29 May 2009

Nigeria: The Causes of Crime


I abhor anarchy, strongly disapprove of violence and have worked closely with various government bodies for several years. So I think that I can safely be described as a responsible and law-abiding member of the establishment.

But-let's face it - the Nigerian ruling class leaves a lot to be desired.

There are some good guys in government. But they rarely have an impact because most of the people who run the show have been too selfish and too dishonest for too long. They have cruelly and myopically shortchanged the masses in all six geopolitical zones for decades and are lucky that most ordinary citizens are respectful of authority.

If the average Nigerian was less docile and less philosophical about the chronic deprivations that have been inflicted by essentially uncaring leaders, the Niger Delta would not be the only region in which they are being aggressively challenged.

Sure, many so-called militants are destructive criminals who don't have any ideological agenda and don't give a tinker's cuss about anyone except themselves.

But a lot of establishmentarians also possess bad characters and also don't have well-intentioned agendas and also engage in criminal acts (theft of public funds) that are destroying this country and also don't give a tinker's cuss about anyone except themselves; and I think it is fair to say that crime wouldn't be so widespread in oil-producing areas if our leaders had been more exemplary and if successive governments had given Niger Deltans a bigger slice of the national cake.

The bottom line is that you reap what you sow and that poverty and crime are inextricably linked. Youths who live in congenial environments and have access to jobs and bright futures are less likely to behave as if they have nothing to lose and get involved in dangerous activities like kidnapping, bunkering and shootouts.

As someone wise once said: The Devil makes work for idle hands. Let me also paraphrase the late great American President, Jack Kennedy, and point out that it is somewhat unrealistic to expect people who have been treated shabbily by a system to cooperate with the very same system that has been used against them.

And once out-of-control rebels have become accustomed to lucrative criminal activities, it is very difficult to persuade them to change and quit being outlaws.

I feel so sad about the fact that soldiers and civilians are dying like dogs in the Niger Delta at the moment, particularly since the carnage could have been avoided.

Our leaders need to humbly accept a large chunk of the blame for this terrible crisis and QUICKLY tackle the causes of crime in a fundamental rather than superficial way, to prevent the next generation of Niger Delta youths from becoming criminalised by socio-economic injustice and the bitterness it inspires.

Critics of the Niger Delta keep insisting that enough has been done for us. And I simply don't buy this argument. Giving us only l3 percent of what belongs to us and investing paltry sums in capital or community projects is an insult to the collective intelligence of people whose ancestral lands and creeks contain a vital resource that has kept Nigeria afloat financially for over five decades.

Let me end this week's column by quoting Charles Inyang, a Vanguard reader who wrote to me earlier on this week: Charles started his letter by saying that he supported the current military action, but he went on to make the following additional points:

"Government (also) has a lot to answer for and has failed...We hear of environmental abuses carried out by oil companies operating in the area.

Where have been the government's efforts in clean-up operations and the efforts of the oil companies in clean-up operations? If they exist,they must be ineffective.

"...No right thinking government can tolerate a situation where rivers and streams etc, are polluted and remain so. Where is the effect of the Nigerian Environmental Protection Agency?...Can we say that government cannot collect enough fines from businesses operating in the area to clean-up the pollution, make the place habitable, provide drinkable water, reduce gas flaring to the barest minimum, regulate the players so that only international standards are allowed? Aren't fishermen and farmers who make a living from the area taxpaying citizens too?"

What else can I say in response to Charles except "My sentiments exactly!"

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