Permit me to welcome us all to the year 2021. May the good Lord continue to abide with us. I concluded last year’s discussions with Part 1 of the above topic, while promising to open the year 2021 with Part 2. It is, therefore, not accidental nor is it a coincidence that I am discussing the subject at this material time. By bringing up the topic at this time, the message I aim to communicate is to register the point that the country, by omission or commission, was largely insecure in the year 2020, thereby desirous of and arguably requiring urgent intervention by the leadership of the country while recommending a new approach in the new year. However, prior to my delving into the substratum of this engagement, allow me to deviate slightly into the recent interview of Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, in respect of the same issue of insecurity. Recall that Sagay is one of the most ardent supporters of the current administration in Nigeria. In a perplexing, frustrating and confused tone, the elder statesman lamented the state of insecurity in the nation and mumbled some solutions. Quoting him:
“The country has become so dangerous. All sorts of things are happening nowadays. You have kidnappers, bandits, Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram. The reality is that there is nowhere that is safe in the country. Travelling by road today is a very risky endeavour that one will hardly try. So, there is total insecurity in the country. I don’t know what has gone wrong, why so many people have become so violent and savage. Individuals no longer feel safe outside his own (sic) house. I am not even sure that one is absolutely safe in his (sic) own house”.
In an endorsement of my position in Part 1 of this piece, Sagay noted that the harsh economic climate of the nation has contributed to the insecurity in the country. He further stated that, “Of course, it could have something to do with the level of poverty, unemployment and so on. But you can see that it is everywhere, both in urban and rural areas. Are Zamfara, Taraba, Yobe not rural areas? We can say that the urban youths are unemployed, what is the excuse of the youths in the rural areas? So, it is as if there is some sort of virus that has simply developed”.
While agreeing with Sagay on the above, I disagree on the point of non-justification of the rural youth joblessness. The answer is simply that they lack the necessary tools to exploit the available land. It is not sufficient to have access to parcels of land. Where are the necessary ingredients and tools to engage in agriculture? They are simply not there. The right intervention programme is lacking, not minding the grandiose schemes of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) like the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that does not touch this large class who ought to be the targets.
Poverty has grown so badly to the extent that most Nigerians struggle to eat a meal a day and inflation has risen to about 15 per cent with gross domestic product per capita equalling a measly $2,229.9. A recent World Bank report placed the percentage of Nigerians living below the International Poverty Line at about 42.2% (about half of the Nigerian population).
There is a strong argument to be made that the aforementioned facts have pushed some Nigerians, in a desperate bid to survive, into the condemnable route of criminality. Hunger, which renders some of them angry, has made them to lose their minds and engage in criminality as a means of survival.
Again, as remarked by Sagay, unemployment remains a factor, as the Devil continues to find work for these idle hands. Lacking the right and appropriate places to channel their energies, the youths continue to deviate into crime, more so when there is no survival alternative. By the most recent estimation, unemployment stands at about 23 per cent. This figure is all-pervasive and does not exempt any segment of Nigerian society or any component of the population. This implies that the country needs to retool the empowerment strategy employed so far. There is an absolute necessity for rejigging the economic programmes by reviewing the policies in place.
I am not oblivious of the efforts in terms of social intervention schemes but much more needs to be done in terms of actuals. The country must go back to the agricultural extension programmes of the old, and not the CBN’s clownish programmes alluded to above. The impact is not really felt among the desirable masses that need the interventions, at least, not in the South that I am aware of. There is urgent need to embrace the work of the economic team set up by the government, as opposed to economic policy measures and programmes reeled out from time to time by the banker governor, who certainly is not an economist. Most of the policies and programmes so far rolled out border mainly on tokenism as opposed to the need for a holistic approach. The country must stop the retail system of addressing soaring unemployment. Beyond this counsel, I lack the competence to interrogate the issue further. Again, the criminal laws of the country, apart from the uncertainty around some of them, substantially lack any penological basis.
Legislators simply wake up and enact laws criminalizing conducts without any form of research into the causes and symptoms, much less the determination of the appropriate penalty. Little wonder, therefore, that most punishments continue to fail the test of efficacy. The worst aspect of this is the enforcement of the law. Apart from the weak enforcement machinery that guarantees that in all probability the chances of being caught and punished for a crime is 10 per cent as against that of escape from justice, which is about 90 per cent, the incompetence of the security officials is glaring. It is undeniable that they lack adequate and modern crime-fighting tools.
Administration of criminal justice equally crawls to no end. This is an entirely different spectrum for another day. The correctional homes, reputed as deformation centres, breed more criminals and hardens those still at the periphery unlucky to be ‘quarantined’ there.
Corruption is another vice that serves as a catalyst for the commission of crime. Virtually every process in the country can be compromised, rendering the institutions weak. Additionally, in the midst of the poverty painted above, the lifestyle of the noveau riche does not change. The affluent continue to exhibit their opulence, thus exacerbating the resentment among the most unfortunate in society. The bad news is that most of those involved are political leaders and their associates. In such circumstances, what do you expect from the wretched and desperate poor? Recall the statement of the protesters during the Occupy Nigeria protest in 2017 that by the time the poor lack any means of survival, they will take upon the rich? We saw this displayed clearly during the last #EndSARS protests and there is certainly no guarantee that a fresh one of higher magnitude will not take place in the near future.
I recently read a press release by the Inspector-General of Police to the effect that Nigerians should stop flaunting wealth on social media. As instructive as the admonition is, I believe the police and other security agencies need to go a step further into investigating the source of unduly flaunted wealth as, in a large percentage of them, the source cannot be traced, and the law allows this interrogation. Of interest also is the collapse of the value system in our society. A situation where society worships material acquisition regardless of the source encourages the drift towards crime. The morals of the people are already debased and a sense of right and wrong has vanished from society. Religious homes, particularly the latter-day ministries, concentrate and emphasize prosperity. This suggests to disciples that attainment of prosperity is not negotiable, notwithstanding the route adopted. All these little and seemingly pedestrian and innocuous factors contribute in no small measure to the promotion of crimes in society. In my view, therefore, the leadership of the country needs to combat these monstrous issues by addressing them frontally. In an interesting reaction, by way of solution, Sagay opined as follows: “What I will like to suggest to the government is that they should allow ordinary Nigerians to carry arms. Everybody who wants to carry arms as a form of self-defense should be allowed to do so. This is necessary so that when these bandits and miscreants attack them, they will know that the person they attack has the capacity to defend himself”. Honestly, I am at a loss as to how this proposition will help the situation. It has the capacity of elevating insecurity, as I am not too sure Nigerians are mature enough in this regard. However, there is no way the worsening level of insecurity in the country would not push the most sane among us to embrace any suggested solution because there cannot be a monopoly of violence reserved for a section whose hunger for acquisitive bloodshed cannot be controlled by the government in power.
Such a solution suggested by Prof. Sagay can lead to anarchy, no doubt, but the government must realise that by the time the educated elite are coming to such conclusions as proposed by the erudite professor, our system has definitely failed all tests of civilization, compelling the embrace of violence for violence.
In conclusion, I am of the strong view that the factors alluded to in both parts of this discussion need to be interrogated by those responsible for the country’s security and appropriate actions should be taken in respect of them all. This is pertinent as we have just begun a new year and a repeat of the year 2020 insecurity level may be too calamitous for the nation. Remember that without security, there cannot be development. My admonition!