By Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh
One of the things that continue to amaze me about citizenship is the fact that most people are yet to understand or unaware that citizenship is not sacrosanct or by force and, by this I mean to say that it is in one’s volition to decide to become a citizen of a society based on opportunities that are opened to them to both contribute to society and to benefit from society.
This is why I marvel at what goes on in the mind of African leaders with regards to Africans who are dying in the Mediterranean in their bid to become citizens in countries where they felt they had desired opportunities opened to them. Importantly, these leaders continue to heap blames on folks who have died or are dying in the great sea as if to say it was by force to remain a citizen under them whether or not the opportunities existed for grabs.
Was it those who fled Africa for Europe and Asia that deserved blame or the leaders who are preoccupied with pillaging their economies – several decades after Colonialism – and carting off national patrimonies to empower the economies of the Caribbean, the Swiss and Dubai? So far, basic social amenities remained a mirage in many African economies and potential Bill Gateses, Jef Bezoses, and Steve Jobs are held down in vocations they hated.
Look at the Nigerian situation for example. This is a country that is endowed with enormous natural and human potentials yet it is currently referred to as the ‘Poverty Capital of the world’. This is a country where folks who are elected to serve the people turned out to be served by the people instead. This is a country that has so devalued life that even senior military persons are killed like common criminals.
This is a country that had diversity in abundance yet it was treated as liability instead as asset; thereby reducing potentiality for resourcefulness to the background. It is a country where it is believed: If you cannot beat them, you join them. A country where the people loved religious activities but cannot stop wasting innocent and decent lives in the name of religious supremacy. A country where citizenry is defined in terms of what government could get from the citizen more than what it could give to the citizen.
Nigeria, like I always said, has not acted differently in the sense of thinking that citizenship went beyond the fact of where a Nigerian resided – either by permit or by birth – to what a Nigerian was entitled to in order to fully live life. Leadership are adamant in their irresponsible argument and have forcefully embarked on repatriating Nigerians from Libya, Germany and South Africa instead of focusing on creating a healthy and working economy that will in turn attract these Nigerians back home.
Back home, the economy is in comatose, nepotism is the order of the day and insecurity, corruption and crass impunity are not abetting. Going forward from here, these folks who are being repatriated back to the country would ordinarily wish to remain where they are and suffer the agonies they are exposed to because what they expect to get when back home was not too different from what they experienced in these foreign soils.
Currently, our undergraduates are idling at home. Their parents are finding life hard to cope especially given the fact of a very weak currency, a minimum wage that cannot pay their bills and a regime that worked so selfishly to put the economy into recession but has not been able to work it out of recession. The recent NBS statistics says that 20.9 million Nigerians are jobless. In all these, where lied the opportunities for the citizen to prosper?
Is one still a citizen even when he could barely feed once a day? Is one still a citizen even when there are no jobs to engage his mind and put money in his pocket? Is one still a citizen even when he can afford health care? These are hard questions that have not found answers because we took for granted what citizenship really entailed. No wonder that crime, kidnappings and terrorist attacks are rife today.
I have seen very gory sights in the streets of Abuja in recent times where folks slumped on sidewalks and died because of hunger, that make me to ask if there existed a bill of citizens’ rights in this country. I have seen people who are clearly confused, dejected and hopeless – I mean clear candidates for suicide – and wondered what incentives they had to show for being citizens. What can you say about this: What makes you and me citizen of Nigeria?
I have cried aloud in my writings and have asked: Was it also a necessary part of citizenry for one to die because of hunger in one’s own country? The other time, Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari alluded that the youths are lazy and it boiled down to the fact that it was time we interpreted citizenry for what it truly is. For what made the president better qualified than I am to become president?
Was it because he possessed 4 hands, 2 heads or a horse leg that made him president? Was it because he was better educated than I am that he is president? What is not immediately appreciated is the fact that a person had every right in the world to choose where to be citizen. Since independence, Nigeria has never considered with seriousness the consequences of differential citizenry.
Her leaders have failed to tackle insecurity by making every citizen equal in the eyes of the law and in the face of opportunities. Giving every Nigerian a sense of belonging and fair treatment is not an agenda they find to be worthy of address. But when you looked at the issues of insurgency, human trafficking and prostitution for example; you’d find that these things existed because of the common denominator: differential citizenry, class segregation or economic inequality. In other words, folks were not factored into the general scheme of things in the country where they are bona fide citizens.
Rwanda, tackled violent conflicts by abolishing racism from their Constitution. Nigeria is tackling the same menace with billions of dollars of hard cash and hundreds of precious lives instead of abolishing racism and religion from the Constitution and making cosmopolitanism a law. The number of millionaires and multimillionaires that has emerged since the Boko Haram battle started 8 years ago has gone up from a few folks to a massive scheme that enabled defense budget to end up in the pockets of the privileged.
Only an insane Nigerian will remain abroad after Nigeria becomes a stable and equitable economy. Only an insane Nigerian will chose to risk death in the Mediterranean instead of dying graciously hustling in Nigeria. Now, does this imply that our leaders are unaware that it was easier to tackle insecurity by creating employment and abolishing racism? They certainly do know. However, the problem is that so long as the elitist population continued to appoint those that governed Nigeria; their puppets will always choose to wet their beaks.
In 2015, Nigerians believed they were – for the first time – choosing their leaders by their permanent voter’s card. They saw President Buhari as their candidate, elected to office by their votes. Three years on, the true owners of President Buhari are quite visible for all to behold. The MACBAN, the Lawal Daura, the Abba Kyari and the Bola Tunubu have emerged as the true owners! Innocent Nigerians are treated with inferiority compared with members of the Miyetti Allah.
Cows are valued more than the lives of innocent Nigerians; why will there not be a group who will decide it was better they died trying to get to countries where folks were treated with decency than be killed like chickens in the country they are citizens? When politics is played and when leaders failed to understand that they were better off if they refused to continue to sideline the majority of citizenry; it is because they failed to realize that they (the political class) were indeed the real trouble with societal development.
Between 2015 and today, returnee Nigerians have more than tripled the population that left Nigeria in a month before 2014 because this government wanted to show they cared. But what if the government respected the Federal Character Act and looked into the agitation for restructuring more seriously, would it not have solved insecurity, created jobs and made Nigeria more cohesive than it is today?
In the final analysis, this is the reality: A man with 3 girls lost his source of livelihood and could no longer provide for the family as he once was able to. In 2016, he decided to release a daughter to a woman who promised to get her a job in the UK. It turned out that father and daughter had fallen into the hands of a trafficker and that the daughter was bound to go into prostitution.
This, they knew but decided to take their chance all the same. Now do we know why they did take that chance? It is because government in power left them with no option. They are expected to hustle and accept whatever fate befell them because they are citizens. They are condemned as criminals and terrorists by a society that – by all intent and purposes – was supposed to protect them; by a society that was supposed to create incentives and a level playing field for all to excel in chosen endeavors.
This is the reality of existing in Africa in the 21st century. Citizens are not entitled to any incentive beyond whatever their hustles could get for them. In the same country where the elite pillaged the commonwealth with reckless abandon and vilified those who took their chances to seek greener pastures abroad, those who identified with the country by refusing to ply their trade abroad are treated with much disdain that has driven many to commit suicide.
Again, it is because the term ‘citizenry’ is still officially ambiguous. If I was judge; my verdict will be titled: How governments of African countries pushed their citizen to die in the Mediterranean everyday.
Merry Christmas to you all and wishing you a better Nigeria in 2019.
Comrade Ifeanyichukwu Mmoh is an advocate for attitudinal change and a researcher.