Violence in a Rebased Economy



Scene One: On March 27 this year, a Police Corporal, Sunkanmi Ogunbiyi, attached to the State Criminal Investigation Department of the Ogun State Police Command left his station and headed home where he turned his gun on estranged wife, (also a police Corporal), his landlady, a 2-year-old toddler and several others, before shooting himself. At the end of the gruesome affair, six lives were wasted while three survivors sustained serious gunshot injuries.

Scene Two: On April 6 this year, five gunmen entered St. John Anglican Church, Oke-Sopen in Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State while the service was going on to pump bullets into Chief Tola Okuneye, a.k.a Ajagajigi, 69. By the time the gunmen (who had earlier pretended to be worshippers) were done, Okuneye, Chairman of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) who also doubled as chair of the Police Community Relations Committee, was no more.

Scene Three: On April 5 this year, Yargaladima village in Zamfara State was invaded by dozens of gunmen, riding on motorcycles and carrying dangerous weapons, including AK 47 rifles. They stormed a meeting of a vigilante group and professionals planning how to confront Boko Haram insurgents. A survivor of the attack, Mallam Muhamadu Yargaladima, completes the story: “Using AK 47 and other rifles, they began to shoot at children, traders, vigilante, community leaders, clerics, thereby killing 215 people at the end of the four-hour operation.”
Scene Four: On March 17 this year, two Britons, Piers Eastwood and Vincent Haywood, and their 12 Nigerian accomplices were apprehended by the Joint Task Force (JTF), Operation Pulo Shield, over their involvement in illegal bunkering along the Chanomi Creek in Delta State. The suspects, representatives of an oil servicing company, had offered some hefty bribe money to fuel a gunboat that would escort the stolen crude oil they wanted to ferry out of Nigeria.

Last Sunday, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was rebased by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which pushed our economy into the first position in Africa and the 24th in the world (with Belgium and Poland), overtaking South Africa. Not surprisingly, many commentators have dismissed the exercise because, as they argue, at just $3000 per capita income, it is fallacious to say Nigeria’s economy is above South Africa’s that is on $7,336 per capita income. A few people have also argued that placing Nollywood above India’s Bollywood is carrying fantasy too far. Yet there are others who refuse to accept that Nigeria is now above countries like Austria, Argentina and Iran in economic terms.

At this point, there are salient questions to ask: Was the exercise necessary? The answer is yes because it is routine in most countries and essential for the investing community. For instance, on Monday, the London Financial Times reported that the United Kingdom Office of National Statistics will soon reveal data to indicate that their economy is bigger and in better shape than had been earlier projected. Are the figures from our National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) credible? I believe that on balance they are, especially considering the fact that the NBS Director General, Dr Yemi Kale put a rather instructive caveat: “While GDP depicts how rich a nation is, this is not necessarily the same as showing how rich individuals in the nation are, due to problem of unequal distribution of wealth. Similarly, growth in GDP is not synonymous with job creation…this is the challenge of non-inclusive growth.”

While the debate can go on, I feel rather uncomfortable with Nigerians who are ever quick to dismiss any positive news about our country while those who politicize the routine exercise to attack President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration miss the point. However, I am also of the opinion that China presents a good model on how to handle situations like this. While the country has the second largest economy in the world, their authorities continue to project their huge population and the fact that many of their citizens are yet to be lifted out of poverty. We should be honest enough to admit that we also have serious challenge of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria despite our abundant human and material resources.

Whatever the merit of the NBS statistics, it is also a fact that if we “rebase” other aspects of our national life, we may end up with unflattering figures. I am not even talking about the fact that South African companies (from MTN to Shoprite) are gradually colonizing our country. Nor am I alluding to the growing inequalities in wealth and opportunities which made the World Bank President, Dr Jim Yong Kim to say recently that “two thirds of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in five countries—India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo”. I am more concerned by the growing violence in our country and its damaging implications, even for the economy.

On Monday, the Global Peace Index for 2013 was released. The Index used three broad indicators: the level of safety and security in society; extent of domestic or international conflict; and the degree of militarization. Our country did not fare well in the report which usually serves as a guide to potential investors. In fact, the Positive Peace Index (PPI) which measures “the strength of the attitudes of 126 nations to determine their capacity to create and maintain a peaceful society” ranked Nigeria 122 among 126 countries.

While I intend to interrogate the challenge of our economy with respect to the broken educational system, collapsing infrastructure and the unemployment problem another day, what is of concern to me today is how to deal with the growing violence in our country based on the four scenarios with which I opened the page. They represent the several dimensions of the violence that is daily being encountered in our country. It is not that such bloody occurrences are restricted to Nigeria but rather in the way we deal (or refuse to deal) with them, which quite naturally, impact on several things, including, if not especially, the national economy.

Take the first. It is not likely that there will be any investigation to unravel why a man would kill his wife, his landlord and her children yet it is easy to point in the direction of what could be a psychiatric challenge. Unfortunately, that case is closed which then means there will be no lesson to learn. The point being underscored here is that there are violent acts in our country today that result from issues of mental health but that is one area we do not pay attention to. Yet as people undergo social and economic pressure, it is a problem that is bound to increase. And we must deal with it.

