Nigeria’s Underbelly of Violence, By Dele Agekameh
The tripod of poverty, illiteracy and unfettered religious influence has cost the country more lives than we may realise, since poor people are more likely to be radicalised and exploited by others to carry out inhumane acts of terror and wickedness.
Last week, in Kaduna, communal clashes claimed about 55 lives in Kajuru Local Government Area, leading to the intervention of the military and declaration of a 24-hour curfew in Kasuwan Magani town and environs. Before Kaduna, it was Jos; before Jos, it was Ebonyi, Benue, Zamfara, Adamawa and so on, for not so different reasons. It seems that there is a brewing culture of violence within the fabric of our society that we are not paying enough attention to, and we need to explore the underlying causes.
According to science (and even modern religion), early men established dominance by force. Power was obtained through the force of conquest, just as it obtains in the animal kingdom. Somewhere down the line, men began to see the futility of endless fighting and instead resorted to more subtle ways of settling differences. But the tendency for violence never left us, so laws were established, and an elaborate system of education was developed in most human communities to promote civility.
Long before the missionaries and colonialists came to these parts, there existed education systems, though largely informal, and systems of laws in the different communities and kingdoms that characterised this part of West Africa, which worked well for our society at the time. When the West and others came, they introduced new systems of education, laws and religion that soon shifted our old ways to the background. It was not so much a consolidation as it was an overhaul.
When the missionaries combined formal education, as we now know it, and religion, it seemed like they had found the missing bridge for modern civic education, but schools do not run themselves. Many missionary schools have now closed down or deteriorated badly and their replacements have become too expensive for many to attend. As Western education became more expensive to obtain, a challenge of inclusivity developed.
Today, churches and mosques still reach even the furthermost parts of Nigeria, but they are not being built together with schools in most cases. The civility that religion alone preaches, is based on rigid doctrines and absolute obeisance to a supreme being that outranks all authority. The doctrines have to be interpreted, and the devil, in this case, is in the interpretation. Religion can be easily corrupted, either by the ministers of the doctrine or in the mind of the individual.
The rule of law, on the other hand, which is promoted and taught in formal education, is a continually evolving concept that adapts to the changing values of society, and as such, is not so rigid. Formal education promotes independent and reasoned thought, but many still cannot afford and/or do not have access to it.
If we do the math, it becomes clear that a whole section of society cannot get formal education, and there is little or nothing to fall back on, for civic education. This section of society comprises of the poorest of the poor, who can be found in the remote towns and villages or within the cracks in the urban centres, trying to hustle a living. Most of the communal clashes we have had in Nigeria have occurred in these places. And it is no coincidence. The Kaduna killings last week is said to have begun when two wheel barrow pushers in a popular market got into an argument. They just happened to be of different religions, and the rest is history, as they say.
If we want the violence to stop, and zero recruits for Boko Haram or any other violent militias, we need to educate our people and raise them out of poverty. Education also needs to be of good quality, with careful planning and syllabus, devised on the basis of progressive thinking, rather than with religious and ethnic motivations.
Current statistics released by the World Bank maintains that about 77 per cent of Nigerians live in poverty. That is a very dangerous statistic. Viewed from another perspective, it means that 77 per cent of Nigerians are likely to either have no formal/civic education or are more likely to respond to undesirable primal instincts because of lack, regardless of any education they might have had.
Many states are developing policies for free education that ensure that every child at least gets basic education. However, within the worst hit sections of society, some families cannot afford to send their children to even receive this free education, as every member of the family is bringing something to the table, even children as young as seven years in some cases. School age children are working on farms, hawking on streets or in rich households as stewards, contributing their bit to their families.
These families are the vulnerable section of society, prone to manipulation and violent outbursts that the more ‘cultured’ members of society may be able to resist. The tripod of poverty, illiteracy and unfettered religious influence has cost the country more lives than we may realise, since poor people are more likely to be radicalised and exploited by others to carry out inhumane acts of terror and wickedness. In Nigeria, education does not guarantee freedom from poverty, but it may guarantee an improved thought process and heightened civic awareness.
If we want the violence to stop, and zero recruits for Boko Haram or any other violent militias, we need to educate our people and raise them out of poverty. Education also needs to be of good quality, with careful planning and syllabus, devised on the basis of progressive thinking, rather than with religious and ethnic motivations. It is totally feasible to protect our heritage and religious traditions through education, while still ensuring that wider societal values and cultural integration are promoted above all.
One is aware that there are educated rascals littered in every sector of society. The National Assembly, for instance, has proved that inadequate education or just sheer individual rascality can lead to violence, just as hunger and deprivation can. However, there is a preponderance of evidence pointing to the fact that the less privileged section is the hot bed of unrest, in Nigeria and everywhere else in the world. This is why the numbers of our poor is a national emergency.
International and domestic organisations have since linked poverty to some of the violence we see. We should pay attention to their research and consider their recommendations. Political solutions can only carry us as far as the next administration in some cases.
In truth, there have been steps taken to tackle this problem in this administration and in others before it. A problem of this magnitude is difficult to ignore or solve, and that is why restorative approaches and forward-thinking preventive approaches need to go hand-in-hand to reduce the poverty margin as quickly as possible. Just as there are instincts for violence in all of us, no matter how carefully we suppress it, there is capacity for civility in everyone too, under the right circumstances.
Our schools should be revamped with much needed budgetary allocation and career educators put on the boards of institutions. More social and economic intervention projects like the N-Power scheme and the cash transfer programme (trader money) should be introduced to reduce the impact of poverty on those found below the poverty line, until the fruits of other long-term projects like better technical colleges and the drive for an export-driven economy can materialise.
Respect for the law is also tied to welfare. People tend to be more civil in a system that guarantees their welfare. This is an area that extremists exploit, as they have been known to provide for the families of their recruits and take care of their other financial needs. The government cannot legislate people into making good decisions, but it can help ensure that the benefits of maintaining a peaceful status quo outweigh the rewards of chaos.
Illiteracy about changing laws and land rights may drive a cattle herder into a farmer’s land. Illiteracy about the effects of climate change and the prospect of economic ruin may drive the farmer to overreact. Thus, a bloody cycle begins. Perhaps, if there was a social trust to compensate any of the parties that have suffered loss in this scenario, calmer heads could have prevailed.
International and domestic organisations have since linked poverty to some of the violence we see. We should pay attention to their research and consider their recommendations. Political solutions can only carry us as far as the next administration in some cases. The government should employ social and other lasting solutions that will put places like Jos, Kaduna and the other hotbeds of violence at peace for good.
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