The embarrassing spate of violence that has enveloped Nigeria in recent years has obviously continued to increase with unrivaled rapidity since that hydra-headed monster called Boko Haram metamorphosed in 2010. Since then, a series of violent activities have interminably swayed like a pendulum through vast swaths of northern Nigerian territories, especially in Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Gombe, Plateau, and even Kano State. There have been violent clashes between Muslims and Christians. There have been violent clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen. There have been violent clashes between ethnic indigenes. And in all these conflicts, Nigeria has lost thousands of its citizens and trillions of naira in the property. Millions of citizens were forcefully sacked from their ancestral homes and became camped refugees in their own country.
Boko Haram on its own has killed more than 30,000 innocent Nigerian men, women, and children in the course of the decade between 2010 and 2020 in a series of attacks. They want to create a Muslim Caliphate, independent of Nigeria, in the northeast. And the Nigerian army is said to be mopping them up gradually and steadily. And that is how Nigeria has gradually slid into a country at war with itself.
In 2015, Boko Haram was expunged from some of the northern villages it controlled. Yet, the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), one of its factions that broke away in 2016 has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on military bases and strategically located towns in the North in recent times. That alone complicates the security situation in the country. It simply means that Boko Haram does not have one face or one head. With all its octopine international connections, common sense would suggest that it is a web the APC government of General Muhammadu Buhari cannot easily dismantle.
The current APC government seems to find the challenges so difficult to grapple with that even media houses which have reported on the state of the nation in some areas in the north have been clamped down.
According to Shehu Sani, the senator representing Kaduna Central at the National Assembly, entire northern Nigeria is under siege. In the northwest, it is by armed bandits. In the north central, it is attacked by herdsmen. The northeast is being ravaged by insurgents.
In his words: “In Kajuru, it is Muslims and Christians against each other. In Birnin Gwari it is banditry and kidnapping and along Kaduna-Abuja highway, it is kidnapping and raping.”
Most recently, members of the of Islamic Movement Of Nigeria (IMN) also known as Shiites had gone ahead to make real their threat during a protest march on the occasion of the 68th birthday of their leader, Sheik Ibrahim El Zaky-Zak. They threatened to become more aggressive in their determination to secure the release of their leader who has been in detention since 2015. Who knows what they might plan next after storming the National Assembly in the course of their protest march?
In the south, kidnapping for ransom, sale of newly-born children, in one case to enable the mother buy a mobile phone, extra-judicial murders by men in uniform, highway and bank robbery, cultism, dangerous use of drugs and money-making rituals have all combined with the insecurity in the north to make governance difficult for the APC. It is not that these anomalies were not there before Buhari took control. They were there but it appears from daily reports that their scope and intensity have continued to escalate by the day. That is how cheap Nigeria has become of recent.
And while I was ruminating over the sad situation, it occurred to me that part of the reason violence in the country appears intractable is because Nigeria doesn’t seem to have a clear-cut ideology on its domestic policy. The result is that nothing seems to be organized in the country. There is scarcely a routine. And the country has become like in a football pitch in a football game where anyone could play anyhow and people are never tired of playing because they see it all as ‘freedom’!
In my book, ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ (Vol. 1), I did mention that proper understanding of the seemingly inextricable tribal sentiment that goad the decision-making processes and subsequent activities of typical Nigerians and their tribal heroes would be the first catchment the APC government would need to define its domestic policy. At that local level, domestic policy was yet to be properly articulated. And so, the government needed to do something about that in a very unambiguous manner.
A typical Nigerian domestic policy should be able to address benefits for the handicapped from every village and in every town. These could include schools for the deaf and dumb, leper colonies for ex-lepers, provision of facilities for the visually impaired, financial assistance for orphanages, motherless babies’ homes, the physically impaired such as cripples and so on. Most of these people can be found more in the northern states than in the south. But here, we are not talking about north and south. We are talking about Nigerians. And these institutions must be managed by a single parastatal set up for that particular purpose by government.
There is the need to articulate the policy on birth, marriage and death registrations that government has to adopt. In Nigeria today, most of these events are not registered. So, in a sense, government is losing out on money it would have realized from these events. The money realized from these registrations could be used for the maintenance of public cemeteries where residents of communities are buried. And these cemeteries should also be managed by a staff whose salaries would be paid from the money realized from registration of births, marriages, and deaths.
There is the issue of parenting and childcare. How has government taken care of its citizens who are raising young families? It is vital that maternity and paternity leaves and allowances are made available to both male and female workers. This usually goes a long way in settling couples who are faced with the challenges of maintaining young families. Agencies which contract nannies must also be registered and all their transactions transmitted to the parastatal that is in charge of that area of family management. Children who are known to be maltreated by step-parents and so on must be taken into government care-homes immediately. And whistleblowers must be compensated for being there for the government.
There is the fact that most businesses in Nigeria do not pay taxes commensurate with their income. Once a citizen declares he has little or no income, he is allowed to pay the minimum tax and gets off with it. Government needs to employ inspectors whose credibility is confirmed, who would go round villages, towns, and cities to ascertain residents’ claims on tax payment and who should be promoted in accordance with their production level.
