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NIGERIA'S ELUSIVE PEACE AND THE LOOMING REFUGEE CRISIS [1]

By NBF News
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From the incessant kidnapping of oil workers and citizens in Niger-Delta, to the brutal murder of a 70-year-old woman and her 74-year-old husband alongside their grandchildren in Plateau; from the rape and defilement of a 60-80 year-old grandmother by a 17-year-old boy in Opi-Enugu, to the planting and detonation of bombs in three churches in Mubi Adamawa; and from the several bomb attacks and deaths of thousands in Yobe and Borno, to the bomb attacks in Mogadishu Army Barrack and Nigeria Police Headquarters in Abuja; the Nigerian landscape has in the last ten years, witnessed monumental increases in violence, conflicts and extra-judicial murders, even though the country is not officially at war. Peace, in every sense of the word, has become increasingly elusive for the government and citizenry.

Peace, for the purpose of this piece is a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, manifesting as the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a society…a state of public order and security.

As a reminder, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, tenth largest in the world, and home to about 20% of Africa's population, but occupies only about 3% of the continent's surface area. Her development indices as reported by the World Bank in its 2011 World Development Report, include a literacy rate of 60% among her population of 155 million estimate in 2009, life expectancy of 47 (male) and 48 (female), income per capita $1,140, while 83.9% of the citizens live on below $2 daily. Our indices on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include: 27.2% prevalence of under-5 malnutrition, 138 per 1,000 under-five mortality rate; 840 Maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births, 3.1% HIV prevalence, a tuberculosis (TB) incidence of 300 per 100,000 while only 32% have access to improved sanitation facilities. Our oil continues to boom, but the citizens continue to groan under poverty, unemployment, drastic recession and lowered standards of living for the majority of the citizens. With a total area of 923,768km2, Nigeria's national boundaries result from her colonial history and cut across a number of cultural and physical boundaries. North-south distance within the country could reach 1,040km while its east-west counterpart stands at about 1,120km.

In her 51 years of post-independence life, Nigeria has witnessed a 30 months fratricidal civil war, long-drawn years of military coups and imposed ruler ship, years of political agitation by the national Democratic Coalition [NADECO] and pro-democracy groups, persisting agitations by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people [MASOP], violent agitations by various Niger-Delta groups including the infamous Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta [MEND], agitations by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra [MOSSOB], and lately the Boko Haram insurgence in the North. Along with these, frequently violent inter and intra-communal feuds have become commonplace, with the attendant morbidity and mortality, and devastating toll on the barely existing infrastructure in the affected communities.

It has been noted that violence of various forms – robbery, hostage taking, kidnapping, murder, rape, even political, ethnic, religious – are presently threatening the very existence of our country, and assuming scary dimensions. A very small portion of the national earnings are available to governments at the local and state levels where the majority of the citizens dwell, as reflected in revenues sharing formula. As a result, sub-national struggles for equity have become possible avenues to perpetrate the activities of organized criminal syndicates that deal in oil and arms, and kidnap oil workers. Gradually but steadily, Nigeria has become a theatre of insecurity, featuring widespread criminal and group/gang violence, and unrestrained corruption and compromised vigilantism; which are readily scripted through low capacity and accountability of relevant national institutions, security apparatus and relevant stakeholders in the combat of violence.

Nigerian governments, political parties, security agencies, judicial establishments, vigilante groups, civil society leaders, perpetrators of crimes/violence, their victims and citizens constitute the theatre audience.

The World Bank reports that an estimated 250,000-300,000 barrels of Nigeria's oil, valued at more than US$3.8 billion, are stolen each year through 'oil bunkering'. Due to the lucrative nature of these violent activities and laisser-faire situation, local gangs and political groups have become increasingly drawn into them. The recent arrest and arraignment of a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in connection with the bombings and destructive activities of Boko Haram, is a case in point. It is believed that similar implications exist across the length and breadth of the country. Even in some places where conflict has ended, recovery and creation of resilient institutions have not been given due attention, while the weakness of governance in post-conflict environments has attracted trans-regional violence. The spread of the bombing activities of Boko Haram from Borno to other regions/zones in Nigeria is a good example.

It is believed in many circles, that political, ethnic and religious obstacles continually emerge to impede diligent law-making against these heinous acts, and investigations and prosecution of identified/reported violence and crimes; while the overall capacity of the judicial system to successfully and conclusively prosecute these cases in a timely manner, leaves much to be desired. In its Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment for West Africa, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has also alluded that 'law enforcement officials can be offered more than they could earn in a lifetime simply to look the other way', in the face of these threats to peace. Each of Nigeria's estimated 360 ethnic groups is a culturally distinct society characterised by unique dialect/language, value systems, normative behaviour, and expectations from the Nigeria Project. Each brandishes a peculiar way of life, mode of dress, values, food and food habits, cultural predispositions and mechanisms or patterns of socialising among its members; with own systems of marriage and family organization. Good thing is, that continuous cross-ethnic interactions have led to exposures to different social, politico-economic and environmental circumstances, and are now gradually narrowing our primordial differences in culture, language, gender and religion.

In the opinion of this writer, Nigeria's persisting crises are political and economic. The unresolved struggle for the control of political and economic power or 'resource control' among Nigerian elite is tearing the country apart. This struggle has consistently been sustained through deliberate deployment of the many roadblocks to a strong democracy in Nigeria, including conflicts triggered by political competition and resource utilisation; official corruption that is usually treated with kid-gloves; the weakening of civil society through marginalization and deprivations of the capacity and resources to effectively engage with government and advocate for change; government institutions that refuse to established meaningful partnerships with citizens or the private sector and lack the capacity to carry out their own mandates; and increased militarization and monetization of politics. By consistently deploying anti-poor socio-economic policies and practices, the government ensures a regime of persisting poor social and economic indicators across the country, in order to continue to undermine the civil society's capacity to positively engage the democratic process at the levels.

Adirieje writes from Lagos.