By Chris O. O. Biose
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
– Helder Camara (1909-1999)
This is a call for truce in the ongoing cold war between oppressors and oppressed in Nigeria on this occasion of Yuletide 2019. The BBC English Dictionary, 1992, at page 1255 defines truce as “an agreement between two people or groups to stop fighting or arguing for a short time.” It is reported that on December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested that the Allied and German troops should stop fighting for a short time to enable the troops celebrate Christmas. No formal agreement followed the suggestion but on Christmas Eve, the sounds of rifles and shells ceased. It was reported that at dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers climbed out of their trenches on the Western Front, approached the frontline and shouted to their enemies “Merry Christmas” At first suspicious, some British soldiers cautiously climbed out of their trenches and found that the German enemies who greeted them were unarmed. So both sides met and exchanged gifts of cigarettes and puddings and sang carols. The commanders on both sides were pleasantly surprised.
Christmas is a period when individuals and groups extend goodwill to others, including belligerents. I therefore wish to take this opportunity of yuletide, when my country is in distress, to humbly call for a truce in the cold or undeclared war in which less privileged sections of the country are victims. My plea is principally directed to the Nigerian elite who are in the best position to bring an end to the war.
The purpose of this appeal is two-fold. The first is to expose a class of virulent oppressors; the second is to plead with them to cease fire against fellow Nigerians.
The so-called common criminals or petty thieves are not the most dangerous groups in the on-going war in Nigeria. These social misfits arise because of the activities of the real dangerous men that set the society at war. I mean the political, bureaucratic, economic, environmental and legislative wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Structure of Oppression in Nigerian
Oppression, as defined by the American social psychologist, Professor Morton Deutsch (1920-2017 ) entails “the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice. It need not be extreme and involve the legal system (as in slavery, apartheid, or the lack of right to vote), nor violent (as in tyrannical societies)”.
The Nigerian state is a gigantic structure of oppression made up of a strong centre, 36 weak states and the FCT. The country is ‘federal’ only in name. The “Federal Republic” is run like a unitary state where the centre collects funds from two or three revenue generating zones while all states (including states in the revenue generating zones) go cap in hand to the centre to collect monthly allowances. Oil revenue from the Niger Delta amounts to over 80% of the revenue of the centre and the states.
The ruling elite that controls the country has been eminently successful in using its power to strangulate the country. As a social category, the elite constitute a plurality of persons whose main characteristic is a position of pre-eminence over others. The oppressive dimension of elite offensive in Nigeria is how this category of persons deploys their immense power to pauperise, subjugate and enslave the masses.
High power groups employ all possible tactics and schemes such as manipulation of elections to hold on to power, including the use of bribery, intimidation, violence and murder to preserve the status quo that benefits their positions to the detriment of the masses.
In spite of a written constitution, elaborate laws, expansive security network and outward display of religiosity, the country is in the grip of escalating insecurity, economic turmoil, extreme poverty and social disarray. The question is: who is responsible for failure of laws and institutions in Nigeria. It would stretch the imagination quite a bit to try to place these failures on the doorsteps of the downtrodden masses. The responsibility lies squarely on elite groups just enumerated.
The most visible class of oppressors in Nigeria is the political sub-set thereof, using security agencies as its tool of oppression. The bane of this class is coup-plotting and election rigging, both of which are procured by violence, fraud and treachery. Since General Yakubu Gowon (retd.) started the process of dispossessing the Niger Delta of its oil and gas resources in 1967, Nigerian military and subsequent political leaders have been drunk and dizzy with oil money. They are fixated on money from the Niger Delta and appear incapable of thinking beyond that source of money.
The history of Nigeria is replete with military coups and rigged elections in order to control oil money. Speaking in Abuja in January 2003, His Grace Most Reverend Dr. John Onaiyekan, who was then Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, declared:
“The act of rigging elections is bad. Those who rig elections are worse than coup plotters. Election riggers should be abhorred for they tend to make the world believe that they had been elected by the majority while nobody elected them.”
What comes clear is that election rigging is another technique of taking over power without the consent of the electorate. It is a civilian coup; the ultimate political sin. Election rigging derogates from the legitimacy of government. It accentuates the crisis of weak legitimacy and absence of political community among the various groups in Nigeria. It is plausible to suggest that no reasonable or informed citizen will take seriously whatever an election rigger has to say, particularly when such an individual is hypocritical enough to presume to teach others how to be good citizens.
