ANALYSING NIGERIA'S CURRENT CRIME SURGE
CONCEPTUALLY, crime can be seen as an infraction of both the basic principles of law and order and the norms of civilised behaviour. No society is immune from this knotty social problem but what differs is the frequency and magnitude of the situation and the response mechanisms to address it.
As part of the human community, Nigeria is currently caught in the web of crime dilemma, manifesting in the convulsive upsurge of both violent and non-violent crimes.
But the most alarming and terrifying is the present escalation of violent crimes and the barbarity, lethality and trauma the perpetrators unleash on the hapless citizenry across the length and breadth of the country. Notable in this regard are the rising incidents of armed robbery, assassination and ransom-driven kidnapping, which are now ravaging the polity like a tsunami and spreading a climate of fears and anxieties about public safety.
So far, the prevalent sky high level of violent crimes in Nigeria has cast asterisk on the political will of some of those in the corridors of power in the country to protect the citizens through the instrumentality of the law enforcement agencies, especially the Nigerian Police Force, which is constitutionally charged with maintaining law and order.
Suffice it to say that a bizarre situation where any government abdicates its sole responsibility in this regard will give room to the emergence of a kind of Hobbesian state where life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short because of nihilism and violence of men. Already, many social analysts are eager to draw a parallel between the current tempo of kidnap saga in Nigeria and countries infamous for it like Colombia, Mexico and Bolivia, where various drug gangs and marxist guerrillas are wreaking havoc.
Considering the human cost of the upwardly growing level of grave crimes like armed robbery and assassination in places like Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Benin-City, Yenagoa, Port-Harcourt, Onitsha, Aba and Uyo, these towns, without sounding alarmist, could be said to have reached a point of comparism with South Africa's Johannesburg, which has earned itself the unenviable sobriquet of the murder capital of the world.
What are the underlying causative factors behind the exponential increase in violent crimes in our present-day society, especially the ugly trends of dare-devil kidnapping, armed robbery and assassination that have put the country in a quandary and instigated the pervasive sense of agoraphobia and 'homephobia' among many Nigerians?
And what are the realistic means of containing these worrisome developments, which have come with pernicious effects of threat to the life and property of the citizenry, forced divestment of resources by the government from more productive sectors to the maintenance of internal law and order and discouragement of foreign direct investments?
In fact, responding to these nagging questions would require a viva voce of the crime causative factors in Nigeria. Evidently, the bulk of the causative factors undergirding crime, violence and other deviant acts in the country are structural in nature but, somewhat, are reinforced by the obvious failure of institutional response mechanisms.
Starting with the structural crime causative factors, these include:
·Rampant corruption. This cankerworm has not only dwarfed the prospects of remarkable economic growth and development in the country but has also precipitated abject poverty, deprivation, privation, suffering and despondency among the masses that now fuel crime and violence.
·Deplorable state of the economy. This is attributable to corruption, mismanagement, poor planning, failed structural reform programmes, epileptic power supply and the attendant debilitating economic costs, lull in the manufacturing sector in a petroleum crude driven mono-economy and changes in the international political economy that have tremendously undermined the circumstances for the promotion of a national welfare state.
All these crises of development have, no doubt, resulted in lack of much economic ventilation and the associated social suffocation that have provoked a ferment among many penurious and disenchanted sections of the population who can no longer cope with the miserable situations and, alas, resort to crime as a 'saving grace'.
·Aggravation of the widening gap between 'the haves' (the rich) and 'the have nots' (the poor). This untoward development, which is clearly seen in the near decimation of the social stabilising middle class, is not only getting out of hand and creating a social rift of 'them' and 'us' but is also spelling trouble everywhere through crime and criminality, including armed robbery and kidnapping which now threatens the safety of the affluent class in society.
·Mass poverty. By and large, the abject want, squalor and misery among the vast majority in the country in the midst of plenty have exacerbated the crime rate.
Factors stoking the ember of poverty in the land include corruption, economic crisis, lack of well-articulated social security programmes to cushion the adverse effects of painful economic reforms, worsening income gap between the rich and the poor, high unemployment, rural-urban development imbalance and emerging international economic order that is incompatible with the Keynesian welfarist ideal.
Unarguably, poverty is the harbinger of most crimes. A recent estimate put the number of Nigerians living below the poverty line at 70 per cent. Regarding unemployment, which has created available market for crime, recent statistics from the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) indicate that 12 million Nigerians are unemployed, this is not to mention those who are underemployed.
·Gradual erosion of community spirit. Regrettably, this has witnessed the eclipse of the lofty values that keep the society on its toes like communalism, altruism, benevolence, empathy, compassion, philanthropy and solidarity and their replacement with the retrograde spirit of narcissistic individualism and hubris and the precipitate selfishness, greed, avarice, apathy and misanthropy that are stealthily turning Nigeria into a 'me-first society'.
The fallout is a dog-eat-dog society where the survival of the fittest is causing a widening gap between the rich and the poor, loot-and-plunder syndrome, blatant neglect, crime and criminality and rise of angst and alienation induced suicides, as blamed on low 'mechanical solidarity' in the society today.
Mr.Okechukwu EMEH , a commentator on national issues, writes from Lagos.