Until The Next Crisis!

I wrote this article several months ago to warn those currently in power of the need to be proactive and act on the past reports of the previous probes on the Jos and other ethnic/religious crises. The reason we have these issues is not because we do not know the problem, rather it is because we have not had the political will to fix the known problems. Below is a reproduction of my appeal to the authorities.

Until The Next Crisis!

By Pat Utomi
20 September 2009

It has been said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. This is particularly true of the Nigerian situation. We as a people have been so caught up in the rat race of survival that we have failed to take any notice of the regular recurrence of ethnic and religious crises in the country. Some have even become used to these clashes and have accepted it as a way of life. But the truth is that most if not all of these clashes are avoidable if we will only learn the lessons from the last one. But alas, our attitude is to heave a sigh of relief as soon as the crisis is contained and make some noise in the media, then forget about it after blaming it on one or two scapegoat individuals and proceed to move on with our lives as if nothing happened. Until the next crisis.

However, if we had only taken some time to reflect on the last crisis, we would have learnt lessons that would affect our behaviour and prevent the next crisis. But time and again, our leadership has shown that it has not the consistency to sustain the the process of resolving the remote and not so remote causes of these crises.

Now for instance, it would be recalled that that there was a religious/Ethnic crisis in Kaduna in 2000, and that as a result of that crisis the government set up a commission of inquiry to determine the causes of that crisis and prevent a re occurrence. However if you recall, little or nothing was done to implement that report of this commission and most importantly those behind the crisis were never unmasked nor punished and I vividly recall one of the members of that commission stating that if the previous report of the commission of inquiry that looked into the Zangon Kataf crisis in the 80s had been implemented, it would have likely prevented the Kaduna crisis. You would expect that this type of talk would lead to some proactive action, but then we had the Jos crisis soon after.

Now Jos used to be a city known for its serene atmosphere and everyone was caught off guard by the crisis that enveloped Jos in 2001. However, when the crisis re occurred with greater casualties in 2004, the government should have had some inbuilt mechanism geared towards containing the crisis. Well the government did not and so set up another commission of inquiry to again look into the causes of that crisis. Now what steps did the government take to avoid a re occurrence of that crisis? The commission's recommendations were again swept under the carpet and then it happened again!

This time in 2008 the orgy of violence was even worse. More people died during this crisis than the two previous crisis put together, but the most painful thing is that again this crisis was foreseeable and preventable if the government had simply implemented the recommendations from previous panels of inquiry.

But what was even worse is the amount of politics engaged in by the Federal and state government after the Jos crisis, the dilly dallying and the parallel commissions set up. What we failed to understand is that some things should be beyond politics and as the elder brother the Federal Government has to show the way by leading by example and putting national interest before politics in matters such as these.

If we had done this, then perhaps the most recent crisis, the deadly ‘boko haram‘ crisis would not have happened. But happen it did and once again Nigeria was portrayed to the outside world as a nation in turmoil with potential foreign investors watching on TV the orgy of violence as human beings were beheaded, hacked to pieces in the most barbaric manner and thinking to themselves that this could be me if I go there to invest!

So now that we have contained this latest crisis, what happens? So now what? Again, so now what?

Do we heave a sigh of relief and carry on as before and say it was all Mohammed Yusuf's fault? Or do we do the proper thing and carry out a proper post mortem of the crisis? I am not talking about another window dressing ‘panel of inquiry' which would again be swept under the carpet like its predecessors. No! I am talking about a fact finding effort, geared towards a level headed and sober investigation into the causes of the crisis and most important to suggest ways that MUST be implemented so that we do not have a re occurrence.