When significant groups of citizens believe that their government has no legitimate right to rule them, this easily degenerates into neighbour against neighbour. This accentuates the challenge of inadequate national integration.
I therefore earnestly urge the political terrorists in agbada to cease fire. Stop killing fellow citizens in order to win political positions. Stop feeding helpless youths with drugs and guns to fight your selfish battles. Your activities serve to create a class of violent criminals in the society.
On December 6, 2019, Daily Times reported that Nigeria ranks “among most oppressive countries on earth” citing a report by an international research organization, CIVICUS Monitor. The organization categorized the civic space in Nigeria as “REPRESSED”. The indices of oppression include abuse of rights of citizens, constraints on freedom of expression and assembly, journalists physically attacked, arrested and judicially harassed, disruption of protests, use of restrictive laws to stifle dissent and disregard of court orders. One wonders what detaining honest and patriotic citizens without trial has to do with good governance or what benefit the masses derive from such repressive tactics. The hierarchy of Government needs to rethink such strategies if indeed their objectives are altruistic.
It is dishonest for any public office holder to claim that he is being compelled to do bad things. Of all the killings and fraud that cries to the heavens in elections in Nigeria since 1999, particularly the 2019 electoral coup, no chairman of member of the electoral commission resigned in protest. They are dead in conscience.
In this regard, present-day Nigerian public office holders degenerated far below their counterparts in the First Republic. For example, in December 1964, three membersof the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) resigned in protest against the untoward happenings just before the Federal Elections held on December 0, 1964. Those who resigned in protest included, Prince David Akenzua representing the Midwestern Region and Mr. Anthony Aniagolu, representing the Eastern Region.
A strategic elite group in Nigeria is the bureaucracy. This is because of its intricate relationship with other elite groups (both indigenous and foreign), and the expertise of its members in facilitating official corruption in the country. Whether you speak of corrupt politicians, military rulers or business men, none can carry out their “business” without the active collaboration of the bureaucracy.
This silent, but extremely dangerous class of oppressors is found in the top echelons of the bureaucracy at local government, state and federal levels in Nigeria. In the process of carrying out national and international assignments, bureaucrats discover that they can fend for their pockets. National assignments soon transform into opportunities for personal enrichment. By a classic example of displacement of goals, individuals employed to protect the national interest place their private interests as their primary concern. No project will see the light of day which does not satisfy various “cuts” of innumerable hierarchy of officers of the bureaucracy.
The unholy marriage between bureaucrats and the ruling class becomes stronger because most of those in political power are only too glad to obtain unmerited personal privileges facilitated by the bureaucrats. Political office holders do not hesitate to sign documents prepared by bureaucrats as long as their mutual privileges are guaranteed.
Financial and moral indiscipline multiplied tremendously with the oil boom. This got to a level where a former war hero attempted to bring a kind of military discipline into the bureaucracy. He instituted tribunals to try public officers, dismissed thousands of officers and seized their assets. This was popularly referred to as “The Purge”. Unfortunately, his efforts were cut short by the same system of violence that brought him to power. Years later, another military dictator reversed this process, returned seized assets to the officers and institutionalised corruption as a culture or norm in the public service.
This is a very wide class of insatiable men voraciously devouring our great country. For example, it has been reported that a large number of Ministers and Members of the National Assembly, particularly former Governors and Deputy Governors, earn double salaries. They are reported to earn hefty pensions amounting to more than N500,000,000 (five hundred million Naira only) per annum as well as other perquisites for each of them from their former office while also earning humongous amounts from the positions they hold in the Executive and Legislative arms of government. In a country where workers are struggling for approval to earn minimum wage of N30,000 (thirty thousand Naira only), equivalent of US$83 a month at the rate of N362 (three hundred and sixty-two Naira) to US$1. The greed and immorality exhibited by this class of people is a recipe for social unrest.
Nigeria is ruled by vanity, ego, pride, self adulation. But as the Holy Book states ”vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes l: 2). And the Lebanese-American poet and visual artist, Khalil Gilbran (1883-1931), exclaimed in his best-selling book The Prophet, published in 1923:
What shall tomorrow bring to the over prudent dog
Burying bones in the trackless sand
As he follows the pilgrim to the Holy City?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full,
The thirst unquenchable?”
