Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
So here we are. I was discussing with a friend recently. She said something that bothered me and, I hope, should bother you too. She went to a Lagos market to buy foodstuff. She, being an economist, started comparing year-on-year price differences. The trend has been upward. She asked the seller why this is so. The market woman had her own explanation: the unrest in Northern Nigeria has been taking its toll on food prices. “No be today the thing start,” the woman told her. As my friend told me the story, an alarm went off in my head: with the unrelenting bombings and shootings, we may be heading for a food supply crisis as insecurity drives farmers out of business.
I have noticed a tendency among Southerners to disdainfully describe the terrorism challenge facing us today as purely “a problem of the North”. It may not be that simple. Last year, in the heat of the tomato crisis that hit Lagos markets, I did a snap survey among my colleagues at THISDAY. I asked a one-line question: “Did your wife make stew last weekend?” or “Did you make stew last weekend?” The instinctive response was laughter, followed by “Simon, you’ve started again o!” Then, a pause. A quick rethink. And then a different answer: “Wait, my wife said there was no tomato in the market, so she couldn’t make stew.” Some would say: “We used tin tomato. We don’t know what’s happening. They said it’s because of the crisis in Jos.”
My research motive was simple: to point out the important role of the North in the food supply chain. We normally take this for granted. If the crisis in the North gets out of hand, it is the whole of Nigeria that will suffer the consequences. But I can imagine someone snap at me: “Don’t worry, we’ll use petrodollars to import food when we break up.” Yes, anyone who has money can import, but any country that survives on importation of its staple food is doomed. We also seem to easily forget that the economic lives of ordinary people are being ruined by these terrorist activities. Cattle sellers were massacred the other day. When people can no longer go to their farms because of insecurity, how do they sustain their families? How do they send their children to school? How do they provide for their medical needs?
What are the implications for the North in particular and Nigeria in general?
Some Nigerians are so shallow-minded that they cannot even see the bigger picture of how interconnected and interrelated we human beings are. All they see is tribal marks. They only think in terms of North and South, Christian and Muslim, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo (and now Ijaw). The only thing that ever excites them is whipping up ethnic and religious sentiments. The solution to every problem, including husband and wife quarrels, is the balkanisation of Nigeria. On the other hand, you also have some opinion leaders up North who are playing the ostrich while the region is gradually being destroyed by terrorists. The only sense they can make out of this bloodbath is that it is Christians that are bombing churches and killing Christians. The only explanation they have to offer is that it is President Goodluck Jonathan that is behind the terrorist attacks. Some have even gone to the ridiculous extent of saying there is no Boko Haram.
How does this kind of mentality help? The North has been set back by decades. Livelihoods are being destroyed. Businesses are being crippled. This is a region that desperately needs massive investment to be able to keep its head above water. By many development indicators, the North is behind: access to safe water, school enrolment, access to basic healthcare and general infrastructure. These areas require constant and concentrated injection of cash. Can you imagine then that the budgets are now being channelled into security because of terrorist activities? Meanwhile, how many investors would like to go to the North today? How many contractors would be eager to construct roads there? How many donors would feel safe to continue working in the region?
To those Northerners who are gloating that the terrorist attacks “serve Jonathan right”, I have a message for them: it is their land that is being ruined. Therefore, the rational thing to do now is work out how to stop this carnage, no matter who is behind it. I care little about the conspiracy theories. I care more about the solutions to the problem. Boko Haram leaders have come out time and again that they are behind these attacks. They released their mission statement the other day, saying: “In our struggle, we only kill government functionaries, security agents, Christians and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim but engage in assisting security agents to arrest us.” The pattern of attacks is consistent. Those who call themselves Northern elders must step in and stem this slide. Enough of politicking and grandstanding. The North is dying a slow death. The North is bleeding. Wise Northerners who have access to the Boko Haram hierarchy should do everything possible to stop this haemorrhage. It makes sense to preserve the North first and ask questions later. It is not about Jonathan.
And to those Southerners who harbour nothing but hate for the North and continue to gloat at this monumental misfortune ravaging the region, I have a message for them: if one part of the country is in turmoil, there cannot be stability in the system. Everybody is affected. Even a problem in a neighbouring country is a threat to us, much less on our territory. In fact, there are millions of Southerners up North whose livelihoods are being destroyed too. They are not doing the North any favour by living and working there; they went there for their own economic end. The Yoruba, Igbo and other Southern nationalities buying and selling and operating businesses in the North are not doing the North any favour.
They are there as economic beings. They too are adversely affected. If all the opportunities were in the South, no Southerner would go up North. It is therefore crass narrow-mindedness for anyone to gloat over this catastrophe rocking the North.
As I would forever argue, Boko Haram is a threat to all—Muslims, Christians, atheists, Northerners, Southerners, foreigners, all! To reduce this huge problem to a regional or political issue is to miss the point entirely. We are all in this together. The earlier we realised this, the better.
And Four Other Things...
THIS OIC THING AGAIN
And while we were at it, the Minister of State II for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed, reportedly told NTA at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in Mecca that “Nigeria is an Islamic country with the largest population of Christians”. The interview was said to have aired Thursday night on 9pm Network News (I didn’t watch it). When did Nigeria become an Islamic country? Is this the kind of statement we need at this critical juncture of our troubled nationhood? I hope at the end of the day, we would begin to treat religion as a personal, and not a national, choice.
Our wobbly federalism is on trial again, with the North/South divide over the state police issue. Although I am not particularly sold on this state police thing, the fact is that in a federation, states and councils need to be empowered to maintain law and order within their territories. That was how we operated before the military seized power in 1966. Today, states practically run the police. They kit them, provide them with vehicles, arms and equipment and pay them extra allowances. What else is left but to officially declare them state police and allow the states more access to funds from the federation account?
DRIVING US MAD
The Lagos State government has come up with some very tough traffic laws that will make driving in Lagos either an enjoyable experience or a nightmare. I have read through the laws—they are not entirely fresh. It is the punishments that are new. Enforcement officials will be salivating now as they will certainly enjoy “settlements” from offenders. That is what you are guaranteed to get when the punishment is more than the crime. Beyond enforcing duties on motorists, however, the government must also live up to its responsibilities: good roads, good road signs and good traffic management. Eko oni baje o!
BRING IT ON!
My mood just got brightened up with the commencement of the 2012/13 English Premier League season yesterday. My weekends had been dull for weeks but now I have something to look forward to! I expect this to be one of the most thrilling seasons ever, better than the drama of last season. In my opinion, the Manchester clubs as well as Chelsea and Arsenal are going to fight for the title, while Spurs, Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton will give us unending entertainment and value for money all season. Who will wear the crown? I don’t care. All I want is good football and sweet weekends!