The problems of Nigeria are more of the consequences of elite collusion in repression of the masses than tribal and religious schisms. Irrespective of their tribes and religious persuasions, the Nigerian elite live in their cocoons of privileges, power and wealth, and have no qualms in their vicious, remorseless exploitation of the masses. By their deliberate design, a disproportionate number of Nigerians, Christians, Moslems, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Hausa, etc, are trapped in poverty, ignorance, fear, insecurity, subhuman habitats, homelessness, etc. So, when we dwell on tribe and religion, and not elitism, as the major causes of our socio-economic problems, we are missing the point.
The Nigerian elite are too inextricably bind by political, economical and social interests. In the advancement and protection of these interests, they are totally indifferent to tribe and religion. For example, under President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw; and finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an Igbo; and Dasuki, a Hausa/Fulani, as the national security adviser; the elite shared money from the 2.2 billion dollars budgeted for the fight against Boko Haram. As Dasuki doled out hundreds of millions of naira to party faithful and cronies, he was indifferent to their tribes and religions, for the recipients of this shady, spooky largess cut across tribal and religious lines. His primary concern was interest: personal and clique (political, party, etc) interests.
Nigeria has the highest concentration of extreme poverty in the world. But, ironically, the Nigerian legislators remain the highest paid legislators in the world. Irrespective of tribe and religion, no Nigerian legislator has ever objected to this unconscionably excessive remuneration. They remain united in this grand larceny, with a façade of legitimacy.
Similarly, although the constitution makes no provision for it, governors, irrespective of political party, tribal and religious affiliation, continue to appropriate from state government coffers between five hundred million naira (N500m) and one billion naira (N1, 000m) every month, as security vote. The governors are not obligated to account for this money, which allows them to, most often, “Embezzle it out rightly”. According to a Punch newspaper editorial, security vote is “gratuitous and systemic theft of public funds” by state governors. The monthly pocketing of such a staggering amount of money by governors in a country where 70% of its population live in desperate poverty is morally reprehensible.
Lamentably, some of these governors that expropriate this humongous amount of money every month still refuse to pay state government employees their monthly salaries. In states like Imo, Abia and Kogi, civil servants are owed for so many months. In Abia, a primary school head mistress that openly requested the payment of some of the backlog of their salaries was punished. To work for so long without pay must be unimaginably agonizing. It is gross; disconcertingly redolent of slavery. And to get punished for asking for the payment of some of your owned salary is to be treated with indescribable scorn: just like a piece of trash
Governors routinely bulldoze the homes and businesses of Nigerians without due process, throwing families with children, babies and pregnant women out in the rain and cold, and dispossessing the indigent of their sources of subsistence. A man’s home is his castle; and its inviolability must be respected even when the home is an illegally built tumbled-down shack. Therefore, the eviction of the inhabitants of shanty-towns and illegal structures still demands painstaking adherence to due process and the rule of law.
Against the relentless objection of the people of Owerri, and in defiance of a court injunction, the then Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, demolished the Eke Ukwu Market in Owerri. The market was bulldozed at mid-night when the traders were not around to salvage their goods. In the morning, traders frantically scrambled to retrieve whatever was left of their wares in their demolished stalls. And quite naturally, they protested the unwarranted destruction of their sources of livelihood. To contain the expected traders’ protest, Governor Okorocha had deplored the army, air force, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp (NSCDC), Department Security Service (DSS) and the police.
In their harassment of the protesting traders, they killed three persons, including a 10 year old boy that was helping his father to recover his goods from his demolished market stall. If Okorocha is not wholly deranged, why did he, in addition to the police, deploy the army, air force, NSCDC and DSS to contain a peaceful protest by unarmed traders? But, of course, he is deranged by grasping avarice, arrogance of power, and scorn for human lives. It is this deranging elitism, not tribal and religious rifts that is the major source of most of our national problems: pervading extreme, raw-dirt poverty; dilapidated, decrepit public infrastructure; decaying and dysfunctional institutions; moribund healthcare delivery system, pervasive, perverse criminality; etc.
The salvation of the Nigerian masses will come once we realize that the feud is between the masses and the elite, not between Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani and Moslems and Christians.
Tribal and religious rifts are only necessary and veritable tools of the elite in stoking divisions among the masses.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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