There is the case of transportation and driving habits. Generally speaking, Nigerians have one of the worst driving habits in the world. Traffic lights are never obeyed. Drivers are usually in too much hurry, forgetting there are other road users who are walking or cycling. They create queues everywhere once there is a hold-up. They don’t stop at zebra crossings and they stop at any spot, even in the middle of the road, to carry passengers. Worse still, they drink-drive and the government does not care. Well, the government is losing money that way.
The traffic police should be more up and doing. The moment a driver fails any of the traffic laws, like being drunk while on the stirring thereby constituting a danger to other road users, the offender should be apprehended and prosecuted the following day. At court, he should be fined heavily as a deterrent to others. If the government is serious about traffic offenses and traffic offenders, it would go a long way to enhance internally-generated revenue and to bring back sanity on our roads. A lot of what is happening now, including kidnapping and such stupid things will take a break because the organized society is not healthy for their local champions to operate in.
There is also the vexed question of education and learning. Government should ensure that there is a uniform assessment of learning in all the states of the federation. A situation where the secondary school entry cut-off mark in the southern states like IMO is as high as 66 and 18 in some parts of the north is not good enough. It may seem that the southerners are losing out because after-all it is those northerners with the low cut-off marks that would be appointed into authoritative and juicy positions in the country while those with the high cut-off mark are told they were not good enough. The irony is that the northern youths are not being encouraged to work hard at their education. They should be encouraged to work hard to cope with their southern counterparts. Also, a deliberate campaign must be carried out by government agencies to educate Nigerians that age is no barrier to learning. Many among the young adults are ashamed of going back to school. They feel at about 25 years of age, school is no longer for them. They must be made to understand that there is no age any man can say ‘I have known it all’. School is for all ages.
The issue of employment is another area the government must take its domestic policy to the grassroots. The inability of the government to create sufficient jobs to accommodate or engage the teeming number of school leavers who roam about Nigerian cities, towns and villages are worrisome. The government should diversify its resources, away from oil money and Abuja allocation. Local councils must be encouraged to start government farms in every local government area of the country. Local government authorities must map out about a mile or half a mile of arable land in each local government council. Each council selects which of Nigeria’s staple food to cultivate. There are yam, cocoyam, plantain, banana, vegetables, cassava, melon, you name them. There is snail farming, goat and sheep farming, poultry, piggery, fishery and so on. Each council specializes in one or two products only. At the center or one end of the government farm, a factory is built which will process the harvest. So, a council that harvests cassava, for instance, would have a factory where it is processed into garri and other by-products neatly packaged into N20, N50, N100, N500, and N1,000 packages. We would then be saying goodbye to the day’s cups were used to measure garri. That is national growth. Young adults would find jobs within their local government areas and stop congesting the cities. This idea can also be replicated in other models, in manufacturing, construction, marketing, and similar ventures.
There is a need to take another look at the housing policy of the interior ministry. Local government councils can start building projects in towns and villages where businesses are reasonably concentrated. Residents can buy such houses and pay gradually over 25 years. This domestic policy ensures there is decongestion in the housing sector and that working-class families are happy and proudly Nigerian.
There is the pension wage for elderly citizens who spent the better part of their lives working to enrich their country. Looking after the elderly in Nigeria, as it is done in most other democratic countries, is very important. Every Nigerian citizen wants to grow old. Nobody wants to die young, despite all the challenges. When old people are properly looked after, the young will find a reason to live into old age. Payment of pension must be taken more seriously and wicked workers who deprive the elderly of the joy of old age must be taken out of the system. They must be relieved of their jobs once the whistle blows against them.
Government should also establish a Citizens’ Advisory Bureau in every local government where citizens can go to get advice about their rights and obligations as Nigerians. Many Nigerians do not know their rights and obligations. All they do is go to farm, harvest some food items, go to market, sell and go home to prepare food for the family or give some money to their wives to do so. They need to be more knowledgeable about whom to meet when they need assistance. They need to know the relationship between them and their legislators after the votes. Most legislators don’t even have constituency offices but they still collect allowances for constituency offices and the maintenance of their staffs. If citizens knew their rights, they would blow the whistle against such lousy ‘representatives’. It will make the difference.
So, the Buhari administration should do well to set up the necessary parastatals that will set these suggestions in motion. The perceived injustice in the land, where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer has a tendency to introduce impunity into the Nigerian system. And that is not good at all for any democracy. Once the leaders feel they can get away from a welfare system with their money and thugs, they no longer feel the pulse of the people who voted them into public office. The moment there is that disconnect, there is a proliferation of crimes all over the country. As our people say, when the cat is away, the mouse takes over the house.
Look at Britain today. The British people also have their own problems apart from the thorny Brexit affair. At home, some of the questions that have been recently asked by the British people concerning their domestic policy include: Should the British monarchy be abolished? Should Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs be entitled to vote on legislation which only affects England? Should non-violent drug offenders be given mandatory jail sentences? Should it be illegal to burn the UK flag? Should the government pass laws to protect whistleblowers? Should England establish a devolved parliament? Should there be term limits for members of Parliament? Should the House of Lords be abolished? Should the British people support the use of anti-social behavior orders usually known as ASBO?
These are all domestic issues that are facing a hugely democratic government like Britain in the face. Every democratic government is tackling its domestic challenges head-on. Nigeria cannot be different.
Lt. Gen. Dambazau must take a second look at his domestic policy and do a few adjustments. Everything will be alright the moment the country is on the right track.
Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’