20th March, 2014
By Nwike Ojukwu
Majority of Nigerians are strident in their demand for the removal of Minister Abba Moro and others implicated in the conduct of the immigration (NIS) employment screening that went awry resulting in the loss of 19 lives. The major argument is that the minister and his staff failed to take prophylactic measures in the run up to the employment screening exercise to ensure the safety of lives of the candidates. In solidarity with my compatriots, I would urge that the Attorney General (AG) of the Federation prosecute the minister and his staff for involuntary manslaughter due to their criminal negligence that resulted in the killing of human beings.
On a second thought, I am tempted to ask, since when did we place such a higher standard of accountability on our serving public officials? Could it be that the public’s outrage was generated by the loss of lives in the accident? Conversely, could we have reacted differently if there were no loss of lives? The cancellation of the screening exercise by President Jonathan and the offering of automatic employment to the injured beg the question. His reaction, in my judgment, is reductionist, a copout, and a pretext to conceal his administration’s lack of organizational skills. The minister’s vilification is diversionary and we have fallen for it. He has been made a scapegoat to mollify the susceptible public. Meanwhile, the larger question of the exploding youth’s unemployment situation in Nigeria remains unresolved. If this fire brigade approach to addressing fundamental issues impresses you, I beg to differ.
I would be hesitant to hold the minister singularly responsible for this accident. Rather, I would argue that we are collectively responsible as either actors or supporters of previous administrations, civilian and military, for their failure to project that in 2014, there could be millions of our college graduates seeking employment opportunities. I would call out the judiciary, both the bar and the bench. I would call out the doctors: the civil society. This accident was long in coming. We prepared the grounds when we supported the governments of Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Obasanjo, Yar’adua and Jonathan without demanding accountability from any of them. We were complicit in our silence when we failed to challenge the issuance of licenses for the establishment of more private universities by looters and religious opportunists without demanding for corresponding jobs for candidates after graduation.
From the stampede to pick up luggage at our airports, the unpreparedness of JAMB and WAEC to conduct simple tests or the INEC to conduct a transparent election, there is palpable demonstration of institutional destitution in our managerial skills. What makes it the more difficult is our ethos that one necessarily has to go through the mills to obtain something worthwhile. Such a belief is so ingrained in our subconscious that it would take a supernatural or miraculous event to challenge its holds and grips on our psyche.
The same Nigerian who pushed and pulled to get on the airplane at Lagos or Abuja or any other airport in Nigeria knows orderly conduct when he or she arrives in New York, London, or Amsterdam. The same Nigerian, whose luggage would not be subjected to a search in our airports because he or she is “Oga or Oga’s wife”, would humbly submit the same luggage for a search outside the country. The same Nigerian who would employ the services of touts rather than stand in a queue with “bloody citizens” because of his or her perceived status would form a queue outside our shores to receive services. You wonder if there is something wrong with our soil or the air we breathe in this part of the world. My theory is that there is nothing wrong with us except that our system conditioned the way we react. Therefore, you find a Nigerian behaving differently as soon as he arrives in the country because our system does not accommodate civility.
I have taken several written tests in the United States without sweat. When I walk into a test venue, the proctors have already placed my information on my desk against my number. All I do is sit down quietly, take my test, and walk away without stress. We can replicate the same thing in Nigeria if we are serious. It does not take rocket science to do something right, and a candidate does not have go through unnecessary hoops to take a test. . But, if we continue to be hoodwinked into believing in an unreasonable nexus between hardship and benefit, we will never make progress.
At the Nigerian law school (NLS), it dawned on me that Nigerians could perform their duties with pride and excellence. From the time you arrived for registration to when the lectures start, you would almost pinch your skin in incredulity at the effectiveness of the staff at NLS. My experience there informed my conviction that human beings are the same the world over because it demonstrated that Nigerians could actually make a difference in their jobs. The quality of services and the dedication of their staff are unrivalled with anything that I have experienced anywhere in Nigeria and you wondered if you were in Nigeria or in some other country. During registration for instance, you were sure that the staff would not leave until the last person on the queue was served. Anyone that has been to the NLS will accede to my experience.
As we mourn this national tragedy, let us pause to reflect on our relationship with our government and understand that we are expendable. Let us acknowledge that our current situation as citizens of Nigeria leaves much to be desired. We must come to the realization that our future is in our hands to create– to find ways and means to take back what belongs to us. Minister Moro and his staff may have bungled this exercise, but their mistake has exposed a fundamental crack in our structure and we would be doing ourselves a disservice by dwelling on their condemnation and miss the opportunity that the time presents.
The unemployment situation in the country is a matter of life and death. If you are in possession of a college certificate without a job, you are a walking corpse, a useless channel, and a tintinnabulation. If you have not been put to work, no one can assess your worth. The children of the connected and well-heeled do not take these tests in a sports stadium, neither are they exposed to such a humiliation.
