- Post 13 March 2010
- Last Updated on 13 March 2010
- By Ochi Dabari
Nigeria is ranked number 158 out of 182 countries listed by the UNDP in its Human Development Index (HDI). It would be good to know that a few “little” countries in Africa are ranked higher than this – Libya, the highest ranking African country is at number 55; Gabon is 103, Equitorial Guinea is 118, Namibia is 128, Swaziland is 142, Ghana is 152 and Lesotho is 156. I know that many Nigerians view this low ranking as white conspiracy to put the country down but the fact is that millions of Nigerians are migrating to these small countries, simply because life has better quality there. The UNDP, we must know, however, is a body with Nigerian staff, as it is a UN organisation. The UNDP also uses so many parameters to assign the HDI ranks, so it is fairly difficult to rank a country wrongly. If the ranking was based on one parameter of say functional hospitals or schools or death rate, we would understand the possibility of wrong conclusions and ranking. Not so with the UNDP HDI. It uses lots of parameters, in which Nigeria really ranks very low. It uses values for literacy, maternal mortality, GDP, mortaility of children under 5 years of age, etc. If we take life expectancy, in Japan (ranked 10), you are expected to live to 82.7 years. In Nigeria, the life expectancy is 47.7 years, and statistics bear this out – our parents’ generations lived longer than our generation. In the past, diseases of microbial origin were rampant. There were also wars but they mostly fought over land and settled the rift in an honest manner. In my place, for example, we knew the village boundaries and every year, youth from each village would make the road to the end of their border, where the youth from the other village met them and they sat to drink palmwine, and discussed which girl was the most humble and worthy of marriage. Not anymore. The British came, drew some lines on the ground and gave the fate of other nationalities to one ethnic group, to run it they way they deemed fit, just as long as this custodian group allowed the British to loot the land. This is how it has continued to this day, but this is not the subject of my article today.
Nigerians are dying sooner and in larger numbers than before because of the manner in which the country has “progressed”. Today, we have cities that have no safe potable water supply. Where the waterworks are still functioning, pipes are exposed, damaged and freely flowing. People urinate and defecate on them, and the water gets to the houses to be consumed. It is no wonder that cholera and typhoid are rampant. The majority is still drinking water from the stream behind the house, into which all the industrial waste has gone, along with faeces and urine. Our rich people and rulers, have not made any effort to improve the situation. They sink their own boreholes and get their “clean” water from these, but no one cares to measure the mineral contamination of this water – they drink all the heavy metals and die young.
But let me leave some of the “natural” causes of death in Nigeria. I have colleagues who were far into planning their return to Nigeria, either temporarily or permanently. Many are re-planning, given the events of the last few years, to the present time. Things are happening very rapidly. The yearly massacres in the North are no news, and many people have relocated from universities up north to move to the middlebelt and the south. I know of many people who would want to return home to work on the Plateau, not only because of the cool weather but because for years, it was the most peaceful part of Nigeria, with hordes of Europeans and good schools for children, including a European-standard secondary school, Hillcrest. Not anymore. Babangida, on instructions from his Hausa lords made sure that that peace was shattered. Plateau State has witnessed no peace since he created Jos North Local Government as an appendage of the Sokoto Caliphate, on the land of another ethnic group. Today, the terrorists can operate freely in Jos and all parts of northern Nigeria, as there is no one to halt their activities.
When kidnapping started in the riverine areas, I told my friends that the activity would spread quickly to other parts of Nigeria and not be limited to non-Nigerian victims. I was proved right, and today, there are kidnappers from Port Harcourt to Kaduna. Nobody is safe, from prominent citizens like Pete Edochie to school children. The kidnappers would just come, pull out a gun and ask you to follow them, and you had no option but to follow them. In this as in the annual killing orgies in the north, the state failed to protect the citizen.
Armed robbery has been with Nigeria since the end of the civil war. As a child, I heard about the exploits of men like Oyenusi, one of the fathers of armed robbery in Nigeria. It was rare to be accosted on the roads in the 70s, but the rate of operation increased by year, and the government had to stop public execution, as it no longer served as deterrent. Today, robbers are all over the place, and it is rarer to move from one town to another without running into a robbery operation. The state, again, has failed to provide protection to the citizen. Armed robbers are becoming more daring, not only because they carry more sophisticated arms than the police but because the police men and women that would stop them do not have the heart to stand and fight. Many Nigerians now go into the armed forces and police not as a devotion but out of lack of something else to do. It is common for the police (and army) to get to robbery sites long after the robbers would have left, even if the thieves operated for hours. The police would complain of inability to act, citing reasons from the mundane to the sublime. Today, it is lack of men, tomorrow it is lack of a vehicle, and other times, there is no petrol in the operational vehicle!
Our people need to survive in the face of this onslaught. It is not only for the sake of keeping a good profile on the UNDP index. Everyone of us wants to complete his or her time on earth and bring up the children. The state has failed. The state should empower the citizen to defend himself. Imagine what would happen if kidnappers came to pick their quarry, but realise that everyone or the majority on the street holds a gun. Ditto for the robber or the terrorist in Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Bauchi, Zaria and Jos. They would have to think twice. Those cowardly Fulani terrorists that went and ransacked a village in Plateau State would think not twice, but thrice. Their intended victims would be bearing arms. The robbers that asked the bus driver to run over their victims would know that a majority of the passengers would be armed. Why do you think there is no armed robbery in South Africa? This is a country that is notorious for car-jacking and a sophisticated banking system. Yet robbers rarely attack the banks or hold up buses. They are wary because many of the people at the banks or in buses are armed. You could kill one but you would be dead before you shoot the next person!
I am conscious of the fact that guns can be mis-used. I used to think deeply about this until I studied the Americans and South Africans, two of the most militarised societies in the world today. You do not shoot easily to end a minor squabble, if you know that people standing by could shoot you to death. It is as simple as that.
I know how difficult it is for government in Nigeria to take a decision on any issue. While it may not be possible to travel on a bus with arms, as passengers are searched, it will do well for any citizen in volatile areas of the country to be armed. This would include areas in the south-south and east where kidnapping is rampant, to the north where islamic terrorists are on the loose. Even if you are unable to get a gun, at least hold a good machete or a bow and poisoned arrows. That way, you could at least take someone with you as they descend on you. I do not want to sound like an unsecured information bank but guns are freely available in Nigeria, and the authorities know this. It is in the interest of any citizen that wishes to stay alive to get one. Even before the authorities legalise it.