This is a very painful piece to write. Since June 2011 when I returned home to Nigeria, I have had to ponder this question daily. What is the value of a Nigerian life?

Recent events in our beloved nation have left me in utter shock. What is the value of a Nigerian life? Let’s go through a timeline of the last 10 days.

  • October 2 2012 – Federal Polytechnic in Mubi, Adamawa State. The actual figure is unclear. Official sources quote twenty-six (26), unofficial sources say over forty (40) students were slain in cold blood.
  • October 5 2012 – Aluu community near University of Port Harcourt. Four (4) students were murdered in cold blood to the rapturous cheering of their fellow citizens.
  • October 7 2012 – Yobe State. Reports say at least 30 Boko Haram insurgents were killed by the Joint Task Force (a division of the Nigerian Armed Forces)
  • October 8 2012 – Maiduguri, Borno State. Another report of at least 40 dead. Six (6) soldiers and over thirty-five (35) killed in reprisals by the JTF.
  • October 10 2012 – Berom, Plateau State. 16 killed in the early hours of the morning in a protracted conflict which has claimed the lives of a serving senator and a state lawmaker already this year.

That makes a total of at least a hundred (100) confirmed dead Nigerians within the first 10 days of October alone, not counting the scores who have died from child-birth, illness and disease due to the poor state of the nation’s healthcare system, or the dozens who have perished in the floods, and those who have died in motor accidents on the highways. What is the value of a Nigerian life?

With the exception of the University of Port Harcourt murders, the common denominator in all of the stories above is the absence of clear cut facts and figures. This has become a regular characteristic of information outlets in Nigeria in the aftermath of tragic events and disasters. What is the value of a Nigerian life?

This piece isn’t meant to address the root causes of the rampant deaths across the nation, that is a topic for another day (and perhaps another writer). It is the nationwide reaction to the atrocities that has left me with a bee in my bonnet. Now I know they say ‘different strokes for different folks’, but I can’t help wonder what kind of society grieves and condemns the barbaric killing of 4 students, and quickly forget that over 40 students were murdered in another institution just a few hours before that. What is the value of a Nigerian life?

Yes I know social media has been awash with images and videos of the 4 poor students who were brutally tortured then murdered and the outrage is a response to the visuals while the incident in Mubi, Adamawa State is merely reported without similar images and videos. I really must ask; has our society become so numb to our collective humanity that we only feel empathy and sorrow when we behold evil with our eyes?

What value do we as a nation, a society, a people, place on the life of one of our own? What is the value of the life of a Nigerian citizen?

The story of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by a wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, readily springs to mind. Shalit was kidnapped (I prefer captured) by Hamas militants after a battle on the 25th of June 2006. He was held captive for over 5 years and later released in a prisoner exchange on the 18th of October 2011. The prisoner exchange saw Israel set free 1,027 prisoners (mostly of Palestinian and Arab-Israeli origin) in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier. In the 5-year period of his incarceration, Israel got the American, Egyptian, Russian governments and a few other governments directly involved in negotiations to facilitate his release. That is an example of the price a country places on one of its citizens. One Israeli soldier for 1,027 prisoners.

I also recall when Scottish toddler, Madeleine McCann, disappeared while on holiday in Portugal with her parents and siblings in May 2007. British detectives arrived Portugal immediately, and for over 2 years the entire British and Portuguese media covered every move made in the investigations. Recently, 5 year-old April Jones went missing in Wales, and the entire British media and general public are united in the search for her, and the timely dissemination of information.

Let us put the Borno and Yobe killings aside, because the North Eastern geo-political zone of Nigeria is technically at war. But when students of a higher institution, in this case Federal Polytechnic Mubi, Adamawa State are murdered on campus, and almost two weeks later, there is no official statement, no one knows precisely how many students died, and the school is yet to publish a list of the murdered students. Soon the entire incident will be forgotten and we will resume our usual national collective amnesia to issues that do not directly affect us.

Many reasons have been adduced to the lack of public empathy to the mass killings in one section of the country, and the massive out-pour of grief and outrage to the barbaric public torture and killing of the Uniport students. Several views have been debated on twitter. Renowned bestselling author, Teju Cole (@tejucole), had this to say on twitter, “…’outrage’ in Nigeria (as elsewhere) is often tied to regional classification and class loyalties.” Another school of thought, this time from Mr Atom Lim (@Atomlim) and I’ll paraphrase, is that the reaction to the University of Port Harcourt student’s murders has nothing to do with class loyalties, but everything to do with the power of video and pictures.

