By Jibrin Ibrahim
Yesterday, the Working Group on Peace Building and Good Governance, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the West African Network for Peace (WANEP) organised a civil society leaders’ conference at Hilton Transcorp Abuja to review the drift towards chaos in Nigeria and the imperative of urgent action to redress the situation.
In his opening remarks, Professor Attahiru Jega spoke about the dangers of the politics of brinkmanship played by our political class, which can take us over the edge if we are not careful. He drew attention to the lack of enlightened self-interest within the political class and castigated the deplorable culture of do or die politics. He called for active engagement by civil society in peace making and establishing codes of conduct that would improve political behavior.
In his message to the conference, Cardinal John Oneiyekan called on Nigerians to be aware of the high number of fake news and images circulating, which are designed to sow the seeds of discord in society. He appealed for more critical reflection before we believe what is placed before us and cautioned that we should not be active participants in creating distrust and unrest in our society.
In his keynote address to the Conference, Professor Ibrahim Gambari drew attention to the fact that Nigeria is facing an unprecedented existential crisis and there is an urgent need to stop the drift towards chaos. One element of the crisis he drew attention to is the spread of the culture of violence. The Boko Haram insurgency has persisted for a decade and although progress has been made towards containing it, it remains a major problem with over 30,000 people killed and millions displaced. The Niger Delta remains marked by militancy and economic sabotage. In more recent years, a crisis of pastoralism has developed and deepened leading to violence and mass atrocities in most states in the country as herdsmen and farmers clash. Communal clashes are also spreading and the religious arena has become a major bone of contention for organisations such as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, which has been engaged in regular clashes with the State and security agencies.
Meanwhile, the growth of public corruption has continued in spite of the promises made by the Buhari Administration to contain it. Indeed, corruption has become so embedded that it has become difficult for public institutions to execute their mandate as the self-interest of officials overtakes the public good. Meanwhile, the successful prosecution of corrupt officials has become difficult due to a combination of poor capacity of the anti-corruption agencies, slow judicial process and corruption within the judiciary.
The major outcome of the crisis facing the country has been the erosion of public trust. A toxic atmosphere has developed in which different actors are suspected of developing plots to destroy others. Action of whatever type by governments and private institutions are no longer taken at face value but are re-interpreted within narratives of coordinated plots by some groups to destroy or eliminate others or to take their land. Late, poor or non-responses by governments to unfolding events have further eroded public trust. The role that the security forces play in resolving our problems is extremely important. There are concerns that in their deployments around the country, they are not always neutral in their attempts to address our numerous security challenges and this has been one of the factors leading to the erosion of public trust.
The current tension in the country is being further inflamed by hate and dangerous speech in the Nigerian conversational space. The social media is suffused with hateful content that is threatening to throw the country further into the orgy of on-going violence. Hate speech is not limited to social media. It is being openly broadcast on radio and TV programmes and to a limited extent in newspapers. To add to this disturbing situation is the increasing use of fake pictures, images and even news, including by mainstream news media, which are calculated to stoke the flames of conflicts along various fault lines in the country.
As is well known, fake news finds space and audience where governance is opaque and accountability is suspect. In such situations people are ready to invent their own explanations or even “facts” which inevitably tend to be fake news. Hate speech is also driven by current suspicions that government conduct is characterised by the marginalisation of certain groups, selective justice and arbitrary enforcement of laws. Drugs have also become drivers of hate narratives as drug use and addiction have become a major national problem.
At the heart of the problem is the virtual collapse of the nation’s educational system. Today, over 12 million Nigerians of school age are not getting the opportunity to go to school. Millions of those who go to school are not learning enough to justify their presence in the schools. In addition, so many of those who manage to graduate from school do not get employed so we are raising millions of young Nigerians to despondency and frustration. Without hope and opportunity for young Nigerians, it will be difficult to find a way forward for the country. We need to engage in a number of Short Term Interventions: 1) Increase the number of competent teachers and educators to manage teaching and learning especially at the basic education level; 2) improve the teacher/pupil ratio; 3) prioritise civic education as an important part of the socialisation of young Nigerians.
At the same time, Nigeria is experiencing increased consumption and abuse of drugs and other illicit substances. This situation if not checkmated would signal the birth of a drug culture that feeds into the culture of crime and violence. It was recently reported that in Kano and Jigawa states alone, over three million bottles of codeine are consumed daily. The reality of the situation is that the consumers of these drugs exploit the system of weak law enforcement and criminal justice administration to perpetrate this act. An opportunistic network of drug traffickers that underpins a very profitable criminal enterprise further exacerbates this phenomenon. An anti-drug agenda that securitises drug and sets the framework and conditions for responding to it would require stronger will by the Nigerian state and its institutions. This phenomenon should be viewed as a security issue that must be addressed, as a precondition for altering the drug-crime-violence nexus in the country.
Corruption is not being tackled adequately because the federal government’s understanding of corruption is skewed in the direction of Politically Exposed People (PEP) and has not turned its attention to institutional corruption, which paralyses institutions and undermines their delivery. In the police for example, the poorly paid constable does not collect pay as and when due, they also have to pay for uniforms, often including the rifle essential for their work, while companies and individuals make payments to this institution without any accountability. Ignoring these institutional corruptions and concentrating on Politically Exposed People, important as it is, has dragged the government into the politics of corruption, where propaganda and subterfuge becomes the tools, rather than the law.
Our inability to address poverty and create jobs has not only meant that idle youth will be available for recruitment into drug and crime rings and political violence, but it also results in the breakdown of societal morals. We have to wake up to the fact that our societies are decomposing, the fabric that holds it together is snapping and we must give this society hope to keep it together. Where is the hope going to come from, if government appears to be oblivious of all this and is busy planning for 2019? In the midst of these uncertainties and drift, what can we expect from a government that seems not to want to engage? The political parties do not appear to be there, they don’t seem to know what is happening to the society, so who do we or can we engage? Yes indeed, Nigeria is drifting towards chaos and the time to act to revive Nigeria is now. Here is therefore the need for all responsible Nigerians to join hands in the struggle to halt the drift and reposition Nigeria for electoral integrity and stable democratic development.
John Cardinal Onayeikan
Professor Ibrahim Gambari
Professor Attahiru Jega
Dr. Usman Bugaje
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim
Ambassador Fatima Balla
Dr. Hussaini Abdu
Dr. Ibrahim Yakubu Lame
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani
Dr. Chukwuemeka Eze
Dr. Chris Kwaja
Ms. Idayat Hassan
Mallam Y. Z. Ya’u