Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Something happened on the way to heaven
Today is October 1st so I guess its time to take stock of Nigeria’s 51 years and see where we are. The title is taken from a Phil Collins song and came to mind as I attended a book launch under the auspices of the Royal Africa Society at UCL for a book entitled ‘It happened on the way to war’ by ex US Marine Officer Rye Barcott, but more on that later. I guess we all know Nigeria is not working. I guess we all know things seem to be taking a strange turn to the worse. What none of us seem to know are the whys and the wherefores. In this post I’m going to try and put across what I think are the reasons for Nigeria’s current state, its current violent travails and the most Nigeria is essentially a gangster state with a gangster economy. It is run by gangsters for gangsters. This is true from its foundation in 1914 by Lord Lugard to its current existence under President Goodluck Jonathon. The only difference I can see is that a more organised and professional gangsters were supplanted by a more amateurish and rapacious bunch. The gangsters of pre 1960 had a clear unambiguous objective of producing and extracting wealth for themselves and the mother country, in order to do that they needed a basis of administration and arbitration, they needed a transport infrastructure, they needed a police and military presence to enforce the system of administration and arbitration. They needed a small educated workforce to operate the lower echelons of the administration. All of these they set out efficiently and with this unified common purpose in mind. In order for the pre 1960 set of gangsters to justify their existence they ensured these rudiments of order worked and that the system was seen to work. This made sense in that they could not fulfil their objectives without co-opting the native populace, both in mind and in deed. It is instructive that the Royal West African Frontier Force that campaigned so ably as part of the British 14th Army consisted in the main of 2 Nigerian dominated divisions and that every single African was a volunteer fighting for a ‘King Joji’ they had never seen, had no comprehension of and who was barely aware of their existence. Yet the same government of King Joji extracted tin from Jos using save labour and taxed the colonies in extremis to fund its war effort. Now I mention these as an illustration of how an entity formed and maintained solely for the purpose of extracting its wealth can run and function efficiently with the captive constituents not just working for the entity but voluntarily putting themselves in harms way to protect that entities interests even when the outcomes are in no way beneficial or even relevant to them. Post independence another set of gangsters took over. As the years progressed the gangsters threw off all pretence of governance for the wholesale extraction and looting of wealth until we got to nadir of Abacha, where kleptocracy coupled with out and out brutality sunk the nation to the lowest levels of gangster rapacity. So what has all of this led to? Its taken us to our current ‘democratic’ disposition with the highest paid lawmakers in the world with the least legislative activity, no oversight activities, a supine opposition and one party states all passing supplications up the chain. In a situation where winner literally takes all, the systems and structures of power and more importantly power seeking have become so warped that the inevitable has happened and the crocodile has begun to eat its own tail. In the Delta what evolved to become MEND through the various cultist groups were a direct off shoot of the gangs formed for rigging by the south south gangster governors like Odili, Alameishia etc. These gangs after having been cut loose turned on their former masters and eventually led to the MEND phenomenon, which led to kidnapping for political reasons which has spread now to kidnapping for pecuniary reasons. In the North the chickens of the vast culture and climate of patronage and poverty built up by gangsters of the North have finally come home to roost. By destroying their own power and finance base of agriculture, either by omission or commission the Northern gangsters created a new phenomenon of al Majiris or uneducated, unskilled men, sent to ‘learn the Koran’ with uneducated unskilled and unregulated teachers. All these boys ever seemed to do was beg for food and money and would reach their teenage years with no discernible skill, however they were useful for rigging elections or periodic pogroms as and when needed. The organisation colloquially known as Boko Haram again is a manifestation of a group that was set up for political purposes, to promote the candidacy of certain people who in true Nigerian gangster politician fashion promptly abandoned them upon gaining power. Boko Haram was attacked and crushed in a campaign of completely disproportionate force with mass extra judicial executions, most of which were televised, again a manifestation of a government or system of government that not only doesn’t govern, no longer even pretends to govern. It is instructive that there is no discernible pattern or consistency to the attacks in Northern Nigeria, some have been overt political assassinations or attacks on symbols of the state others have been terror attacks against churches and beer parlours. To my mind there is a clear distinction between the actions of Boko Haram and what I would call the actions of opportunistic elements seeking to hide under that cloak to create conditions whereby they will take back what they consider to be rightfully theirs, i.e. political control of the entity called Nigeria. In essence the phenomenon of urban terror is a civil war within the gangster cabal. Not even North vs South or Christian vs Muslim but faction vs faction. With innocent church goers, villagers, herdsmen, office workers, bar men and women and ordinary citizens as the expendable cannon fodder. There seems to be no logical political end to any of the insecurities and criminalities that exist in Nigeria but there are commercial ends. Just as refineries are run down so as to favour oil importers, fuel subsidies benefit fuel lifters, congested ports benefit corrupt port officials, Niger Delta insurgency benefits oil bunkerers, power outages favour generator importers and importers of basic goods that used to be manufactured in Nigeria, a purported Islamic insurrection favours those who will go whispering to western diplomats (an alarming trend illustrated by Wikileaks) that they are the only ones who can control ‘the boys’, those who seek to make the country ungovernable, those who wish to precipitate revenge attacks so as to perpetuate their us and them narrative. What is even more incredulous is that the various gangster elements who have provided nothing for their alleged constituents except destroying their industrial and agricultural base should claim to be speaking for them and fighting for them. With the experience of the last election in mind where these elites were attacked by mobs they seek as ever to divert attention and turn the contest into a them and us contest, we the faithful against them the infidel, the productive against the parasites. The book launch mentioned earlier involved the life experiences of a young US Marine officer who prior to getting commissioned visited Kibera slum in Kenya and ended up setting up an NGO called Caroline for Kibera, he eventually deployed as. On his way to war he attempted to bring peace to the various tribal groups occupying a slum the size of Hyde Park. He ended up in Military Intelligence serving in Fallujah. Of the several key things that he mentioned one was the need for participatory solutions to the developing world’s problems and how early intervention tended to be require less resources than post conflict interventions. These are common sense truisms but in the case of Nigeria they are in fact our only keys to survival. It is impossible for a system by gangsters for gangsters to survive intact much longer. Something somewhere will have to give and the unfortunate thing is that the ‘give’ will be along the path of least resistance, i.e. tribal or sectarian lines. It will be bloody, brutal and inconclusive. No one can say what Nigeria will look like at 52, it has been said the GEJ is an intellectual who actually wishes to hear contrary arguments and analyse the situation, as good as that is, analysis without decision and action is a navel gazing luxury we can ill afford Nigeria needs its entire people to have an insight into the problem and the solution, and the solution is an early intervention to attend to the root causes of our problems, which essentially begin and end with corruption. None of the problems in Nigeria from power to petroleum to industry are difficult or particularly expensive but as long as there are people profiting from the misery they will be impossible. We the people must start to use the tools of democracy contacting our Representatives and Senators to ask the relevant questions, to query and show our disapproval using social media and the traditional media. For those in the diaspora to share information about corrupt officials and politicians and lobby foreign governments and their agencies. These interventions are no cost and pre emptive and do not bear the alternative. This is to the benefit of the gangsters as well as their victims, the lessons of Gbagbo, Assad and Ghaddafi should not be lost on them, but more importantly the lessons of Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar tried to avoid justice in Colombia by a campaign of urban terrorism and assassination. He ended up dead in the Medellin jungle. 51 years ago Nigeria was ahead of its peers now we lag behind Ghana and Gambia. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so possibly all the bad intentions that litter Nigeria’s history from conception to present portend something.