I acknowledge that both arguments have their merits and flaws and I can illustrate that by simply using events of June 2012 across the country where a Dana Plane crash which claimed an estimated 200 lives received more press coverage, outcry and attention than the mini-war that ravaged Kaduna, Yobe and Plateau States during the same period, claiming over 1,500 lives and paralysing all social and economic activities in those states.

I can go on and on with many more examples, but still I ask, What is the value of a Nigerian life?

Oto Ebe

follow me on twitter @OtoEbe


Single Tenure

The following is an article I penned on the 2nd of August 2011. It’s worth a read, and is open to critiques, corrections and debates…as long as it is constructive and aimed at improving the process.

Single Tenure/Tenure Elongation Brouhaha: A case of “putting the cart before the horse”

The hottest debate in recent days has been the bill which President Goodluck Jonathan sent to the National Assembly, seeking to amend the section of the 1999 constitution which allows elected officers in the Federal and State Executive arms of government to hold office for four years and then stand for re-election for a 2nd term of four years. In the proposed amendment, the president wants the country to adopt a system of a single tenure (rumoured to be six or seven years) for the president, vice-president, Governors and their deputies.

This proposal has received mixed reviews, and the sentiments differ according to the side of the fence where the reviewer sits. Generally, politicians from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are in support of the amendment (no surprises there), while most in the main opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) do not support the proposal. The ACN have a lot of support among the youths of Nigeria, who simply cannot understand the timing of this proposal at a time when Internal Security in the country is at its lowest since the civil war of 1967-1970; unemployment is so high that it cannot be accurately measured, while the threat of labour unions strikes hover; escalating energy crises affecting electricity, diesel and aviation fuel, etc.

It begs the question, why is a change in tenure for elected members of the executive arms of government priority number one for President Goodluck Jonathan?

We do not need a prophet to tell us that our electoral system is in chaos and if unchecked will blow up in our faces very soon, but the president in my opinion is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. This is not the solution to our electoral problems. None of the problems put forward as a reason for the proposed amendment will be solved, rather the problems will increase geometrically.

There’s nothing wrong with the current system as it is, 2 elected terms of four years. What we need to make the system and our democratic process even better, is a national intensive civics and ethics enlightenment campaign by the National Orientation Agency (NOA). This will cover voters’ education among other things. Another critical aspect and perhaps the bill which the president ought to send to the National Assembly, is a bill to check and monitor Electoral Campaign Finances. This is the biggest problem with the electoral process. So much money is lavished during electoral campaigns and these need to be checked. The sources and application of campaign funds if checked and monitored effectively will go a long way to sanitize our electoral process and leash Nigeria’s most lethal demon: Corruption.

When a tyrant comes to power, he has no thought of posterity. He/she will rule with impunity without a care for the citizens. It is worse when he knows he does not have to seek re-election, so he does not care what his subjects think of him. A single term of whatever duration only creates a “You Only Live Once” scenario, and the first past the post…i.e. whoever wins the election settles down to re-coup his investment and builds his pension for retirement.

The beauty of democracy is the opportunity to challenge and vote out an unpopular government. The 2011 elections in Oyo and Imo states are examples of the beauty of democracy in Nigeria, and the progress the Nigerian electoral process has made after 12 years. The citizens of both states came out en-masse and voted out the incumbent governors. In 2007, we saw the same happen in Edo, Ondo and Ekiti States. Governments that did not meet up to the citizen’s expectations were voted out. Progress was made in 2011 as the process witnessed significantly less rigging and for the very first time in Nigeria’s recent democratic history, majority of the defeated candidates accepted results and congratulated victors. The former Speaker Dimeji Bankole is an example. These are the gains we need to foster and build on, in order to strengthen our democratic process, not to change the system and destroy the progress we have made.

To re-iterate, what the electoral process needs, is a bill to ensure strict monitoring and full disclosure of every kobo spent during electoral campaigns. Every amount raised needs to be declared and accounted for during and after every campaign, as a pre-requisite to getting sworn in. This will also ensure transparency in campaign finances.

Oto Ebe

follow me on twitter @OTO_80