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Nigeria, the stigma

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WEEKEND with Ibraheem Sulaiman

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In its pristine state Nigeria is beautiful, bountiful, pleasant. But consider what its citizens are making of it. Such is the abuse they subject this accommodating and indulgent home to that they now talk openly and disrespectfully about how to tear it into smithereens, how to cause its extinction. Small, some of them say proudly, is beautiful. So this giant should be reduced to pygmies of minuscule sizes, and the great communities and nationalities that coalesce to form Africa's greatest nation should dissolve into disparate entities, descending precariously from the certainty of today to the uncertainty of tomorrow. Which are the most formidable nations today? They are precisely the biggest nations in size and population. China, India, Russia, USA, plus Brazil and a host of others are enjoying the advantage of size and sheer weight of numbers. Nations do not indulge in beauty contests, their preoccupation is dominance and supremacy, which requires strength, will and stamina.
If to break up a settled nation whose diverse people enjoy the mutual benefits one from the other, through trade, occupation, cohabitation and countless other forms of interaction were a joke, we could sit back and enjoy the thought of the possible sequel. In the beginning would be the exodus. Some hundreds or thousands of 'Northerners' are moving upwards, fleeing from the population centers in the South, where they have lived for years  scraping a living mainly as night guards, shoe shiners, petty traders, meet sellers, nail menders, seasonal hunters, praise singers, prostitutes and pimps - simply swarms of anonymous and dispensable wretched of the earth who have established no stake whatsoever in those places. They could be seen in lorry loads, bewildered, miserable, uncertain of the prospect that awaits them. Some have already died from a multiple of causes, including cold blooded murder. Their belongings are scanty, not allowing you even to say they have been dispossessed. Their travail is but only a prelude to the real exodus. Here come the seas of humanity flowing tempestuously southwards. From Kano alone, one million, two million mass of humans joining somewhere along the route other millions from Maiduguri, Yola, Bauchi, Jos, and then other millions from Sokoto, from all directions of the vast territories of Northern Nigeria, an enormous body of souls in utter misery, countless children, countless innocent men and women uprooted and dispossessed by an elite gone mad. These people have no problem dealing with each other as traders, artisans, normal, sensible human beings, compatriots. Most have made the places they are fleeing from their home, built houses, established businesses, and consolidated, thriving livelihoods. Their children speak in one language and have become one. They know and understand nowhere else. Now they march on, into the wilderness, into the abyss. Welcome to Soyinka's paradise!
We could imagine the South West, which was once enlightened and homogenous, being of one ancestor and of one tongue, suddenly breaking into a war of supremacy between the various clans and brands, becoming a Somalia in the heartland of West Africa, a nation of one tongue, but tearing itself into uncountable, ungovernable, wild fragments. Who knows whether their Muslims and their Christians could live together again in harmony given the fact that in the past Muslims were forced to change their names and religion just to qualify for education, in addition to other hidden and open forms of discrimination and humiliation. Who knows where the millions of their kith and kin from the North would settle, or could ever rebuild their lives again? In this sort of situation anything could happen, even pogroms.
The Biafrans would resume their war of independence in earnest. With the hated 'Northerners' out of the way, they are now free to reclaim the territories they assume are  rightly theirs, being part and parcel of Igbo nation and an integral component of their destiny. So they march on to liberate the remaining parts of their sacred homeland from Benin to Port Harcourt, to Calabar, and to all the other cities and territories of the South South, and to take back all the 'abandoned property' which once constituted about 75% of all the houses in the big cities. To crown it all, they fight gallantly to seize control of all the oil wells and all the sea shores, all the coastal lines, as they would have done years ago had the 'Northerners' not intervened, sacrificing their blood and lives to block their way and liberate the defenseless tribes. The Biafrans are confident that after the conquest they would approach the Americans who have no permanent enemies or permanent friends to negotiate fresh oil deals. The Israelis, the French and the Vatican, who all supported the war that would have exterminated the indigenous people with weapons and materials would ask to join the new alliance. Everywhere all the unfinished wars would resume, all the unfinished adventures will resurface and perhaps matters would be settled in one form or another. Some would be triumph, some would certainly perish, but all, in varying degrees, will suffer.
