During a visit to Ghana recently, I asked my Ghanaian host, who was taking me through some fascinating places I had missed on my previous visits to the country, why the streets were clearly free of menacing security gates and guards and why most of the buildings were constructed without extra designs consciously made against robbers and burglars.
His response was straight and profound.
“The fact is our successive governments are very awake to their primary responsibility of protecting the lives and property of the citizens; and ensuring the welfare of all and sundry, particularly the needy,” he said.
This made me pause for a moment. Of course my friend knew the reason for my silence because he had been to Nigeria several times. And he has, through his many experiences from Nigeria, created a thoughtful joke about what he witnessed on those journeys.
He is fond of saying jocularly at every opportunity that the time usually spent with security guards in Nigeria, who often speak through holes from gates that can barely show their full facial details, when subjecting you to numerous questions on your visit to the house or confirming your appointment with the boss (Oga) who you have come to meet in the house, can either get you badly beaten by rain or robbed by a robber in transit.
Jokes apart, there are underlying truths in this fellow’s humour. Many Nigerians have resorted to self-protection in the face of government’s inability to keep up with its fundamental obligations of securing lives and property. Therefore citizens continue to live in fear and paranoiato the point of unwittingly leaving loved ones who have come visiting to the vagaries of the unsafe streets while spending forever on their “background checks” through the sometimes overzealous gatekeepers.
Whereas these unfortunate instances are foreign to many African countries including our neighbour – Ghana, people use the development of the West and the years it took most advanced democracies to justify our failings in this present time where interconnectedness of the world and technology has made solutions to challenges quite straightforward to reach. I find that absolutely illogical!
Or would it make any sense to say because Germany, that has obviously been over-burdened by the recent influx of refugees into her country, is now facing difficulties in catering for those additional numbers should serve as a justification for Nigerian government’s inability to solve the problems of its internally displaced citizens otherwise known as Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs)?
Truly, circumstances like these are always a perfect ground to measure the capability of government and its commitment to the primary responsibility of ensuring the welfare of its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable members of the larger population.
The reports emanating from the IDP camps in Nigeria are as astonishing, unfortunate and shameful as one can imagine. Relevant international and local bodies have raised the alarm on the imminent famine in the Boko Haram ravaged North-east of the country if necessary actions are not taken against the rising incident of malnutrition within the camps.
The US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has stated that more than three million people in the region were in need of urgent assistance.
“Information from recent rapid assessments, although limited and not statistically representative, also raises the possibility that a famine could be occurring in the worst affected and less accessible pockets of the state,” said FEWS NET.
Similarly, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has said nearly 250,000 children under five could suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Borno alone this year, and 50,000 could die if nothing was done.
Also, the renowned humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that a humanitarian catastrophe was underway in northeastern Nigeria’s war-torn Borno State. It said that at least 188 people had died mainly from diarrhoea and malnutrition at a camp in Bama in the four weeks that preceded June 22. And noted that at least 500,000 people were in urgent need of food, medical care, water, and shelter and therefore called for a major aid response.
These are certainly negative signs in an economy that is struggling to gain its footing and desperately in need of investments especially from the international circle. I reckon with this, any serious investor would not think twice before making its final investment decision against the direction of Nigeria that is faced with insecurity and discouraging social distractions.
It is actually so disheartening that while there has been huge concerns on the state of the IDPs and the possibility of outbreak of diseases, disturbing details of alleged diversion of funds and materials provided for the IDPs in various parts of the country have also become subject of discussion in the public.
One would have expected that if a government has shown incapacity to fulfill one of its fundamental social contracts with its people, it should at least demonstrate capability to manage and protect items and resources provided by charitable groups and individuals to supportin alleviating the suffering of the people.
The reports that some phoney civil society groups and non-governmental organisations claiming to be working for the interest of the IDPs were involved in the wicked activities of diverting and plundering the resources of the hapless people are heavy indictments of irresponsibility on the part of the government agencies that are meant to coordinate the activities of the IDP camps.
Also, reading that some officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) were caught changing the bags in which rice procured by government, generous Nigerians, and foreign donors for the IDPs were sold, shows not just how deeply corruption has penetrated the system, but also how some public servants have completely lost their sense of humanity.
And imagine, with about 2.152 million IDPs, as of December 31 last year, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an independent, non-governmental humanitarian organisation, with headquarters in Geneva, Nigeria is said to have the highest number of displaced persons in Africa.
So reversing this ugly trend will be a major test on the ability of this government to bring change, provide succour to the needy when it is most desperately needed and protect the lives and property of the population.
And like my friend would say, if Ghana can considerably achieve this, it is senseless peering through the history of countries far away to count the years they endured before arriving at a state of sound development to cover up for our inconceivable incompetence to tackle simple social problems.