It must however be said that economic wolves are not limited to the political or strictly economic sectors. They traverse all sectors of the society. Anywhere you look; money rules. This is fostered by the acquisitive mentality that has overtaken the society. Most Nigerians have adopted the Onitsha market social anthem.
When it comes to money matters,
No father, no mother,
No brother, no sister,
No relatives, no family
No friends, no community
No morals, no principles,
No church, no God,
Money by all means,
Money at all costs,
Money first, money last.
It is only after serving the god of money, that these Nigerians can raise their heads to perceive other values such as philanthropy and religion.
In a society guided by the social philosophy of “get rich quick”, most people do not see the point in hard work anymore. They can see with their own eyes that it does not pay them to work hard. The people who occupy the apex of the political, social and economic system are mostly crooks and violent men, not the clean or hard working members of the society. The largest proportion of elites who are perceived as “successful” are products of naked power, quota system, federal character, political patronage or plain brigandage. The foundation of a productive society is greatly undermined.
I earnestly plead with economic wolves in our midst to show a modicum of decency, fair play and have the welfare of others in mind.
A special class of economic oppressors often referred to as International Oil Companies (OICs) have their operational base in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian Government in collaboration with the OICs constitutes the biggest threat to the lives and property and survival of Niger Delta people.
They declared war on helpless people of the Niger Delta and destroyed the source of livelihood of millions of people of the region since they started exploitation of oil and gas in the region in 1956, milking the people merciless and destroying their environment.
How could human beings be so heartless and indifferent to the well-being of citizens in a democratic state that has a government that is expected to protect citizens?
In March 2019, Governor Seriake Dickson inaugurated a Commission of Enquiry into environmental degradation in Bayelsa state. (Samuel Oyadongha, Rise for Bayelsa: Dickson flays multinationals, FG over ‘environmental terrorism’, Vanguard, March 22, 2019, p 35).The chairman of the Commission is the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu while members of the Commission include former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, and a former member of the British cabinet and House of Lords, Baronness Valerie Amos Brondesbury, The Commission undertook fact-finding tour of several communities in the state, including Egbebiri and Ikarama in Yenagoa LGA, Azuzuama in Southern Ijaw LGA. The commission also held evidence sessions with about 35 communities, traditional rulers, environmentalists and civil society organisations across the state.
During its tour, the Commission saw “a pit of fire where crude excavated from the soil was being burnt and the smoke spreading over the community.” This led the Chairman of the Commission, Archbishop Sentamu to exclaim: “This is shocking and totally unacceptable” as he scooped raw crude from a pond with a plastic bucket.
In recent years, the Nigerian Army and Navy reportedly joined the environmental devastation of the region. Residents are totally helpless and cannot even complain because of the immense power of those who carry out these atrocities. (Emmanuel Amaize, CRIES FROM NDETA CREKS: Otuaro, Dep Gov in dilemma over security agents burning crude oil, NIGER DELTA VOICE, VANGUARD, NOVEMBER 26, 2019, page 28). Security agencies need to realize that the people at the receiving end of these extremely harmful practices are Nigerian citizens who expect protection and not intimidation from them.
Patriotic Nigerians in all walks of life need to speak out because as the notable American Christian minister and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jnr once said, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
The cold war between oppressors and oppressed, that fuels kidnapping for ransom across the country is a direct consequence of the heartless posture of Nigerian political and economic elite. To achieve a truce in the war, the political, economic and bureaucratic elite must boldly tame their greed, consider the plight of the oppressed and institute a more humane society.
Legislative Persecution of the Niger Delta
Aside the almajiri, a social class of homeless children that are abandoned by their parents and their governments in Northern Nigeria, the Niger Delta is the most oppressed region in Nigeria. But unlike the almajiri, oppression of the Niger Delta is a deliberate policy of the state. The people are systematically enslaved. They cannot protest injustice or they would be mowed down by army and police bullets.
Instead of introducing legislation to reinforce democratic freedoms in Nigeria, the National Assembly has time to engage in debating legislation designed to suppress social media activism which is the only means of expression that is not influenced by the Nigerian state.
I call on the National Assembly to drop its anti-people bills and address critical issues that would promote peace and progress in the country. For the avoidance of doubt, the urgent tasks of the National Assembly at the present time are three in number and they are:
(i) Repeal all obnoxious Military Decrees promulgated by unelected military dictators that dispossessed the Niger Delta of the benefits of its natural resources particularly Petroleum Decree (No. 51), 1969, Offshore Oil Revenue Decree (No. 9), 1973 and expunge the provisions of these decrees that are included in Section 44(3) of Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Promulgation) Decree No. 24, 1999, fraudulently referred to as The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the1999, as amended.
