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Tsema Ede-Okoye: Safeguarding Our Humanity in the Face of Insecurity & Despair

I believe that there is greatness in our country, and we have the resilience to weather the storms that currently overwhelm us.

Tsema Ede-Okoye

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Writing this piece has been particularly difficult for me. My heart had palpitations as I prepared and researched the information contained. Fear enveloped me as I reflected on the situation our country is in.

As a Nigerian, I struggle with dealing with despair and am hopeful that better days are ahead. I believe that there is greatness in our country, and we have the resilience to weather the storms that currently overwhelm us. However, our plunging development indices and security crisis make me wonder if I am too much of an optimist. or just a lover of pain.

On July 15, 2019, the former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari. His concerns were palpable and probably resonated with any Nigerian who cared about the country.

It is no longer news to any Nigerian that the country faces a security crisis. Every day, we hear of banditry, kidnappings, and killings. So many of us worry about our friends and family when we hear they are embarking on a journey by road. There are no guarantees that they will arrive at their destinations or return home safely. If they are not killed by the dangerous dilapidated roads, bandits, kidnappers, or robbers on the prowl may get them.

People in Northern Nigeria need not even travel; danger and death come to meet them in their homes, on their way to work, farm, or the market. We live in dangerous times, and Obasanjo stated what some us are thinking. Insecurity has grown to tremendous heights, and the scariest part of the situation is the impunity with which these crimes are committed. The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, in their final election report, stated that an estimated 626 persons were killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the 2019 elections campaign and the commencement of the general and supplementary elections. 626 Nigerian lives were lost in some politicians’ quest for power, and we have not heard of investigations into the deaths, or arrests of persons involved in the killings. Under these circumstances, getting convictions seem like a big ask. There is no longer a consequence for crime when lives are violently taken away. Families lose loved ones and they are not guaranteed justice. We are left to wonder: Does the President not care about Nigeria, or is it that the rule of law is no longer relevant in Nigeria? One can only wonder why there is grave silence from our security agencies as Nigerian lives are snuffed away daily. We cannot afford to be numb to our humanity. Every instance of murder and violence should shock us. Every human life matters, regardless of political leanings, social status, or religious affiliations. These are scary times indeed; can victims of violence find justice in our democracy?

Recently, the Wall Street Journal released an investigative piece on the dreadful situation of the soldiers defending our country against insurgents. Soldiers are dying in hundreds as they defend our country. They are not given deserving burials, and their families are left in limbo, wondering if their loved ones are killed in action or missing in action.

Reading Joe Parkinson’s article was very difficult. I kept taking breaks between reads. It was hard to fathom that our soldiers are ill-equipped, in combat with better-equipped fighters who have no regard for human life. Reading that Nigerian children are forcefully strapped with bombs to self-detonate in public places was very difficult to digest. Yet these stories must be told if we must get our government to direct its attention to the calamity that is before us.

Police officers and soldiers who are killed in the line of duty do not get justice from the courts, neither do their families get compensation for their losses. Rather, some of them are kicked out of the barracks and left with nothing. Grave injustices are perpetrated against these people. Is this fair?

Conversations with young people expose the despondency that the average Nigerian youth feels. Everyone is looking for an opportunity to check out of Nigeria or make quick cash. No one is willing to sacrifice for the country anymore because they believe the country will abandon them and their families.

Daily, we are overwhelmed with news of violent killings. This is not peculiar to Northern Nigeria. Rivers State, in the Southern part of the country, has experienced several bloody clashes that have claimed scores of lives. As long as there are no arrests, convictions, and punishments for these violent incidents that threaten Nigeria’s security, criminals and their sponsors will continue with impunity. Regardless of the stories that discourage us, we have a responsibility to stay and devote ourselves to improving the country. That is what Nigeria needs, leaders in business, politics, charity, and the arts who care enough to ensure things are done differently in the interest of humanity. Leaders who are willing to respect the rule of law. We owe it to the poor and vulnerable who cannot afford the move abroad, we owe it to the future of our nation. We must be our brother’s keeper, looking out for our neighbours, ensuring their safety without minding our social, cultural, economic, and religious differences.

Love or hate the former President, you must admit that he was spot on with his letter to the President. We can only hope the President listens and that his advisers do not tell him that the letter is instigated by enemies who do not wish him well. What rang the loudest to me was when Obasanjo said:

The main issue, if I may dare say, is poor management or mismanagement of diversity which, on the other hand, is one of our greatest and most important assets. As a result, the very onerous cloud is gathering. And the rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome.

Nigeria has always taken pride in its diversity. Our ability to unite beyond ethnic and religious lines was a strength that was envied. The political class used our strengths to divide us, and made us see our neighbours as our enemies because they needed us disunited to protect their greed and their interests. Our youth have fallen for their lies, and, sadly, their desire to draw blood in the protection of their political sponsors outweigh the need to protect the integrity of our country’s ideals and human lives.

I conclude by telling us that we cannot stay defeated. Now more than ever we all must use our voices to speak truth to power. To protect our humanity, we must not be numb to news of killings and violent clashes. We must ask our family and friends in government difficult questions. We must get our government to care about every human life. We must understand that an injury to one is an injury to all. We must never forget that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. We all must work together to ensure that lives lost are not in vain, as we seek justice on behalf of others. We must start talking to one another rather than talking at each other, pointing accusing fingers at the next tribe, or believing the person with a different religion is the enemy. We have it in us to rise above the ashes, but we must do this collectively to guarantee our progress as a country that places a premium on humanity.

Tsema is a lawyer with several years’ experience in human rights, conflict & dispute resolutions, governance, and gender. Before going into development, she worked as a litigation lawyer in local communities representing the most vulnerable. Tsema has gained experience in working actively at strengthening activists at the grassroots to document and expose human rights abuses, conducting community outreaches and mobilisation. Tsema continues to advocate for legal and policy reforms to protect the most vulnerable. She is mum to three amazing children, catch her sharing drinks and laughs with friends and family.

5 Comments

  1. Debbie Abu

    September 3, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Nice work sis. More grace.

    1
  2. Tayo

    September 3, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    You know what is even scarier? The fact that we have learnt the art of moving on. We have learnt it so well. We God forbid and “Not my portion” everything away.
    And yet, the evil that is resident on our land closes in daily…

    Sad

    2
  3. Sarah

    September 5, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Very well described Tsema! Your conclusions are inspirational.

    1
  4. Y.T

    September 17, 2019 at 6:29 am

    Another beautifully written piece. Troubling topic but you managed to put hope in it somehow. We need to hear more like this.

    1
  5. Njideka Agu

    September 22, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I luv this well written piece. #bewareofdivideandrule #injusticeisinjustice (no sugar coating) #uniteirrespectiveof #risingabovetheashes. Well done Tsema

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