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December in Nigeria: Navigating chaos, seeking justice and pondering economic turbulence

It is December. It is exactly two weeks to Christmas. The dusty, grey and cold harmattan winds are stirring, causing a wave of fever and…

It is December. It is exactly two weeks to Christmas. The dusty, grey and cold harmattan winds are stirring, causing a wave of fever and cold. That always happens around this time of the year. Decembers in Nigeria tend to be all the same or mostly tend to follow the same pattern. Workplaces shut down, people travel, crime and accident rates spike and always, a different chaos of the season occurs. This could be fuel scarcity, food scarcity or, in the last two years, Naira scarcity. Sometimes, it is a potent combination of several. As for crime rates peaking, well, that has always been a constant. Kidnappings, robberies, and desperate scams are often accompanied by an increase in tragic mass deaths, in either road accidents or some other kind of disaster, like Tudun Biri.

Last week, I wrote about the habitual bombing of Nigerians by the Nigerian military and the customary sweeping of such incidents under the carpet with neither compensation for the victims nor consequences or notable corrections for the bombing party. It is expected that in a state of war, and Nigeria has been in one for over a decade now, that accidents will happen and that there will be cases of friendly fire and innocent victims. It should not be normalised, and when these things happen, there should be a reckoning. The worst tragedy that could happen to Nigeria, and any country for that matter, is not Boko Haram or bandits or IPOB. It is the normalisation of the unacceptable deaths and killings.

So, we have generally accepted that Decembers in Nigeria are going to be shit shows. That all the things mentioned above are going to happen and be chalked down to the normal ‘ember months’ syndrome. And that would be our gravest mistake.

There was, however, something unusual that happened. The Nigerian Senate, this one in particular, has not covered itself in glory since its inauguration earlier this year. It has received flak for its profligacy and desperate attempt to layer its nest with fluff while the whole country is going through a debilitating economic crisis. But the senators did something this week that is deserving of commendation.

The decision of the 109 senators to donate their salary for the month to the victims of the Tudun Biri bombing demonstrates a kind of responsiveness we haven’t seen in quite a while from the NASS. It is a redeeming gesture, a commendable philanthropic act and one that shows that this incident and the lives of the victims mattered.

Beyond the optics of the gesture, though, I hope that this act should also mean that the incident matters enough to be a turning point in the trajectories of our military operations. I hope it means that the senators will diligently ensure that the necessary investigations are done, and the necessary measures are taken to guarantee that there is no repeat of such tragedies and that everyone involved in the protection of the lives of Nigerians is made acutely aware that Nigerian lives do actually matter. That Nigerian lives should be treated from that perspective because it should never be enough, never be acceptable for someone to look at the corpses of dozens of innocent citizens massacred like this, shrug and say, “Ah, well, these things happen.”

In any case, the villagers have decided to sue the Nigerian Army for damages in the range of N33 billion. While my stand has always been to support our military in their dangerous duty to protect us and eliminate these threats against our wellbeing, I believe this lawsuit is fair and hope that our justice system will set a precedent that the days of kill, shrug and repeat are behind us, and that Nigerians, damaged by Nigeria, could have a recourse to justice.

Our insouciance to crime, state or non-state perpetrated, has always been a bane. Over the weekend, a gang of criminals raided Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, and abducted some 30 people from their residences in Kubwa and Dei Dei. This is not some outlying village but the capital of our country. Any more reasons to panic, Nigeria?

For years, we have been worried about the business of kidnapping for ransom and the need for authorities to deal decisively with this situation. A combination of mismanagement of the crisis, corruption, governmental nonchalance or what we call the Nigerian attitude, has resulted in a proliferation of the practice, and we have seen dozens of people, sometimes hundreds all at once, being led from schools, residences and villages into the forest.

We have no proper accounting of how many people have been taken and how many have returned. We can’t document exactly how many have been lost, and we don’t know exactly how much money has been involved in these transactions. What we know is that billions have been paid to criminals for ransom. Sometimes, after the payment, instead of getting loved ones back, you are informed with impunity to go fetch their corpse. We have not even begun to process justice for the victims if we ever have plans for this.

Currently, there is an ongoing situation with the over 50 abducted students from the Federal University, Gusau, whose alleged abductor has been bombed to smithereens by the air force if those reports turn out to be true. That is only one of numerous ongoing mass kidnapping sagas in the country.

Habitually, students have been targeted. A handful in Nasarawa, several truckloads in Katsina, and dozens all over the place. These occurrences have become normal, usual. They shouldn’t be.

Just as we shouldn’t expect the Naira to be scarce. Why is the Naira even scarce in the first place? While people have worked hard and put some money in the bank or have some transferred to them, it just makes no sense that they couldn’t access their money to use as their circumstances require.

The party responsible for this saga in the first place is the former CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, whose roughshod currency exchange policy, not to talk of his other disastrous policies, created the naira scarcity and mass chaos around this time last year. Ironically, this same person is looking for a N1 billion payout from the federal government over his prolonged and unlawful detention following his suspension from office on June 10. While I believe Emefiele has many questions to answer over his mismanagement of the Central Bank and his role in the corruption of the last government, and more, it is unfortunate to see how his situation has been handled by this current government, who instead of diligently investigating and prosecuting Mr Emefiele, decided to go the route of human rights violation.

Now, it is quite likely that by January, when the court hears his suit, Mr Emefiele might get a huge reward from the government. If anything, this case should teach us the eternal lesson of two wrongs not making a right. Mr Emefiele mismanaged Nigeria’s economy, and Nigeria mismanaged his arrest and prosecution and that has led us here, to a place where a year on, we are still experiencing Naira scarcity, the people are suffering as a result, and Emefiele will be smiling to the court and hopes to smile to the bank after.

It is December, and there are all sorts of tensions in Nigeria. That shouldn’t be the case because by now, after all these years, we should have learnt how to December right. Nigerians should be able to look forward to ending the year with their loved ones in bliss and look forward to a new one with optimism and hope. Surely, that is not too much to ask for, is it?

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