It is appropriate that the Nigerian Guild of Editors has chosen to beam the searchlight on the major issues, major crises, that our beloved nation is grappling with today. These issues are multi-faceted, interrelated and complex and are proving difficult to resolve because of our ethnic, regional and cultural idiosyncracies as well as the lack of political will by the ruling elite. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world in the last quarter of 2019 unexpectedly, our lives as individuals and as a nation have been turned upside down because it is an ailment for which no one has yet found the cure. But the situation has been compounded by the naysayers, the Doubting Thomases, among us. They tell us that Covid-19 does not exist and that if it exists it does not kill, and if it is capable of killing, the heat in Africa will kill it dead. These foolish remarks have sowed seeds of doubt in our people despite the efforts made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to lead the world properly, scientifically, on the matter. This pandemic has compounded our health situation which was not in the best shape in the first place. Government’s inability to meet the needs of our medical personnel has led to a long strike and an exodus of some of our doctors and paramedical personnel to foreign countries in search of greener pastures. This brain drain will hurt us immeasurably. Now the Federal Government has had to insist that its civil servants must take the jab eventhough some of our people are still not fully convinced about the efficacy of the vaccine. I believe it is better for the government to seek to persuade people to be vaccinated than to use force because each person is personally responsible for his own health or the lack of it. While we were grappling with the pandemic our educational system stayed locked down. That posed a major challenge, the challenge of resorting to educating our kids by other means which we were not ready for. Even now many of our educational institutions are not fully functional because some parents are holding back their kids because they are worried about the possibility of their children being infected at school. In these matters there are no easy solutions but solutions we must find.
During this period our economy has taken a battering. The cost of food and other essentials has gone skywards; our debt servicing burden has increased; there has been a sharp fall in the value of the naira; the funds spent on petroleum products subsidy has gone up because the price of crude oil is up and we import the bulk of the petroleum products consumed in this country. How can we be a crude oil producing country and also be a major importer of petroleum products? How can we have four refineries that have been lying fallow for years without being refurbished or sold? Is repairing or selling a refinery the equivalent of rocket science? No, it is not. I suggest that our ruling elite should hide their faces in shame because they have broken their covenant with the people. If they have no idea why we elected them let me inform them: we elected them to solve our existential problems for us. Nothing less. If they fail to solve those problems, that is leadership failure. What have we done with the massive arable land that we have in this country? Not much of it has been under serious cultivation since the arrival of crude oil. What are we doing about the solid minerals including gold which is buried under our feet in 14 states of the federation? Nothing substantial. The states are Kaduna, Kogi, Kebbi, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara, Oyo, Kwara, Niger, Osun, Abia, Bauchi, Ebonyi and Edo. In all the 774 Local Government Areas there is an assortment of solid minerals sleeping and waiting to be exploited, for the benefit of us all but we prefer to just sit and wait for oil money to be put in our wallet by the international oil companies (IOCs).
The other problem that we are confronted with is the failure by our leaders to respect the tenets of democracy, the gross partisanship in the system, the huge corruption, the reckless carpet crossing, the creeping authoritarianism, the loss of trust in government due to leadership failure and the lack of respect for diversity and inclusivity. These have conspired together to create a situation where some people feel sufficiently frustrated to call for separation. If you condemn separation, as I do, you must also condemn what gave birth to it: injustice, unfairness, lack of equity, parochialism and prebendalism. These have deprived our country of its binding force which ought to be justice and fairness to all our country men and women. You cannot have peace without justice. You cannot have development without peace. These are triplets: peace, justice and development. They work together for the good of all societies.
The most significant of our problems today is the lack of security for the lives and properties of our people. Our failure to secure the nation effectively and efficiently despite the commendable efforts of our security personnel is due to what I call The Seven Anomalies.
Anomaly number one: Nigeria is a federation that is culturally, linguistically and traditionally heterogenous but unlike other federations such as United States, Canada, Australia and Germany. Nigeria is being managed in security matters as if it is a homogenous entity.
Anomaly number two: The Governor of a state is designated as the Chief Security Officer of the State. That is merely de jure. In real terms, the Commissioner of Police assigned to a state is the de facto Chief Security Officer who reports only to the Inspector General of Police in Abuja. The Governor is a figure head, pure and simple.
Anomaly number three: In 23 states of the federation there is one form of local policing system or the other yet we refuse to accept the concept of State Police. The states that operate one form of local security outfit or the other are Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Rivers, Osun, Benue, Katsina, Cross River, Enugu, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Ebonyi, Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Niger, Bauchi and Abia. So who is fooling whom?
Anomaly number four: The APC panel headed by Governor of Kaduna State Mr Nasir El-Rufai toured all the zones of the country, gathered memoranda and received verbal presentations on various national issues including security. The overwhelming opinion of Nigerians was that to be able to police the country State Police was a desideratum. Now the APC government has refused to implement the report of a committee it set up which was headed by an APC Governor and comprised only APC members. So who is fooling whom?
Anomaly number five: There is now a regional security outfit in the South West called Amotekun, in South East named Ebubeagu and a yet-to-be-named one in South South approved or recognised or condoned by the Federal Government. But there is no regional security outfit in either the North East, North West or North Central, three of the most serious and extreme theatres of conflict and violence in the country. So are the three northern zones happy with the security situation in their zones?
Anomaly number six: The police is the primary security outfit for the regular maintenance of law and order in the country. In cases of serious disturbance the mobile police is supposed to be invited to put down the riot or disturbance. But in Nigeria the Army is now being used, more or less, as the regular law enforcement outfit to the discomfiture of the police. But the officers of the Army know the boundary of their duties. When they arrest a civilian for any offence they always hand over such suspects to the police for appropriate action.
Anomaly number seven: It is estimated that more than one third of the funding for equipment and services of the Nigeria Police Force is borne by State Governments. Yet, the Federal Government claims that the State Governments are in no position to fund State Police, a claim that is highly untenable. The real truth, however, is that the Federal Government does not want security power bifurcated in the country. It wants to hold all the power in both hands. However, some of those who oppose State Police are of the view that State Governments may abuse their power over the police if State Police is approved.
My view is that the media, civil society, lawyers and labour are capable of jointly checkmating through demonstrations and legal processes such potentially power drunk governors. Also, if we have State Police, there will be a balance of terror which will be a check on either side as it happened to the super powers during the cold war.
I urge our editors to throw up various ideas on how these multifarious problems that hobble our nation can be resolved so that our country can be restored to good health.
Remarks by Ray Ekpu, Chief Executive Officer of MayFive Media Limited on the theme of the 17th All Nigerian Editors conference “Media in times of crisis: Resolving Conflict, Achieving Consensus” held in Abuja, October 21, 2021.