As a child, I was accustomed to beautiful tales about the town of Jos. I had cousins who lived up there and who attended the Hillcrest School. I remember, asking my parents if we could move to Jos. My cousins often told us about the hills, rocks, mountains and the wildlife. Once, they told me it snowed up there and that they grew granny smith apples there; this made me even more envious. I only knew Lagos, Ijebu-Ode and Owerri and these cities were none of all that I heard about Jos.
With all the stories I heard, as far as I was concerned, Jos was the London of Nigeria and I wanted to live there. Of course, my parents were not going to uproot their lives because of one child out of eight.
Then I started to hear horrible stories of the mass violence and crises that engulfed the beautiful and once very peaceful town of Jos, leaving thousands of residents dead and thousands trooping out of the city. Political, religious and tribal intolerance took over the city. Nigerians were killing Nigerians, or perhaps it was Africans killing Africans. I heard stories of properties being burnt. Houses, farms and livestock getting set ablaze. We heard of the slaughtering of men and the rape and molestation of women and girl-children. My cousins and their parents had to relocate. The kids went off to England and then my uncle and his wife moved down to Lagos.
Today, I am afraid to think that such activities could happen down south. More and more, we are regaled with stories of kidnappers, bandits and herdsmen ransacking villages and the expressways. What started as little tales, now seem to be the order of the day. And social media isn’t helping. The stories hit home. Religious and tribal intolerance is causing so much havoc across the country. People work hard on their farms, go to bed and then wake up to blazing fires, herdsmen and bandits. People travel to their villages or to work or to see their relatives and are kidnapped and even molested. We hear sordid stories of the torture and rape of women.
Personally, I am afraid to travel interstate. The stories that we hear are so scary, one cannot but entertain feelings of panic. I have listened to attempts by the federal government to dispel these as rumours. But I, like many others, am not convinced that they even know the extent of these horrid stories and then I wonder if anyone cares. After all, these government officials go about with armed security personnel. And secondly, our politicians politicise everything and don’t often tell us the truth.
As it is, how can I allow my children to visit their grandfather’s grave in Ekiti? With the state of things, I definitely won’t be in a hurry to visit my cousins and my mother’s family home in Owerri. I have cousins and a family home in Ijebu-Ode, but the chances of my attending family events are near zero. Imagine how badly affected my family would be by the fear of bandits and kidnappers. The insecurity that exists now, if left unabated, will harm our togetherness as a nation, a people and a community.
My mother, who is 82, tells me that in her time as a kid, they bounced around from house to house and left their doors unlocked. They didn’t have security doors and gates as we now have. There was a strong sense of community and hospitality. My father told me that his mother sold her palm oil from Okitipupa across the length and breadth of northern Nigeria. Apparently, she spoke Hausa fluently too and passed for a Hausa woman.
I went to a unity secondary school, after spending six years there, I ended up with best friends from Borno State, Bendel (now Edo and Delta) State, Cross Rivers and Kano States. I visited their homes, travelled to their villages for weddings and ate their food. I grew up knowing that we are all Nigerians, even though I knew that there was some undue advantage given to certain tribes by the government. I knew this because, we had some girls in our class, who clearly were not up to speed academically. I often wondered how they passed the tough common entrance examinations we all sat for. Despite all these, I knew that we all had to co-exist, simply because we were Nigerians.
Today, more than I have ever felt, I am asking myself, if Nigeria is not one big lie. And if the persistence of this lie is not at the heart of the insecurity that we are witnessing today. Whatever the root cause, I hope that our leaders will call an emergency on security. Surely, they can’t have failed to realise that they have a responsibility to protect lives and property in their respective spaces. Subnational governments must understand that this responsibility should not be left to the Presidency only.
This nation will not thrive if we cannot move about freely. Investors will not come. If we allow kidnapping to continue to be lucrative, our youth will not want to pursue the tedious route of acquiring formal education, nor engaging in work hard. Organisations will be forced to pay a lot for security, rather than increase salaries and pay more benefits. Standards of living will fall.
Hardworking Nigerians will be frustrated and leave Nigeria for the corrupt, the lazy, bandits and kidnappers. Then we won’t have a country. I am really concerned now that we are gradually allowing this terrible reputation attach to a country with great potential.