Poverty is at the root of these crises. People are feeling the pressure and the rat race is taking its toll on the masses and on top of this resources are dwindling bringing out the worst in human nature. All these may perhaps be bearable, but what is unbearable is that in the midst of such grinding poverty, with people living in sqaulor, we have a political class that is so unashamedly engaged in squandermania and an opulent lifestyle as if taunting the masses and telling them that they are in some way sub human. Little effort is made at improving the standard of life of the masses. Health care, education and power are at an abysmally poor state, while our elite access health care overseas, school themselves and also school their kids abroad and escape from darkness with generators.

It is this type of environment that empowers a Mohammed Yusuf and provides him with the arsenal to mislead desperately poor people into following his movement and engaging in acts of violence as they did. It is easy to convince an illiterate that since we did not have this level of corruption when we were not so Westernized, it must be that Western education is at the root of the corruption, so we must do away with it via bloodshed.

And what is the solution? Is the solution to be found in unleashing soldiers and police to crush these folk? No! That is a reaction and it is acceptable as an emergency measure, but afterwards we need to ease the burdens of the masses and remove some of the pressures they face by a heavy and sustained investment in social services . When we do this, we will find that we are not so vulnerable to these crisis. If we invest in education and have schools that are always in session and not on strike and we implement a compulsory and comprehensive education nation wide, youths who are usually used in these crisis would have better things to occupy their minds. If we invest in power, we will see a dramatic, steady and sustained rise in small and medium scale enterprises and the economy will start to expand and when people are at work, they will have little time to take offense at miss world pageants, newspaper articles, settlers and such like.

But perhaps most importantly if we have a political elite that is more responive to the people. That is able to curb some of its opulence. That can be less thieving and more service oriented and that is headed by a true 'servant leader' who models behaviou for the masses to emulate, we will have a public that is well behaved, investor friendly and at peace with themselves and their neighbours.

Politicians can not keep having 300 million naira weddings, multi-million naira wedding anniversary bashes, long convoys of cars that regularly get involved in fatal crashes killing hapless pedestrians and multiple guest houses maintained at public expense. We can not be having a multi billion FIFA fiesta when we have majority of our population living on less than a dollar a day. We can not spend 523 billion naira on a legislature that has produced only 523 billion las that have had little impact in bringing the people out of poverty. We would have to remember that society is like a pyramid and the top flows down. Very important it is to remember that fish starts to get rotten from the head.

Also, we can not expect to take the lid of the pressure cooker that Nigerians are living in if we do not tackle the issue of free and fair elections. We need to allow people freely choose their own leaders. Leaders can not have genuine influence over their people if they are imposed on them. This is why we continue to see this disconnect between the leadership and the led were the led are suffering from crumbling social infrastructure and the leaders are accessing their social services (health care, education, banking, insurance) abroad. We need to implement the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee's recommendations chief of which is that the board and head of the INEC should not be appointed by the president but by the National Judicial Commission.

As it is with these crises, so it is with almost every aspect of our national life. In sports for instance, we perform woefully at a football, basket ball or volley ball tournament, or an Olympic games and the national mood is one of sadness. Everyone complains, but very soon, we forget about the let down and go about our normal activities and then the next tournament or Olympic games are around the corner and we start our usual ‘fire brigade' preparations, always in crisis mode.

This is the same approach we took in the Niger Delta and now we have a full blown insurgency where we could have nipped this problem in the bud back in the 80s and 90s. We can not afford to have more Niger Delta crisis around Nigeria.

Life is just like a farm, we can not plant a seed and refuse to water it, and go and play and make merry and just a few weeks to harvest time we come and start making hasty preparations, watering and manuring the crop at a time when it is too late to expect any yield from a farm that has been neglected for sooooooo long.

In closing I say to Nigeria's current leaders that they have two choices. They can have a sober reflection on the ‘boko haram' crisis and then do something tangible to address the causes of this incidence or they can bury their heads in the sand like the Ostrich ‘until the next crisis'.

Once again, God bless Nigeria.


PS: This blog piece was published on my blog www.patitospost.com, two days before reports of the recent shiite protest/clashes in Kaduna resulted in deaths.