When States Turn Criminal

Published on 7th February 2006

'East or west', 'home', as they say, is indeed the best; but, for most Nigerians, it must be tough love. It is often difficult for one to say things are getting better or one is just getting used to it and lowering one's standards while increasing one's tolerance levels of unfair situations and injustices on the many fronts of the serial obstacle race that the country has become. Just when you think things will never get worse, Nigeria and Nigerians combine their unique capacity to find ways of digging deeper and sinking further.

The general insecurity across the country has proven so insurmountable that Nigerians seem to have resigned and put themselves on a permanent state of alert hoping pure luck and prayers will see them through. Armed robbery, hired killers, political killings, and other forms of gratuitous violence are perpetrated both privately and officially by the police and other security agencies charged with public safety. The Inspector General of Police recently publicly apologized and promised to take action about a number of serving police men accused of 'hiring' their guns to gangs of armed robbers.   

A few months ago as I was traveling home to Funtua at around 8,00pm, about 75 kilometres north of the University town of Samaru, Zaria, in Northwestern Nigeria, we saw huge crowds of people lined up on the road and a row of different vehicles parked by the roadside at a small town called Giwa. Everybody was shouting that we should stop. We did and we were told that 'there was an operation' ahead of us. This operation is not a security sweep or road checks, armed robbers had mounted a road bloc and were taking whatever they could find on their victims. 

Confidently we were told the 'operation' would be over in about an hour. We were advised that once we saw cars coming from the opposite direction it meant the road was clear. Within an hour, the road was clear and we drove home safely. You will be forgiven to ask: where are the police? If everybody knew where they operated from, the time and also the days (usually market days in surrounding trading towns) why are they doing nothing about it? Very legitimate questions, but in Nigeria, only a stranger will ask such questions. 

Everybody knows that the police and the Army, if they are not doing the 'operations' themselves they are aiding and abetting the crimes because they share in the booty. It not only rent their guns out but they also regularly parcel out sections of the highways so that these nefarious 'operations' can take place with impunity. Once they are done you see siren blaring police vehicles rushing to the scene after their comrades in crime have bolted with their loot!

Yet this is a country in which Obasanjo and his acolytes delude themselves into believing we have never had it so good and that is why they are orchestrating a constitutional reform that will make it possible for OBJ to stand for a Third term like his good friend in Uganda.

Obasanjo does not seem to have learnt anything from his previous experience as a military head of state, his stint in civil society as founder of Africa Leadership Forum and his horrible prison term under Abacha.

A friend who was present at a meeting between General Ibrahim Badmasi Babangida (IBB) when he was head of state and General Obasanjo as a coup-plotter-turned CSO activist narrated an interesting exchange to me that is relevant. Obasanjo had fallen into an armed robbery ambush on his way to see IBB. 

Being the cautious general he was he did not play any hero. He knew he was outgunned and saw no rationality in resisting and did as he was told. He surrendered the money he had and they let him go. They did not know and care about who he was. He was a victim like any other innocent Nigerian whose crime was driving on the road when “operations’ are on.

Obasanjo told IBB that he knew there was no political motivation to the crime but if it had leaked out; then, many would have jumped to the conclusion that Obasanjo had been openly critical of IBB's SAP policies that the government had a hand in.

He therefore asked IBB to take the issues of public safety and security seriously. It is a shame that the same Obasanjo cannot allow himself similar wisdom. As the tussles for power intensify at all levels of government from local through State to the ultimate price, the presidency, a spate of killings and fear of more violence has gripped the country.

Not all the violence is politically motivated, but things are bad, the country is polarized that even if there is no sun shine it will be blamed on Obasanjo and his government. The recent slaughter of the former radical governor of Kano State’s wife, Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi, was immediately suspected to be politically motivated because Rimi is one of the most brutal critics of OBJ's third term bid. To some extent, it may turn out that there was some political influence in the murder; it had local dynamics rather than anything to do with Aso Rock.

It is not only killings that are blamed on Aso Rock. Anybody being investigated for corruption now claims that it is because they are opposed to Obasanjo's third term bid or because they are supporters of Obasanjo's estranged Deputy, Atiku Abubakar.

The whole governance system is grinding to a halt so that even the good things that Obasanjo's regime is doing are lost in the controversies. He is losing control of the state machinery and is on his way to become a President with no respect for law and order, the constitution, elected institutions in a precipitate slide towards becoming not just an incompetent government but a failed state.

Obasanjo can retreat from the abyss and leave a more positive legacy by making a broadcast to the Nation renouncing any intention of amending the constitution to facilitate his self-succession in 2007. This will immediately reduce drastically the overcharged political atmosphere of the country. It will also destabilize his enemies who have built a coalition of convenience around anti -third term campaigns. More than that it will give him the opportunity to regain credibility for a lasting legacy in the areas of public safety, economic reform, the war against corruption and even leverage in deciding who succeeds him. Failure to which, he will just be a lame duck president with everything imploding around him. 

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