The second scenario may not have been taken from a T. S. Eliot’s play, “Murder in the Cathedral” but the title might just have made a sinister impression on someone. That gunmen would enter a church to mix with worshippers before shooting their target looks much like a case of assassination. This kind of crime is also prevalent because no single killing of such nature has ever been successfully investigated and prosecuted in the country. Not one! In a society where the rule of law is absent, what you have will be rule of the jungle!

The third scene is a classic case of terrorism. Invading a village to kill, maim and rape innocent people with whom you had no problem can only be classified as such, whatever the nomenclature of the group involved or the motivation. This is another critical challenge confronting our nation today and the jury is still out as to whether we are facing up to it with the right tool. The last is organised crime with economic motive but we should worry because the international criminal cartel involved in oil theft is also to a large extent responsible for bringing in massive cache of arms into the country.

However, as diverse as the four scenarios are, one thing connects them and that is the ease with which guns can be procured in our country today. Unfortunately, the authorities don’t seem to be paying much attention to Hon Nnnena Ukeje, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Foreign Affairs, who has been leading a campaign on how to tackle the menace. She is at the vanguard of the efforts to get the Bill for the establishment of a national commission to deal with the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) passed not only to meet our international commitment but also to contain the growing domestic challenge of violence.

Some of the questions we need to interrogate, according to Ukeje, are: What is driving the current high demand for these dangerous weapons in our country? Who are the entrepreneurs of violence paying for them? What are the sources of these arms and how do they come in? How do we deal with the social, political and economic pressures that engender violence? Have we built the requisite capacity to take inventory of the arms and ammunitions that enter the country officially and how they are deployed? When and how do we create a platform for a national conversation on these and many other related issues?

Small arms by the way include revolvers and self-loading rifles and pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns while light weapons include heavy machine guns, hand-held grenade launchers, portable launchers of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems. According to the United Nations, “since weapons in this class are capable of being carried, if by small arm, by one person or, if a light arm, by two or more people, a pack animal or a light vehicle, they allow for mobile operations where heavy mechanized and air forces are not available or are restricted in their capabilities owing to difficult mountain, jungle or urban terrain.”

Indeed, Hon Ukeje poses other questions which include: Have efforts ever been made to demilitarize theatres of violence in our country after bloody encounters? Are we adopting the right approach in the bid to secure the compliance of Cameroun to give our military authorities the needed right of pursuit against Boko Haram insurgents that find easy abode in their territory? To what extent have we complied with the United Nations Resolution 2117 and the ECOWAS Moratorium concerning SALW that was signed in Abuja? With privatised security groups in the form of vigilante that are all over the country, the growing crude-for-arms in the Niger Delta that is happening right before our eyes, the rise in ethnic militias and the fact that there are about 200 illegal routes between Nigeria and Benin Republic alone, Hon Ukeje is of the strong conviction that we are toast if we do not act fast enough to contain the growing danger.

Some of the arms and ammunitions highlighted are those with which Boko Haram and all manner of criminals (including kidnappers, armed robbers etc.) are wreaking havoc in our country today. And there is no way we can bring an end to the violence until we are able to deal with the supply of these dangerous weapons that have literally become two-for-ten kobo. Yet the violence that has now become prevalent in our country is not only dimming the local economy but also scaring away foreign investments with all the attendant consequences. The bigger tragedy is that we are not only leaving behind a whole section of Nigeria but indeed a whole generation of our young population: Those who cannot go to school either as a result of violence in their current location or the non-availability of space (two million candidates will be sitting for JAMB this year) or the lack of means by their parents; and those who cannot find job after completing schools because the opportunities are simply not there.

Three years ago, the World Investment Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated that the Nigerian economy had lost some N1.3 trillion due to the activities of Boko Haram. According to UNCTAD, foreign direct investment to Nigeria fell to N933 billion in 2010 from N1.3 trillion in 2009, a decline of 29 percent. That was four years ago yet the security situation has worsened between then and now.

To compound the situation, the activities of Boko Haram combined with that of cattle rustlers have virtually rendered the economy of majority of the states in the North prostrate. That then explains why many believe that the new GDP figures do not account for the fiscal bucket with a big hole because it is difficult to put a price at the hundreds of thousands of people that are daily dislodged from their homes and means of livelihood in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Zamfara and lately Nasarawa, Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Kaduna States. The larger implication is that such state of affairs provides a breeding ground for young people to be recruited into criminal gangs as can be seen from the profiles of those that are usually paraded for the killings. Majority of them are either in their teens or twenties—people who ordinarily should be in school.

From the foregoing, it is important for us to take seriously the menace of small arms and light weapons but that is just one side of the story. We also need to take the young men and women out of the streets and take the guns out of the hands of those who are already far gone. But that would require revamping our educational system and providing outlets for job creation. That is the challenge for all of us, not only people in government. And it is something we have to take seriously if we are not to lose our country and its future.