(ii) Rejig the governmental architecture of the country through political restructuring to restore a true Federal Republic which was overthrown by military adventurists in 1966. That includes fiscal federalism. This will release states and its citizens from bondage to a central Leviathan at Abuja. It will trigger the creativity of states and the ingenuity of their peoples for the greater good of all.
(iii) Address mounting insecurity immediately by legislating on state and community policing. It is absolutely impossible for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) as it is at present structured to address security challenges of the country. The continued practice of using the Army to perform police duties as it was done during military dictatorship, because police is still incapacitated under a unitary command, is alien to federalism and can only compound security challenges of the country. If the security apparatus of the country is functioning, it would not be necessary to close borders and punish some sections of border communities in order to stop smuggling of fuel, drugs, ammunition and other harmful things across the border.
After 20 years of formal exit of military dictatorship, Nigeria is still operating a Military Decree as its Constitution and National Assembly members are docile and unpatriotic enough to be talking about Hate Speech and how to muzzle free expression of opinion in the country.
I hereby appeal to the National Assembly to shun legislative persecution of individuals and groups and brace up to face real challenges of the country as briefly outlined above. The National Assembly needs to give democratic freedoms a chance and step back from its damnable Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill.
Aiders and Abettors of Oppression in Nigeria
The political and economic classes are not the only purveyors of oppression in Nigeria. They are aided and abetted by some members of the judiciary, some intellectuals, religionists and sections of the media.
If you are a judge who sells justice to the highest bidder or twists the law to favour your tribesman in power so that he could promote you or sustain you in office to visit more injustice on citizens, then you are not worthy of the appellation “Honourable” or “Justice”. Such a judge is worse than a brigand. The brigand does not pretend to be good and just. He is not hypocritical enough to come out and say to society: “Make me a king or judge over men.” To the brigand, we have only one problem, to teach him how to be good.
But here is the unjust judge who pretends to be dispensing justice while carrying out the most heinous acts against humanity. Society accords him respect and obedience which he does not deserve. He is a hypocrite as well as a brigand. He is not only morally bankrupt, he is spiritually sick, a personification of Satan the great deceiver. All who use their positions of honour to cheat and commit fraud and injustice are greater enemies of society and humanity than plain habitual criminals who do not hide under the veil of an Emperor’s majesty, a religious cassock or jurist’s hood to perpetuate their crimes against humanity.
Another class of abettors is found among intellectuals who sell their expertise for lucre rather than service of humanity. The role of Nigerian intellectuals who found themselves in ministerial positions has been extremely disappointing. More often than not, they failed to apply whatever skills they might possess for the improvement of the society. This is because they lacked moral courage to insist on what is right or quit. Their professional skills rarely came into play in any positive sense. Their principal role is that of legitimation – to vest wrong-doings with an aura of academic prestige.
Like intellectuals who are for sale, a large number of religionists also serve to legitimize intense oppression promoted by other elite groups against the people. They lack courage to speak truth to power as the prophets of old, Jesus and the Apostles did. Rather, they try to convince the oppressed that their fate is ordained by God. All that the deprived classes have to do is to wait for God to resolve their suffering. Religious oppressors divert the minds of socially and economically dispossessed classes away from the true causes of their suffering and in the process make their own money and consolidate their positions among other elite groups.
Some sections of the media are also active in the gigantic structure of oppression in Nigeria. The job of such individuals or organisations is to feed the unsuspecting public with tendentious, unsubstantiated or false and propagandist releases from various sources and present them as “NEWS”. The undiscerning public is made to consume this perennial garbage.
If you are a journalist or media practitioner who collects brown envelopes to publish stories to launder the image of tyrants who oppress the masses, you thereby become accomplices in their crimes against humanity. You need to cease from playing “His Master’s Voice” and make genuine efforts to be true to best international standards in the profession.
A bestial elite
From the point of view of the masses, the Nigerian elite is a moral monster whose definition of good is how much it benefits him. They regard their power as a sledge hammer with which to mow down and break to pieces what remains of African self-confidence and initiative.