Backtrack to 2011 when over 500,000 thousand applicants thronged the breadth of Nigeria looking for employment with the NDLEA. In Lagos, the test was administered in the heat of the National Stadium. Candidates took the test with laptops on their laps. We did not raise a voice in protest because no lives were lost even when it was manifestly clear that the number of applicants posed a serious threat to our national security. What kind of people are we to subject fellow citizens to this form of hardship?
We have a choice to continue to engage in the blame game, which does not serve any utility, or put our heads together to find a lasting solution to this national question. Any agency of government that advertises to hire new employees will definitely suffer the same fate.
We must acknowledge that there is a problem with an educational policy that is founded primarily on book learning at the expense of skills acquisition. We do not all have to carry big books or speak impeccable Queen’s English as an indication that we are educated. Some of us are gifted in the use of our fingers and such people deserve to be given an opportunity to develop their God-given potentials. There is colonial coloration in our form of education, which is designed to produce graduates that would service the civil administration rather than graduates that would be job creators. The mechanic that fixes my junk of a car does not understand any word of English. Sometimes I have to use signs to explain to him what is wrong with my car. However, once he gets it, he does a great job.
In his finest masterpiece “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire contends that the oppressor sees the oppressed as mere objects and things and treats him accordingly. He argues that one of the ways the oppressed could be free is to subject the oppressive environment to change. As long as we allow the model that encourages oppression to remain, the perpetuation of exploitation continues. The point being that “we” must collaborate with the government to design an educational policy that would be problem solving rather than rote learning. The form that we operate currently is antiquated. If we could run our lives without government interference, we would be free indeed.
That said; let us quit condemning the immigration service (NIS). Our problem is systemic. What we saw on that fateful day is the encapsulation of several things gone wrong, a failure of governance. In Nigeria, the government is the primary employer of labor. This ought not to be so. The private sector is the hub that runs the economy of a country. In our case however, the private sector is comatose and we are paying dearly for it. The private sector could explode by the provision of an enabling environment by legislative acts–making laws that guarantee stability and predictability in the market place. This calls for a transparent civil service, access to capital, free press, responsible law enforcement, and an independent judiciary. This may sound like a tall order, but that is what it will take to create such an environment.
This essay is not about unemployment in Nigeria, but a challenge to Nigerian youths to take their destiny in their own hands and quit being cowards. The number of youths that thronged the different centers for the immigration screening is enough to send shock waves down the spine of any government if they took to the streets to demand for better treatment. Government is effective to the extent that it commands the respect of the people. A government collapses when the people can say no to certain actions of government. The job of rebuilding Nigeria requires the effort of all Nigerians, the church, mosques, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, bricklayers, painters, hawkers, unions, etc. Indeed Antonio Gramsci’s civil society that could bring about a social change could be ignited in Nigeria.
The civil society has the ability to transform the country’s trajectory through non-violent civil disobedience that would lead to a new state formation. If any lesson could be gleaned from Ukraine or the Arab Springs, it is the truism that the power to rebuild a nation rests in the hands of the people. The lives of fellow Nigerians that were wasted in the quest for employment opportunities would be meaningful if we seize the occasion to vacate the present predators.
The few Nigerians that have the temerity to take to the streets in protest against these unnecessary deaths covet our support. Let protests start from all the corners of Nigeria– North, South, East, and West and the diaspora. Let the elites that have held our country hostage since independence, appropriated our collective wealth to themselves and their families, and left us impoverished get the message that their time is up. Arise, O cowards, Nigeria’s call obey. If I were still at ABU, I would be on my way to Samaru Main Campus to join with my comrades in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS Ruling Council) to call the “Great ABU Students” to action.
If the US could deploy the arsenal of its power to secure the interest of an American anywhere in the world, we could force our government to account for the loss of 19 lives. We watched with horror and anger at the dehumanization of a Nigerian citizen by the South African law enforcement. Such irresponsible conduct could occur because the law enforcement community in that country understands that our government could care less about its citizens. The South African police could be stupid and reckless, but it knows not to mess with an American citizen for any reason.
Human life becomes meaningful and fulfilling when it is tied to a cause. The Sani Abacha’s government killed Ken Saro Wiwa because he dared to challenge the environmental degradation of his homeland by the multinational oil companies. Nevertheless, his spirit resurrected at the U.S Supreme Court in the case of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co decided in April 2013 under the Alien Torts Statute (ATS). Indeed his spirit is alive within the international environmental rights community as well as the indigenous peoples.
It is better to live a life documented in the main text of a book than to be a footnote on the fringes. Death is an inevitable end. If we must die, let it not be on the queues for job screenings or to receive government’s handouts. Let us be felled in our efforts to create a better life for our children, to build a nation that we never had. If we desire a society that guarantees opportunity for all, we must be ready to pay the ultimate price. Until then, we will continue to be objects at the disposal of the predators because we are cowards who have refused to challenge our stations in life.
Nwike (S) Ojukwu is a Doctor of Laws (Cand) The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.