On the 21st May 2015, Rev. Fr Thomas Reese, sj, wrote a very nice article on his impression after visiting Nigeria, as a member of delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). On his article entitled Nigeria, a land of promise and problems, and published by The National Catholic Reporter, Fr Reese, wrote, (surely from his personal observations) on how corruption, incompetence, sectarian violence and total dependence on oil has been a serious source of woe to Nigeria as a nation. Here is a follow up I wrote on his article. I submitted it to the National Catholic Reporters but they have never thought of saying a word about it even when I contacted them personally through phone and through mails. I really wanted National Catholic reporter or Fr. Reese to answer these few questions.
1. How does Boko Haram procure their arms? Of course, they are not all obtainable in Nigeria. 2. How do they buy their armored cars and transport them to Nigeria without being noticed? 3. Who fabricates those arms and how do they obtain them? 4. Who are their sponsors?
Here is my follow up to Fr. Reese’s article.
Permit me to propose a follow up to one of the articles written by one of those writers I respect much. I will start by acknowledging the efforts made by Fr Reese, to give a very serious analysis to the religious situation in Nigeria. It is always good to see people speak about a situation like this after certain experiences, the reason for which I congratulate father Reese for his write-up.
Contrary to what people might think, I have no intention of countering the findings of Fr Reese but to strengthen and re-propose some of the developments.
To begin with, his analysis of the level of corruption in Nigeria is up to date. Corruption, as a matter of fact, has eaten into the very fabric of the Nigerian system at all levels of life. To some extent it has even become a way of life. To get admission into a school, you need to bribe your way in; to join the army, you need to pay from your nose; to be attended to in a hospital, you need to «motivate» either the nurses or the Doctors. In fact, in many offices in Nigeria, you will have to first bribe your way in before you can see a receptionist. Brief, corruption is really a cancer in the bone marrow of the Nigerian system.
The other areas that Fr Reese talked about which I find interesting but too mildly presented is the social-service areas. It is an understatement to say that essential services like water, power and security are not dependable. Yeah, because they are not just undependable but inexistent when seen at the national level. Not even 25% of Nigerians can fully boast of having a full one-month regular electricity service within the year. Many cannot even boast of enjoying electricity for one straight week, and that, throughout the year. This is the case of populations living in the cities, as the majority of the villagers do not even know how electricity functions. And even when they receive «electoral electricity poles» the project dies off once elections are over. Water is such a lucrative commodity in Nigeria that it wearies me to discuss it here.
The area that has always posed serious problems for every Nigerian however is security. Yes, Nigeria is a country with serious security challenges. No one is exonerated for the more financially secure you are, the more you are even exposed to security issues everywhere in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, Fr Reese made a very good and quick summary of the situation. But even at that, for me the situation goes beyond the ordinary lack of police-training in Nigeria. It is however true that lack of effective training of police officers leads to poor delivery of security services and that is why it is impossible to rely on them.
There should be seriously more to that, in other to arrive at an effective control of situations that develops. Two major areas can be mentioned: tantamount to an effective control of a population is having background data on the citizens such as effective security cameras. According to the analysis of Fr Reese, much evidence is either destroyed or unidentified. It should not be surprising seeing that there is no way to prove the owner of any gun left-over in a country where there are thousands of unregistered guns in circulation and no digital fingerprint backup.
Moreover, there is also an issue that everybody avoids discussing. One of the questions that I always ask myself concerns the issue of the threat imposed by Boko Haram. It surprises me that no one asks how they procure their arms? Which everyone knows are not all obtainable in Nigeria. From who then do they buy their armoured cars and how do they transport them to Nigeria without being noticed? Who fabricates those arms and how do they obtain them?
More still, the issue of religious division in Nigeria is more complex than we can imagine. There is an effort to make in order to distinguish between ethnic and religious motivated conflicts. In many cases, the cause of those conflicts is more of an ethnic issue than a religious one. But because ethnicity and religion are two areas hard to distinguish, it becomes very easy to take one for the other. A very good example is that the majority of the cows reared that cause most of the known conflicts in Nigeria are not raised by practising Muslims.
Finally, Nigeria is a vast country with many other complicated problems but also bears much promise. Perhaps I will speak of that in another article.
Fr Ali C. Nnaemeka, OMI