Editorial: Amaechi’s unanticipated Baptism of Fire in Spain

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Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi experienced a dose of the peoples’ anger in faraway Madrid Spain, where he was attacked by some Nigerians as he took part in the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, dubbed COP25. Although Amaechi was lucky to have been rescued by Spanish police officers who whisked him off the venue to safety, eye-witness accounts paint the picture of a sad and embarrassing spectacle watching a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria being mobbed in such a disgraceful manner outside the shores of the country. This blight on the toga of Nigeria’s image is one more international embarrassment the nation can do without. 


The attack on Amaechi follows a similar ordeal by former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who was manhandled in Nuremberg, Germany, where he visited to address a gathering of Igbo nationals as a guest of his kith and kin. In that instance, the proscribed Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) claimed responsibility for the assault and vowed to attack more Nigerian officials who travel outside the country. Videos of Ekweremadu’s encounter went viral on social media and sadly most commentators viewed it with sadistic relish and infantile gloating. These incidents like the reasons advanced to justify them are unacceptable. There is no rational justification for Nigerians; wherever they may be, to wash their proverbial dirty linen in front of the international public. 


More so, as the unfortunate incidents threw up some of the intense contradictions of contemporary Nigerian life – how our people have taken political differences to the extreme, how capricious mob actions could be in confronting political issues, how leaders have tragically failed to meet their social obligations to the people, and how we find some ambivalence in totally condemning acts of self-help as occasioned by the Madrid and Nuremberg experiences. It also internationalized the dilemma of the Nigerian people in dealing with state failure and gross official ineptitude. 


Upon reflection, this raises certain posers: do Nigerian leaders at all levels – the executive arm at federal and state levels, the legislative arm both at national and state levels – feel the angst which the people have against them? Do members of the judiciary know that the Nigerian people are angry with them? Do they realise that there is a deep disenchantment with the system and its operators and that any opportunity to physically express that anger can easily be exploited? Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky observed in his seminal novel Crime and Punishment that “when reason fails, the devil helps.” The devil, as it were, has taken a front and dominant seat in the relationship between the leaders and the masses in Nigeria as it now seems that reason has been a failure that keeps failing.    


To be sure, no self-respecting media outfit should lend support to violence as a means of expressing disagreement. An endorsement of self-help promotes chaos and anarchy. We are therefore at odds with the resort to self-help, which the Nigerians in Spain demonstrated when they attacked Amaechi who was in Spain on a national assignment. The consequences of this trend becoming a pattern can only be better imagined because it sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to unexpected dire outcomes, including serious bodily harm and even loss of lives. For, as we know, once an action by a mob starts, there is no predicting its denouement. It takes on a life of its own with certain persons using it to settle personal scores. Furthermore, Nigerian politicians with their remarkable genius for travesty; known for their wily ways could instigate persons to embarrass officials with whom they have political differences. So, the mob mentality, which reigned supreme in the assault on Amaechi, is condemnable. 


However, we must call to question the yawning income gap and access to the good things of life between the average elected or appointed officials and Nigerians. To be elected or appointed seems to confer on one the power to exploit the resources of the state. Else, how do we account for the stupendous amounts being approved as welfare packages for the supposed servants of the state? The staggering sums, which are allocated to officials in the name of work, are offensive to social justice and equity. We are indeed sowing the seeds of eternal discord that could lead to mass revolt. Added to this is the failure of the government to secure life and property with insecurity running riot. If brigandage gives the political elite access to power and state resources, then the people, particularly youths, who voted with their feet by immigrating to seek greener pastures abroad, would begin to see themselves as bona fide claimants to the self-help theory to protect the state.


Certainly, this is not the way to go. Is this not partially responsible for the criminal behavior of some youth who have taken to cybercrime as a way of keeping up with the Joneses? We do not rationalize criminality. The hard fact is that the trajectory and philosophy of governance in Nigeria inexorably encourages criminality and eccentricity. It is apposite to observe that the government is sparing no effort to muzzle internal dissent by descending harshly on non-violent protesters. To a large degree, citizens who were vociferous in expressing divergent opinions and promoting a healthy counter-discourse are being cowed. 


Unfortunately however, Nigerians in the diaspora cannot be bullied into submission. They live in climes where the right to protests and free expression is fully guaranteed and protected. They monitor events at home and often would tell anyone who cares to listen that if things change back home, they would rather return than be second-class citizens in Europe, America, Asia, etc. As a result, their passion for change is often greater than those who have remained at home. The assault on Amaechi in Spain is a pointer to this fact that should not be ignored, in the circumstances.


The doctrine of change, anti-corruption and the next level which characterized President Muhammadu Buhari’s elections were expected to alter the narrative. Sadly, five years down the line Nigerians are beginning to worry about the true dreams and intentions of the Buhari administration. Daily, the nation is bombarded with bad news of malfeasance, murders, and kidnappings. In the states, although official corruption is raging, there is a culture of silence because most fingers are deep in looting the pie. Hardly do state governments charge any official to court for corruption. It is only when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes an arrest that we hear of fraud at that level. What is the Nigeria Police Force doing? Are they so enmeshed in harassing helpless citizens and extorting bribes that they have become complicit in official corruption at the state level?     


These are the most difficult and trying periods in the history of Nigeria. Our continued existence as a nation is fundamentally under tension. Nationhood in a federation is not to be taken for granted: it must be nurtured in the altar of truth, justice, and equity. The signs are not good. The optics are bad; really bad. Daily existence is a nightmare compounded by a seeming acquiescence to brigandage by some sacred cows. The body language of Mr. President is not encouraging. The people are disenchanted and have resorted to self-help to seek redress in their own courts, promoted by social media. Except definite and progressive steps are taken to address the drift, it is easy to prognosticate that there will be more assaults on public officials abroad in the months ahead.