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Of rehabilitation, deportation and other matters

By The Rainbow
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On August 1, 2013, The PUNCH reported that Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State 'wrote President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate the dumping of 72 homeless people at the Upper Iweka Bridge, Onitsha, Anambra State, by suspected agents of the Lagos State Government.' The said dumping was said to have occurred at 3:00 am on July 24, 2013.

In the intervening period, the mainstream media and social media network sites have been rife with gossips, guesses, charges and countercharges. And while some see it as a non-event, others see it as a disrespect and abuse of human and civil rights and another evidence of the continuing marginalisation of Ndigbo.

But the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, has denied the charges - claiming that (1) what his government did was 'rehabilitation and not deportation'; (2) that the actual number of citizens so returned were 14 and not 72; (3) that the government of both states had exchanged memos on the matter, hence, it was wrong for his Anambra State counterpart, Peter Obi, to claim ignorance of the matter; and (4) that the repatriation of citizens to their states of origin was not peculiar as this was a routine act amongst states - especially amongst states in Igboland.

While Fashola has taken the time to address the media, Obi, at least in the last couple of days, has yet to do so. Consequently, one is unable to judge what happened and what didn't happen. In the end though, I am not sure that allotting blame or stoking primordial anger and bigotry would serve any meaningful purpose. But rather, one hopes that this event and the attendant reaction will spur a healthy national conversation about (a) federalism and citizenship; and (b) the duty and responsibility of government towards the poor and the needy and towards citizens with mental and physical impairment.

Frankly, this incident presents us an opportunity to jumpstart a national conversation about our collective problems and challenges - problems and challenges successive governments and sections of the elite have refused to address. In just a few days, imagine how much time and energy this 'simple act' has cost us. We have become a nation that gives sinister meanings to acts that are otherwise ordinary and pure and without untold intentions. Conversely, we sometimes dismiss sinister and injurious acts that demand our full attention and resources.

Nigerians and their God: I say this tongue-in-cheek: I think it is time God listened to Nigerians. For more than four decades, Nigerians have been praying to God to deliver them from poor governance and bad leadership. They've been praying to be saved from all manner of unnecessary deaths and calamities. There are many countries out there that don't pray as much, yet God listens to them. These countries don't have as many churches and mosques, yet, God makes their dreams come true. Perhaps, God has forgotten that he also created a people called Nigerians. Or, didn't he?

When my non-Black friends run into or create problems, they look for practical and real life solutions. Some even anticipate the problems before they happen. But for most of my African friends, they barely anticipate problems; and when problems arise, the first thing they do is to pray: seek guidance and solution from God. Six to 12 months down the road, they are still battling the problem - while my non-Black friends have moved on and away on holiday. Blacks need to face reality; they need to come to the understanding that religion is a hindrance.

Carrot and Stick for Boko Haram: A couple of months ago, the government dangled presidential amnesty before Boko Haram, but the group rejected it and went on its killing spree. Thereafter, some of their leaders were released from prison; still, the group was not moved. The government even sent religious and political emissaries; again, the group said 'No!' Along the way, the group has been attacked and bombed and some of their members killed. (To all these, Boko Haram said, 'No shaking!') No approach - stick or carrot - has been effective. Why? Simple: the government does not want to accept the fact that traditional notion of power and security is outdated (and has so far refused to try new tactics).

Unlike the vast majority of Niger Delta militants who were seduced with money, contracts and political appointments, Boko Haram seems to have a different value system with an endgame. And while I believe that some sort of settlement can and should be reached with the group, the Nigerian government must reassess its understanding of national security and how to bring about tenable peace.  The starting point is simple: What are the factors that gave rise to Boko Haram, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and other such groups? What factors accounted for the rise and acceptance of Biafra and many other groups? Is the current constitution adequate? Unless these questions are addressed, we should expect similar or more dangerous non-state actors.

Gowon as peacemaker: President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Chibuike Amaechi are having a fight even though both men are made from the same political cloth. Why the Akasoba Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution is planning to invite Dr. Yakubu Gowon, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Kenneth Kaunda to help settle the fight, beats my imagination. The ACPCR also invited traditional rulers.

The embarrassment in Rivers State does not amount to a national security problem, and neither does it have international security implications. This is strictly a personal and party issue that does not warrant such an intervention. What is Boutros-Ghali doing about the coup in his country, Egypt; and what is Kaunda doing to help resolve the crisis in his own country, Zambia?

The ASUU strike: Some years ago when I was seriously considering returning to Nigeria to, amongst other things, apply to do my doctorate studies at the University of Ibadan or University of Lagos, a noted scholar at UI advised that I dismiss the idea unless I wanted to waste 10 or more of my academic life (The ASUU strikes factored into his advice.) After all these years, things have not changed - but have instead worsened. Today, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on strike. Again!

I have no doubt that the body has legitimate reasons to strike; however, it has been in existence for so long that it should have found ways to solve many of its age-old problems. More than 35 per cent of all politicians at the state and federal levels have university education. And many lecturers have gone on to become politicians, the current Minister of Education being one of the many. So, it is not as if both sides do not know what the problems are.  Sadly, many students who otherwise should be in school for 4-5 years end up spending an extra 1-4 years as a result of the perennial strikes. Others get frustrated and abandon school or leave the country. This, surely, is not how to treat those we regard as the leaders of tomorrow. As things stand, the tomorrow may come and there will be no quality leaders around. And the cycle continues over and over again.

Abidde ([email protected])  writes for PUNCH