Opinion

Bandits in government, bandits everywhere!, By Tony Okoroji

Access Bank
In my native Imo State, traditional rulers or Ezes, as we call them, used to be very much revered. They were the closest human beings to divinity. Sadly, in the last couple of weeks, traditional rulers in Imo State, have been hunted. Any of them with good sense is in hiding. Some evil never known in our history has afflicted our people and nothing is sacred anymore.

In the last fortnight, several traditional rulers in Imo State have been kidnapped or abducted or murdered. Indeed, the life of one Eze was savagely terminated and his corpse dumped in his town’s market square. An abomination!

In Sokoto State, 23 travelers were burnt to death when a bus conveying them to Kaduna was attacked by gunmen. The governor is seriously planning to make sure that all students in boarding schools in the state are sent home because the government cannot protect them.

In Zamfara State, all telecommunication networks have for months been shut down just to slow down the bandits that have practically taken over the state. As the year 2021 comes to a close? Yes!

If you safely travel from Abuja to Kaduna these days, you have to go and do thanksgiving. Same is true if you successfully get from Benin City to Lokoja. All over Nigeria, things have fallen apart and the center can no longer hold. Bandits are everywhere. They have no respect for anyone or any institution. Nothing is sacred to them. There is no difference between life and death to them and nobody is quite sure where they are not and what to do about them.

The above is about the kind of bandits that carry unlicensed firearms. There are another kind of bandits tormenting Nigerians. They are licensed to carry firearms. If you travel this Christmas from Lagos to Owerri, you will have to deal with at least 50 check points along the way.

Once you get out of Lagos, there is a “check point” almost every kilometer. Sometimes, you can see the next check point from the last and nobody gives you a tag to show to the next check point that you have been checked. Woe betide you if you are driving a car that is not at least twenty years old and not dented. At each, “check point”, you would be flagged down and aggressively ordered to open your boot and produce a long list of documents including custom papers, in the middle of the country, for a car you have been driving for years.

Except you understand the game, there is no way your papers would ever be all correct. You may even be told that the custom duty on your car was wrongly assessed and that you had to go to Akure, about 100 kilometers off the road to go and sort it out! The one paper that answers every question asked is the one that has “Central Bank of Nigeria” printed on it with the signature of the governor. If you don’t have enough of that, then you are not ready to travel.

It is at these ugly and dirty “check points” made of disused tires, tree branches, bags of sand and disused drums that much of the Nigerian police, some of the army and a lot of the custom men get their true salaries which they share with their ‘ogas’. So, a 450-kilometer journey to Imo State which anywhere else in the world should take less than four hours takes two times that or even three times, if you don’t end up in Akure!

The men display so much anger against any citizen who is decently dressed or driving a car that is not panel beaten. They will flag you down and find any reason to delay you, torment you and extort you.

There are also bandits who are not armed. They are many of them in our politics and in government. They appropriate all the resources that belong to the people by any and every means. They acquire property across the world that they do not need while many of the people die of hunger and disease.

I have also experienced bandits whose operational power comes from the fact that they know some middle level officers in the nation’s security agencies. They will harass, arm-twist and torment you with the ASP or DSP who is their friend or their guy in DSS, EFCC, ICPC, etc., their partner in banditry. These people truly believe that they are above the law and there are many of them operating in Nigeria.

I read a piece during the week credited to Prof Pat Utomi to the effect that there is presently no government in Nigeria. I will say that there are people in government but in truth there is no government. Nigeria appears to be on a free fall. And the bandits have discovered this and believe that no one can check them and so we have bandits everywhere. They have run amok. It is very sad.

See you next week.

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