of rice or vehicle headed eastward this season stands confiscated as contraband, until proven otherwise. In fact, even if it’s only one bag of rice you’re carrying, so long as the security agent you’re unfortunate to run into has need for it, then it automatically becomes contraband. You’ll not only lose it, but may also need to ‘settle’, to avoid being arrested as well.
And the cars, even if you’ve used your car for the last 10 years in Nigeria (or even if you just bought it, mint-fresh, from Coscharis, Elizade, Globe Motors, Dana or Honda Place, it would still be considered smuggled in. I had a terrible experience in Benin City recently with my official car, which is barely one year old. The documents the Customs men asked for were documents nobody has ever asked me of in my over 20 years of owning a car. And you know what? As stupid as it sounded, they had statutes that backed them up.
No wonder a policeman jocularly told me, a few years ago, to find him “something” or he would detain me, claiming there were, at least, 46 items he could demand for, “if I wanted to prove that I knew the law” and that he was sure there would be one that I wouldn’t have. Don’t ask me if I paid!
And that is not saying anything about the VIOs. Once those ones stop you, you automatically get a receipt. And it is whatever they say is your offence that it is. They are also free to charge you any fine. Luckily, those ones, at least, in Lagos, do not take bribe. They ask you to go pay into a bank account. That is the new form of state robbery that has emerged, as state governors look to shore up their internally generated revenues, from the same hapless citizens whose collective wealth they have looted. And in this season of recession! It appears these governments are determined to try people’s patience!
Now, juxtapose these harrowing experiences with the lot of traders, who have to move their wares from the Lagos ports, for instance, eastward regularly. You then don’t need a professor to tell you why nothing works in the South East. Why goods are so expensive. Why the youths are so restive. Why Nnamdi Kanu is a hero. Why nothing outside of IPOB and Biafra makes meaning to the army of employable but unemployed youths.
We already know that the hope of a seaport in Onitsha is a pipe dream. We know that the South East was wickedly excluded from our initial national gas master-plan, but must the Federal Government unleash its agents to make sure that even the distributive trade, where the south easterners find real succour does not also thrive? How far to the edge do we really want to push a people? And yet, we still do not even want them to cry out! Haba!
My elementary knowledge of European history tells me that one of the major reasons the country called United Netherlands could not see the light of day was that Belgian manufacturers could not share the same interest as sea-faring, trading Dutch men. They went their separate ways. Today, however, the sane world has found a way to protect local manufacturers while not strangulating import-minded traders; why is Nigeria’s case different? Why is the trader so abhorred? Why must he be forced to use a seaport that is reputed to charge some of the most exorbitant fares on the face of the earth, when there are alternative land borders? Why can’t Nigeria arrest and deal with Customs men, who, for selfish reasons, fail to collect the right duties at the borders, after taking bribes? Why must the Igbo, who have the least chance of ever making it into the Nigerian Customs employ now be made to pay for the rot of the Nigerian system?
Whatever good we see with traders in the town, must have passed through some officers at the ports, right? Or do the customs men collect bribe at the border, and then come into town to hound the same people who settled them at the border posts? Chasing with the hunt and running with the hound?
But like the OGADI leaflet said: “Avoid the purchase of contraband goods and fake vehicle clearance documents from agents and third parties to avoid seizures or creating opportunities for extortion on the highway by over 100 Customs patrol checkpoint teams on our road to the East.”
But, I dare add, in a country that manufactures nothing, where industries have either folded up or relocated to Ghana and China, just what is not a contraband?
May god save us.
…And lest we forget
Virtually a quarter of the used cars that come into the country come with tinted glasses. That is another oil block for the policemen. Although, there are procedures for getting a permit for your tinted glass, try getting one and see how very ‘easy’ it is.
Somebody called me from Aba, Abia State, a few months back, to narrate his ordeal. Those in Aba would have to travel to Umuahia the state capital to get the permit. They could spend the whole day there and still come back empty handed. They would have to lodge in that town for two to three days before they can be processed. And while that is on, they dare not drive the car.