The day after, Biafra would find itself submerged in a deluge, the sea of humanity that has just arrived. They have left their homes and businesses in the North, their number almost equal to those in the entire Ibo homeland. Where are the houses, the schools, the markets, the hospitals to accommodate their needs? Where is the food and water? Where indeed is the space? Let's hope the South South could repel the Second Invasion, and retain control of their homeland, keep Biafra eternally at bay. They will still have to contend with new realities. First, they will continue to endure the rule of Iboriism, a unique form of government in which a petty thief - to use the words of a London judge -  as a rule, rises meteorically into power. Secondly they will only hear of the whereabouts of their wealth from the newspapers in New York, London, Geneva or Dubai, and their resources build the mansions that adorn the expensive quarters of the big cities across the world. Thirdly, they watch helplessly as their life is suffocated, their land degraded, their livelihoods obliterated by the effects of oil exploration. They will be condemned to wars they can never win. Such is the fate of those who make themselves small and beautiful.
The most challenging issue at hand now, however, is how fast and how inexorable the control of the country is getting out of the hands of the Nigerian people. Matters have reached a point in which the Nigerian people are no longer shocked by revelations about stealing, cheating and looting, whatsoever the magnitude. In the past, corruption involved figures in millions of Naira and people were shocked. It now involves billions in small scales, in small hands, and it does routinely and inescapably escalate into trillions in higher scales, in mightier hands, and there is no shock whatsoever! A great transformation has thus taken place, resulting in absolute vulnerability and absolute lack of protection for Nigeria's wealth and strategic assets. This transformation spreads like cancer to all sectors of Nigeria where money is involved. The latest developing story is one concerning the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). According to Premium Times (11/5/12) the Director General of NSE revealed in a statement to the House of Representatives recently that her predecessor had presided over a debilitating era of broad financial abuses and violations of processes, financial slimmings, misappropriations, false accounting, misrepresentations, and questionable transactions, in active connivance with some of the nation's major banks, that eventually caused the virtual collapse of that colossal national institution, the Nigerian Stock Exchange, costing investors billions of life savings and funds.
The paper states further by way of an appetizer: Recalling some of the monumental fraud that took place at the Stock Exchange under Mrs. Onyuike-Okereke's tenure, Ms. Oteh said the NSE bought a yacht for N37million and wrote down the book value within one year by recognizing it in the books as a gift presented during its 2008 Long Service Award (LSA), without any records of the beneficiary till date. The Exchange spent about N186million on the purchase of 165 Rolex wrist watches presented as gifts for awardees, out of which only 73 were actually presented to the beneficiaries, while the outstanding 92 watches valued at N99.5million are still unaccounted for. These transactions were routed through companies owned by some senior officers of the Exchange. In 2009, several billions of the year 2008 operational surpluses were distributed to the Council members and employees of the Exchange in violation of Capital market and SEC rules. Other fraudulent transactions, Ms. Oteh said, include the reclassification of the sum of N1.3billion originally expended on business travels. Of this sum, N953million was reclassified under "Softwre Upgrade" and subsequently expended as against being capitalized.'
Let's spare ourselves the agony of knowing what the big banks were doing with the depositors' money under the watchful eyes of NSE. It is however said that the current Director General is no better than her predecessor, perhaps worse, prompting Niyi Ayiri to ask rather derisively in BusinessNews (10/5/12): 'Arunma Oteh did not need to consult her senior management staff at SEC in order to unilaterally approve a N500 billion AMCON bond. Is this because she is some sort of Amazon Wonderwoman? No, she has a degree from Harvard!'
Given the fact that nearly all the institutions of the state and those in the private sector treat in the same manner whatever they hold as public trust, it is fair to ask: where on earth can the common wealth and the strategic assets of Nigeria be safe and secure?

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