A 2010 report sponsored by the British Council in Nigeria and coordinated by David Bloom, Harvard University Professor of Economics and Demography, is fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. Titled “Nigeria-The Next Generation” the report states: “Nigeria is at a crossroads: one path offers a huge demographic dividend, with tremendous opportunity for widespread economic and human progress, while the other path leaves Nigeria descending into quicksand. Nigeria’s most important asset is its young people – more important than oil. History has proven young adults to be a powerful agent of beneficial change, especially if they are healthy and educated, with decent job prospects.”

It is indeed instructive that several Nigerian professionals, including the current Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, (then Managing Director at the World Bank) collaborated on the report. Their conclusion was that Nigeria had become poorly positioned to maximise the economic opportunities created by its demographics yet if this potential is not harnessed, “it will become an increasingly disruptive force”. With the right policies, the report concludes, Nigeria could easily become one of the world’s leading economies; and with wrong choices, “Nigeria’s development breakthrough could be forever lost.”

With Boko Haram making vast territories practically ungovernable, schools are closing down and more Nigerians are daily slipping into poverty. That is why we urgently need to find solution to the crisis of insecurity, pay more attention to the education sector, reverse the shrinking investments and restore confidence in the economy. We need a holistic approach that not only tackles the immediate challenge but also deals with some of the root causes of violence in our country. “We have been talking of national security and without food security, there cannot be national security,” declared Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, last year in an apt reality check.

Those who dismiss the validity of the rebasing statistics may be missing a crucial distinction between the size of the economy and the serial failures of governance in recent times. The size of the economy is the aggregate sum of the cumulative economic activities and wealth created by all our people: From the mobile phone recharge card seller who spends an entire day in the sun to make the small income with which she feeds her family to the creative ingenuity of Genevieve Nnaji, Ali Baba, Dare Art Alade et al. Those are the economic dynamics captured by the NBS in their statistics.

However, I can also understand what is driving some of the public anger, especially against the background that some government officials are already making song and dance about the routine exercise. Thanks to Mallam Abba Kyari, I have just completed the late Prof. Tony Judt’s last book, “Ill Fares The Land” which harps on the contradictions inherent in a rent-dependent economy such as we have in Nigeria today because it can only promote extremes of both wealth and poverty. What that means in effect is that the clear failures of the Nigerian state in the areas of security of life and property, quality of public services, infrastructure decay and growing unemployment also represent the decline in the aggregate competence of leadership in our country.

Clearly then, while the GDP rebasing is a belated statistical acknowledgment of the economic resilience and productivity of Nigerians as a people, the persistence of abundant evidence of inequality and desperation in the land is an indictment on government at all levels. There is an even more disturbing reality that could be inferred from this exercise: While the people of Nigeria have worked over the last two decades or more to make their nation richer, our leaders have perfected the squandering of riches into the directive principle of state governance and a virulent political philosophy.

Therefore, it is commendable that our rebased economy shows that Nigeria is in the big league and even those who have questions about the methodology adopted to arrive at the conclusion can take it as merely aspirational. But even at that, such information means nothing to the man who cannot feed his family, whose children cannot go to school or access any affordable medicare. As Adam Smith put it rather succinctly in his book, “Wealth of Nations”, no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

The ‘Lead Story’ @ 40 It was a sarcastic remark to drive home his point that I was unproductive in the week since I could not come up with any potential front page story for The Guardian on Sunday. But Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, currently the “oga on top”, Communication and Public Relations at Nigeria Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) limited, sounded truer than he probably intended. Pointing behind me to the visitor walking into the newsroom, he said: “I bet that is your lead story for this week!” The young lady who got that unflattering moniker (which stuck) is now my wife of almost 16 years and she will be 40 on Saturday.

I guess everyone would have something nice to say about their spouse but the Bible could not be more apt with the summation: He who finds a wife finds a good thing. Even before we finally got married in December 1998, Tosin had begun to enrich my life and there are several witnesses to that, essentially because our courtship remarkably played out in the newsroom: from The Guardian to Concord Press!

I am sure Mr Tunji Bello (Lagos State Environment Commissioner); Mr Sam Omatseye (chairman of The Nation editorial board); Mr Kayode Komolafe (THISDAY Deputy Managing Director) and my friend and Bestman, Louis Odion (Edo State Commissioner for Information) can write interesting epistles about my fiancée-turned-wife. So can Mr Segun Babatope who on his own (without my knowledge or solicitation) went to my late (then prospective) father-in-law’s house on January 1, 1998 for a dramatic fit-only-for-Nollywood encounter that put in motion the process towards our wedding that year.

Fortunately, the good virtues that other people saw in the woman I eventually married have been a blessing for me. In good and bad times, my wife and I have together taken some leaps of faith but in most instances, I just coasted along, ever trusting in her love, wisdom and strength of character. As she therefore clocks 40 on Saturday, I crave the indulgence of readers for this public appreciation, especially since she doesn’t want, and there is not going to be, any ceremony to mark the day. At her insistence, the money for a get-together has been donated to a worthy cause. Every day, I thank God for leading me to Oluwatosin. And I am glad she accepted me!

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