Abba Moro and the War on the Poor, By Okey Ndibe
I was going to title this piece, “Why is Abba Moro Still a Minister?” but changed my mind. In the context of Nigeria, the answer to the question seemed rather obvious. Nigeria is ravaged by human-made poverty. A society with a humane sensibility would invest every resource and deploy its imagination to fight this plague of poverty. In Nigeria, instead, the war is directed not at poverty but at the desperate poor. A culture of depraved accumulation has seized Nigeria. In turn, that culture has created one of the most pestilential crises of deprivation, hunger and disease anywhere in the world.
Deprived Nigerians are daily afflicted with the plague of a callous war on the poor.
Mr. Moro, Nigeria’s Minister of the Interior, is sitting pretty precisely because the Nigerian state has scant regard for Nigerians wounded by the festering sore of poverty. That sentence actually puts a gloss on the reality. The fact is that, far from seeking to reduce poverty and ameliorate its impact, the Nigerian polity wages an unceasing, gruesome war on the beaten down, the crushed, the poor.
On Saturday, March 15, Mr. Moro catapulted himself into the forefront of this grisly war on the wretched of the Nigerian earth. His ministry had fewer than 4800 positions to fill in the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS). The ministry invited more than 500,000 desperate youngsters to jostle for the posts. The applicants were asked to show up at stadia in different Nigeria cities to take an aptitude test that was a first step towards filling the posts. Each applicant was compelled to pay N1000 for a chance to play what amounted to a lottery with long odds.
Nigeria’s unemployment figures hover near 25 percent. And that, by the way, is going by the official data. Many Nigerians would describe the official rate as laughably understated. Getting facts and figures right is among the many basic things the Nigerian state hasn’t figured out how to do. The anecdotal hunch is that Nigeria’s unemployment rate is significantly higher.
Each year, Nigerian universities, polytechnics and colleges of education pour out more (ill-educated) graduates into a “patronage” economy that produces millionaires and billionaires, but generates few jobs. I know friends and relatives who graduated from universities more than fifteen years ago, but have never been able to receive employment. They make do however they can. They hustle and beg and lend themselves to all kinds of political schemes—whatever gives them their daily bread.
Nigeria has a grave crisis of unemployment. The mix of desperation on the part of the unemployed, the terrible paucity of jobs, and the brainlessness of Nigerian institutions are a recipe for disaster. That disaster was actualized on March 15 when some 20 job-seekers died in stampedes at the National Stadium, Abuja and at other centers where the NIS tests were scheduled.
The tragedy is not simply in the lives lost. It’s in the vile, exploitative impulse of the Nigerian state, a monster that feasts on its own children. There were not just 20 victims that Saturday; there were more than half a million!
Let’s be clear: the Ministry of the Interior did not set out to offer jobs. At bottom, the ministry had devised a mindless scheme to exploit youngsters who were jobless, desperate and vulnerable. The N1000 fee the ministry charged each applicant amounted to a sort of scam. The ministry was able to collect more than N500 million from the desperate applicants, and had only the illusory reward of 4800 jobs to offer!
Who came up with the crazy idea of putting hundreds of thousands of job seekers in stadia, as if the unemployed were cattle fed through a chute? Who decided that only one gate should be open at the stadia? Whose idea was it to use this mass method to fill 4800 jobs?
Whether he made those decisions or not, the Interior Minister, Mr. Moro, owns them. It’s part of the principle of ministerial responsibility which is respected in every serious country in the world. If the exercise had gone well, Mr. Moro would have been entitled to count it as one of his accomplishments. It ended tragically, a monument to poor planning—and, without question, it’s Mr. Moro’s can to carry.
Except that the minister wants none of it. He’s blamed everybody else, including the dead themselves. He’s told the press that the question of his resignation does not arise. He’s berated that unknown, invisible person who decided that only one gate should be opened. He’s implied that the applicants failed to conduct themselves in an orderly manner. Mr. Moro looks at the deadly wreckage of his policy, and the only thought that occupies his mind is how to save his own job.
The minister is desperate to shirk his ultimate responsibility for the disaster of March 15. And, this being Nigeria, Mr. Moro can count on many enablers. So-called traditional rulers from his state have urged President Goodluck Jonathan not to sack their “son” in whom they remain well pleased, the needless death of 20 poor Nigerians notwithstanding. One Nigerian newspaper has speculated that Mr. Moro’s cabinet seat is not threatened because the minister has champions in high places, including Senate President David Mark.
Nigeria has never had a history of holding any public official to account. Ministers simply waltz away from the sins and scenes of their disastrous policies, their jobs intact. President “Do-Little” Jonathan revels in the tag of “transformational” president. But the president is not about to invoke the ethos of “transformation” to demand that Mr. Moro hand in his resignation. Nor is he about to serve notice to his other ministers and aides that the era of being held accountable is here. There’s little temptation for presidential firmness in this case when the dead were poor, the injured part of that wretched mass that the Nigerian state has made it its mission to decimate.
Mr. Moro is likely to hold on to his job. Mr. Jonathan is bound to go on reading speeches that contradict his actions. Hordes of poor Nigerians will continue to die from the callous policies and indifference of the Nigerian state. But here’s something that must give sleepless nights to the Moros of Nigeria. There are millions of desperate, unemployed and angry youths in every space in Nigeria. Sooner or later, sooner than later, they will realize that there’s a war on them, that their wretched condition is not an act of God, but the acts of man/woman. They will rise in fury, and there will be hell to pay!
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