The philosophy of “self-first” at all costs goes with them into the legislative chambers as they make laws to protect selfish interests rather than public good. It dictates their human relations as they seek to out-manoeuver one another. It is the prime code of conduct of public officers. It is evident on city roads as the elite have no regard for the rights and of fellow road users.
Most Nigerians believe that they cannot question the activities of their tyrants. Most of us fear to step on toes or be labeled “radical” because of unjustified cruelty meted to persons so labeled. So, most people would rather toe the line of hypocrisy, false praise and false gain, rather than suffer deprivation.
If our ancestors were impoverished by the exploitation of foreigners, today’s Nigerians are impoverished by the greed of their elite. The record of the Nigerian elite will be judged in history as surrender to the baser elements of human nature, to forces of greed and self-aggrandisment.
But 58 years of the rule of force, fraud, deceit and hypocrisy has brought Nigeria to the brink of disaster. It has brought a potentially great country on its knees and made the people a laughing stock in the international community. Do we need further convincing to mend our ways?
Christmas is a time for goodwill and one of the best ways to show it is to reconcile with those we have offended, at individual and group levels. The problem is that most members of the arrogant elite are book cocky to apologise. This is why I regard former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Salisu Buhari as a model of true repentance.
When it was found in July 1999 that he obtained election with a forged document, he was humble and human enough to apologise for his error. In an emotional speech to assembly members, Mr. Buhari said:
“I apologise to you. I apologise to the nation. I apologise to my family and friends for all the distress I have caused them.
“I was misled in error by zeal to serve the nation.”
“I hope the nation will forgive me and give me the opportunity to serve again.”
What is probably a more historic example of remorse after a great error is the apology tendered by former leader of Apartheid South Africa. Mr. Scott Kaft of Los Angeles Times reported that in October 1992, the then President of South Africa, Frederick De Klerk apologized for Apartheid. Kraft noted that that was “the first time a white South African leader expressed regret for the ruling party’s 42 years of enforced segregation.” (Scott Kraft, De Klerk Apologizes for Apartheid: South Africa: Regret for the past, he says, was the main reason for power sharing talks with black leaders, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 1992)
Coming to really big issues in our country, it is not too late for General Yakubu Gowon to summon courage and tell the military hierarchy laying siege on the Niger Delta that when he promulgated the first Petroleum Decree in 1969, he did not intend to permanently dispossess the people of the Niger Delta. His “Nigeria Prays” project” is not good enough; he needs to place himself on the right side of history on the Niger Delta issue.
Another intractable issue in present day Nigeria is the state of the economy. It is fairly well established by economic historians that the greatest single policy that accentuated poverty in Nigeria is the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) instituted by Genera Ibrahim Babaginda (retd,) in 1986. The consequences were swift, fundamental, catastrophic and irreversible. In an analysis carried out by Professor Tijani Yesufu in 1992, he found that SAP recorded economic growth in monetary and statistical terms. But taking into account a persistent inflation, massive devaluation, the reverse was the case. Growth in figures served to hide massive decline in real terms. SAP translated to perpetual economic slavery to the Western World. It is not too late for General Babangida (retd.), along with his then Finance Minister, Kalu Idika Kalu, to apologise for the permanent injuries which their grievous error has caused generations of Nigerians. They should also apologise for the eminent and patriotic Nigerians they imprisoned without trial simply for proposing alternatives to SAP.
If you are a young military officer or commander who betrayed your solemn oath to defend the country and used the arms and ammunition entrusted to you to subvert the electoral processes in order to sustain your preferred candidate in power or for financial benefits, you need to show remorse, repent and apologise at this time.
I humbly take this opportunity of the 2019 yuletide to plead with the Nigerian elite at all levels, to take appropriate action to heal our sick country and give peace a chance.
May we forgive one another and show true love to one another this Christmas season.
I pray all those in positions of authority to show mercy in their relationships with others because as the Lord Jesus taught his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5: 7)
May the spirit of the humble Lamb of God touch Nigerian leaders this Christmas; May they turn a new leaf. May they lead with humility and embrace the burden of leadership with new realization of their responsibilities to the entire people of Nigeria, without discrimination.
May THE LORD FORGIVE US OUR SINS.
May THE LORD help us to realize the dreams of the founding fathers of our country, to “build a nation where no man is oppressed” so that our country may be blessed with “peace and plenty” as envisaged in our Independence National Anthem.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Prosperous 2020 and beyond.