by Abimbola Adelakun
The problem is, Nigeria has wronged most of us and if we all were to issue an invoice, the country will be bankrupt under the overwhelming weight of the receipts.
After a year of seeming neglect of the victims of the botched Nigeria Immigration Service recruitment that claimed 15 lives and left many more maimed in body and soul, Nigeria has once again offered blood money in lieu of justice. At a recent event, President Goodluck Jonathan gave each bereaved family a cheque of N5 million and also handed out 35 employment letters to them, collectively.
Nigeria has that habit of throwing cash at issues that should be resolved through a deployment of state juridical apparatuses. In the wake of these tragedies, you hardly hear of any diligent investigation, rigorous prosecution, enactment of relevant legislation and heightened social conscientisation. Rather, Nigeria resorts to sating the grief of the bereaved families with cash; a way of also assuaging state officials’ conscience at having failed in their primary duty of protecting members of the society.
Let’s not forget that this sudden book of remembrance opened in favour of the deceased was most likely to have been inspired by the coming elections. Look everywhere, past acts of negligence are suddenly gaining currency and being shoddily redressed. From Borno State to Lagos State to Abuja, the government is making frantic efforts to be seen as government of the people and deserving of the votes of the people. The problem is, Nigeria has wronged most of us and if we all were to issue an invoice, the country will be bankrupt under the overwhelming weight of the receipts.
In 2011, after the post-election crisis that resulted in the death of nine youth corps members, there were neither arrests nor prosecution of those who committed that heinous evil. Rather, Jonathan resorted to also “settling” their families with cash and a promise-laden speech.
Truly, Jonathan instituted a 26-member committee – which would – turn out to be one of the many his government would- led by Sheik Ahmed Lemu to inquire into the cause of those acts of violence in northern Nigeria that claimed some 800 lives (according to Human Rights Watch) but not much came out of that effort. The panel, in its report delivered on October 2011, particularly pointed out that the culture of violence in Nigeria is largely precipitated by the country’s persistent failure to enforce justice when violent crisis occurs.
As a result, the panel recommended that the President looked into certain past reports on incidences of civil disturbances violence such as the Justice Disu Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances; Babalakin Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Bauchi State Civil Disturbances; Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbance; Justice Sankey Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Wase and Langtang Disturbances; Karibi Whyte Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Kafanchan Disturbances; Professor Tamuno Panel of Inquiry on National Security and Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. The Lemu panel asked the state to follow the recommendations of the aforementioned panels to prevent future reoccurrence of violence.
In all the discourse about the possibility of violence in this current election, not once have I heard the government mention its implementation of the suggestions of the Lemu report. It makes one conclude that really, it will never bother learning hard lessons when it is easier to just pay off people.
The case of the “NIS nine” is not the first and only time people will die in a stampede that occurs at large gatherings. When the Adoration Ground tragedy happened in Enugu in 2013, politicians blamed one another and left it there. We have seen poor people scrounging for food in Senator Bukola Saraki’s soup kitchen die and nobody is ever queried for what is most likely through attitudes of negligence.
Those deaths have happened through consecutive years but we have yet to see deliberate steps taken to prevent a recurrence. The best Nigeria does is thrust cash in the palms of the bereaved and urge the rest of us to move on, move the nation forward and put those “distractions” behind us and let old things pass away just like that. The wrap-up of the case of the “NIS nine” as done by President Jonathan is particularly immoral considering the road that led to the deaths of those young job seekers.
Here is how it all went down: A government agency advertises a recruitment for a vacancy of about 4,000 spaces, most of which have most likely been snagged by politicians and prebendalists close to political power.
This same agency sells application forms to between 500,000 and 600,000 candidates (there are no official figures) at the rate of N1000 each turning the exercise into one of the most disingenuous lotteries ever. The applicants were asked to congregate at various stadia all over the country where the tawdriness of the exercise resulted in tragedy when stampedes occurred at the venues of the exercise.
The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, under whose watch the whole disaster happened, in a bid to save his incompetent face, quickly blamed the victims for their own death. In a society where people have shame, leaders who fall into disrepute like Moro would enter their bedroom and never come out again but in Nigeria, leaders wear shame like a designer label. The House of Representatives said it would investigate the tragedy and that promise concluded its contribution.
So, why has financial compensation come up before a detailed inquiry into the circumstances of the deaths? Who was to blame for the deaths and what punishment has been meted out to such a person? Even worse, there has not been anyone owning up to the reality of unemployment in Nigeria. What we have been gifted with are lies, false statistics and barefaced abuse of figures!
Despite the President’s promising that this will never happen again, we know the likes of Moro have barely learnt their lessons. One might argue that the tedium of Nigeria gets to everyone such that we all just want to move on, far away from the many disasters that characterise our national existence and leave the dead behind. Yet, the reason they keep recurring is because we do not deal with them appropriately.
Rather than stampedes and similar disasters be accepted as acts of God, Nigeria needs to take some time to invest in organisational planning at both public and private levels. And the reality of that necessity cannot hit anyone until those who have been responsible for shoddy preparations in the past have been called to judgment. That is one thing blood money can never do. It can only take off the moral weight off the conscience of those responsible for the disasters but it can never prevent such occurrences from happening again.
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