Every life counts. Surely black lives matter in the US and in Europe. The Campaigners against police use of force say so. Here they should matter even more but for some reason, Cain is on the prowl and the Leviathan seems to have swallowed sleeping pills. The cry of the blood of Abel seems to be rising to deafening levels in social media and street talk. I was even accosted by a group of Reverend Gentlemen at a wedding event in the East. What are you doing about the Massacre in Southern Kaduna, they asked. My response was; I am diminished doubly by each of those deaths. Anyone who does not feel diminished does not understand human dignity and the consequence of insecurity for every social essential. Yet it is such disregard for the lives of others that defines us today in Nigeria.
It is not by accident that philosophers of the state and government say that the purpose of man’s surrender of some of his natural freedom to an Authority, The Leviathan, is for the provision of security for his life and property. The Leviathan quickly loses legitimacy and triggers the politics of power erosion when it is not seen as compassionate on matters regarding lives of citizens. This is why approval ratings of US Presidents can crash on account of not responding quickly to humanitarian crisis in which lives are lost.
George W. Bush took an unbelievable beating for just flying over to view the Katrina disaster in New Orleans instead of landing to feel it. But ‘leadership’ in Nigeria has often suffered from not realizing how much Nigerian lives matter. Among my favourite examples is a season, years ago when in the same week a police checkpoint accident in Ibadan resulted in the roasting of nearly two hundred people from a Tanker/Trailer spraying its lethal combustible content on traffic backed up at the Police Check point as it crashed into the pile up. In Austria a Cable Car failed that week and three people, I believe it, was lost their lives. National mourning was declared there while here not even an acknowledgement of the massive loss of precious human lives from the Villa. Aides probably did not even think it important enough to bring to the notice of the incumbent, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Then as now, when the issue was raised Presidential aides queried demand of the President’s response. They miss the point today, as yesterday, that compassion is one of the most important attributes of leadership and that the disconnected state quickly descends into a crisis of legitimacy. How often President Obama has disrupted vacations to respond to a local shooting in which one or two American lives were lost. But there is more.
First, concern for human life, defines the natural dignity we feel. The less concern for another life, the less cultured we tend to be. It is not surprising therefore that you can measure the progress of a society by the quality of their commitment to human dignity. The motto of my alma matta, The University of Nigeria, is appropriately; To Restore the Dignity of man. But look at Nigeria. It’s as if the official position is that Nigerian lives don’t matter, unless the lives belong to the elite in power, their friends and family.
Then there is the pervasive nature of the impact of such respect for human life, for economic enterprise. When there is insecurity, investments tend to flow away, human capital quickly deteriorates to statistics of the dying and the dead. We do not have to look far to see why the wise Leviathan does all that is possible to keep insecurity to the barest minimum. The state of the economies of the North East is good example, just as comparing Foreign Exchange inflow into Nigeria before and after The Yar’adua’s Amnesty program and since the current dispensation. Not doing everything for stamp out violent troubles only gives room for economic paralysis. We are penny-wise and pound foolish when we do not act right, no matter our political or power interests. Besides, localized violence has a way of becoming a festering sore that can spread like cancer.
For many years I have seen the kind of violence in the North Central through the prism of Robert Kaplan’s The Coming Anarchy. I fear the day when citizens who have lost confidence in the capacity of the state to protect them submit to a local War Lord. God forbid that we should fall to the point predicted by Robert Kaplan in The Coming Anarchy as he reviewed the cleavages that define West African countries, pointing to North Central Nigeria, with Jos as focal point, from which the West Africa region could descend into anarchy. Surely ‘thinking’ leaders who saw his extrapolation strengths in Balkan Ghosts play out in the disintegration of the Balkans after Tito should not ignore his projections from three years before the first Jos riots of our current troubles. The ethnic, religious and class cleavages accentuated by weak institutions, poor infrastructure that make the cover of darkness ever present aide, and poor policing, he suggested would make for such perilous times continue. The urgency for action should not be taken lightly.
But we have watched Indonesia even from times of apparently weak leaders like Megawati and the Bali bombing by religious terrorists manage to contain terrorism enough to make it into Jonathan Tepperman The Fix, as one of the the examples of “how nations survive and thrive in a world in decline”. Is it too much for Nigeria to learn. Nigeria is a legacy given to all. Accountability should be part of what leaders see as their responsibility. It includes that they not stand aloof from the serious troubles of individuals. Their accounting to now and to history is not at their pleasure, it is the duty of that office. Questions about the silence of leaders in such times by journalists is part of Democratic ethos and not meddlesomeness.
In starting I said I told the Pastor in Nnewi that I was doubly diminished by the North Central Killings.
Certainly as a human being the natural instinct of human solidarity makes me die a little with every death. As a citizen the gruesome nature of the unprovoked murders raise up a terrible sense of shame in me and kills me further. Then as one driven always by a duty to tomorrow I look at how these medieval ways eat away at tomorrow’s prospects and I know that I am doubly diminished.
Pat Utomi. Political Economist and Professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.