Who will save Nigeria from this impending implosion?
Well-known for his intellectual and legal sagacity, Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa is a man greatly admired. His sense of style was impeccable but near bohemian sometimes. I still remember nearly half of his face covered by a huge pair of dark designer sunglasses he wore on the day we went to locus in quo (Latin, for a place where the cause of action arose) at Zango Kataf in the Southern part of Kaduna State during the famous Oputa panel in 2001.
It’s unlikely you’ve seen anything like those sunglasses. I also remember how peeved he was with my cameraman in 2005 when we went to interview him in Lagos for a video documentary I produced for the Supreme Court Nigeria. After introducing my team and exchanging pleasantries, he took a look at Leke’s skin cut and said he doesn’t understand what is wrong with young men these days. He told us how young men in his days took time to groom their hair, and truly although His lordship was already balding, his well-groomed hair stood out.
Justice Oputa’s wit and wisdom were unmistakable but what many do not know is that he was very prophetic. And because events have shown time and time again that he was a man who saw tomorrow, I find it irresistible to keep repeating his parting words at the conclusion of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission (HRVIC) in October 2001. That’s nearly 22 years ago. His unheeded warning is manifesting in every facet of our society; and at the risk of being called a bore, I’ll repeat some.
“Each ethnic group feels marginalized. From the memoranda and evidence from these groups, it became apparent that there exists a simmering discontent which should not ever be allowed to boil over. The challenge then is to find an answer to this dreadful fiend called marginalisation. And find an answer Nigeria must.…It is a fact that effective therapy demands the opening of a wound, the probing of that wound, before applying a salve. There is also need to break the silence, the isolation, the fear and the falsehood that shrouded past events… There is also need to establish historical clarity and to see our history interpreted in a way which names the deeds that were done and the reasons why they were done, and those who were responsible.”
Years after these statements were made Nigeria is still carrying on as if all is well. People entrusted with our collective destinies, people who could make the desired change shoved his warning and similar warnings aside. Today evil is bursting at the seams — kidnapping, banditry, sacking of villages, ritual killings, cannibalism, and all sorts. Who will save Nigeria from this impending implosion? Will God come down from heaven? Is it not time to take stock, call a spade a spade and make a U-turn? Already a lot of Nigerians can no longer visit their hometowns. The city too is no longer safe. People are now dragged out of their homes and killed. There’s no place to hide anymore. What is keeping us from opening the wound and treating the injury like Oputa suggested? It will only fester when it’s covered up and no amount of covering will cure it. If it happens that what is required is an amputation to save the affected part, would that not be preferable to losing out completely? We need to be alive before pursuing personal gains. The dead don’t talk. The best relationships are the ones thoroughly negotiated. When it is forced, it becomes a burden; a thing around your neck.
And while we’re still tinkering with how to solve our multifarious problems, I cannot help but wonder why restructuring is viewed as a problem in Nigeria. With a $3.0 trillion Gross State Product (GSP) as of 2020, the State of California is the largest in the United States and if it were a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth-largest economy, ahead of the United Kingdom and India. Its economy is larger than Texas with all its oil reserves. Innovation and free enterprise took California notches higher than so many countries can ever dream of. Unlike Nigeria, California takes education seriously. Having built its economy around Stanford University, Silicon Valley developed. Silicon Valley in turn birthed Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, eBay, Cisco, Lockheed, Hewlett Packard (HP), Oracle, Tesla, and many more multibillion-dollar companies. The yearly budget of these companies is bigger than that of many countries.
The difference between them and us is their thought pattern. Their leadership considered creating an enabling environment paramount. Small businesses have ceased struggling to survive in Nigeria. What with the stifling double taxation and more? How many factories and industries does Nigeria have? Why are investors moving to Ghana and Rwanda? Why are we not asking questions? Or is it that the government just doesn’t care? For how long will the country survive with begging bowls from monthly federal allocation when it can generate enough wealth for all?
Why do Nigerian leaders love Dubai and Saudi Arabia but fail to emulate their leadership style, which has made their countries a haven for their citizens? These two countries, Dubai from a poor fishing village and Saudi Arabia a poor desert land, moved to be among the world’s most prosperous countries. What about heathen Japan, that idol-worshipping country where honesty and integrity is a second language? Everything there works, and by our standards, they do not know God!
Today the tide has moved beyond the daily sacking of villages to ritual killings. Every day they’re paraded on TV; men, women, boys, girls, old and young but they seem undeterred. Truly, kidnapping and ritual killings have always been there. I still remember Primary Five at Holy Trinity Primary School (now Dan Waire Special Primary School) Kano. I recall how sometimes during the break period you’d suddenly hear kids shouting – Gbomogbomo de come, Gbomogbomo de come (kidnappers are coming). Whether kidnappers were really coming or not, I never found out but I do remember that once you hear that chilling chant, you forsake the Agbalumo (African star apple) you were trying to buy or whatever else, and take to your heels. Thanks to God there was never a stampede. I think we all just ran into our classes. As one that had just come from Enugu, it was a new one to me. It never happened in good old Zik’s Avenue Primary School.
At Enugu however, I sometimes overhear grownups talk about ndi ntori (kidnappers) and how they use victims for ogwu ego (money ritual). Actually, whenever I’m about setting off with my playmates to Osadebe Park in Ogui New Layout, (which we do most Sunday afternoons), my mum would warn me to run anytime a stranger tried to speak to me. The fact is that ritual killers have always been there but today’s magnitude is phenomenal. And that is because something fundamental is wrong with us. Something needs to be addressed. Until then, we’d continue playing the ostrich while everything we’re labouring for goes up in flames. May the Lord forbid it in Jesus’ name.
Sadly, we are also confronted with a situation where we are dealing with greediots; people whose brains are ruled by avarice. How and when we’d get out of this quandary, I wonder. I just wonder…
Okenwa is a journalist, lawyer, and Publisher of Law & Society Magazine.