Queuing to leave the country

The UK High Commission in Lagos, Nigeria processes over 17,000 visa applications. Its the busiest UK visa office in the world. Statistics from other popular destinations paint a similar
picture – Nigerians are trying to get out at an alarming rate.

If we let our imagination get a little creative, but remain educated, we might extrapolate that there are ten times more people who did not make an application. This might be due to lack of funds, inadequate supporting documentation. In other words, there are about 170,000 people every month who actively want to leave Nigeria.

Having lived in Nigeria for 17 years and not having been back there in 13 years, the stark reality of the scene I met when I finally revisited earlier this month is extremely worrying.

Corruption permeates much of society, it is no longer quietly done with a smirk and a nod, it is open air and in your face.

The middle classes have been decimated and the gap between the very rich and the very poor is gaping. Its a society on the brink of breakdown but seeming somehow to carry on with ordinary tasks in an extraordinary circumstance.
Children still go to school, but their teachers are not motivated to teach. I heard stories of teachers failing students in their school classes that didn’t sign up for the private classes that they set up. Private schools and tuition are at an all time high. Universities and schools are chronically underfunded – much of the little that is earmarked is siphoned away. So much so that private universities are the new fad – even the President is trying to get in on the act by founding his own!

More on the unemployment, even the street vendors who ply their wares on the treacherous highways of Lagos in stifling humidity and heat for long hours every day count as employed. Theirs must be the least efficient form of employment (labour vs rewards wise).

It would seem that people will sell whatever they have to get by. Teachers sell knowledge and female university students (a minority I’m told) sell sex. Apparently, as classes end on Thursdays, many can be seen flocking to the domestic airport in Lagos for flights to Abuja – the Federal Capital – for the pleasure of the legislators and other wealthy elite.

Nigerians are not lazy people as a general rule, sure they love life and a party, but also have a good work ethic. Nigeria, despite regional differences, has produced world class scientists, educators, artists. Its farmers used to feed the nation and its crops used to account for the bulk of its GNP.
Used to‘ is the operative phrase. That is, before the oil and the greed for its revenue.

Oil has literally polluted Nigeria. It has turned its protectors into victimisers and permitted the devastation of lives and livelihoods. It gave birth to a new type of corruption and opulence that marks Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Corruption is not cultural (contrary to what the Customs officer at the airport might say!), its a scourge borne from the rape of the country’s abundant natural resources, the divisive and unbalanced distribution of State spending and the rabid ethnicality of its politics. Endemic underinvestment in basic social infrastructure – electricity, water, housing, communications, education etc., has resulted in a country plagued by electricity rationing, undrinkable public water and other basic failings. Yet every single day, from oil alone, Nigeria earns $12 million. From this it cannot provide the basic medication to its people, nor clean drinkable water, nor educate its youth.

All this has made investors (especially foreign ones) eager to come into Nigeria – if Nigeria won’t build its infrastructure, it can privatise its industries and turn its obligations over to foreign corporations without the responsibility (or accountability) to the people. They know it has the wealth (for now anyway) to finance such projects. The international shame that it cannot fulfill its social obligations despite its wealth , coupled with a need to stand up to its perceived regional and international importance is compelling the current Nigerian administration to try and meet its responsibilities. They are trying to fight corruption – a key obstacle to attracting respectable international investment. As well as trying to tackle counterfeiting – another key threat to the influx of consumer goods, medication and other products. Even bottled water is counterfeited!

The problems of Nigeria are too numerous and complex for a humble blog like this to tackle, sufficed to say, the government is of the people and shit sticks.

This article is concerned with the continuing exodus and attempted exodus of Nigeria’s human resources. Whilst it may be understandable that many head (through various channels) to the ‘west’ – Europe, the UK and the US, others still head for apparently less hospitable places (than Nigeria). Recently the Saudi Arabian Haag authorities threatened to reduce the number of pilgrims from Nigeria for this year, by the number of those from last year who did not return from Saudi Arabia – almost 27,000. These people left a secular country in West Africa (much cooler and more African) to a wahabist Islamic nation in North Africa (very hot, and full of Arabic people with less regard for Africans, oh and they cut off limbs for stealing.)

Those who still care for Nigeria and hope it will find its way to it fill its potential must ask themselves why Nigerians, particularly the youth, are queuing up to leave. Perhaps when this question is asked and answered, something can be done to address it.

Crimes against Humanity vs Genocide

By the time you finish reading this, perhaps a child would be dead in Darfur or a woman would be raped by the Janjaweed, certainly a climate of fear and insecurity would still persist. So please read quickly.

Those looking in from the outside can see little difference between genocide and crimes against humanity, but the difference is literally between life and continued death.

Sparing you the longwinded academic definitions, these crimes include mass killings, rape and other actions that threaten the survival of a group of people. Genocide covers this same range of crimes but is definitively limited to four groups – national, ethnical, racial or religious group. It also is particularly qualified by the element of ‘intent’. This means that the perpetrators of genocide must have ‘intent’ to commit these acts for them to be genocide. Presumably if the Nazis annihilation of the Jews and other ‘undesirables’ could have been passed off as a mass accident, then it would not be genocide. Although ‘intent’ can be inferred from the persistent patterns of the crimes, it still remains the most tenuous to prove.

Far more significant a difference is the obligation to act. Crimes against humanity engender debate and chastisement – but no obligation to bring it to an end. Genocide is different, nations are under obligation to act to stop it. That means they must do what needs to be done – individually and/or collectively to stop it. Stopping genocide requires intervention.

But intervention costs money. It takes organisation and resources. It costs money and requires solid political will to commit troops, weapons and resources to face down another sovereign power (usually) – regardless of the severity of their abuse. It often requires international cooperation and the setting aside of national interests. It needs to be entirely altruistic and truly for the good of humanity.

The UN Report into the human rights situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, after a detailed investigation into the documented atrocities stopped short of describing the Darfur abuses as genocide.

A UN team, headed by a notable war crimes veteran judge, saw the scale of the internal displacement due to the conflict, heard reports from the Darfur people, NGOs and humanitarian agencies. It was the most comprehensive international investigation into the abuses. Yet they determined that although so many had been killed and millions had been displaced, there was no intent on the part of the Sudanese government to destroy the Darfur.

So, the abuses in Darfur are not genocide but ‘mere’ crimes against humanity. No one is required to act to stop it. The Janjaweed commanders may face ICC charges in the future, but who will bring them to justice, under what mandate?

The dead are still dead, the dying not far behind them. To those displaced women and children, the broken men and the shattered lives of Darfur, these academic differences are no consolation whatsoever.